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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.

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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.








September 28, 2015

Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar

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There are so many changes happening at Downtown Disney -- er, Disney Springs, I should say -- that it's tough to keep up!

But I was able to get over there the other day to check out the new waterfront lounge, Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar, which opened on Tuesday, September 22.

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Themed around a very minor character from the first Indiana Jones movie, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the new lounge quenches not just your thirst, but your thirst for movie memorabilia. The building, made to resemble an airplane hangar, is supposedly the establishment run by Indiana Jones's pilot Jock. You may remember Jock from an early scene in the film, as not only the pilot who helps Indy flee from the angry natives, but also owns pet snake Reggie.

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The lounge has a high ceiling and an airy feel, and the walls are lined with items that hark back to Jock's world-traveling, Indiana Jones-like exploits.

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There are even some sly references to other films with a Disney connection, such as Star Wars...

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And Marvel's Iron Man...

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And what about the drinks? What about the food?

Well, these items are also themed to the Indiana Jones movies, with offerings like "Good Dates," a reference to Raiders of the Lost Ark's poisonous "bad dates." These are yummy sweet dates stuffed with savory goat cheese.

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Among the other offerings are also "Lao Che's Revenge" (tasty, spicy-sweet sticky chicken wings), Brody's Brats and Snack of Ra, which is a combo of several African salad and dips, naan and an Ethiopian bread. You could easily make a meal, snacking around this relatively short menu that still manages to offer something for everyone.

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The drinks sport names like "Cool-Headed Monkey" and "Bam's Barnstormer" (with its inside-out paper umbrella, known elsewhere as the "Dark and Stormy"). They are colorful and fun, even though as of the day I was there the lounge still didn't have the special souvenir glasses to go along with many of the specialty cocktails.

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My one complaint, if there has to be one, is that there is such limited seating indoors. Since it's open seating, this leads to people being forced to hover over tables, waiting for others to finish up. Yes, there is plentiful outdoor seating, including Reggie's boat, an actual boat converted into a seating area off the main dock.

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If there's a nice breeze coming off of the water, it is lovely. However, this being Orlando, it might just as easily be hot and humid and/or stormy -- not conducive to having a nice, relaxing drink and a snack.

All in all, I really enjoyed Jock's -- though, I'm not sure how he warranted a place all his own, given his minor role in the Indiana Jones story as we know it. Still, it gives us all a chance to relive the movie memories as we peruse the paraphernalia around the room, and to say, one more time, "Snakes? Why'd it have to be snakes?"


August 3, 2012

Taste Your Way around the World! The 2012 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

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So, here it is, the beginning of August -- how did that happen? As the summer winds down (to my dismay), it's nice to know that the chefs at Walt Disney World are already prepping for my favorite time on their special events calendar -- the annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

Many details for the festival have been released over the past few days, a sure sign that this annual event, the 17th, is just around the corner. In fact, it starts in just under 60 days, on September 28, and runs through November 12 -- 46 days this year. (Turns out that last day is Veteran's Day -- so why not take advantage of an extra day off?)

In anticipation of the coming reservations "D-Day" (7 a.m. on Tuesday, August 14), Marianne Hunnel, the event's content development manager, recently took time from her rapidly dwindling countdown to talk with me about this year's Festival. I also attended a "sneak preview" of the Festival, hosted by Tables in Wonderland, this past Saturday, during which I was able to sample some of the new tastes that will be introduced at this year's International Marketplaces. I know this is all a lot to digest (if you'll pardon the pun), but bear with me -- if you love the Festival as much as I do, it's all info you'll want to know!


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Hunnel notes that last year's theme, "A Passport to a World of Flavors," has evolved into this year's "Taste Your Way around the World."

"We like that travel element," she admits. "Last year's passport got you here, and this year we think we're taking you to some more adventuresome places."

I like adventure! So just what do Marianne and her team of event planners have planned for us? For starters, there will be two new International Marketplaces included in World Showcase -- one featuring the fresh cuisine of Florida, the other an all-new vegan outlet dubbed "Terra."

It's this latter addition that is creating a buzz among the Food and Wine Festival regulars I've been talking to. Terra (Latin for "earth") will highlight products from the Gardein line of vegan foods, as well as beverages that also use no animal products.

"We have heard from lots of guests over the years who were looking for vegetarian and vegan options at the marketplaces," Hunnel explains. "There were some items in previous years that were vegetarian, but we have gone to great lengths to make sure that everything in the Terra marketplace is vegan -- that is, animal products were not used to produce these items in any way."

The Terra marketplace will offer two savory vegan dishes, both specially created for the festival: Trick'n Chick'n Curry with Basmati Rice featuring Gardein Chick'n Breast, and Chili Colorado with House Made Chips & Cashew Cheese, featuring Gardein Beefless Tips.

The Chili was presented as an appetizer at the Tables in Wonderland event, paired with a vegan wine, Paul Dolan Pinot Noir.


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I guess it's hard to see from this photo, but when I tell you that no one at my table could believe that the "meat" in the dish was not really beef, I am not exaggerating. Some even thought they detected a bit of "fat" as they chewed. The texture and flavor were nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.

And speaking as someone who is not ordinarily a fan of pinot, I found the wine (which I'm told is from a sustainable, organic vineyard in Mendocino County) to be an excellent pairing, offsetting the spiciness of the chili perfectly. [An aside: If being vegan means not using any animal products, how can a wine, which is essentially just grapes, NOT be vegan? Some wines use materials known as "fining agents" to fine, or clarify, the wine. They remove materials that might otherwise stay in suspension in the wine, and in some cases can alter the flavor or color. These fining agents may be derived from animal products, such as gelatin, albumen (egg white) and casein (milk protein). Wines that use these types of fining agent are therefore not vegan. The Paul Dolan wines ARE.]

This experience left me really eager to try the other savory item, the Trick'n Chick'n Curry with Basmati Rice -- here's Disney's photo of it:



The booth will also have a Chocolate Cake with Passion Fruit Sorbet and Coconut Foam that sounds fabulous, and a Berry Smoothie, made with Silk, the almond milk.

The other new marketplace, Florida Local, "focuses on the fresh and exciting things the state of Florida has to share," says Hunnel.

It was also well-represented at the preview, as both of its menu items featured as part of the buffet reception. The colorful Florida Shrimp Ceviche with Fire Roasted Vegetables, Fried Plantains and Cilantro was a treat for both the eyes and the tastebuds. Fresh, plump shrimp were tossed with a very rich red sauce, accented by the aromatic cilantro -- definitely a WIN! as I have scrawled in my notes.


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I'm not quite as enthusiastic about the other Florida Local item, White Corn Arepa with Mangalitsa Pork Rilette and Zellwood Sweet Corn Salad. Two bites of the dry, heavy corn cake stuffed with a rather bland, stringy pork filling was enough for me, I'm sorry to say.


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The Florida Local marketplace will also offer some locally produced beverages, including Florida Beer Company's Florida Lager and Key West Southernmost Wheat, as well as Florida Orange Grove Key Limen wine. Yes, a lime-flavored wine, which Hunnel says is very refreshing, and pairs perfectly with the shrimp. It's also great with a splash of club soda as a wine spritzer, she notes. I didn't get to sample it at the Tables in Wonderland preview, but I might give it a try come September.

Other new food items that will be debuting at the International Marketplaces that I had the chance to sample at the preview:

-- Lamb Meatballs with Spicy Tomato Chutney -- These tasty morsels are a great replacement for the popular lamb slider the New Zealand marketplace has been featuring the past few years. They have that whole spicy/tangy/sweet/savory thing going on and I think that everyone is going to literally "eat them up!"


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-- Seared Mahi Mahi with Jasmine Rice and "Singa" Sauce -- I guess this is an improvement over the Shrimp Cake that last year's Singapore booth featured. But still, my piece of this usually succulent white fish was dry, oversalted and chewy. The jasmine rice was outstanding, however.

-- "Le Cellier" Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce -- This is something new for the Canada marketplace, taking the spot of the perennial favorite, Maple-Glazed Salmon. To me, there's no contest -- the beef is better. Tender and juicy, with just the right hint of truffle -- not overpowering at all.


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-- Yogurt Panna Cotta with Orange Cake, Raspberries and Pomegranate, Lemon Custard Verrine with Blueberry Compote, and Dark Chocolate Mousse with Chili and Salted Caramel -- This mini dessert trio represented the three new items that will be offered at the Desserts and Champagne marketplace. Of the three, the Yogurt Panna Cotta was my favorite -- light, creamy, and not too sweet, with just a hint of orange and luscious red raspberries on top. My only complaint was that the bottom of the dessert cup was so narrow I couldn't dig my spoon into it to get at much of the orangy cake goodness.


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The Lemon Custard Verrine was also good, but VERY intense. I heard some complaints from the other diners around me that they had too much blueberry and not enough custard, but in my case, I had plenty of lemon -- in fact, the dessert didn't just whisper "lemon" to you, it SHOUTED it, in all caps!


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As for the chocolate mousse -- well, I must admit I was a little disappointed. Everyone around me was raving about it, and marveling at the little kick the chili gave it, but for me it tasted just like an ordinary chocolate mousse. Which is to say that it was delicious, but not unusually so. Maybe I didn't get enough spice in my portion? All the more reason for me to try it again during the actual festival!


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There are a few other little tweaks to the food around the marketplaces -- the Black Pepper Shrimp are going to be replaced by Mongolian Beef with Chinese Steamed Bun at the China booth, the Mussels at the Belgium kiosk will be prepared slightly differently -- but the majority of the items are returning unchanged.

So what about other NEW offerings at the festival? Here are what I feel are the highlights:

-- Some of the biggest news surrounding the festival this year is the implementation of a three-tiered pricing structure for the popular Party for the Senses tasting offered most Saturday evenings during the event. For years one of the biggest complaints about this eating extravaganza has been the shortage of seating -- diners are expected to graze on their tapas-sized dishes without a designated place to sit, and are forced to float from table to table, noshing and conversing with strangers. The ensuing juggling act -- plate, wine glass, napkin, utensils -- has resulted in many disgruntled diners.


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The festival tried to address that issue by introducing the Wine View Lounge a few years ago -- it's an exclusive area within the World Showcase venue that guarantees you your own table, along with a number of other amenities, all at an additional fee. This year, the Party takes that one step further and is offering a mid-range tier that guarantees you a seat in a special area, without all the bells and whistles of the Wine View Lounge. Pricing for the Party events is now: General Admission $145/person + tax; Reserved Seating $170/person + tax; Wine View Lounge $270/person + tax.

-- One of the most enticing new offerings, to me at least, is the introduction of Marketplace VIP Access Chef Tours. Held on Wednesday mornings at 10:30, you'll get the chance to wander around World Showcase for two hours before it officially opens to guests with a chef, visiting five marketplaces and sampling their food and beverages. "What a great opportunity for the chefs to share their stories and insights with their guests," says Hunnel. "You generally wouldn't get this kind of experience, so we're really excited to be able to offer it."

-- Remember last year's cranberry bog, situated in Future World as you approached World Showcase Plaza? It's returning, but more than that, there's also going to be a watermelon patch! Sponsored by The National Watermelon Promotion Board, the patch will have actual live watermelon plants where you can learn about growing them and get tips from affable TV personality Mr. Food ("Oooh, it's so good!")



-- From the Bean to the Bar Hosted by Ghirardelli Chocolate Company -- "We've been wanting to do something like this for many years," Hunnel notes. "This is going to be located in the back of the Festival Center -- Walt Disney Imagineering is helping us create a space that will be perfect for this decadent chocolate experience!"

According to Hunnel, guests will have the chance to not only sample gourmet chocolates, but will be able to DRINK it -- the exhibit will be featuring a drinking chocolate that's like a liquid candy bar. There will also be chocolate sculptures created by Disney pastry chefs and informative displays on about the food's origins. From the Bean to the Bar will be open daily from 9 a.m. through park close.

-- Wine Sampling in the Wine Shop -- This is something I've often wondered why they DIDN'T have! Now, you can visit the Festival Center Wine Shop for daily wine samples provided by participating beverages companies. Open daily at 11 a.m., and 1, 3 and 5 p.m.


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Now that I've told you what's new, I want to fill you in on who and what are returning.

"It's such an honor for us that these people choose to be a part of our festival," Hunnel notes. "They could go to any festival in the country, but they come to ours. And for many of them, it's a sort of homecoming -- so many of them have been coming here for years."

Among those returning celebrity chefs is a veritable "Who's Who?" of personalities you might find currently on your television, on the Food Network, Bravo or even the Travel Channel: Keegan Gerhard, Robert Irvine, Andrew Zimmern, Bryan Voltaggio, Art Smith, Cat Cora, and Buddy Valastro (the Cake Boss, who this year will be expanding his repertoire from sweets to savory, presenting at a Kitchen Memories session).


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Other returning offerings are the wildly popular Mixology sessions, presented every evening at the Festival Center at 6 p.m. A certified Mixologist talks about a specific spirit, then shows you how to mix it up into three lively cocktails -- a presentation that is practical AND potable, not to mention highly entertaining and a bargain at $16.

Last year, the festival tried an experiment with its signature dinners, and offered, instead of wine dinner, a BEER dinner. Apparently that was so popular it is returning, presented again by Chef Jens Dahlmann (below), this year on November 9.


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What's missing this year? Well, most notably there will NOT be a First Bites Reception the night before the official start of the festival. There also will not be a Party for the Senses tasting on the first or last Saturday of the festival. Bummer.

Hunnel also notes that they've retired the "Authors without Borders" program, which allowed guests to visit with cookbook and other authors, and have instead increased the number of Authentic Tastes they'll be offering. "These will be presented by people responsible for finding this special ingredients," Hunnel explains. "Ingredients like oils, mustards, vanilla, sugars, different gingers... you'll have the chance to get know more about these ingredients."

The beloved French Regional Lunches at Bistro de Paris are on hiatus this year, also, due to the renovations that will be taking place at that location. Instead Italian Regional Food and Wine Luncheons will be held at the new Tutto Gusto in the Italy pavilion. They'll be Wednesdays and Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m. and will be $75 per person. (Also due to the work at the Bistro, the super-fun Grand Marnier tasting is relocated to the Festival Center this year. So glad that's not going away altogether!)

As the August 14 reservations date nears, Hunnel admits that she's starting to get anxious. "Everything starts to resonate now," she laughs. "It's like a Broadway opening, and the ticket sales are like our review, our report card. Did we do good? Are guests interested in what we're offering?"

"We want to make sure our guests are happy," Hunnel adds. "We listen to what our guests say, and I think that's one of the reasons we're so successful. I think our guests' expectations are so much higher here, than they are at other similar festivals, because people know we also offer the Disney experience."

I know that's part of the draw for me -- not just the amazing culinary delights I know await me, but that they will be presented with the quality and care I've come to expect from Disney. That's why I've already set the alarm on my iPhone for 6:45 a.m. EDT on August 14 -- I don't want to miss the chance to make my reservations!

What looks good to you? What will you be booking this year, as you Taste Your Way around the World?

March 16, 2012

It's Easy Being Green... at Raglan Road

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Well, it's nearly St. Patrick's Day, and even though I'm not Irish (a little bit of Welsh and English,
yes, but Irish, no) I have always observed the holiday. I wear green, including my little shamrock earrings, and sometimes even cook up a good corned beef and cabbage dinner.

But, according to the lovely people at Raglan Road Irish Pub, located at Downtown Disney's Pleasure Island, I've been doing it wrong -- and they are going to be showing me, and anyone else who will listen, how to do it RIGHT this year.

This weekend, Raglan Road is celebrating St. Patrick's Day in a big way.The invitingly cozy pub, accented with warm woods, leaded glass windows and Irish memorabilia, including photos of Irish icons like sir Bob Geldof, will be buzzing with live bands playing authentic Irish music, Irish dancing, and genuine Irish cuisine.


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To launch the weekend, Raglan Road's Master Chef Kevin Dundon hosted a four-course lunch and culinary demonstration that featured cuisine representative of the Emerald Isle, including a traditional loin of bacon with cabbage. Having garnered many accolades over the course of his career for his high standards and inventive take on Irish fare, Dundon, who has cooked for the Queen of England and many other celebrities, is a bit of a personality himself. Handsome and charming, with the gentlest of Irish brogues, Chef Dundon worked his culinary magic while entertaining a full restaurant with little anecdotes about St. Patrick's Day celebrations and the four dishes themselves.


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I was lucky enough to be invited to the luncheon by the restaurant, and had a front row seat to all the preparations.

Chef Dundon began with an appetizer of hickory-smoked Irish salmon, served on a bed of buttered leeks in a mead cream reduction. Not being a fan of things "smoked", I was dubious about this course, until I realized that Chef Dundon's idea of "a little bit of butter" -- that is, a lot -- matches my own. The smokiness of the salmon was so subtle that the freshness of the fish shined through. It was enhanced by the buttery goodness of the mead-sweetened sauce and the delicate flavor the leeks was the perfect compliment to the dish. I nearly licked the plate!


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Our second course was an "espresso" of tomato and gin soup, so called due to the intensity of the tomato (or "to-MAH-to" if you're Chef Dundon) flavor. After again adding "a little bit of butter," Chef Dundon explained that he doesn't use flour in any of his soups or sauces -- he relies on reduction to thicken and concentrate the flavors. No one needed to have worried that this soup would lack taste, however. Served over a dollop of creme fraiche (no, this lunch wasn't for weight watchers!), the flavor of tomato fairly burst in your mouth with each sip. Once again, societal niceties kept me from licking the bowl. That doesn't mean I didn't want to!

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These first two courses were paired with a chardonnay from Acacia. The creaminess of the wine perfectly suited the buttery courses, and it had just the right touch of acidity.

For the main course, Chef Dundon prepared a loin of traditional Irish bacon with Irish Mist glaze on a bed of colcannon potato with a parsley cream sauce and raisin cider jus. The term "bacon" in this case, though, is a little misleading -- it's more an uncured ham, carefully scored so that the flavor of the Irish Mist (a whiskey liqueur) can soak in. So if the Irish actually eat ham on St. Paddy's Day, why do we here in the U.S. celebrate with corned beef? It's what was available to the Irish immigrants who arrived in this country decades ago, according Chef Dundon. He, though, is an advocate of reverting to the "proper" dish, and attempted to sway all of us to his way of thinking with the succulent version of Irish bacon that he served up. I think he succeeded.



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We were served a pinot noir from Acacia to accompany this course. Amy, the wine represenative from Coastal Wine and Spirits, called the full-bodied pinot the perfect pairing for the main course. Not being much of a pinot fan, I wasn't expecting much, but to my surprise, the wine complimented the course beautifully.

We concluded the meal with a jam jar filled with rhubarb jelly topped with a light, creamy panna cotta. Chef Dundon accented the dessert with a buttery, shamrock shaped cookie, to provide some crunch. This was the only course I didn't finish, and not because I didn't enjoy it, but because I was too stuffed already with so much Irish goodness I had no room.


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If I had had any preconceived notions that Irish cuisine was going to be boring and bland meat and potatoes, or the everyday corned beef and cabbage, they were clearly banished by this point. This year, I will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day in an entirely different (and hopefully more authentic!) way.


You can't make it to Raglan Road this weekend for St. Patrick's Day? Don't despair! The luck of the Irish will still be with you if head over on June 20, the pub's "Midsummer Night Feast." They'll be celebrating with an equally delicious-sounding menu: picnic basket of assorted pates and jams; champagne splashed raspberry sorbet; stuffed suckling pig with vegetables and a Pimm's knickerbocker glory for dessert! (Pimm's is a fruity British liqueur -- notice how most of Chef Dundon's recipes include some sort of alcohol? Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

And for another taste of Ireland, it sounds like Chef Dundon has been cooking up a special
Raglan Road signature dinner menu for this fall's Food and Wine Festival. Called "an Ode to the Classics," it starts with Coquille St. Jacques and end with Cherries Jubilee. (Subject to change, of course -- October is still six months away.)

For more details about the Midsummer Night Feast, or any of the events happening at Raglan Road this weekend, call the restaurant at 407-938-0300 or visit raglanroad.com. You can also make reservations for Raglan Road through Disney Dining at 407-WDW-DINE.

Read more about the St. Patrick's Day happenings at Raglan Road and Pleasure Island HERE.


July 29, 2011

Untamed! Lunch with an Animal Specialist at Sanaa

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When I was staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge back in May, I found out about two programs at the resort that were news to me. Jiko, the table service restaurant at the Lodge's Jambo House, was offering a weekly South African wine tasting (more on that in an upcoming blog), and Sanaa, the hidden gem of a restaurant at the Lodge's Disney Vacation Club extension, Kidani Village, was hosting what it called the "Untamed" lunch, also weekly, with a Disney Animal Specialist.

When Deb Wills and I returned to Animal Kingdom Lodge just a few weeks ago, we decided to stay out of the beastly heat of the theme parks for a while to take advantage of these special experiences.

We arrived at Kidani Village well before the 11:30 a.m. program start time, after taking the short shuttle ride over from Jambo House. (If it hadn't been 90 degrees already, we would have walked, but ugh, the humidity was killer!) Since we had time before the restaurant even opened, we walked out the downstairs back exit of the resort and watched some of the animals on the savanna. They were surprisingly active given the heat of the day. Zebras, giraffes and a few other hoofed animals were browsing, giving us up-close and personal views. That's one of the nice things about Kidani Village -- the savanna there was definitely designed so that you feel a little closer to the animals than you do over at Jambo House.

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After a few minutes of melting in the increasingly hot outdoors, we headed back inside to await our lunch appointment.

Cast members at Sanaa set the stage for the experience by performing a brief ceremony at the restaurant's entrance to announce its opening at 11:30.

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To keep the experience intimate, the Untamed lunch is limited to 12 participants. Luckily for us, there was only one other couple in attendance that day, so we were treated to a VERY personal experience. (By the way, I'd love to give a shout out to our tablemates, whose names I thought I had written down -- but apparently I didn't. So sorry! But it was great to meet you and share the lunch with you both!)

We were ushered to a table set apart a bit from the main dining area, close by a window, so we could view the animals as we dined. The table was beautifully set, with an array of condiments already displayed to get us in the mood.

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Before we got started, Chef Bob came out from the kitchen to greet us and speak a little bit about the food we were about to enjoy.

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If you've never dined at Sanaa you're in for a real treat, especially if you happen to like trying more exotic cuisines. As Chef Bob explained, Sanaa employs many East African traditions and serves food that is clearly influenced by Indian flavors. But if you think Indian food means spicy, and that perhaps you won't like it, think again. Yes, the food relies on spice, but spice doesn't necessarily mean hot -- in this case it means flavorful. In fact, when you see the word curry, what that's really saying is that the food is well seasoned, and bursting with flavor. Sanaa serves several curries as part of the Untamed lunch, and you really ought to give them a try. But if you don't want to, or have other dietary concerns, don't worry -- they are able to accommodate you, as long as you give them enough notice.

After explaining about the kitchen's cooking methods, Chef Bob introduced our first course -- the bread service, which was to be eaten with many of the condiments already on the table. There was red pepper hummus, garlic pickle and cooling cucumber raita as well as several different chutneys: mango, mint and tamarind. The breads included (from the top down in the photo) crispy pappadum (made of lentil flour), paneer paratha (a doughy flatbread filled with cheese), onion kulcha and naan (a puffy plain bread brushed with clarified butter called "ghee").

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As we dove in to the starters, our Animal Specialist, Steve Metzler, introduced himself and the program began in earnest. Steve, whose title is assistant animal operations manager, has been with Disney for more than 10 years, starting way back when Disney's Animal Kingdom was new, as a Kilimanjaro Safari driver. He eventually went on to help open Animal Kingdom Lodge, and then worked for several years on the development and opening of Kidani Village. Today, Steve's position is basically that of assistant curator for all the 220 animals at the Lodge (110 mammals, 110 birds). He not only supervises the animal keepers and works with veterinarians, he also is involved in taking care of everything from the tiniest detail to major problems. Last year, he even had the chance to travel to South Africa as part of an exchange program.


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"I am, amazingly, doing what I wanted to do," he said. "I always wanted to work with animals since I was little -- it's a dream job."

Steve went on to illustrate to us just how perfectly suited to this job he was, regaling us with tales of aggressive zebras and successful breeding programs, and explaining the difference between reticulated and Masai giraffes. He also shared tips on how to see more animals at the Lodge -- vary your schedule from day to day, walk around and look from different spots, and don't forget to look from the stairwells at Jambo House.

Steve talked, too, about how they attempt to mix animals that guests expect to see (the main attractions like zebras and ostriches) with less common species that might give a little extra special "magical moment" like the red river hogs, and of the unique challenge of maintaining what amounts to a 24-hour-a-day operation.

"Animal Kingdom Lodge never closes," he pointed out. "Guests want to see the animals when they are in their rooms, so we have to work around that when we want to restore the habitats, or care for the animals."

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As lunch progressed (first with a sampling of three Sanaa salads, then with our entrees of shrimp in green curry sauce and chicken in red curry sauce), we learned more about the different habitats at the Lodge, and how certain animals don't get along with others -- even within the same species. Steve also talked about how the animals are trained to come in from the savannas voluntarily. They learn if they come inside when they hear the percussion block, they will get the "jackpot" -- their main meal for the day. This allows the keepers to examine the animals in a controlled setting, and perform any vet-type procedures that may be necessary, without having to chase the animal around the savanna. Steve also explained how the philosophy at the Lodge differs somewhat from that of Animal Kingdom.


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"We don't want to replace Animal Kingdom," he noted. "We're the place you STAY when you go to Animal Kingdom, not instead of. Here at the Lodge we talk more about how we manage the animals -- we don't mind if you see the equipment or the pens, for example."

One of the things that struck me during our lunch is the emphasis Disney seems to place on making sure that the Lodge experience is as good for the animals as it is for the guests who stay there. Steve spoke at great length of the challenges of striking that balance between what's responsible regarding the animals with what the guest wants to see.

"We can't just keep these animals to show," he explained. "We need to be actively breeding them, and doing what is best for them. And it has to be sustainable -- we have to make it happen."


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After a wonderful trio of desserts from the Sanaa menu (Chocolate Cake, Orange-Sesame Cake with Passion Fruit Kulfi, and the absolutely to-die-for Chai Cream, center in the photo), Steve took us outside to conclude the program and introduced us to one of Kidani Village's residents -- a critically endangered radiated tortoise from Madagascar, named "Chappy" after one of Sanaa's chefs.


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Currently, Steve said that the Untamed lunch, which is only about two months old, is hosted mostly by managers who work with the animals, but that eventually animal keepers and possibly veterinarians will be joining in. That will only enhance what is already a stellar program.

Yes, I said stellar. The thing I always ask myself after I attend a special program like this is, "was it worth my time and/or money?" In this case, I have to answer myself (and is it wrong that I answer myself?) with a resounding YES. The food at Sanaa is outstanding -- I've always thought so, and truly believe this restaurant is one of the best-kept secrets at Walt Disney World. But more than just enjoying a wonderful meal in an amazing setting -- I mean, where else in Florida can you watch zebras and giraffes out the window while you dine? -- the Untamed lunch gives you the opportunity to discuss in-depth what it's like to work with the animals at Disney World. The hour and 45 minutes we spent with Steve fairly flew -- I could easily have stayed longer.

Whether you're an animal lover, or a Disney lover, or just looking for something off the beaten path while you're on your Disney vacation, the Untamed lunch has something to offer. Plus you not only learn about Disney's conservation efforts, but you have the satisfaction of knowing you are also contributing in some small way -- a portion of the cost of the lunch goes to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. And while the format of each lunch will be similar, the opportunity to talk to a different animal specialist each time lends this experience a high "repeatability factor" -- that means I would do it again, without hesitation.

The Who, What, Where, Whens:

As I said earlier, these luncheons are held Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at the Kidani Village restaurant Sanaa. A four-course menu is served. (Special diets can be accommodated; request at time of booking.) Cost is $49 for ages 10 and up, $29 ages 3-9 (with a special kids' menu). Price includes tax, gratuity and a $5 contribution to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. Only 12 participants per lunch. To make reservations call 407-938-6922; select Option 3 and leave a message.


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October 4, 2010

New Karamell-Küche in Epcot's Germany Pavilion

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Mmmm... I can still smell the amazing, buttery aroma of freshly made caramel, even now -- 24 hours after I first set foot in the new Karamell-Küche shop that opened just a few days ago in Epcot's Germany pavilion.

This new store, located on the site of the former Glas und Porzellan in the front of the pavilion, is sponsored by Storck USA, makers of Werther's Original Caramels. It's unique, in that it is the only freestanding retail location for Werther's in the world -- how did Epcot get so lucky?


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Not only does the shop sell a wide array of prepackaged Werther's candies, but each day cast members are busy making fresh caramel confections, including caramel apples and popcorn, caramel-drizzled cupcakes, rice krispie treats, cookies, strawberries, and much more.


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Not only is this place a treat for the nose and tastebuds, but it's a feast for the eyes, with attractive displays of its goodies, as well as the chance to watch the cast members at work. You can see them mixing up batches of savory hot caramel, or generously drizzling it over popcorn, cupcakes, and a variety of fruit and freshly baked items.


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All of this gooey goodness does not come cheap, of course. You can expect to pay $5.45 for a regular caramel-dipped apple, and up to $9.95 for a specialty, such as Rocky Road (covered with nuts, chocolate chunks, and marshmallows) or Apple Pie. But get this! Some of the items count as snacks on the Disney Dining Plan, including the small bag of caramel popcorn ($2.95), the gourmet caramels ($3.95), the chocolate and caramel covered strawberries ($3.95) and several of the various cookies (prices vary).


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If you're buying some of the regular Werther's candies, you can get 1.8 oz. roll packs for $.95, 4.5 oz. bags for $2.95. You can also get sugar-free Werther's: 1.48 oz. minis for $1.45; 2.75 oz. bags for $2.95 and 7.7 oz. bags for $8.95.

The shop is open during regular World Showcase hours, and the lines are currently long, but fast-moving. This is one sweet destination, if you'll pardon the pun, that you should definitely check out on your next visit to Epcot.



July 23, 2010

Dinner with the Stars: The Great Movie Ride Dinner

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On Saturday, July 17, my husband, son and I attended the Great Movie Ride Dinner, hosted by Tables in Wonderland, Disney's dining program that offers members restaurant discounts and access to special culinary events.

The price tag was a hefty $155 per person plus tax, but the prospect of dining INSIDE the Disney's Hollywood Studios attraction with animatronics and movie sets of famous films was enticing. There were only 80 spots available so we decided quickly to try to make reservations and were thrilled when we learned that the event had not yet sold out.

So on Saturday night, dressed in "casual evening attire", we arrived at the Studios. Park admission was included in the price of the dinner, so we found the cast members at the turnstiles, who checked our names off their list and allowed us into the park. We then proceeded to the courtyard in front of the Graumann Chinese Theater, home to the Great Movie Ride. The event wasn't due to start until 7:30 p.m. so after checking in with the cast members there and getting wristbands, we had some time to kill. We spent it looking around the courtyard at the handprints and footprints of celebrities who had left their marks. It was surprising to see some stars of today scattered among those of yesterday, like Samuel L. Jackson and Tom Cruise, whose feet are apparently much smaller than those of my 18-year-old son's!

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Just a few minutes after 7:30, once all (80) members of our party had checked in, we were welcomed by "Director" Otto von Bonbon, who, after jokingly protesting that he wanted "no pictures," led us into the theater:

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Have you ever seen the lobby of this attraction empty? It was almost eerie, especially since the movie montage preshow was still playing on the screen.

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After a brief introduction as to what the evening would entail, we were all allowed to wander into the attraction itself. It was interesting to note that the path was smooth -- the ride's trams clearly don't travel along tracks.

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We passed by the Busby Berkely scene, and Gene Kelly Singin' in the Rain, then past Mary Poppins and Bert. It was rather dark along here so unfortunately I wasn't able to get great photos. It was absolutely cool to be able to see these animatronics up so close, though, and to spend a few minutes examining them.

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Once we passed Public Enemy Jimmy Cagney, we settled into the Gangster Scene, where we were greeted by Louie ("The gun isn't loaded, but I am! and you never know when I might go off!) and his moll, who helped us locate our place cards with our seating assignments.

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There were a few cocktail tables positioned around the Gangster Scene, and near the big garage-type door there was a piano and a bar, with a great bartender pouring soft drinks, beer and wines (Columbia Crest chardonnay and Canyon Road cabernet, disappointingly low-end for such a nice event). Needless to say, most people congregated in this area, as it was also where Louie serenaded us with a song and the servers entered with their trays of hors d'oeuvres.

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The trouble with this arrangement, though, was that if you weren't standing in this area, the goodies never made it all the way back to you -- the folks "up front" gobbled them up. Luckily for us, Otto noticed this and made sure to collar a few servers before their trays were emptied, and brought them back to where we, and several folks on scooters, were hungrily waiting.

The hors d'oeuvres included:
-- Bugsy's Fire-roasted Duck with Cherries
-- Dillinger's Seared Shrimp with Dill
-- Bonnie and Clyde's favorite Chive-stuffed Potatoes

I managed to get two of the shrimp and one of the duck, and found both to be quite good. I never saw the potato canapes at all -- though my son said he'd enjoyed one, but that it was "microscopic."

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After about a half-hour or so, the big doors opened and we made our way to Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and the Western Scene.

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Tables covered in red-checked cloths stretched from one end of this scene to the next, bearing the names of famous cowboys and legends. We hunted for our table, Wyatt Earp, and found it to be at the furthest end of the room. We were seated with 8 others (11 total at our table), directly across from the elevated portion of the room on which our musical entertainment was performing. (They called themselves "Ma's Boys," but I recognized them as The Banjo Brothers and Bob from the Magic Kingdom.)

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At the other end of the room was the piano player, who had followed us from the Gangster Scene and performed when "The Boys" took a break.

"Ma" herself was on hand to get things rolling, and she circulated around the room throughout the meal to make sure folks were satisfied, occasionally bantering with her boys on the stage.

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Our plated dinner began with a Creamy Free-range Yard Bird Corn Chowder with Grilled Flatbread, followed by a salad of Wild Greens tossed with Cactus and Cilantro Vinaigrette and topped with Carrot Tumbleweeds. The soup was flavorful and hot, and the salad very fresh, but they must have run out of flatbread, as plain Italian bread had been substituted on a few guests' plates. A chef moved from table to table to ensure that everyone was happy with their food, so I took the opportunity to ask where they had prepared the meal. Surprisingly, she told me that most everything had been prepared at Epcot's hub kitchens, then transported to the Studios. She added that some of the food was being finished or heated in the back. She also shared her secret for making the soup so tasty -- she had put her fingers in it! I wasn't supposed to tell -- don't let her know I spilled the beans!

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Speaking of beans, our entrees featured some:
-- Mesquite-grilled Beef Filet with Herb Butter
-- Truffle Mac and Cheese and Molasses Pinto Beans
-- House made Roasted Onion Bread with Butter

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The beef was as tender as could be, but I have to say the portion could have been a bit larger (remember, we'd paid $155 per person). I'm not the biggest carnivore around, but even I found the size of the filet to be on the way too small side. You can imagine what my son thought! The mac and cheese was delicious, though, and the beans were a nice, cowboyish touch.

The bar had been wheeled to follow us, but there were empty wine
glasses set on the table, so we all assumed that servers would come
around to fill them. After the soup and salad, we realized that wasn't going to happen, so we decided it was time to go to the bar and get our drinks ourselves. It's not that we minded doing it, but it would have been nice to have been told that we were supposed to -- maybe a few additional servers would have helped avoid this situation. Never mind, the bartender (who we think has a future as a stand-up comic) made it all right in the end.

These were minor annoyances, because as we finished our entrees around 9 p.m. Otto and Ma made their rounds through the room again, and it was time to move on to dessert... in Oz.

After we left the Western Scene behind, we passed through Alien -- the creatures even fumed and shrieked for us:

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And then a personal favorite, Raiders of the Lost Ark, where we spent way too much time looking at all the snakes (so realistic even up close), Indiana Jones, mummies and the Hidden C3PO and R2D2:

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Then Tarzan:

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And Casablanca:

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And then we saw it... the beginning of the Wizard of Oz scene! Ooops, looks like someone dropped a house on her!

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I can't even begin to tell you how excited I was to be actually
walking through this scene from one of my favorite films of all time. As we entered Munchkinland, we found small tables strewn around the path, with buffet tables covered with Munchkin-sized desserts in all the brilliant colors of the movie set surrounding us -- with a special emphasis on bright green as we were so close to the Emerald City!

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The bar was again stalking us and there was also coffee and tea service to go along with the delectable mini desserts, which included cannoli, small cheesecakes on a stick, mint mousse atop chocolate cookies and fresh fruit. As if eating sweets in one of the sweetest settings imaginable wasn't enough, who should appear to circulate amongst us but Glinda the Good Witch! She sweetly posed for photos and just generally made sure that everyone was enjoying themselves.

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All too soon, it was 10 p.m. and we were treated to a surprise appearance by the Wicked Witch, followed by a rousing send-off by the munchkins singing, "You're off to see the Wizard..."

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It perfectly fit the theme -- yes, we got the hint that it was time to go, and sadly we shuffled out of Oz and back into the reality of Disney's Hollywood Studios... but not before we snuck another few sweet treats, including one of the Tootsie Pops placed in the bowls on the tables, as well as a quick photo op with Glinda, and Dorothy and company...

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We found ourselves back in the night air by about 10:15 p.m.

Despite some of the criticisms we had (the small filet, the low-end wines, the disorganized hors d'oeuvre service), we all agreed that the evening overall had been well worth every cent. How often does one get to dine in such a magical spot?

After speaking with a Tables in Wonderland cast member at the event, we learned that they are exploring the possibility of offering other similar events, perhaps in other attractions. If they are of the same caliber as this Great Movie Ride dinner, sign me up!

July 18, 2009

A Conversation with Marianne Hunnel: 2009 F&W Festival

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor

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The other day, I had the chance to speak with Marianne Hunnel, manager of culinary programs for the upcoming Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. I asked her if she could "spill the beans," so to speak, about what we can expect at the annual 45-day eating and drinking extravaganza, which runs this year from September 25 through November 8.

"I'm really excited about this year's festival,"Hunnel stated. "We have such an exciting lineup of chefs and programs."

Hunnel, who, along with her husband, Victoria and Albert's chef Scott, just celebrated her 20th year with Disney, noted that they are still adding the final touches to many of the events scheduled for this year's festival. She did, however, share many, if not all, details of what's to come.

What's New?

"We're going to have three new kiosks around World Showcase," Hunnel said, referring to the international food booths scattered amidst the country pavilions around World Showcase Lagoon. "The first will be right as you enter World Showcase, and it will feature desserts and champagne. You can arrive at the festival and toast the day along with maybe a Grand Marnier parfait. Then if you're hungry for real you can move to straight to another new kiosk -- Rio de Janeiro, from Brazil."

The other new kiosk this year is Thailand, featuring samples of savory Thai food paired with, not wine, but beer.

"We've found that in many countries wine isn't necessarily as popular," Hunnel noted. "And it's sometimes not the best pairing with the food."

While there won't be any big "experiences" around World Showcase, like last year's Louisiana or Australia exhibits, there will be several additions that offer more than just the samples you'll find at the food booths. For example, the Edy's Ice Cream Experience will offer a variety of flavors and interactive activities. The Italian region of Puglia will also be represented for all 45 days of the festival. Located near the Italy pavilion, of course, you'll find demonstrations there on pasta-making and tastings, including tastings of Puglia-produced olive oil, which Hunnel claimed is "incredible in flavor -- fruity, sweet, the aromas." My mouth was watering as she waxed poetic -- I do so love food.

Hunnel also said that by the time the festival starts the new lounge, Cava del Tequila, will be open in the Mexico pavilion, and it will be the site of tequila tastings each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"Spirits seem to be making a comeback," she noted. "There's a timeless tradition, obviously, of people enjoying spirits, but it seems that they are gaining in popularity again. Some guests at the festival like to explore different tastes like this, particularly when the people who crafted the beverages are present. It's an educational journey."

Also in Mexico, at least for part of the festival (the specific dates have yet to be determined) there will be chefs and demonstrations courtesy of the Mexican Tourist Board.

One program the Hunnel said she was very excited about is the new Celebrating with Family and Friends in the Kitchen. The concept is that a celebrity chef will prepare a three-course lunch for the audience, alongside one of their friends, another chef, or perhaps even a family member. The tentative schedule of these lunches is listed below.

What's Returning?

Although last year's experimental venture City Tastes is not returning, the ever-popular Party for the Senses will again be featured every Saturday, adopting at least one aspect of City Tastes -- a weekly theme.

"Each week, we'll be celebrating something," Hunnel noted, "from Comfort Foods with a Twist to Classical Cuisine presented in a new way." (Hunnel detailed the themes for each weekend, which I've listed at the end of this blog, along with other info she shared with me about other programs.)

The Party will, however, feature a new twist this year -- an exclusive Wine View Lounge, available for an additional fee, will give a limited number of guests the chance to partake of special amenities: a secluded area; private, reserved tables; and special menu items.

"Guests have expressed a desire to have an exclusive area like this," Hunnel noted. "We think this will be the place to see and be seen."

Also returning are the popular Sweet Sundays brunches, during which a celebrity chef prepares a variety of desserts after guests have a light brunch. Programs like Authors without Borders, the Wine School and other signature dining events, will also return. The Cheese Tastings are being offered again as well, although they'll be starting a little earlier than in previous years -- 10:30 a.m. Hmm, wine and cheese first thing in the morning -- Breakfast of Champions? Could be, could be...

Hunnel said that the final schedule, complete with dates, times and prices, should be available online at disneyworld.com within the next 5-10 days, but here are some specifics that she could share with me:

Celebrating Friends and Family in the Kitchen

" September 26 The Deen Brothers (Jamie and Bobby, sons of Food Network's Paula Deen)

" October 2 Suvir Saran

" October 9 Patti LaBelle (yes, the singer -- she has a cookbook out!)

" October 16 Dean Max and Paula DaSilva

" October 23 Alan Wong with Art Smith

" October 30 Cat Cora (possibly with her mother)

" November 6 Andrea Immer Robinson, M.S. - With husband John Robinson

Party for the Senses

" September 26 - Spanish cuisine/wines (chef Douglas Rodriguez will be on hand this week)

" October 3 - Comfort Foods with a Twist (think macaroni and cheese made with artisanal cheeses and homemade pasta)

" October 10 - South American (including chef Jeff Tunks)

" October 17 - Classical Cuisine presented in a new way

" October 24 - Asian (including chef Alan Wong)

" October 31 - Fall Harvest (including chefs Cat Cora and Tory McPhail of Commander's Palace in New Orleans)

" November 7 - Italian

Sweet Sundays

" September 27 Andrew Shotts
" October 4 Warren Brown & Mary Meyers
" October 11 David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Arlington, VA
" October 18 Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
" October 25 Clair Clark from The French Laundry
" November 1 Geraldine Randalsome
" November 8 Jacques Torres

My mouth is watering already! I'll be covering the first weekend of the Festival and returning again later in October with my family for our annual visit. If you have any suggestions of things I should try specifically, drop me a note here and I'll make the supreme sacrifice of "researching" these fun food and wine events for our readers!

February 26, 2009

What's New, What's Next at Downtown Disney

by
Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor
AllEars®

I recently had the chance to chat with Kristi Koester, a manager of WDW Product Marketing, and we talked about what's going on with the Downtown Disney area. While there was a lot she couldn't talk about, because it's still in the planning stages, there were a few things she COULD reveal. Plus we had the chance to talk more at length about some plans that have already been announced.

kristi.jpg "When the night clubs closed on Pleasure Island (on September 28), we announced a complete transformation, not only of Pleasure Island, but of the whole Downtown Disney area," Koester says. "Over the past few months we have been working with Imagineers and many others to finalize this vision we have of making the area Disney's dining, shopping and entertainment metropolis."

Some of the changes to the area we're already seeing, she notes, pointing to the fall 2008 opening of T-Rex and the recent opening of the Design-A-Tee shop at the Marketplace. On the horizon is TrenD (pronounced trend-dee), an upscale, hip Disney fashion boutique, located on the site of the former Summer Sands in the marketplace, due to open in late March. And soon after that there will be a new, as-yet-unnamed restaurant with a Central and South American theme.

E-Brands Restaurants, based in Orlando, is the name behind the new restaurant, and the company already operates a number of high-concept eateries around the country, including Timpano Chophouse and Martini Bar, AquaKnox ( seafood), and David Burke (Modern American cuisine in Las Vegas). Nonetheless, Koester claims that this particular restaurant's concept is new to E-Brands, and will add to the mix of the Downtown Disney area, which she says is evolving from "night clubs" to "night life."

The new restaurant, which is slated to open later this year with a wine bar and a tequila bar, will also feature an impressive view of the waterfront.

"That's been one of the issues at Downtown Disney," she notes, "the real estate issue. You have this prime location sitting on the water and it was blockaded by all these buildings. The area needs to be contemporized and the waterfront opened up -- we're looking at ways to maximize this asset."

Another way Downtown Disney will "maximize this asset" is with Characters in Flight, the first Downtown Disney attraction, scheduled to open in April. This tethered balloon ride, situated in the water between Pleasure Island and West Side, is operated by the same company that runs a similar ride at Disneyland Paris. It will allow 30 participants at a time to go 300 feet off the ground and will last six minutes. The cost for the experience has not yet been set, but Koester notes that it will be quite an exhilarating ride.

"The ride will operate day and night," she explains, adding that the balloon will be illuminated in the evenings. "It's off-white, silhouetted with Disney characters, and will be quite a unique site hovering over the water at Downtown Disney."

When asked if this type of activity along with the closing of the night clubs, signals a shift to making Downtown Disney and specifically Pleasure Island more family-oriented, Koester shakes her head.

"No, I don't think that's it. I think the area will have a family focus, but will also be accommodating to others, not catering to one group more than another." She adds, "We're looking at rounding out what we have already and bringing in the best brands from all over. Not necessarily chains, but more unique experiences, like Raglan Road. We're looking at an array of dining possibilities, places with show kitchens, open lounges, that will appeal to everyone, not just families."

So what about bringing some of the old night clubs back, then? Specifically the beloved Adventurers Club, which was a uniquely Disney experience.

"I can tell you for certain that the Adventurers Club as it was will not be coming back to Pleasure Island," Koester states. "I'm afraid it will be a line in Disney history."

As for the rest of the changes the area will be seeing, Koester says they are coming, but as Imagineers are looking at transportation and a whole host of other related issues, it's been a challenge to develop and lock onto a finalized plan. But, she adds, there will be a succession of smaller announcements over the next 18 months to two years, as Disney reaches agreements with other partners who will open locations in the Downtown Disney area.

"As you can imagine, tough economic times like these tend to slow things down," she notes. "But you can expect an announcement at least of the overall vision for Downtown Disney early this summer."

May 10, 2008

Whirlwind Weekend Getaway: Part 2

By Michelle Scribner-MacLean

Beautiful weather was a welcome theme for this entire weekend, after traveling from New Hampshire, where it is still struggling to get out of the 50s. This May weekend was in Orlando absolutely beautiful with temperatures in the mid-80s and abundant sunshine for nearly the entire time I was there. This provided a terrific backdrop for my second full day at the Flower and Garden Festival at EPCOT.

I spent the first part of the day on my own, taking my time and carefully checking out the special exhibits and plants that were highlighted in Future World. I got the chance to speak with two beekeepers, whose booth was located in Future World East, between the Mousegear store and Mission Space. They brought two living hives, samples of honey, and were very willing to talk about the bee-plant relationship, as well as what is involved in keeping hives.

beekeepers


Next I made my way over to Minnie's Butterfly Garden (Can you see a theme here? I'm a science teacher and love learning about bugs!).

minnie.jpg

Sandwiched between two amazing butterfly topiaries, this popular attraction is back with an array of local butterflies including zebra longwings, orange julias, and painted ladies.

butterfly.jpg

It was fairly crowded (with lots of enthusiastic photographers getting shots of these interesting creatures on their native plants. Here's a photo I took of a common buckeye.

Buckeye.jpg


Later in the morning I was joined by my friend, Pat, who had never seen the Flower and Garden Festival. I visit Walt Disney World frequently, but one of the things that I really enjoy is introducing my friends and family to new things that they haven't seen before. Pat was thrilled with all that she saw and kept saying, "I can't believe that I never knew this was here!"

stitch.jpg

At lunchtime we made our way over to Garden Town, former home to the Wonders of Life Pavilion. (I met up with a cast member friend who said that, although they've been opening the Wonders of Life for five weeks a year during the past several years, now it is officially closed for good - or, as we like to say in the Disney fan world - it has become an "extinct attraction").

For Flower and Garden, they've converted this space into sort of an exposition of things related to plants and growing. There are two spaces for lectures and demonstrations (I caught a horticulturist talking about garden irrigation and walked by a group learning about proper ways to plant trees), there is a little garden store, and there is a wonderful 20-minute film which shows behind the scenes footage of how the Disney team of horticulturists prepare for this event.

Pat and I then ventured to the Garden Town Café for lunch. This was a perfect spot for a few reasons. First, it seems that not many people know about this café".so it was not crowded at all. Second, there were some great food choices. We had salads with edible greens and flowers and both agreed that it was really yummy (and I definitely felt as if I'd had my vitamins for the day after eating that).

We spent the remainder of the day walking around World Showcase, where each country featured some special plant arrangement, spice, or fragrant flower collection. The topiaries were just spectacular. I noticed these familiar characters in Germany.

Seven Dwarves


My last morning at Walt Disney World was filled with interesting events. I decided that I could not go home without going to the Magic Kingdom (what trip to WDW would be complete without seeing the castle?). Taking advantage of my planned reservation later in the day, I parked at the Grand Floridian and took an easy monorail ride over to the Magic Kingdom. I spent quite a bit of time in Tomorrow Land and must comment that every time I've gone to the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, I've really enjoyed myself. I sort of feel that I don't want to like it - because it's so goofy, but every show that I've been to has been different and really funny. I'd recommend it if you've never been.

Crowd levels we really high, but I decided to venture over to one of my favorites - Splash Mountain - because I had a Fast Pass. Not a good idea. Ten minutes into it, the ride broke down and we were stuck for 25 minutes. Because we stopped at a difficult to access place in the ride, our evacuation required that we climb over the back seats of several boats before being taken backstage to exit (cast members requested that we take no photos). Although this doesn't happen often, it happens occasionally, so here is a tip for parents: make sure that your child has visited the restroom before going on a long attraction. The poor family behind me had a 5 year-old girl who had to go and that 25 minute wait was not a pleasant one for her!

On the way out of Splash Mountain, I had a bit of a celebrity sighting. Cole and Dylan Sprouse (a.k.a. Zack and Cody from the show on the Disney Channel) were walking toward Splash Mountain with a VIP guide. There were so many people in the park, they seemed to be walking around unnoticed. Sadly, I didn't have my camera out when they passed.

The final treat for my weekend was meeting my friend for high tea at the Grand Floridian. This was a new experience for me and I was very excited. The tea is served at a small restaurant at the back of the lobby called Garden View Lounge. The tables are small, the chairs are comfy, the room is sunny, and the wait staff was excellent. Pat and I both ordered three course teas and settled in for a wonderful experience. I treated myself to a Prince Edward's Tea (but shared the pate with my friend since I'm a vegetarian). The first course also came with sherry (a fun surprise), delicious cheese, and an assortment of berries. Later I had scones with Devonshire clotted cream, while Pat, who had ordered the Sally Lunn Tea, had beautiful strawberries and cream. It was a perfect ending to a whirlwind getaway weekend and I highly recommend high tea as a change of pace from the parks and a new experience at Walt Disney World.


You can download your own copy of the Flower and Garden Festival at: http://adisneyworld.disney.go.com/media/wdw/Images2003/languagespecific/eng/nontheme/parks/epcot/events/flowerandgarden/FlowerGarden08_lores.pdf

Take a look at menu for high tea at the Grand Floridian Garden View Lounge.

May 9, 2008

Whirlwind Weekend Walt Disney World Getaway: Part 1

By Michelle Scribner-MacLean

Ah, the generosity of friends".and all my friends happen to know that I love Walt Disney World. So, when my dear pal Pat invited me to stay at her off-property Orlando timeshare for the weekend, I jumped at the chance. I was particularly happy because, although we usually trek down to WDW in May as a family, this spring we'd decided to postpone our family trip until later in the year".which meant that I was going to miss the Flower and Garden Festival at EPCOT. However, yesterday, after a very early flight from cold and dreary New Hampshire, midmorning I found myself standing in front of Spaceship Earth taking in this splendid site:

Spaceship Earth Flower and Garden Festival


The entrance area to EPCOT didn't have its typical music, but instead featured tunes that you'd hear at a beach party".which is fitting since all of the topiaries are decked out in beach gear. Minnie had a cute bathing suit and her dear boy"..er"..mousefriend looked like this:

Mickey and the Flower and Garden Festival


I didn't get very far into EPCOT when my friend called and invited me to Downtown Disney for lunch. (See! I told you it was whirlwind). We met at Wolfgang Puck's for a lunch on the outside patio (something that it pretty tricky to do in New Hampshire these days).

I ordered spinach salad with pecans and gorgonzola cheese, but had asked them to take the apples out since I am allergic. The waitress assured me it would be no problem at all. After the salad arrived and I started eating it".I bit down into an apple! Luckily, I only had a slight reaction, but I made sure to tell the waitress. The chef came out to personally apologize, but I wanted to mention this because, although anyone with allergies is very careful, mistakes do happen so be sure to double check (it reminded me that I need to remember to carry my benedryl wherever I go).

As my friend Pat headed to a water park with her son, I had some time to myself before we met later for dinner. As I got into my car I had an email on my phone from a friend suggesting that there might be soft openings of Toy Story Mania at Disney Hollywood Studios. Well, I guess that made the decision of where I'd be going next! When I arrived I found out that the soft openings were just for Cast Members".and that the line was a 90 minute wait (those Cast Members love the new attractions as much as we do!). This is was the area looked like.

Toy Story Mania Entrance

You can see that it was blocked off, but there is a Pixar Studio banner, some plastic monkeys, and some army men on the roof. Looks like it is going to be a fun area".but I'll have to wait until my next trip.

I did get to see something new"the Block Party Bash, which has just been around for about a month. The parade is a bit different from other Disney parades because there are about six or seven floats with performer and different characters and they start by moving up the street and then stopping to perform for 10 minutes".then they move to another part of the parade route and stop again. I was sitting at the second stop".and it seemed like a long wait until they got there.

The characters are from Pixar films so you'll see Toy Story characters, the Bug's Life crew, and the ones that stopped in front of me were from Monster's Inc.

Boo in Block Party Bash Parade

The characters, along with dancing Cast Member friends, engage the audience in jumping, clapping, and dancing to pretty much any party song you can imagine (think YMCA and macarana). It was different and the kids around me were thrilled when they were pulled out into the street to dance. At the end of the mini performance, they shot mini rubber balls into the audience.

Sully in Block Party Bash Parade


After two trips on Aerosmith's Rock 'n Roller Coaster and two more on the Tower of Terror, I headed off to Boma for dinner (see previous note about the whirlwind nature of this trip). I introduced Boma to my friend last year".and now, just like me, she likes to make a visit to Boma part of every trip. Our new tradition is arriving about 45 minutes before our reservation so that we can walk around the lobby and check out the interesting artifacts and go behind the resort where you can see some African animals.

So, after a wonderful dinner at Boma".we headed back to her resort and preparation for another fun day. More to follow"

May 17, 2007

A Quick Weekend Trip Report

AllEars Team Member Anita Answer files this report:
Just back from a quick Mothers' Day weekend trip to the World, and wanted to share a couple of things:

flower and garden festival


New Fastpasses: Saw them at the Safari and Everest. They're about 1/3 bigger, on heavier stock. The issue date is BIG now, so no cheating! The new FPs also reference the pass you used to get them, and have a ref number printed at the bottom as well as bar code on the sides. I think this foreshadows some other changes coming to the FP system in the near future, but I'm not really sure yet what they may be.

New Show at the Safari: First ride on the Safari on Sunday morning was the old show (Miss Jobson, Wilson, Big Red, Little Red, Shifty- eyed Crocodiles, etc.) I asked an area coordinator when the new show was starting as I thought it already had. He said there are 3 shows right now as they phase the new one in: The old one, the new one with a recorded spiel, and one where the driver does the whole thing. He asked if we wanted to check out the new show (Uh, let me think...YEAH!) and he back-doored us back onto the ride and made sure we got a truck with the new show. By the way, the trucks now have 2 extra rows on the back and a canvas roof. Anyway, back to the new show. Miss Jobson has been made redundant, Wilson has had a voice transplant and now sounds like Mr. Bean imitating Wilson. I was on the floor of the truck I was laughing so hard. It's unintentionally hilarious. What can I say? I'm easily amused.

In the new show, the driver handles most of the spiel now, and the poacher/dead elephant story has been relegated to the back page, with more emphasis on the animals now. Bottom line, the old show was silly and probabably needed some work. The new show is just...blah. The animals are spectacular as usual. Several times during the ride, we were eye to eye with rhinos, giraffes, and ostriches.

Saw the new Monsters, Inc. show. It was not an E Ticket, but not as bad as I had been led to believe. I thought it was cute. The audience interaction was very funny and entertaining.


Saw the new Three Caballeros ride at Mexico. Also cute and well done, but the boat goes too fast for you to catch on to what's going on in the story. You may have to ride it a few times to figure it out.

New queueing in Rock 'n' Roller. The queue is completely different from the entrance to the load zone now. There are three lines: Stand- by, Fastpass and Single Rider. The pre-show area has been rebuilt. The upper tier is now much smaller and for Fastpass guests. The lower tier is larger, and for Stand-By guests.

I rode Everest 12 times on Sunday. This is not my personal best, however, which is 29 times in one day during the first day of previews.

Saw the Nemo show again, and they've changed Crush's human's costume. I liked the old one better (dreds, board shorts, sandals). Now he wears one of those body suits the other puppeteers wear, and it's kind of a washed-out mottled khaki. Now it looks like there's another turtle riding on Crush's back. I thought it looked odd. Bring back the original costume, please?

Went to have lunch with friends yesterday (May 15) at the Yacht Club Galley and found it closed and under rehab! The hostess told me they had only found out at 2:30 on Friday they were closing. They'll re-open on May 23. Meanwhile, lunch is being served at the Yachtsman Steakhouse. The menu is the same. Lots of changes happening to the World's restaurants these days!

Stayed at Shades of Green for the first time and it was pretty much a bust. Although the resort is absolutely gorgeous and the rooms are huge, pretty and spotless, the restaurants were awful, and the guest service was worse. I started my stay on Saturday at lunch in Evergreens where I had an entire glass of iced coffee dumped on me by the server. Did she apologize? No. Did she offer to get me a towel to clean up? No. She didn't offer a free drink to replace the one I was now wearing, and in fact I had to ask for a replacement drink four times from two servers before I got it. Some of my clothing was ruined and my capris were soaked through to my skivvies.We didn't have a room yet, so it made for an uncomfortably damp coffee-scented afternoon. It did not set a good tone for our stay.

Although SoG is located right next to the Poly, it's impossible to get anywhere easily without a car. It's also impossible to park at the TTC and try to get back to SoG without going about 20 miles (slight exaggeration...) out of your way unless you know the Super Secret exit that will not put you on World Drive going south. I knew it was there, but could not find it at 1:00 am Sunday morning in the dark. After three loops around the parking lot, I gave up and went all the way down World Drive and turned around and came back. Frustrating, since you can see the
resort, but you can't get to it! By the way, it costs $5 a day to park at SoG, and your park parking is not covered. Parking is also in a garage, and the rows are so narrow you can't back out without doing a five-point turn.

Yesterday, they left our bill on our door. We opened it and noted that they had charged the wrong rate. We also noted that there was a room service charge we did not make. Then we noted we had been given the next room's bill! So...downstairs my friend goes, which was ok since she had to pick up a package we had delivered from Epcot. The front desk was less than helpful and had to be begged for a new printed copy of the bill. The desk clerk seemed unconcerned about privacy and identity security issues (at a military hotel!? ) and told her not to worry about who might have her bill. The the clerk then rolled her eyes at my friend as if it was all her fault!

Now it was time to get the package...which they had lost. Nowhere to be found. They said if they found it they would call and she could come get it! Uh, no! Shouldn't they mail it at their expense since they lost it? They finally found it and called, shortly before we were due to leave for the airport. "It was sent over to Saratoga Springs. You can pick it up there." Why did they send it to SSR? Needless to say, we both agreed that no matter how inexpensive it was to stay there or how lovely the resort was, we would never ever- did I mention NEVER?- ever stay there again. DND (Definitely Not Disney). It remains to be seen if the package ever makes it home.

Flowers


The Flower and Garden Festival has certainly been pared down this year! The grounds are stunning this year, but the "Festival" part is lacking. The Odyssey Festival Center contained a demo area, a display of arrangements and about 3 vendors. We kept asking if we were missing the rest somehow, but were assured this was pretty much all there was. Outside, there were some kiosks along World Showcase Plaza, and that was about it. They extended the show, and then got rid of 1/3 of it? That didn't make sense to me, but I'm not in charge of Epcot Special Events either.

Yak & Yeti - Second floor is taking shape, but still no roof. I don't think they're going to make that July 2007 deadline for opening. Had a "Farewell To Tusker House" breakfast on Sunday. Goodbye, old friend...

The Magic Kingdom Noodle Station is open 5pm to 9 pm daily. El Pirata in the Magic Kingdom has been open for lunch.

Apparently, the exhorbitant shipping costs did not go over well with guests and shipping costs are back to normal again. I didn't experience this personally, and I'm just repeating what my friend told me she learned when she bought something at Downtown Disney and had it shipped home. YMMV.

Saw the Animal Kingdom Lodge models and chatted with the sales people. I loved the layout, and especially the master bathroom in the new bigger 1 br. (there are two full bathrooms and the unit sleeps 5!) I did not like the general decor, however. Animal prints and dark woods are not to my taste. By the way, the dining table only seats 4, but the unit sleeps 5. Guess someone didn't think that one through?

Davy Jones


Saw Davy Jones on Sunday! We were so close to the stage we could almost touch him. Woohoo! For a 61 year old man, he sure looks good! He can also sing and dance just as well as he could when he was 21. Amazing. Can you believe the Monkees TV show is 40 years old? Special guest was his sister Hazel, sitting two rows behind me. He sang a Swing song for her, and a young couple began swing dancing near the back. He called them up on stage, but they didn't hear him as they were concentrating on their dancing. He walked all the way out into the audience and brought them onstage, then brought his sister out of the audience to dance with him. It was a really nice moment, and nice way to end my Epcot visit.

Now it's back to reality until my next trip.

Anita
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