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December 18, 2017

Disney Springs Adds NEW Dining Experiences from the Patina Group

Deb's Digest Blog

Recently, I had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at the new dining opportunities coming to Disney Springs from the Patina Group. The restaurants: The Edison, Maria and Enzo's, Enzo's Hideaway and Pizza Ponte are separate entities but all physically joined in one huge location with a central theme. While photos were not allowed, several were provided and used in this blog.

Nick Valenti, CEO of Patina Restaurant Group, said: “I’m delighted to announce that we will be opening a trattoria named Maria & Enzo’s, as well as Enzo’s Hideaway, a separate restaurant in what were said to be rum-running tunnels, which is destined to become a local favorite. They are inspired by the cuisines of Sicily and Rome, the Italian family, and the best of Italian modern cooking.”

Theo Schoenegger, the executive chef, comes to Orlando from Las Vegas where he most recently was executive chef at Sinatra, an Italian fine dining restaurant located at Wynn Las Vegas. "The new restaurants will bring a casual elegance to Disney Springs with a blend of star ingredients embedded in elaborate, multipart compositions while keeping the simplicity they demand. Presentation and service will include varieties of amuse bouche upon being seated, a vast selection of fine Italian wines, table-side preparation and service."

The complex of Maria and Enzo's, Enzo's Hideaway and Pizza Ponte is set in an old air terminal circa 1930s. As the backstory goes, at the time, Maria and Enzo owned a bakery at the terminal.


When the terminal eventually closed, Maria and Enzo decided to purchase the building and create these Italian inspired experiences.


An Italian trattoria located in the original terminal area, this open and airy dining room has 50-foot ceilings and artifacts that will transport guests back to the golden age of travel. In keeping with the theming, there is even a First Class Lounge area off the main dining room that offers a more intimate experience for guests who are randomly selected (or request) to dine there.

The menu is inspired by Sicily, with a range of family-friendly dishes – such as Arancini di Carne (rice balls stuffed with meat) and Melanzane Parmigiana (eggplant Parmesan) – and handmade pastas, such as Busiate con Granchio (spiral pasta with crab) and ‘Ncasciata al Forno (Sicilian baked pasta), served tableside. Other highlights include fresh fish, richly flavored steaks and chops.


Travel back in time to the era of speakeasies in this unique setting in the former rum running bootlegger tunnels! Enzo had no idea when he purchased the building that the tunnels existed. He repurposed the space into an area where he would entertain his friends around large tables.

Just imagine being inside a tunnel smelling the aroma of Roman-inspired dishes and enjoying a Sunday supper while exploring the stories on the huge wall of graffiti. This special dining experience includes a bring-your-own-wine option. I am most excited about this offering.

Enzo’s Hideaway will pour Prohibition-era cocktails at its Tunnel Bar and serve a casual menu of hearty Roman dishes, such as the city’s legendary Bucatini alla Carbonara (hollow spaghetti with creamy egg and pancetta sauce) and Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe (square-cut spaghetti with pecorino and black pepper).


Pizza Ponte is fast-casual concept serving pastries, pizza, Italian sandwiches, and espresso. It's the perfect place for a quick bite! Pastry specialties include Bomboloni (Italian doughnuts), Sfoglia di Riso (pastry with rice cream) and Tiramisu. Savory items include signature Triangolo (stuffed pizza bread) sandwiches, Porchetta (roast pork) and Pizza al Taglio, Sicilian-style pizza by the slice.


We were unable to visit Pizza Ponte during our tour.


Officially opening on New Year's Eve with a grand gala, the much-anticipated Edison will have two levels of multi-themed areas to explore, such as the Lab performance space, The Ember Parlour, Telegraph Lounge, The Patent Office, The Tesla Lounge, The Radio Room, and the Waterfront Patio. The restaurant is family dining until 10 p.m. when it becomes an adult-only venue with live entertainment (and a cover charge). The Edison occupies what used to be an industrial power plant, according to its backstory.

A lavish “Industrial Gothic” style restaurant, bar and nighttime destination, The Edison will feature exceptional classic American food, craft cocktails and live entertainment including cabaret and music. With multiple levels and a performance space, The Edison will be open for lunch and dinner. The menu is executed by Chef PJ Finneran, and consists of contemporary American fare such as Pork Belly Pops with a chile-brown sugar glaze, Crispy Fried Chicken with cast iron buttermilk biscuits, and its signature The Edison Burger, a juicy combination of house-ground sirloin, shortrib and brisket, topped with Cabot cloth-bound cheddar, onion rings, smoked bacon, house pickles, lettuce, tomato, special sauce and served with hand-cut fries.


The only official opening date that has been announced is for The Edison, but look for the other dining establishments to open in the near future.

November 27, 2017

Backstage Magic Tour

Deb's Digest Blog

Years, and I do mean years ago, I took the Backstage Magic Tour of Walt Disney World. We got to do some really cool things and I always remembered how much fun it was. The tour took us to Epcot, Magic Kingdom (no Animal Kingdom then), the Disney MGM Studios and behind the scenes at several Cast Member locations.

Much has changed in all those years, and recently I have been wanting to take it again, especially with the American Adventure component. I kept promising myself once the temperatures in Central Florida cooled down, I'd sign up. It is easily seven hours and by the time you are done, you are ready to rest and put your feet up for a while.

Here's how it is currently described:

"Enjoy a one-of-a-kind VIP look at the inner workings of Walt Disney World Resort on an amazing 7-hour journey through the Magic Kingdom Utilidors, Creative Costuming, Walt Disney World Central Shops and more. Tour participants are among the select few who receive an exclusive look into the artistry, technology, mechanical marvels and backstage stories that go into producing world-class Disney experiences."

The timing could not have been more perfect when a couple weeks ago in my inbox the following appeared: INVITATION: Join us for Backstage Magic! Yes, I had been selected to experience the Backstage Magic Tour by Walt Disney World. I should note that Adventures by Disney (AbD) actually runs the tour.

Recently, I took the tour and I can tell you it is a whirlwind of a day and worth every moment.

Our guides, Amber and Pieter, were awesome, full of facts and tidbits, and they made sure we stayed on time. There were only a couple rules, "Don't ask how many or how much." And absolutely no cell phones out while backstage. In fact, we were given small notebooks to jot down things to remember because we couldn't take photos of everything.

WDW Backstage Magic Tour

Meandering backstage, we learned tidbits about Future World including everything from a brief history of Epcot to the many Disney color paint palettes.

Soon we were at the American Adventure! Learning and seeing the magic work behind the scenes was fascinating, and we were very lucky and got an up-close and personal look at Ben Franklin. (Please note the up-close look is not available on all tours). Did you know that in the Declaration of Independence scene with Franklin and Thomas Jefferson the words Declaration of Independence are written on each of the "earlier versions" that are crumpled up on the floor? That's just in case someone with a telephoto lens takes a picture!

Next, we spent about 40 minutes in Creative Costuming. The outside door has a small awning that says: "The Hanger." Clever, don't you think?

WDW Backstage Magic Tour

We learned all kinds of things about Cast Costumes, like there are four categories - Operational Cast Members, Entertainment, Equity Performers and the Audio Anamatronics. There is even a reference library wall that has swatches of cloth for each costume. When I took this tour years ago, cast members were not allowed to bring their costumes home; they were stored and cleaned at Walt Disney World. That has changed quite a bit, as Operational Cast Members are allowed to take them home now.

WDW Backstage Magic Tour

Next stop was Textile Services. I could write about all the cool things we learned, but then you may not need to take the tour. (Or maybe at this point my handwriting became illegible!) On to Laundry, which you probably wouldn't think of as fascinating, but it truly was. Those laundry carts you see at all the Disney Resorts? They get transported to one of the laundry facilities where the contents are emptied, cleaned, sanitized, wrapped in plastic and returned back into service. Guess what the No. 1 item is that's found mixed in with the laundry? I'll tell you at the end.

We had a very fun photo op here. In fact, there are three or four photo ops along the way that you won't find anywhere else. (Hint: maelstrommalestrommaelstrom)

By this point in the tour, I know my stomach was growling, and I think several others were too!

The folks at Whispering Canyon at Wilderness Lodge took great care of us. Lunch began with the yummy corn bread, followed by the All You Can Eat Skillet and ended with a specially made cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Of course, a visit to Whispering Canyon is not complete without some shenanigans.

WDW Backstage Magic Tour

Two stops left, and they were both huge -- Central Shops and Utilidors. The Central Shops are in this ginormous warehouse with lots of separate areas such as Welding, Metal, Assembly, Scenic, Inspection and everything else in between. This is like candy for the eyes for Disney geeks as you get to see whatever is being worked on like a hippo from the Jungle Cruise and a chassis from Expedition Everest. Also, during this part of the tour we learned a great deal about the Audio-Animatroncs.

WDW Backstage Magic Tour

Last but certainly not least was our tour of the Utilidors at the Magic Kingdom. Underneath the Magic Kingdom is a 1.3-mile utility corridor with 29 stairwells leading up to the Magic. Also located here is the AVAC (automated vacuum collection) system where all the trash goes. It was revolutionary in its time, but later proved to not be cost effective.

And then all of a sudden our tour was done. Wow! I can't even begin to tell you all the tidbits and facts we all learned, and my note-taking could barely keep up to the narrative. There is much more I could share, but I don't want to spoil some of the magic you will want experience.

WDW Backstage Magic Tour

We had a bus that took us from place to place. As we couldn't take photos our guides made sure to take lots of photos of us in various locations. Our belongings could stay safely on the bus. There was also plenty of cold and room temperature water as well as snacks. The guides, like all AbD guides, took great care of us.

At the conclusion, we each received an Adventures by Disney pin for the Back Stage Magic Tour.

WDW Backstage Magic Tour

Oh, and that No. 1 item found in the laundry? The remote control from the TV.

Ok, so the big question, would I spend $275 for a seven-hour behind-the-scenes tour of Walt Disney World? My answer is yes. As I wrote in the very beginning, I was considering signing up. As a Disney fan, I loved all the details and tidbits that were shared. I love seeing what goes on behind the scenes of all the various areas of the park. There are numerous unique experiences you won't get on any other tour. My one suggestion for the tour designers would be to add a behind-the-scenes tour of Tower of Terror or Haunted Mansion!

If you do this tour, make the most of it by asking all the questions you can think of. After all, you are dedicating a full day to the experience!

To book the Backstage Magic Tour call 407-WDW-TOUR (407-939-8687). Guests must be at least 12 years of age to participate in this tour. Read the Know Before You Go section on! Lastly, there is a lot of standing and walking.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Walt Disney World. However, my opinions are my own.

October 25, 2017

PREVIEW: The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic - This Weekend!

Deb's Digest Blog
The 8th Annual Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic returns this weekend, October 27 - 30, 2017.

The 8th Annual Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic approaches quickly! This is, by far, the largest classic ever. Each year sees the addition of a new component and 2017 is no different. This year, the Classic will introduce "The Bubbles Lounge."

The Bubbles Lounge, a secluded, whimsically themed area showcasing sparkling beverages, including champagne and sparkling wine, was inspired by Lawrence Welk and his champagne style.

Returning for the second year is the Sunday Bubbles Brunch. This lavish brunch will feature traditional and not-so-traditional items prepared by award-winning chefs. One glass of champagne or a specialty mimosa will be included in the menu price, along with the option to upgrade to bottomless champagne and mimosas at the time of seating.

Tony Porcellni, Director of Food and Beverages explains:

Returning this year are two great themed areas: Chinatown and Carnival Corner. Do not miss either of these -- the food is yummy. If you don't enjoy fish, ask for the pork dumpling without the sauce. It is a big favorite of mine!

Luciano Sperduto, Assistant Director of Food and Beverage tells you about the fun in the Carnival Corner.

And wait, there is more! Thirteen seminars will help you expand your knowledge of wine, beer, spirits and sake. Learn how to choose the right beverage and how to pair it perfectly with your meal. The Swan and Dolphin certified sommeliers will teach you what you need to know to choose the perfect bottle for the perfect occasion and the perfect meal. You'll walk away with the ability to impress at your next dinner outing.

Kristian Laplante, director of restaurants gives you a quick rundown:

The Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic by the Numbers:

** More than 60 food and beverage stations.
** 40 different dishes over the course of the weekend from Italian to BBQ.
** 11 educational seminars each day before the causeway opens
** 4 special themed areas: Chinatown, Carnival Corner, Beer Garden and Bubbles Lounge
** Live entertainment with three different acts, including the ever-popular Atlantic City Boys


Here's the best recommendation I can give you -- for seven of the eight years of the Classic,Linda and I have purchased our own tickets for the causeway and seminars. This year we also bought tickets to the Sunday Bubbles Brunch. (I have also been invited to a few of the media previews, like the one this week. Sometimes AllEars.Net is offered a media pass and Kristin Ford uses that to attend with her husband.)

So what are you waiting for? Tickets remain for Friday night, both Friday and Saturday seminars and the Sunday Bubbles Brunch.

Hope to see you there!

October 13, 2017

Animal Kingdom Wandering

Deb's Digest Blog

I typically don't go to the parks much in the midst of the summer heat and humidity and so planned to visit Animal Kingdom yesterday, mostly to update menus. I had no idea I hadn't been there since right after Pandora opened! I checked for last-minute FastPasses before leaving home, but nothing was available. I wasn't surprised.

So here are some observations from my walk around the park yesterday, noting things I had not seen before. Perhaps you have... but these things are new to me.

After I parked and walked down to the tram area, I noticed that the name of each row has been repainted in much larger letters, much clearer than before. Yea! You will also notice better signage in the parking area as well.


I then noticed he new tram front vehicles. As you can see in the photo, they are now sporting bright new red and green driver and engine sections.


I went into the Rainforest Cafe to update our menus and as I exited out the side, I noticed this elephant fountain. It looked so inviting on the already hot and humid morning but alas, "Please do not climb on rocks".


Next stop, Pandora. As I mentioned, the last time I was in Animal Kingdom was for a media preview of Pandora. My how different it looks full of people.

Crossing the bridge (shortly after 9 a.m.) the first thing I saw was the "End of the Line" for the Na'vi River Journey. The Cast Member told me that neither ride had "opened yet", and the estimated wait time was currently 45 minutes.


I read after I returned home that either both rides open or neither does. Can someone clarify that for me please?

As I walked deeper into Pandora, the whole area was packed. Cast members had created lines and pathways with rope and it was kind of hard to get from here to there. I looked for a Wait Time for Flight of Passage but couldn't get anywhere near the entry point, for either ride, actually.

I wanted to wander around the area, but as I said, it was very crowded and hard to maneuver so I decided to head out. Here's a screen shot of Animal Kingdom wait times at 9:14 a.m.


I did manage to find one of the PhotoPass photographers and had this photo taken. It was in My Disney Experience a few hours later.


Next thing I know I am being told to head back out of the area and over to Harambe to get in line for Flight of Passage (not that I was going to get in line, but curious where I would end up). A very, very long line. Talking to the Cast Member at the end of the line, I was told the wait time was now three hours! Normally the Harambe area is for exiting Pandora, not entering, but the long lines and lack of space inside Pandora changes that during busy times.



Alrighty then, back to getting menu photos! By the time I reached Asia, I was feeling hungry. I was very happy to see that the Yak and Yeti Local Cafes serve breakfast.


I chose the Canadian Bacon English Muffin. A take on Egg McMuffin with an extra piece of Canadian Bacon, plus tater tots for $9.99. Ouch, but not surprised.


Checking My Disney Experience again for wait times now at 10:07 a.m.:


Ah... behold the infamous Coca Cola Rhino:


For those of you who do Mobile Ordering, the area to pick up your food is clearly marked. And if you can't find it, ask a Cast Member.


I made my way back to the front of the park and decided to forego a second loop around. It was getting quite crowded. But I did wander the Oasis and entrance area.


Ok, I have a question. I have been to Animal Kingdom countless times since it opened in 1998. Unless I have to be someplace, I always walk around the Oasis and Discovery Island areas. The Reeve's Muntjac has become almost as elusive to me as the Anteater. I think in all this time, I have only seen it once and it was under all the brush. Has anyone ever seen it out and about? And I think there are two, yes?


Ah ha! The Black Swan! Not always out and about, but on this day the pair were swimming and sunning.


Lastly, as I noted much better signage in the parking lot, there is also a great directional sign as you exit the park.


'Til next time, folks...

September 10, 2017

My Hurricane Irma Updates

Deb's Digest Blog

DEB UPDATES: 9/10/17 9:45am

Greetings All,

This week has been filled with Hurricane Irma prep work. It feels like we have been prepping for weeks and now it is here. Linda and I decided to stay in our home. We did not make that decision lightly. We have prep kits and bug out carryons and a safe room.

A number of our friends are NOT on Facebook (can you believe it?) so I'm writing here for them.

We thank everyone who has contacted us and sent prayers, pixie dust, and well wishes.

The AllEars Data Center is located in Atlanta. Hopefully the website will remain safely online.

Several AllEars Team Members are in the Orlando area and decided to stay in their homes: Kristin Ford, Jack Marshall, and ourselves. Scott Thomas flew to Orlando to be with his daughter and her family especially his grandson.

Thank you Laura Gilbreath who is minding the website and will get the newsletter out on Tuesday.

Right now we are experiencing rain and light winds. It will get worse before it gets better but we are prepared and will get through this.

We have been told that at some point today go to the safe room and stay there until the worse is over. We have been told we will lose power at some point. We have been told that there may be tornado warnings. Those have already been reported further south.

For those of you not on Twitter or Facebook, this is what I shared yesterday: I've had many adventures in my life cancer diabetes world travel Disney but nothing prepared me for Irma. Our decision to stay did not come lightly. Wish Florida well. Love, peace.....

This is the local weather station we trust!


September 1, 2017

A Taste of Italy during Epcot's Food and Wine Festival

Deb's Digest Blog

Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival is in full swing and at least one of the pavilions is offering new food and beverage items for you to enjoy -- Italy! In addition to the traditional Food and Wine Festival kiosk on the World Showcase promenade, the Via Napoli Donkey Cart and the Pizza Window have new items for you to try.

But first, let's talk about this year's offerings at the Italy Marketplace. There are four food samples ranging in tastes from Crispy Calamari to Cannoli al Cioccolato for dessert.


The Crispy Calamari is served with spicy pomodoro sauce for $8.00.


My favorite is the Spezzatino con Polenta - beef stew with creamy Parmesan polenta for $7.50. The beef was tender and the polenta nice and cheesy.


The Absolut Penne is served with vodka sauce and two nice-sized shrimp for $7.00


Last but not least is my other favorite, the Cannoli al Cioccolato - a chocolate covered cannoli shell filled with sweet ricotta, chocolate chips and candied fruit at $4.25. The crunchy cannoli shell and luscious ricotta filling are just like my grandmother used to make -- really!

Italian wines and beers are also served at the booth to accompany your food choices.


A stop at the Donkey Cart will refresh your palate with such familiar beverages as sweet Rosa Regale wine, a Bellini cocktail, and bubbly Prosecco. There are also two new tasty cocktails made with the sweetly tart Italian liqueur known as limoncello and it's orange-flavored counterpart, orangecello. I had the opportunity to try the flavorful "Orangecello" cocktail made with orangecello, orange juice, pineapple juice and strawberry puree. Very tasty and not overly sweet!


And wait, there's more! The Seasonal Pizza Window at Via Napoli has reopened for the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.


Among the offerings you will find there is Pizza Bianca, served room temperature with pomodoro, prosciutto, arugula, and mozzarella. I was hesitant at first -- I mean, room temperature pizza? But it worked! The flavors all blended perfectly without one single ingredient overpowering the taste. You get a large serving for your $8.75, enough for lunch or to share as a snack.


You can also savor the Polpette e Mozzarella Parmigiana, made with hand-crafted beef and veal meatballs, tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmigiana, and sprinkled with fresh basil, served with crostini.


To accompany these rich dishes, enjoy an Italian beer or try the brand-new cocktail, the Limoncello Mule (also available in the restaurant). It's a tasty blend of Wild Sardinia vodka, limoncello, orange juice, pineapple juice, peach puree, lime juice and ginger beer ($14).


Plenty of "delizioso" new options for you to experience in Epcot's Italy!

Disclaimer: I was an invited guest of Tutto Gusto and Via Napoli, however my opinions are my own.

August 8, 2017

Orlando's Magical Dining Month - Part 2

Deb's Digest Blog

Here we are again talking about eating during Orlando's Magical Dining Month. Previously, we went over the Walt Disney World restaurants that were participating this year, including those at Disney Springs and the Four Seasons.

In this blog we travel outside the Disney bubble! Are you ready?

IMPORTANT: Be sure to read Part 1 for our TIPS and SUGGESTIONS

Magical Dining Month offers a great chance to try new things. With 80 restaurants representing a wide variety of cuisines you are sure to find something you like. So come on -- get OUT of the Disney bubble! Here are places we have tried -- many we've enjoyed, a few we haven't.



These are great places to try especially if you have tickets to Dr. Phillips Arts Center! Make it a real date night!

The Boheme at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Orlando - Get an early reservation if you're going to an event at Dr. Phillips Center afterward.

Le Coq Au Vin - South Orange Avenue in Orlando - Get an early reservation if you're going to an event at Dr. Phillips Center afterward.


Mama Della's Ristorante - Portofino Hotel at Universal -- We love eating at Mama's. Reminds us of an Italian restaurant in New York during the '60s! Mama wears her housecoat and musicians entertain.

The Kitchen - Hard Rock Cafe - We dined here once and didn't have a very good experience so haven't returned.


Eddie V's Prime Seafood - West Sandlake Rd

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar - Orlando

Seasons 52 - We've been here several times and have never been disappointed.

Urbain 40 (Chef Tim Keating, formerly of Disney, is here now and recently debuted a new menu.)

Vines Grille & Wine Bar -- We tried this last year during Magical Dining Month and the food was delicious, service was great, with good selection of wines.


1921 by Norman Van Aken - Mount Dora - Go for an afternoon of walking around Mount Dora and then grab dinner before heading home.

Cafe D Antonio (Celebration) - Great Italian food just outside Disney property.

David's Club (Omni) Champions Gate - One of our favorite places, but we always get the delish burger! This time we will go and try the steak!


Deb: Wow, it's hard to choose a favorite, so I'll just share the spots where I had my most memorable experiences over the last year: Mama Della's, 1921, Le Coq Au Vin, and Urbain 40.

Linda: I agree with Deb that it is hard to pick just a couple places. Her choices are also my choices.

Go and enjoy Magical Dining Month in Orlando!

Let us know about your experiences! Bon Appetit!

August 7, 2017

Orlando's Magical Dining Month - Part 1

Deb's Digest Blog

It's that time of year again -- the time when a number of Orlando-area restaurants band together to offer patrons a chance to experience fine dining at a bargain price while benefiting a good cause, or causes. Yes, it's time for Orlando's Magical Dining month, and this year we get a bonus preview week, too! The eat-fest begins August 25 and ends October 1, with more Walt Disney World restaurants participating this year than ever before.

You might be wondering: Just how does Magical Dining Month work? It's really quite simple. You book a reservation at a participating restaurant, enjoy three delicious courses and pay only $35 (plus tax and tip) per person.

The Magical Dining website provides a listing of the restaurants (by area/district) and cuisine. You will be able to see the actual Magical Dining menu and also make a reservation through When booking through Visit Orlando, one dollar from each meal sold will benefit Freedom Ride and BASE Camp Children’s Cancer Foundation.



-- It's a deal! Who doesn't love a deal?!

-- Food! Who doesn't love food?!

-- Encourages us to get out of our rut and try new places to eat.

-- Makes a great night out.

-- Raises money for charity.

This year 20 restaurants in the Disney/Lake Buena Vista area are participating. In Part 1 of this blog I'll discuss the Walt Disney World dining participants, including those located at Disney Springs. In Part 2, I'll step outside the Disney bubble to look at other dining opportunities in Orlando.

Ok, now for the participating Disney restaurants, of which there is an interesting mix. A combination of what I would call "middle" tier dining and then "signature" dining. So I'll offer opinions on both categories.

I also have to admit, we used to dine at some of these places often, but since the wide variety of options have opened at Disney Springs, we haven't really been to the "middle tier" resort dining as much.


Middle Tier Dining

Overall our recommendation for the restaurants in the "middle tier" is to only go if you were planning to dine there anyway. For the same $35 you can experience a signature dining experience (perhaps for the first time) and in our opinion get a much better value for your money.

The links below go to our Rate and Review Section so you can see reviews about the restaurants.

Boatwrights at Port Orleans Riverside

Grand Floridian Cafe - Grand Floridian

Olivia's Cafe at Old Key West

The Turf Club at Saratoga Springs

The Wave at the Contemporary

Out of these Linda and I agree our recommendations are The Wave and Grand Floridian Cafe.

Signature Dining

Il Mulino New York Trattoria at the WDW Swan Hotel. This is one of our favorite places to go, either for a full dinner or just sitting in the bar/lounge with a beverage and appetizer. Great opportunity to try someplace new.

Jiko the Cooking Place - Animal Kingdom Lodge - Another favorite of ours. In addition to the great food they boast one of the largest South African wine lists in the US. Be sure to check out the Magical Dining menu and if it appeals to you, go for it.

Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs - This is one of Linda's favorite places to dine. Need I say more?

Paddlefish at Disney Springs - We have not dined there so can't advise you either way.

Ravello - The Four Seasons - another place we have not dined, but we've heard good things. If the offerings on the menu appealed to me, I would try it out during Magical Dining Month, but I'll be waiting a bit longer. However, if the menu presented makes you drool then by all means go for it!

STK in Disney Springs - We are big fans of the food at STK and dined there several times. The only hesitation in recommending it is the loud music the DJ plays. "It's Not Your Father's Steakhouse" is their tag line.

Todd Englishes Blue Zoo - Another of our favorites -- I've become a fan of their Chicken Francese entree, which happens to be on the magical dining menu.

Linda and I don't think you can go wrong with any of the establishments we have been to.


MY BIGGEST TIP: I can't stress this one enough -- Make sure to check out the menu on the Magical Dining website before making a reservation.

-- Reservations are a must!

-- For those with dietary needs, CALL the restaurant and inquire before you go.

-- Parking - If you dine at the Walt Disney World Swan or Dolphin, use the valet parking and get your parking ticket validated by the hostess in the restaurant!

-- In our experience, sometimes we are served the full portions,as if you were a regular diner, and sometimes it is a smaller portion. No matter which, we have always felt like we got our money's worth!

BOTTOM LINE: Orlando Magical Dining month provides a great opportunity for you to explore new dining experiences. Linda and I try to use it at least twice each year to discover new favorites! Leave a comment below about your experience!

Next blog I'll be talking about the restaurants outside the Disney Bubble... check back!

The Magical Dining Website has an FAQ section you should read!

July 26, 2017

Updates for 2017 Holiday Season at Walt Disney World

Deb's Digest Blog

Walt Disney World released a few details on the upcoming holiday season at a special media preview.

Let's start with Disney Springs! The Holiday Tree Trail will return with even more trees than before. The trees are 10' and 12' tall with a 10' backdrop for a guest photo op.


A new Disney Springs Logo Tree will feature custom ornaments for Disney Springs Operating Participants. This will be followed by trees themed to variety of characters and Disney films: Mickey and Minnie, Pluto (devoted to pets), Sleeping Beauty (new), Beauty and the Beast, Princess and the Frog, the Little Mermaid, Frozen, Snow White, Cinderella, Pinocchio (new), 101 Dalmatians, Fantasia (new), Villains, Lilo and Stitch, Dumbo (new), Tangled, Robin Hood (new), Peter Pan (new), Jungle Book, Muppets, Mulan, Mary Poppins, and Alice in Wonderland.


Santa's Chalet will be located at the end of the trail with snow and music. Each tree will have a signature ornament and as you exit the trail, there will be one final tree displaying what's at the Disney Store for the holidays.

At Disney's Hollywood Studios, Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! returns on November 7. The show will be updated with a few different sequences and new characters, along with more integration of fireworks.


There will also be one or two additional "holiday" offerings at the Studios this year, details will be announced soon!

Moving now to Epcot. The Candlelight Processional is the premiere holiday show with celebrity narrators. This year, Disney is making an extra effort to find celebrity talent that speaks to all of our diversity. Already announced are Trace Adkins, CCH Pounder, Jaci Velasquez and favorite Neil Patrick Harris.


Joyful! A Gospel Celebration is also returning.


In addition, the Mexico pavilion will feature an enhanced holiday celebration titled La Posada, with authentic Mexican with mariachi, dancers and music similar to a festival.


Let's go now to the Magic Kingdom!

NEW this year: The Main Street Trolley will have a new Christmas show, and the Move It Shake It Dance and Play it! parade will have a holiday finale. A Frozen Holiday Wish will return once a night on non-party nights and twice a night during the Party. Usually you have to attend one of the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parties to see the special shows and happenings exclusive to the event. This year all guests will see the special entertainment during the week of Christmas.

Last, but not least, is all the new holiday merchandise coming to Walt Disney World later this year including new Dooney and Bourke bags, many new ornaments, themed stockings and much more.. Here is Steven Miller, Merchandise Communications Manager to tell you more:

First Look -- Disney's Minnie Van Service

Deb's Digest Blog
Disney's Minnie Van Service

At the 2017 D23 Expo in July, Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, announced: “Since we’re all about exceeding guest expectations and making every aspect of your vacation uniquely Disney, we’re creating a new point-to-point transportation service in a way that only Disney can do.” The Minnie vehicles will take you everywhere you want to go at the Walt Disney World Resort, and you’ll ride in Minnie’s classic style.

Disney's Minnie Van Service

A Disney Cast Member will be your driver.

Disney's Minnie Van Service

If this type of transportation service sounds familiar to you, it is the Disney version of Uber and Lyft transportation services, but limited to Walt Disney World property.

Disney's Minnie Van Service

Disney's Minnie Van Service is now in "soft opening" at select resorts. At this time the cost is a flat fee of $20 per trip -- drivers do not accept gratuities. The vehicles are 2017 Chevy Traverse vans and each seats six.

Disney's Minnie Van Service

There are one or two child car seats available in each vehicle.

Disney's Minnie Van Service

When asked about Disney touches inside of the Minnie Vans, the Cast Members smiled and politely did not answer the question.

Disney's Minnie Van Service
Disney's Minnie Van Service

The hours of operation have not yet been set, but currently the service seems to be available beginning around 6:30 a.m. and through the evening. An app to order your car is coming -- once the service is fully launched you'll be able to summon the car via an app -- details as they are released.

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