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April 17, 2017

A Trip to the Lost and Found

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I've been visiting Walt Disney World for the better part of 25 years, and I really thought I had seen it all -- ridden every ride, seen every show, stayed at every resort. But during a recent trip, I discovered an area of the World that I had never been to before. The Lost and Found.

Flash back to a few weeks ago. It was a lovely spring morning in Orlando, and I was so happy to be starting Day 3 of a non-working, get-away weekend at Walt Disney World with my husband.

"Uh oh." I heard him say, as he was looking through his wallet. "I think I lost my credit card."

Ugh. I think we all know that sinking feeling, right? After taking a few minutes to mentally retrace his steps, he determined he must have left it the previous evening at the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge, where we'd had a drink before going inside the restaurant for dinner.

I looked at the time -- not even 9 a.m. I didn't think anyone would be at the restaurant yet, but thought it might be worth trying to call over there. I knew that lost items would eventually be sent to the central Lost and Found location, but because each of the parks has its own Lost and Found at Guest Relations, I hoped that maybe they still had the card there. There was no answer when we called the restaurant's direct line, so we headed over to Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Once there, we split up -- my husband went to the restaurant while I waited in line at Guest Relations. After a few minutes, he rejoined me, empty-handed. When I got to the front of the line a cast member told me we were too late -- all lost items had already been sent on to Central Lost and Found. In fact, they were probably sent after park closing the night before. She gave me their card and told me to call them some time after 1 p.m.

Which of course we did. At the stroke of 1 o'clock my husband called and gave his info to the cast member. After a few tense moments while the cast member looked around, I saw a smile spread over my husband's face. The wayward card had been found! The cast member told my husband to come over no later than 7 p.m. that night to retrieve the card at the Central Lost and Found location at the Transportation and Ticket Center.

Secure in the knowledge that our credit card was secure, we were able to enjoy the rest of the day, soaking up the sunshine and the glorious Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. By the time 5 o'clock rolled around, my husband was anxious to pick up his card.

"I'll go, you don't have to come," he told me. That's when I realized I had no idea where he was going beyond "over to the TTC." "Are you kidding?" I replied. "In the name of Research, I MUST see the Lost and Found center!"

We took the monorail over to the TTC, but weren't sure exactly where to go from there. If there was a sign, we didn't see it, and the card we had said only "on the east side" of the TTC. Which way was east?

We walked toward the trams to the parking lots and looked right, then left.

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Aha! Over to the left, my husband spied a sign.

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We followed the arrow, and a short distance ahead of us we saw it -- Central Lost and Found.

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It's a quiet location, as you might guess -- not a lot of activity over there, and there also didn't seem to be an overabundance of staff. There was a family ahead of us, hoping against hope to find their teenage son's prescription sunglasses that he'd left... well, somewhere. No luck, but they filled out a form hopefully so that they could be contacted if the glasses turned up.

As they left, my husband told the cast member that he was there to claim his credit card and that he'd been told it was in Vault 24. The cast member disappeared to locate the mysterious "vault," which gave me the chance to look around the room.

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Very utilitarian, but with cute Disney touches and a spacious, if not plush, waiting area.

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Finally, the cast member returned, had my husband show his ID and then sign for the reclaimed article.

So our story had a very happy ending, and I got to explore a previously unknown corner of Walt Disney World, making my knowledge of the Most Magical Place on Earth more nearly complete.

If you discover that you've lost something while vacationing in Walt Disney World, here are a few tips.

-- Try to pinpoint where you lost the item, as best you can. Also try to recall when you last saw the item, or when you think you may have lost it.

-- If you need to file a lost article form, provide as much detail about the item that you can. There are hundreds caps, cameras and pairs of sunglasses lost each week in the World -- the more detail you can provide the better able Lost and Found cast will be able to pair you with your recovered item.

-- Call before you decide to make the trip over to Central Lost and Found, to save yourself a wasted journey. Items lost in the parks the previous day are generally delivered to Lost and Found by 1 p.m.

In general, these are Disney's policies on retaining lost items:

Every Walt Disney World theme park and water park has a lost and found in its Guest Relations office. Most items are kept there for a day.

If you realize later that you've lost something, you'll need to contact Central Lost and Found at 407-824-4245. As I said above, Central Lost and Found is physically located at the Transportation and Ticket Center and is open seven days a week, between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. They can also be reached by mail if you need to contact them once you get home at PO Box 10000, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-1000. Lost and Found keeps valuable items (wallets, purses, credit cards, prescription glasses and cameras) for 90 days. Items of lesser value (sunglasses, hats, toys and clothes) are only held for 30 days.

If you lost an item at a Disney Resort Hotel, it will be turned in to the hotel's Lobby Concierge.

If you've lost something on a Walt Disney World Bus, it will be turned in to the nearest Guest Relations location at a theme park and then delivered to the Lost and Found at the Transportation and Ticket Center within 24 hours.

If you lost something on the Monorails or Magic Kingdom Watercraft, it will be kept on board until the end of the day and then turned in to Lost and Found at the Transportation & Ticket Center.

If you lost something at Disney Springs, it will be turned in to Guest Relations at the Welcome Center in Town Center. After three days, it will be delivered to Lost and Found at the Transportation & Ticket Center.

If you lost something at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex it will be turned in to, and will be kept at, Guest Services there.

And if you lost something on Disney's Magical Express, and it's been lost for less than 30 minutes, contact 866-599-0951. If the item has been lost for more than 30 minutes, you'll have to contact Mears Transportation Group at 407-423-5566.

Let's hope you never have to pay a visit to Central Lost and Found, but, life being what it is, you just may have to some day. No one really WANTS to go there (except someone like me!), but it's nice to know that it IS there if you need it, it's easy to get to, and is very efficiently run.






April 5, 2017

Express Transportation at Walt Disney World Theme Parks

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When I first heard about Walt Disney World's new Express Transportation service a few months ago, I was a bit skeptical.

Sure, it sounded good on paper -- travel from theme park to theme park, bypassing main park entrance check-ins and long waits for standard bus transportation, or having to drive and park yourself -- but would people really be willing to PAY for this service?

I finally had the chance to try it out myself and I have to admit I'm a skeptic no more.

When the service was first launched earlier this year, it cost $15 for a single day, or $24 for up to seven consecutive days. One sign that the service has caught on and that people ARE willing to pay? The price has already jumped in just a few short months, to $19/$29 respectively.

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So here's how it works:

You can purchase this service at Guest Relations or at the actual Express Transportation check-in area in each of the parks. To be eligible to purchase, though, you must have a valid WDW ticket that has the Park Hopper option. This includes Annual Passes. Note that there are no discounts for children ages 3-9, but children under 3 are free.

Once you've paid up, the option is added to your My Disney Experience account, so that all cast members need to do is scan your MagicBand or RF card before you board.

You check in for the bus service at one of the four Express Transportation locations. As of this writing they are:

-- In Magic Kingdom: near the exit of Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin in Tomorrowland

-- In Epcot: on the east side of Spaceship Earth (actually on your left as you're coming in from the park's main entrance)

-- In Disney's Hollywood Studios: in what they call "Coaster Courtyard," which is behind the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, near the Sunset Showcase

-- In Disney's Animal Kingdom: along the side of the Dawa Bar in Africa (the path that leads down to Festival of the Lion King) NOTE: On the flyer, the location is given as in front of Kilimanjaro Safari, but it had moved to the Dawa Bar location as of my visit last week.

When you check in, tell the cast member which park you are hopping to, and they'll let you know when the next departure is. Each park has its own bus, and they run about every 30 minutes.

A few minutes before departure, a cast member will usher you backstage (remember, no photos allowed in backstage areas!) and you will board the WDW bus to your next park. I had thought perhaps it would be a mini-van or smaller shuttle bus, but nope, it's a regular, full-size bus. On one trip, there were only four other passengers besides me; on another there were eight of us in total.

The bus takes you to your destination and you are greeted by another cast member who guides you through the backstage area and out into the park. No waiting for a bus or the tram to the parking lot, or wandering around looking for your car in the simmering Orlando heat. No driving to and from theme parks. And best of all you completely bypass security bag-checks and long lines at the turnstiles.

What a timesaver! Especially during peak seasons, like this past week with its spring break crowds! My trip from the Studios to Epcot took 17 minutes, from the time I boarded until the time I was walking under Spaceship Earth. I was lucky that I didn't have long to wait for a bus, but even the next day when I was traveling from Animal Kingdom, I only had to wait about 10 minutes before the next bus to Epcot. I felt that it saved me a lot of time and trouble -- plus I had a few minutes to snack on a Mickey pretzel while I waited.

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The Express Transportation service starts at 10 a.m. and is supposed to run until the parks close. One of the days I was using it however, I saw this sign, noting that the service ended at 8 p.m. that evening. Be sure to check the closing time if you're planning to use it to shuttle between the parks later at night.

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All things considered, I think Express Transportation is a fabulous idea, and I will definitely use the service again when I'm planning a day of multi-park hopping. I think the price is a little steep for families though, since there are no discounts for children -- $76 for one day for a family of four, or $116 for a week? Ouch. On the other hand, if you have room in your budget, it does save you time and hassle, and with a couple little ones in tow, that might make the difference between a pleasant day and... well, an unpleasant one.

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Have you tried this new service? Do you think it's worth the money? Let us know in the comments below!





December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from AllEars!

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS
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Mickey Mouse in the 1972 Christmas Parade at the Magic Kingdom

November 4, 2016

Morimoto Asia Dim Sum Brunch - Tasting

By Linda Eckwerth, AllEars.Net

Morimoto Asia Disney Springs Patio

Morimoto Asia, a Pan Asian restaurant located in Disney Springs, recently started a Dim Sum Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. I was invited to experience some of the foods offered during the brunch, and I want to share my thoughts with you.

We tasted a variety of foods that are available on the Brunch Menu. The portion sizes you see are approximately the same size you would receive at the brunch. Alcoholic beverages are not included in the brunch price.

Morimoto Asia Brunch is served upstairs either inside or on the outdoor balcony.

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We began with a Lychee Lemon Soda, a-non alcoholic drink consisting of fresh mint leaves, lemon juice, lychee purée and soda -- a very refreshing way to start our brunch tasting.

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The Chef's selection Soup of the Day is one of the first course options. We enjoyed a hot and sour soup, which included onion, egg, vegetables and had a kick of spice.

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Next, we tasted items from the second course menu. First up, Pork Ribs steamed with black bean sauce and Chashu Pork, which is roasted.

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The ribs were bite-size, meaty and had a touch of heat. I enjoyed them.

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But I really loved the Chashu pork, which was very tender.

Next, we had a Nashi Pear Margarita, one of the two new seasonal autumn drinks on the menu.

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It is made with Maestro Dobel tequila, pear purée, lime juice, and Cointreau. This was my favorite of the three drinks we tried. It was very refreshing, went well with the spicy food and didn't have a strong tequila or alcohol taste.

The next items are also options under the second course offerings -- Fried Spicy Pork Dumplings and Xiaolong Bao.

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The crust was very light and the pork filling was full of flavor. I did not detect much spice until I added the dipping sauce.

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The Xiaolong Bao are little pillowy gems of deliciousness and my favorite item! When I cut into the Bao, there was tasty pork and broth. The dipping sauce was nice, but I preferred them without the sauce. Can you tell I really enjoyed the Xiaolong Bao?


We also had a chance to try one of the options from the brunch add-on menu, the Morimoto Spicy Chow Fun Noodles ($8).

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The Morimoto Spicy Chow Fun Noodles consisted of a spicy basil sauce, vegetables and egg. I enjoyed the balance of favors in this dish, and it was filling.

Finally it was time for dessert and the second seasonal drink for autumn, a Pumpkin Martini. The drink is made with Tito's vodka, pumpkin spice syrup, Bailey's Irish Cream, and almond milk.

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Of the three drinks we tried, this was my least favorite because I am not a pumpkin spice fan. However, the rest of the group raved about the deliciousness of this drink, and it was a big hit.

The brunch ended with a serving of Sesame Balls, which are also a second course option. These are filled with sweet azuki bean filling.

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The cost for brunch is $27 per person. For your first course you choose between the soup of the day or greens. The second course consists of your choice of three items. (If you like dessert, make one of your choices something sweet.) Additional courses are $6 each. There are several add-on courses available, and those prices vary. Reservations are recommended. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday between 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

If you are looking for something different and relaxing to do on the weekend, give this brunch a try. With the beautiful fall weather in Orlando, the outdoor balcony will be wonderful!

RELATED LINKS

BRUNCH MENU

AllEars TV Morimoto Asia Review

Morimoto Rate and Review

Our Collection of Morimoto Videos

Official Morimoto Asia Website

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Morimoto Asia for this experience but my opinions are my own.

September 24, 2016

Shop the Food and Wine Festival

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Those that know me, know that I don't care much for shopping. I know, however, that many of you DO, so I spent a few minutes during opening weekend of this year's Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in the festival shops, checking out some of the event-specific merchandise. I found lots of things that would make perfect souvenirs, or gifts for those that you had to leave at home.

Lovers of the big purple Figment will be happy to know that he has returned as a festival mascot of sorts, and he dominates much of the merchandise. You can find him on t-shirts ($24.99 regular, $29.99 v-neck)

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On mugs ($14.99), salt and pepper shakers ($9.99/ea.), aprons ($26.99), oven mitts ($14.99) and even ornaments ($19.99)...

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And of course Chef Figment is featured on one of the festival's two special event posters ($24.99).

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Figment even graces some of the special festival passholder merchandise this year, like this Passholder t-shirt ($29.99)...

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But it's not all Figment, if for some reason he's not your thing. Some of the other festival merchandise is a bit "retro", borrowing themes and motifs from Food and Wine Festivals gone by.

There are Taste Your Way Around the World t-shirts (the burgundy v-neck is $32.99; there's also a gray-blue short-sleeved shirt, as well as a long-sleeved shirt and blue scoop-neck shirt [not pictured] for around $37 each)

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There are also "Taste" wine bottle ornaments ($12.99)....

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Taste Your Way Around the World housewares include Tea Towels (pair $21.99), Small Plates ($14.99), and Salt and Pepper Shakers ($9.99 each)...

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One thing I thought was a bit different, and practical, was an insulated bottle bag ($34.99)...

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Taste Your Way Around the World is also the design of another 2016 Festival Poster ($24.99):

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There's also a very useful notched plastic plate, perfect for when you're juggling multiple food and drink samples from the global marketplaces. I remember when they first introduced these plates a few years ago -- they were just $4.95. They're up to $6.99 ($7.50 including tax) now.

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If you're looking for a plain ball cap, never fear -- there's a festival cap for you ($26.99)....

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Another design you'll find on a variety of merchangise caters more to beer lovers -- "Brews Around the World." You'll find mugs ($14.99), t-shirts ($27) and caps ($29.99). (No, I don't know why they are more expensive than the other caps.)

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One item I almost always purchase is the Festival Cookbook. This year it's $24.95, and includes recipes from not only the Food and Wine Festival, but from the spring's Flower and Garden Festival as well.

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By the way, Chef Gregg Hannon and Pam Brandon, author of the Festival cookbook, will be on hand for a special signing at Showcase Plaza's Port of Entry on September 27 and 28, after a 3 p.m. cooking demonstration.

For the plush lovers, I didn't see much, but I did spy this adorable Food & Wine Festival Chef Mickey for $26.99:

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Finally, if you want to take home a bottle of wine from one of the festival events you attend, stop over at the Festival Center's wine shop. But if you want something specifically to remind you of the 2016 event, pick up a bottle of the the Festival's special label wine -- both the cabernet and the chardonnay are listed at $22 a bottle:

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You can find all of this merchandise at the Stockpot Shop in the Festival Center. Many of the same items can be found around the other festival shops around World Showcase -- there's one near Germany, one between Morocco and Japan and one near Canada. There are also merchandise kiosks on the bridge connecting Future World to World Showcase, and you may find other related merchandise in the shops in World Showcase Plaza.


July 12, 2016

First Look: Art Smith's Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Shine Bar

by Jack Marshall
AllEars.Net Team

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I took a stroll over to Disney Springs this morning to get a look at the new restaurant by Chef Art Smith, "Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Shine Bar." I didn't get the chance to eat there yet, but I do have some "first look" photos to share.

Main Restaurant Entrance

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Shine Bar Entrance

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Chef Art Smith himself was on hand today to greet new patrons!

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Reception

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Looking into the kitchen

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Dining Areas

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Enclosed, air-conditioned patio

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Shine Bar Area

You can come into the Shine Bar and order a drink (it's a full bar) without having a meal here.

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The Shine Bar offers a limited takeout menu (they call it "grab and go"), but this food cannot be consumed on premises.

The restaurant is currently offering a Disney cast member discount, but no other discounts -- they may honor other discounts (DVC, Annual Passholder, Tables in Wonderland) in the future.

We have the current menu for Homecoming HERE.

Watch for more photos, including those of the food, coming to AllEars.Net soon!



July 2, 2016

Sneak Preview: 2016 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

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Tables in Wonderland held its annual “sneak preview” of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival for its members this past Sunday, June 26, at World Showplace in Epcot. The festival, which will run an extra-long 62 days in this, its 21st year, begins September 14.

"Yes, we're going to need lots of stamina this year," said Michael Deardorff, Epcot Executive Chef. "This will be a 62-day sprint. We'll have to hit the ground running, but we'll be ready."

Deardorff noted that as the festival has grown "exponentially bigger and bigger" each year, the festival team has become like a machine, with all its parts in sync.

That synchronicity was apparent during the preview, as the various components came together to present a wonderful representative sampling of the new or reimagined food and beverage items that will be featured in the marketplaces (aka food booths) scattered around World Showcase and even into Future World.

Let's start with the food and beverage offerings, which obviously were the stars of the afternoon.

We were greeted at the door with a refreshing cocktail -- Spiked (with vodka!) Orange Iced Tea, which will be introduced at the Hops & Barley marketplace.

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I was eager to try as many of the new food items as I could, and I managed to hit nearly all of them. Here were the stand-outs, at least as far as my tastebuds and me were concerned:

Pork Tenderloin with Cannellini Bean Ragout and a Zinfandel Reduction, which will be found in the Wine and Dine Studio

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This was my overall favorite of the afternoon -- a tender chunk of lean pork atop the flavorful beans, with a hint of the red wine adding a little zing. There's not much else to say about this dish except Yum.

Chicken and Dumplings with mushrooms and spinach, which will be found in the returning Farm Fresh marketplace

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This was a real palate-pleaser for me, even though it's not that photogenic -- nothing really fancy, just juicy white meat with a fluffy light dumpling accompanied by sauteed mushrooms and spinach in a savory sauce.

Grilled Beef Skewer with apricots, romaine and feta cheese, from The Chew Collective marketplace:

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The lightly seasoned meat is accented by the sweetness of the fruit, which in turn contrasts with the sharpness of the feta. I thought it was a nice dish, but my piece of beef was tender. A friend's was gristly and tough, so she didn't rate the plate as highly.

Seared Scallop, Truffled Celery Root Puree, Brussels Sprouts and Wild Mushrooms, also to be featured in the Wine & Dine Studio

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My second favorite bite of the day. Who would ever think that a sweet, mild scallop would pair so well with the sharp, slightly bitter sprout? But it's a match made in heaven, so tasty. Chef Mike noted that to create this dish they took the scallop out of the Scotland marketplace where it had been featured for the past few years, and gave it a Napa Valley twist. A smart move, in my opinion.

Duck Confit with Creamy Polenta and Fire-roasted Salsa

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The duck was tender and perfectly pink, and the polenta creamy as promised in the menu. I didn't get much heat from the dash of salsa that topped the plate, but that was OK -- it was still a tasty morsel.

Loaded Greek "Nachos": Pita Chips, Meatless Sausage Crumbles, Vegan Tzatziki, from the Greece marketplace

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This was the biggest surprise for me -- honestly, I'm not sure I would have known this was a vegan dish if I hadn't been told. I'd just had real nachos the day before (the fantastic loaded nachos at the new place in Disney's Hollywood Studios Echo Lake Eats), so it was interesting to me to compare the two dishes. The pita crisps were a perfect substitute for tortilla chips and the onion, kalamata olives, lettuce, tomato were basically what you'd expect on real nachos. According to Chef Mike, the "sausage" is a Gardein product (Gardein has partnered with the festival for other vegan dishes over the years) and the "feta" is actually specially seasoned tofu. "We think it's an awesome plate. It was fun to do and it turned out great," said Chef Deardorff. I have to agree with him.

Oikos Greek Yogurt Vanilla Cake Soaked in Ouzo with Yogurt Whipped Cream and Pistachios, another item from the Greece marketplace

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This is my kind of dessert. Not too sweet, and a perfect complement to a cup of coffee. Come festival time, I can see myself taking a plate of this dense cake to an out-of-the-way spot with an espresso from one of the coffee stands to watch IllumiNations.

Quesito: Puff Pastry with Sweetened Cream Cheese and Guava Sauce, from the new Islands of the Caribbean marketplace

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I absolutely loved this dessert, too. Crispy light puff pastry with a not-too-sweet cream cheese filling -- it's like it was made with me in mind. The guava sauce was a little too sweet for me, but overall I thought this was a great new offering.

There were a few new items I didn't get to, most notably the Smoked Brisket & Pimento Cheese on Griddled Garlic Toast, which Chef Mike predicts could be the big favorite this year. Calling it an open-faced version of a grilled cheese sandwich, he admits that they developed this dish based on the popular smoked brisket from the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival. It will be featured at the Hops & Barley marketplace, where I will eventually try it, I'm sure.

So, what was the other big news coming out of the preview?

First, you may have already heard that the cast of ABC-TV's "The Chew" (Chefs Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Carla Hall, and Clinton Kelly and Daphne Oz) will be returning to the festival, taping episodes October 5-7, which will then air the week of October 10-14.

Other interesting news was the announcement of several new programs that take the festival out of Epcot and into some of the resort hotels.

• Brunch with a Twist at Citricos at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

• Culinary Adventures with a Master Chef at Contemporary Resort's Convention Center

• Behind the Scenes at Trader Sam's Grog Grotto at the Polynesian Village Resort

• The Secret of Flavor at Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club Resort

We have details on these offerings, including dates and pricing, on the Festival Special Ticketed Events page.

Other new aspects to the festival this year:

-- Eight new celebrity chefs will be appearing over the course of the festival: Maneet Chauhan; Elliott Farmer; Fabio Bongianni; Masaharu Morimoto; Duff Goldman; Paul Wahlburg; Graham Elliot; and Geoffrey Zakarian.

-- Making their Epcot debut, Wang Chung will be the musical group kicking off the festival's Eat to the Beat concert series this year. Other new acts confirmed include The BoDeans, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Living Colour and Delta Rae. (The full, official schedule of Eat to the Beat concerts has not yet been announced.)

-- Eat to the Beat Concert Packages, which guarantee reserved seating for the nightly concert along with a table service meal in Epcot, are now available at breakfast (either buffet or family-style) at two locations: Garden Grill and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.

-- The former mixology seminars that used to take place at 6 p.m. each day in the Festival Center have morphed into a new program called "Mix It, Make It, Celebrate It!" The program will be offered at 4 p.m. daily and will include other hands-on activities besides mixology, such as cake decorating and garnishing. It will also come with a heftier price tag: $49 per person.

-- The "Boot Camp" concept isn't new to the festival, but the two offerings under this umbrella are. The first, hosted by Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson, is called "Exploring Wines the Mondavi Way," and will celebrate the 50th anniversary of this well-known winery. The second, "Demystifying Bourbon the Jim Beam Way," will explore bourbon production through the eyes of a master distiller.

For a more in-depth description of these and all the signature and premium programs that will be available, visit the Festival Special Ticketed Events page.

In fact, be sure to check out all our Food and Wine Festival pages, with photos from the preview and other details HERE.

Because this was a "sneak peek," we were warned that there may be changes or tweaks to some of these programs, so take that under advisement. But you don't have long to wait for the final, full schedule of festival offerings -- it will be online at epcotfoodfestival.com on July 11, with booking for the general public opening at 7 a.m. July 21. (Some events MAY be open for booking a few days in advance for Disney Vacation Club and Tables in Wonderland Members, Golden Oak residents, Disney Visa Cardholders and Annual Passholders. Keep checking back to AllEars.Net for updates!)



May 13, 2016

Afternoon Tea at Crescent Solarium Disney's Beach Club

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Beach Club Crescent Solarium Tea

For many years Walt Disney World has offered a popular afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian Resort. Earlier this year the Disney Parks Blog announced a new tea offering: Afternoon Tea at Crescent Solarium, which would be held for a limited time in the Solarium at the Beach Club Resort. It didn't line up with our February dates, but then a new set of dates for April appeared, and Alert Reader Deb Koma was able to book a reservation for five of us for Sunday, April 17. (Future dates offered are May 5-8, June 16-19, August 11-14, and September 1-5.)

Reservations must be booked by calling WDW Dining - they are not available on-line. A credit card guarantee is required.

Since I've had the opportunity to sample the other two Disney afternoon tea offerings this year (Grand Floridian and Steakhouse 55 at the Disneyland Resort) I was looking forward to trying this new one - and of course I can't help comparing the three. They are all different experiences, but all enjoyable.

Lee and I arrived at the Solarium for our 1:00 reservation. We are used to entering the Solarium from the Beach Club lobby side - but that door is now closed, and actually opens into the kitchen! The main entrance to the Solarium is from the walkway between the Beach Club and the Beach Club Villas.

The Solarium is really a lovely space - lots of windows and light. I found it very cozy and welcoming. I think we all found it more informal than the Grand Floridian.

We were escorted to a low table set for 5 people - three on a sofa, and two of us in cushioned chairs. Awkward, because our knees were not under the table and we had to lean forward to reach our plates or cups. The seats, especially for those on the sofa, were too deep, but there were no cushions to put between us and the seat back. That was uncomfortable, and those on the sofa had to sit forward, with no back support, for the whole meal.

Beach Club Crescent Solarium Tea

There were some traditional tables, but they were for parties of two or four. Any larger parties were at the low tables.

Beach Club Crescent Solarium Tea


Beach Club Crescent Solarium Tea

Our server arrived quickly to introduce himself, offer us water, and tell us about the menu.

For adults there are three different tea services offered: Sea Side Park Tea, Sandy Cove Tea, and Prince Cove Tea. All three include your own pot of tea, scones with lemon curd, clotted cream, and jam, and house-made pastries and desserts. The Sea Side and Sandy Cove teas offer a course of tea sandwiches and canapes also, with the Sea Side adding an additional artisan cheese and fruit plate as the first course. The first course of the Prince Cove is a house-made charcuterie and cheese plate. So that we could sample everything we ordered one Prince Cove, two Sea Side, and two Sandy Cove, and then we shared the extra courses.

I should mention that there is also the Short Sands Beach Tea for children ages 3-9. Also, no discounts are available.

Crescent Solarium Afternoon Tea Menu

We all chose to start with a glass of sparkling wine: Blanc de Bleu Brut. It was very pretty. While there is some blueberry added I didn't taste any blueberry flavor - it was just a nice sparkling wine.

Beach Club Crescent Solarium Tea

The tea menu offered a variety of black, white, and green teas as well as herbal selections. I chose a black tea named Shanghai Rose: "an exotic blend of hand-picked, fresh black tea leaves, infused with the sweet and sultry flavors of seductive lychee and fragrant red rose petals." It was certainly floral - a little too floral for me. It was fine, but I would order something different next time. Others in our party sampled the Organic Vanilla Rooibos, Imperial English Breakfast, and Thunderbolt Darjeeling.

Each of us received our own tea pot and tea strainer. The essential item that we were missing was a tea cozy to keep the pot warm. We all noticed that the tea in our pots cooled off too fast, and we had to ask for more hot water to warm it up. (Our server told us they had requested those, so I hope that issue will be addressed in the future.)

Beach Club Crescent Solarium Tea

One very nice aspect of this tea is that it was served in courses. (The Grand Floridian Tea used to be served that way, but now almost all the food items are brought at one time.) The first course for us was the Charcuterie Plate for the Prince Cove Tea and the Cheese Plate for the Sea Side Park Tea.

The Charcuterie Plate included rabbit sausage, "piggy pie" and Bonne Bouche goat cheese. Interesting presentation on a substantial wooden board.

Beach Club Crescent Solarium Tea

The Sea Side Park Artisan Cheese plate featured Valdeon Blue, Drunken Goat and St. Andre Artisanal cheeses with fruit. Another very nice presentation. This was enough for two people to share.

Beach Club Crescent Solarium Tea

For the second course four of us received individual tea sandwich and canape plates. (The Prince Cove did not include that course, though Ms. Prince Cove was still working on her charcuterie plate.) There were salmon rillettes, cucumber and cream cheese, Old Bay lump crab salad and chicken curry on house-made breads. Very elegant and sophisticated offerings - which was not quite what I was expecting in that setting. We were all surprised that the bread was toasted - that's very non-traditional. While this was another beautiful presentation I was disappointed in it because the servings were all very small - most of the sandwiches were about two bites. Everything tasted very good, there just wasn't enough of it for me.

Beach Club Crescent Solarium Tea

The third course was blueberry-lemon and cranberry-orange scones served with clotted cream, house-made lemon curd and jam. The orange in the cranberry-orange was a little too intense for my taste, and I preferred the blueberry-lemon. The lemon curd was really not very good. And again, I thought the servings were too small. I like a nice big scone. These were both fairly sweet, also.

Beach Club Crescent Solarium Tea

The final course was the dessert plate - we all received one. Again, lovely to look at...but VERY small portions. The offerings were chocolate filled cake, raspberry cookie, lemon poppy seed cookie with lemon curd, and a Madeline cookie with a light lemon glaze on top. I thought they looked better than they tasted.

Beach Club Crescent Solarium Tea

The service was excellent. Everything was paced very well, and we didn't feel rushed at all. There's something very refreshing and soothing about afternoon tea - I find that it really renews my spirit, and I felt that here as well. It was very relaxing - if only our chairs had allowed us to sit back and get comfortable.

My overall impression of Afternoon Tea at Crescent Solarium is that it was a lovely experience and I really enjoyed the setting and the relaxed atmosphere. I thought the food was beautiful and well-presented, but would have been more appropriate in a more formal setting. And I would have liked larger portions. However, I had run a half marathon that morning, so my appetite was probably larger than it would be normally. Many of the foods we had were fairly rich, where smaller portions are appropriate and (usually) satisfying.

I personally prefer tea at the Grand Floridian - it's a more traditional tea, and more my idea of what I expect from a proper afternoon tea, especially the sandwich selections and the scone course. That would be my first choice, but if it weren't available, I would happily choose to enjoy tea at the Crescent Solarium again. That seemed to be the consensus among my tea companions, as well. It was an event that we all enjoyed - just a couple of things that would've made it even better.








April 29, 2016

Snack Counter at BoardWalk's Screen Door General Store

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I was walking along the BoardWalk last week and stopped in at the Screen Door General Store, just to grab a few seconds of air conditioning before continuining on my walk to the Walt Disney World Dolphin. To my surprise, I was greeted by a long bakery case, filled with cookies, candy apples, fudge and more.

"That wasn't here before," I thought.

But apparently I was thinking out loud, because the cast member behind the counter answered me, "We've been here just about three weeks."

I guess it makes sense -- the BoardWalk's other purveyor of sweet treats, Seashore Sweets', closed a few weeks ago, possibly to make way for the addition of a lounge for the currently-being-renovated Flying Fish Cafe.

The new counter is located near the Screen Door's refrigerator cases, right when you first walk into the store. In addition to the bakery items, there are also slushy machines selling frozen fruit punch and a few other drinks.

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On offer are a variety of things to make your sweet tooth sing: rice crispy treats, caramel and decorated apples, cookies and fudge. Most of the cookies seem to be on the Disney Dining Plan, available for a snack credit. The candy apples are not on the Dining Plan, as they cost a bit more ($10.99 each).

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The cast member couldn't tell me if the addition was permanent, although I suspect it might go away once the new Ample Hills Creamery, coming further along the BoardWalk in the space next to the ESPN Club, opens.

In the meantime, though, if you're looking for goodies, you know where to go!



February 8, 2016

A Different Kind of Wine Bar

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You probably know that there's a wine bar in one of the shops inside Epcot's Italy pavilion. And that you can get a variety of wines by the glass at Les Vines de France in the France pavilion. But did you know that there was a place to try a different kind of wine stowed away in the back of the Japan pavilion at Epcot?

Yes, there is a bar serving up samples of sake, the traditional rice wine of Japan.I think this is one of those hidden treasures that not many people know about, although it's been here for years. Unless perhaps you're a sake aficionado....

Which, I admit, I'm not, but I do like to try new things, and this is a good spot for that.

So how do you find this place? Walk all the way to back of Japan's Mitsukoshi Department Store. If you're standing near the Hello Kitty display, keep walking. If you're opposite the "pick your own pearl" stand, keep walking. Walk all the way back to where you'll find a wide variety of Japanese food specialty items. Items like Pocky, yummy chocolate-dipped cookie sticks, and other Asian sweets. Then, on your left, tucked into the back corner, you'll see it. The big sign that cries "SAKE BAR" overhead, and the little bar where you can sample some!

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If you're like me, and know little about this alcoholic rice wine, you can start by educating yourself with the "Sake Matrix" that's on display.

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This divides the sakes that are available to try into four quadrants, classifying them from dry to sweet and light to heavy. You can learn a little more about the sakes from talking with the cast members pouring, of course, but be sure to also consult the little "cheat sheet" menu that's available. I 've not tried it yet, but I'm intrigued by the description for the Murai Nigori Genshu cloudy sake: "Very strong in alcohol with a creamy confection that can hit you like a ton of bricks if you're not careful. Sip slowly!" Forewarned is forearmed, I guess!

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There are about 10 different varieties on hand, and samples are in the $5 to $10 range. They include the traditional aperitif plum wine, a fizzy low-alcohol sake called Hana Awaka Sparkling, and the award-winning fruity and dry Mu Junmai Dai-Ginjyo.

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There are even a few other alcoholic beverages on offer, such as an unfiltered Ginga Kogen Beer. So far I've only tried the Wakatake, which is a pure, dry rice sake and the Yuzu Omoi, a citrus-flavored drink.

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Many of these beverages, which come in beautiful, decorative bottles, can be found for sale on the opposite wall, so after you've found a sake that's to your liking, you can take some home with you!

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Next time you find yourself around the Japan pavilion and you're feeling a little adventurous, consider taking a meander through Mitsukoshi shop and exploring the world of sake that awaits you.

As they might say in Japan: Kanpai!

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