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September 3, 2016

Magical Dining Month in Orlando

Deb's Digest Blog

Every year for the last several, September has been designated Magical Dining Month in Orlando. Over 60 restaurants offer special prix fixe dinners (appetizer, entree, dessert) for only $33. Tip, tax and beverages are extra. One dollar from each meal goes to charity, this year, The Russell Home for atypical children.

This is your opportunity to try out some restaurants you may not have otherwise visited. The menus offered (although they are subject to change) are on the Magical Dining Website.

The whole idea is for the restaurants to offer you a great representation of their menu so you will taste, love and return!

Here are the restaurants right on Disney Property.

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin have 2 restaurants on the list:

Il Mulino New York Trattoria in the Swan. Italian

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Todd English's bluezoo in the Dolphin Seafood

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Over at Disney Springs you can dine a la Magical Dining Month at:

Morimoto Asia! - Asian and Pacific Rim Cuisine

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and

STK Orlando Steak and Seafood

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Last but not least, head over to the Four Seasons

Ravello! with fine Italian cuisine.

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I highly recommend you make a reservation through the Magical Dining website via Open Table. When you arrive at the restaurant, let them know you wish the Magical Dining menu!

Go out and explore and let me know what you will be trying! I already have reservations at a few places I have not dine at yet.


August 24, 2016

Walt Disney World - End of Summer Roundup

Deb's Digest Blog

Summer is nearing an end as the kids are heading back to school. Summer weather is still in full swing in Central Florida! If you are in town, here are some events happening in the next couple weeks you may want to be aware of.

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SANDTASTIC WEEKENDS -- August 26-28 and September 2-4
The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort have a brand new event called Sandtastic Weekends! It is free and open to the public! A gigantic sand sculpture will be created out of 100 tons of sand. Lots of activities for all ages. Get the details HERE

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The Great Irish Hooley returns to Raglan Road September 2-5th!

New live music and dance entertainment, fresh menu creations and plenty of craft beer and cocktail options are on tap. To celebrate the Hooley’s fifth year, Raglan Road will present a brand-new, 90-minute live show of music and dance – The Rhythms of Raglan – produced in Ireland, exported to Raglan Road and directed by David Hayes (Riverdance, “The Voice” Ireland edition) with guest choreographers including Michael Donellan (Lord of the Dance). The music festival’s multi-band lineup will feature headliner Screaming Orphans and other bands popular on the festival circuit. I have attended the Hooley in the past and it is lots of fun!

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Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party Begins September 2nd!

It's a hard ticketed event at the Magic Kingdom featuring HalloWishes Fireworks, the Boo to You Parade, and the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular. Be sure to enjoy these 3 happennings instead of riding attractions. You won't see them any time except during the Halloween Party!

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Club Villain Reopens September 2nd at Disney's Hollywood Studios!

Club Villain at Sunset Showcase at Disney's Hollywood Studios will return on Friday and Saturday nights from September 2 to October 29, and on Halloween night, October 31. The specially ticketed event features performances, food, cocktails and encounters with some of the greatest Disney villains. There is a special Tables in Wonderland discount available.

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The Jungle Book Alive with Magic Show ends September 5th!

This limited run show took over when the Rivers of Light was unable to open due to technical difficulties. It has Indian dancers, musicians and music highlighted by water screens showing highlights from the Jungle Book movie. Be sure to get a FastPass+!

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The 2017 Mom's Panel Selection Process Begins September 7th!

Calling all Mom's Panel wannabees! Get ready, get set, type! The application process for the 2017 Disney Parks Moms Panel begins at noon EST Wednesday, Sept. 7, and those interested have until noon EST Wednesday, Sept. 14, to express their interest.

August 8, 2016

REVIEW: Flying Fish Reopens After Lengthy Rehab

Deb's Digest Blog

Flying Fish Cafe on Disney's BoardWalk was my go-to dining place for the last several years. Whether it was for a relaxing fine dining experience with friends, or for sitting at the bar having an appetizer and wine, I loved the atmosphere, the cast members, the food and beverage. It just felt like "home."

So I was a bit apprehensive when I learned both the restaurant and menu were going to be totally redone.

Here it is, many, many months later, and the new Flying Fish debuted on August 3. In fact, Linda and I dined on reopening night with our friends Steve and Vickie.

First, let me sum up the look of the new Flying Fish in one word: WOW!

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When I walked through the door. I was immediately transported to a brand new restaurant. The new decor is stunning and classy! Gone is the whimsical Coney Island feel, but there are a few nods to it remaining. The transformed space has an elegance that matches the new menu. I walked around the restaurant several times with my mouth open in awe... I could not believe the transformation.

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The redesigned open kitchen still allows for great views, but with a much classier look and feel.

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The "Chef's Table" no longer has a "bar feel", as it is now made up of tables adjacent to the kitchen. This still allows for interaction with the chefs, but guests now face each other, making it easier to converse with your dining partners. There is seating for 12.

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Overall, the restaurant has a more intimate feel, with booths that seat four to eight diners.

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The tables are now draped with tablecloths, and the silverware has a fish theme.

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The former wine room (Cabana Room) with horrible acoustics has been made over into a private dining space with doors that close it off from the main dining area. The problem with the acoustics has been fixed and it looks like it will be a wonderful place in which to have an intimate dining experience.

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There are state-of-the-art wine coolers with space for 250 bottles of red wines and 300 for whites. There are also a few smaller coolers for certain varietals.

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The bar area has the same basic layout as before, but it's been refurbished with new, upscale decor and seating.

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The bar features the WineEmotion™ system, with a dual-temperature zone for four whites and four reds. The WineEmotion system allows pours of one, two or three ounces. If you've ever wanted to discover what a $200+ bottle of wine tastes like, here is your opportunity.

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Beautiful glass chandeliers combine elegance and whimsy, as sea bubbles and schools of fish float above you.

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There are numerous artistic tributes to the Flying Turns, the Coney Island coaster from which the original restaurant derived its name.

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As you can see, the physical changes to the restaurant completely overwhelmed us. But what about the food and the completely new menu?

The seafood-centric menu features entirely sustainable fish and shellfish.

The bread service now nori bread made of semolina, and arrives hot with a side of butter topped with a delicious sea salt.

Bread Service

For an appetizer I chose the Mesclun Salad with petite lettuces, market vegetables, fines herbes, barrel-aged feta, and torn focaccia for $12. The portion looked on the small side (I had this complaint at Animal Kingdom's new Tiffins, too -- is this the new normal?), however the flavors blew me away. I savored each bite.

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My other dining companions chose the Blue Crab Bisque -- jumbo lump crab, melted leeks, aged sherry, tarragon creme fraiche for $15. The Crab Bisque was tasty with a sufficient amount of crab. Normally a bisque has a small clump of meat in the center of the bowl, but this bisque had the clump plus crab meat throughout. Linda also enjoyed the presentation of the sherry drizzled on the bisque tableside.

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Now for our entrees. I selected the Bison Strip Loin with ancient grains, salsify, cipollini onions, haricots verts, sun-dried tomato choron sauce for $49. I am SO disappointed my photos of this dish did not turn out. This was a very, very tender cut of meat that melted in my mouth. The accompaniments perfectly complimented the bison (although I skipped the onions). While it came rare (I prefer medium), one bite of the perfect blend of flavors quickly put me at ease.

Steve ordered the Wild Alaskan Coho Salmon, which came with pancetta-laced ivory lentils, wilted varietal kale, Meyer lemon, and a garden vinaigrette for $41. As a person who frequently orders salmon out, he deemed it one of the best salmon dishes he has ever had.

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Vickie chose the Wagyu Filet Mignon with Okinawan potaotes, chanterelle mushrooms, romanesco and Bordelaise sauce for $55. While flavorful, the dish did not arrive hot so she sent it back. Those kinds of things happen on opening night.

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Linda selected Plancha-Seared Hokkaido Scallops, with Antebellum grits, Brentwood sweet corn and a peppadew emulsion for $46. She said that she enjoyed the dish, which featured four scallops, seared to perfection, nestled on a bed of creamy grits. The only negative she expressed was that perhaps there was a bit too much peppedew sauce.

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After such filling entrees, we didn't have much room for dessert, but wanted to at least sample them... so we ordered ALL of them. While beautifully presented, the desserts were our one disappointment of the evening. They just didn't live up to the quality of our appetizers and entrees. Among the five sweets we tried, we agreed that the Florida Reef was our favorite.

Under the Sea - Valrhona Manjari chocolate, chocolate coral sponge, pistachio sand, dehydrated milk foam, tasting of three sea salts $12

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Cherries, Peaches, and Sea Shells - mascarpone cream, Georgia peaches, cherries, hibiscus meringue, rye bourbon caramel $9

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Panna "Carpa" - buttermilk panna cotta, rhubarb, strawberry-lime consomme, basil sugar; no sugar added, sugar-free and gluten-friendly $10

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Florida Reef - lemon tart, toasted meringue, Florida citrus salad, ruby red grapefruit sorbet $9

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Chocolate-Banana Napoleon - banana-raspberry mousse, slow-cooked vanilla rum caramel sauce $10

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The Bottom Line:

Linda's overall thoughts:

When I stepped into the restaurant I was wowed. The decor is beautiful and gives the Flying Fish a more upscale feel. While dining I noticed that the noise level was not as loud as it used to be -- but then again the restaurant was not full. I was pleased with the food quality and presentation. I miss some of my favorites from the previous menu, like the tomato and mozzarella salad, but with time I am sure I will find a few favorites on Chef Tim Majoras' menu.

While I enjoy all types of seafood, several of my dining companions do not or are allergic to seafood. One of the nice features in the past was that those folks were able to dine at the Flying Fish because of the alternatives available. With the current menu, that is difficult to do. I hope this will change sooner rather than later. It was wonderful to dine once again in one of my favorite restaurants on property. I always enjoyed the warm, welcoming family atmosphere that the entire staff brought forth. I hope that feeling continues and that, with all the changes, I will still be able to call this one of my favorite "go-to places."

Deb's overall thoughts:

The new Flying Fish has certainly met the raised bar that has been set by several of the newer restaurants around Walt Disney World property in both decor, quality of food and, yes, also price. As I said earlier, the place is just stunning. It is hard to imagine there are two theme parks within walking distance.

I do miss my favorites from the old menu, as most of us will, but I realize there are new favorites to be discovered and savored. My biggest concern is that as a non-seafood lover with a picky palate, my options are more limited. In the past there were several appetizers for me to choose from. Now I have two choices (three if I include the dessert menu's cheese selection), the Mesclun Salad and the Peaches and Prosciutto. I'm not a fan of pork belly, which is the other non-seafood option. On the other hand, the bison strip loin was so amazing that I quickly forgot my old favorite the char-crusted New York Strip.

The staff tells us that the Flying Fish menu will change often depending on the availability of sustainable products. I look forward to the creativity of the kitchen team. Creative Imagineers and Chef Tim Majoras have brought us a wonderful new upscale signature dining location at Walt Disney World and I look forward to a return visit.

Full Dinner Menu
Child's menu

Questions? Leave them in the comment section below. Once you've dined at the new Flying Fish, head to our Rate and Review section and enter your review!

July 6, 2016

Did You Know....

Deb's Digest Blog

I post on the Picture This Photo Blog on Wednesdays (like today). This week our theme is the Disney Magic!

Scott Thomas and I post a Photo of the Week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In fact, my newest Photo of the week is live today!

June 17, 2016

Recent Tragedies in Central Florida

Deb's Digest Blog

It has indeed been a very tragic and sad week in Central Florida. First, I, and the entire AllEars team send love, strength, prayers and support to everyone affected by the recent events.

This is not meant to be an exact accounting of everything that has happened. It is meant to alert our readers to three tragic events that happened in Central Florida.

You may know that on Friday night, June 10, a man shot and killed "The Voice" singer Christina Grimmie while she signed autographs after her concert. Horrible, senseless violence. Our hearts go out to her family, friends and fans.

Then, there were the horrendous mass killings at the Pulse nightclub in the early morning of Sunday, June 12. This is a tragedy beyond belief and I still don't have coherent words. To bring it even closer to our "home," the news has reported that the gunman scoped out parts of Walt Disney World, including Disney Springs. (For an official accounting of what transpired, read the national and Central Florida news websites, which have documented everything.)

As if that wasn't enough, on Tuesday night, June 14, a toddler was suddenly attacked and killed by an alligator on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon at the Grand Floridian Resort. (You can read an official accounting of exactly what happened on the national and Central Florida news websites.) It appears that the family was on the beach watching the nightly Movie Under the Stars. According to reports, they were at the water's edge and the 2-year-old was ankle-deep playing in the water. An alligator jumped out of the water and grabbed the boy, dragging him under the water and carrying him away. Hours of search and rescue efforts, followed by search and recovery, ensued. The boy's body was recovered the next day. I can't even imagine what the family has been and will go through. All of us at AllEars.net send love, strength, prayers and support to the family.

Walt Disney World spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler gave a brief statement early Wednesday, saying, "Everyone here at the Walt Disney World Resort is devastated by this tragic accident." She said Disney was doing everything possible to help the family and law enforcement. Disney is working closely with Florida's Fish and Wildlife Department. She added that the company also was conducting a "swift and thorough review of all of our processes and protocols."

All Disney resort beaches were closed and personal watercraft use has been suspended. The Walt Disney Company has said it will add alligator warnings to signs.

Update: Here is a photo of the new signs Disney will be posting :

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There has been much discussion online as to whether Disney signage should have been more specific than it was, simply stating "No Swimming". People who live in Florida are very aware of the presence of alligators. They were here long before us. They are able to move from body of water to body of water over land. Someone told me long ago if you are in Florida and there is a body of water, there is a good chance it has a gator. I have watched one cross the street where I live. I know not to go near the water's edge at night. Even during the day, out walking in my community, I am very alert to my surroundings, as we have lots of lakes and ponds.

At the same time, I understand the family from Nebraska probably had no idea about the danger of alligators in Florida.

I have started writing a new page for AllEars talking about the wildlife in Central Florida -- in addition to alligators, we have venomous snakes -- in the hope that folks will become a bit more aware of potential dangers, even when under the magical spell of Disney.

Be kind to the cast members and residents of Central Florida this week. Be kind to each other. Nothing could have prepared anyone for the tragedies we've suffered in these last several days.

Deb

May 30, 2016

Review: Tiffins at Animal Kingdom

Deb's Digest Blog

Friday, May 27th, was the grand opening day for the Nomad Lounge and Tiffins restaurant in Disney's Animal Kingdom. I'll have a separate review on the Nomad lounge in a few days, but the bottom line is we LOVED the Nomad Lounge! This review will cover Tiffins.

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The word "tiffin" means a midday meal or type of container used to carry food while traveling/trekking. Accordingly, the restaurant Tiffins celebrates the art of traveling. Drawings, photographs and notepads from the Imagineers who worked on Animal Kingdom can be found in the restaurant.

First, and perhaps most importantly, the decor, theming, lighting, music, artwork, and woodwork in this space are absolutely stunning. As we walked into Tiffins I got chills similar to when I first stepped into Animal Kingdom in 1998. The place is breathtaking and there is so, so much to explore..

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We spent an hour enjoying the Nomad Lounge until our reservation time at Tiffins. Even the check-in podium is beautiful, with artwork and placards that begin your transformation from theme park-goers to trekkers.

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There are three dining rooms, each with its own unique theme.

** The Grand Gallery - Indigenous artists from around the world have lent their talents to Disney's Animal Kingdom. This gallery reflects on some of the folk influences that have led to the design of the park.

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*** The Safari Gallery - Imagineers and animal scientists have explored the towns and savannas of eastern and southern Africa to collect the details that give rise to Harambe. These artworks represent the translation of our overseas adventures into the experiences of Disney's Animal Kingdom.

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*** The Trek Gallery - Imagineers and animal scientists have traveled throughout South Asia, from Bali to the Himalayas to create the world of Anandapur. These artworks represent the translation of our overseas adventures into the experiences of Disney's Animal Kingdom.

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As we were escorted to our table there was much to look at and explore. The Grand Gallery has a full wall representing Rivers of Light. The 3D artwork is beautiful. The centerpieces are five wood-carved totem poles that were relocated here from another area in the park. Can you remember where you saw these before?

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The background music is perfect, soft the way it should be in a signature restaurant. We were able to enjoy the music and talk in normal voices instead of shouting.

Tables are nicely appointed with dark woods, comfortable chairs, silverware, a wine glass and the Tiffins' napkin.

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The menu is presented in a beautiful leather travel journal, continuing the storyline perfectly.

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In reviewing the food we tried to keep in mind it was opening day (although there had been soft openings with Cast Members), which always means tweaking needs to be done. At the same time, given the price point (and no discount) we reviewed the experience accordingly. As a signature restaurant, we compared it to other Disney top tier restaurants such as California Grill, Flying Fish, Citrico. It is important to note that the Tiffins menu is all day, with the same prices for lunch and dinner. This is my one huge complaint.

Our server, Bob, was excellent. We explained that we wanted to sample a number of items and wanted to take our time. He was most accommodating. To begin, we decided on two appetizer courses, an entree and then dessert.

As we contemplated what to order, Bob brought us the bread service (you can purchase Tiffins Signature Bread Service for $10). The pomegranate foccaccia came with a dipping sauce of molasses and oil. We both enjoyed the bread a lot. It has a mild South African flavor like you might find at Boma or Jiko.

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Linda ordered the Lobster-Popcorn Thai Curry Soup - lime-basil emulsion, popped sorghum $13.00. The presentation was wonderful, the bowl arrived with two lobster pieces and the lime-basil emulsion. The server then poured the soup into the bowl.

The soup was tasty and had quite a kick that hit the back of the throat. The flavors of the lobster and popcorn were present. Only order if you like spicy hot foods. Linda does and recommends this.

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I began with the Archaeologist Salad - Spring vegetable variations, pumpernickel soil, champagne vinaigrette $12.00. I did inquire as to the nature of the pumpernickel soil prior to ordering and it was explained that pumpernickel croutons were grated. Again the presentation was beautiful. I loved the champagne vinaigrette, and thought the salad was light and flavorful, although the portion was on the small side. The "soil" was under the greens so I initially thought perhaps I should mix them together. Glad I only did a forkful of that. I felt it took away from the delicate salad.

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Three wine flights are available; Aromatic Whites, Silky Reds and Robust Reds. I love red wines and especially love the South African wines. I was disappointed that the wine flights and the wines by the glass offerings were so heavily South American wines instead of South African wines. Not sure how I missed the full wine list so I can't comment on that, but I did.

Linda ordered a glass of South African Spice Route Chakalaka ($11) (a favorite of ours). I ordered the Silky Reds Wine Flight ($21). It included a 3-ounce pour of the following red wines: Pinot Noir Alot Limay Select, Argentina 2014, Pinotage Painted Wolf The Den, South Africa 2013, Tempranillo Altocedro Ano Cero, Argentina 2012. I enjoyed the three wines with my appetizers and entree.

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For the next appetizer course, Linda ordered the Blacked-Eyed Pea Fritters - Zhough, Yogurt, Peppadew Puree $11.00. The three fritters are lightly breaded and fried, accompanied by spicy peppadew puree and tangy Zhough yogurt (both had heat). The fritters, while delicate and tasty, needed the accompaniments. We both liked them well enough.

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I chose the other salad on the menu Roasted Beet Salad - Goat cheese crema, walnut granola, sun-dried cherry vinaigrette $14.00. Roasted beet salads have become a favorite of mine and I have ordered them in a wide variety of restaurants. Once again, the presentation was beautiful, with yellow and red roasted beet chunks with green leaf garnish on a light wisp of crema. The granola was a bit sweet and crunchy. Unfortunately, as with the Archaeologist Salad, I felt the serving size was very small.

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For entrees Linda ordered the Hoisin Glazed Halibut - Forbidden Rice, steamed bok choy, turmeric sauce $42.00

As a picky eater, I had a difficult time deciding on an entree. I considered the chicken but am not an couscous or olive fan. I considered the pork but was concerned the sauce would be too spicy. So, I opted for the Wagyu Striploin and Braised Short Rib - Rainbow carrot, roasted Peruvian potatoes, chimichurri $53.00.

We felt the entree portion sizes were perfect.

We each took a bite of our entrees and looked at each other -- the food was lukewarm at best. Our server was apologetic and asked if we wanted fresh entries prepared. At the price, yes, we did. He explained it would take some time and we said we totally understood that. As an "apology" for the entree issue we were served an intermezzo sorbet of Passion Fruit and Kulfi.

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Once our entrees arrived again, we were both anxious to try them. Linda said her halibut was indeed hot. Sadly, my Wagyu beef striploin was lukewarm once again. The short rib, however was closer in temperature to what it should have been.

Linda enjoys halibut, a mild, flaky, white fish. The portion size was comparable to what she's had elsewhere and it was cooked perfectly. The halibut sat on the Swiss Chard, which had the Forbidden Rice inside, placed on the turmeric sauce. Again, great plating! Where it fell short for Linda was the super sweet Hoisin glaze, although others may love it. The sweet glaze helped balance the bitter Swiss Chard, but overpowered the fish. Linda had never had Forbidden Rice before, and found that she didn't care for it -- but it may be your favorite.

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My Wagyu Striploin and Braised Short Rib was a disappointment. Neither of us cared for the Wagyu striploin. I have enjoyed Wagyu burgers before but I have never eaten the strip. I can't really give a fair indication of the quality; just that neither of us liked it. I was surprised by the looks of the braised short rib. What I am used to is basically a nice "chunk" of falling apart beef that is quite tender and tasty. The Tiffins version was different and I'm not even sure how to explain it. Hopefully the photos will show you. In my opinion, it was good, just not great, especially for $53.

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Time for desserts. The menu arrived in a similar leather bound "travel journal." There are several coffee options, including two press pots. For those looking for a sweet beverage for dessert there is also the Mustang Coffee, which is Crown Royal, brown sugar, butter, and organic Columbian coffee ($9.50). There is a nice selection of loose tea, five dessert wines and of course, dessert.

Linda chose the Lime Cheesecake - almond-sesame tuile, green tea sponge $10.00 and I ordered the South American Chocolate Ganache - caramelized banana, cocoa nib tuile $12.00.

The cheesecake itself was very creamy and tasty, and the almond-sesame tuile was a nice accompaniment. The sponge "crust" and topping, however, are just not our thing. We have had a similar sponge on desserts at Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs and didn't care for that either.

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The chocolate ganache was very good. The chocolate was deep, rich, creamy and powerful; just like I would expect it to be. The accompaniments blended nicely together. Linda didn't care for it, but she is not a ganache fan.

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Particulars

Cost: Let's break down the per person cost, including only one appetizer each:

Linda's meal (appetizer, entree, dessert) came to $64 before tip and tax. Add $11 for the glass of wine, which brought the total to $75. A tip for excellent service at 20% ($15) brought her lunch to $90 plus tax.

My meal came to $77. Adding the wine flight of $21 brought it to $98. Then I added a 20% tip for excellent service ($20), which brought my lunch total to $118.

WOW! This is a very expensive lunch!

Discounts: At this time Tiffins only offers a discount for Cast Members. It is two entitlements on the Disney Dining Plan. Ther are currently no discounts for Annual Passholders, Tables in Wonderland or Disney Vacation Club.

Dining Package: You can purchase a dinner package that includes reserved seating for the new show Jungle Book: Alive with Magic. The price doesn't really save you any money but it does allow you to avoid standby lines for the show. The package includes your choice of appetizer, entree, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage at either lunch or dinner. The Dining Package is $67 for adults, $32 ages 3 to 9, plus tax and gratuity.

Are advance reservations needed? At this time, lunch walk-ups for groups six or fewer shouldn't be an issue. Dinner, on the other hand, especially with the Jungle Book: Alive with Magic package, will probably keep Tiffins busy, so reservations are highly recommended.

Bottom Line
On a scale of 1 - 10 (my rating first, then Linda's)

Theme 10 / 10
Service 10 / 9
Food presentation/plating 10 / 10
Food Quality 8 / 8
Lunch Value 4 / 4
Dinner Value 9 / 8
Overall Experience 9 / 9

We enjoyed our experience, but this really is way too expensive for lunch in our opinion. Lunch specials would make things more affordable. Given the all-day menu, dinner would have been the same price as lunch.

Some items on the menu are vegetarian and several can be made vegan.

Tiffins is beautiful and the cast members are knowledgeable. It is refreshing to have a dining experience of this caliber inside a theme park. Only time will tell what the evening ambiance will be like at a crowded Tiffins with families and folks who may have spent the day in the park. We hope to return at some point in the future.


Check out the full menu and photos!

Leave your review of Tiffins and read others!
PS We absolutely LOVED the Nomad Lounge and look forward to returning there soon! Review coming in a few days.

May 26, 2016

Preview: Disney Vacation Club Member Lounge

Deb's Digest Blog

Today I attended a preview of the new Disney Vacation Club Member Lounge that's opening as part of the DVC's 25th anniversary celebration. This lounge is in the Imagination Pavilion in Epcot at Walt Disney World and can be accessed through the pavilion's merchandise store.

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The lounge opens on June 6, 2016, and will operate from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through the 25th anniversary celebration, which will last through the end of this year. Disney Vacation Club Members will need their membership card as well as ID to enter. A Cast Member will be at the bottom of the stairs (there is also an elevator) to check in you and your party. I believe a member can bring in five additional guests. If the lounge is at capacity, you can leave your cell phone number, and they will text you when space becomes available.

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The lounge will be staffed by a DVC Member Services Cast Member who can assist with any vacation planning you need for either your current trip or a future one. They can make dining reservations and assist you with FastPass+ and My Disney Experience. There will also be a representative from RCI to answer any questions you may have about other destinations and exchanges.

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The lounge has charging stations with plugs and USB ports for your mobile devices, or you can use one of the iPad Pros that are available. Complimentary Disney Guest WiFi is available throughout the lounge.

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There are also two computers stations and a printer if you need to check email or print a boarding pass.

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There is a kids' area showing Disney animated shorts on TV (similar to what's available in your DVC villa), as well as two Disney Infinity machines.

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The beverage area has a Keurig machine and three Coke Freestyle machines, which offer more than 100 different soft drink flavor combinations.

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After we had a chance to look around the lounge, Ken Potrock, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Disney Vacation Club, spoke about the DVC 25th Anniversary Celebration, mentioning a few things that we hadn't heard before.

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"We have long wanted to have a lounge for members in a theme park," he said. "As we began planning the 25th anniversary, we thought, 'What we could do to make things very special for our members?' "

"Special events are our way of celebrating our members and a way for us to interact with our members," he continued. "We already had two exclusive parties for our members at the Magic Kingdom. This summer we will have special events at Typhoon Lagoon. We will be having a special event for our members in California later this year and will share details at a later date."

Potrock noted that later this year there will be a private showing of Aladdin on Broadway in New York City for DVC Members. Tickets for this event were offered at a reduced price. DVC will also continue to offer Member-Only trips on Adventures by Disney and Disney Cruise Line.

He also talked about the new DVC Personal Vacation Advisors that will be available to members planning their trips. You'll now be given the specific extension number for your Persal Vacation Advisor, which will allow you to speak to the same person each time you call.

Potrock also spoke of the success of the DVC website's overhaul, and promised even more changes for the coming year, reiterating that the overall goal was, "We want our members to feel special and valued."

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Here's another look at the DVC Member Lounge:

As a DVC member, I was excited to check out this new space. It will be a nice respite from the park, especially on hot days.

DISCLAIMER: I was an invited guest of the Disney Vacation Club and our preview of the lounge included lunch, but my opinions in this blog are my own.

May 6, 2016

Animal Kingdom Walk About - 5/5/16

Deb's Digest Blog

It was such a beautiful morning in Orlando, temps in the 60s, low humidity and blue skies! I had to go walking in Animal Kingdom! I arrived at the park about 8:35 am.

As I pulled up to the toll plaza I noticed the Preferred Parking Sign (additional $15 for resort guests or Annual Passholders, $35 for everyone else). Ever since they announced the preferred parking in March, I have never been told about it or asked if I wanted it at any park Toll Plaza. Same held true at Animal Kingdom.

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I parked in Dinosaur 34 and had a clear view of the Preferred Parking area.. looked empty to me.

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A frequent site these days as you walk into Animal Kingdom are the cranes working on Pandora: the World of AVATAR.

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There was a decent crowd considering the park had not officially opened yet. The security check did extend back some. However, according to friend, by 10:00 ish, it was backed up to the gift shop.

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I love wandering through the Oasis. I noticed that once again, the anteater was missing and the sign covered (as it has been for some time now). I did find an Animal Keeper in the area and inquired. She told me the anteater has been moved backstage so the construction noise doesn't bother it.

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Wandering over to the Scarlet Macaws I was in for an unexpected treat. Two cast members were walking around the tree and placing special "browse" in the holes for the macaws. Then they returned to their cart and brought out the 2 birds. They gave them peanuts (in the shell) for a treat.

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Coming up the hill I saw the Tree of Life... this never gets old!

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From here I wandered over to Pizzafari and the blocked off area leading to AVATAR. On the right you can see Tiffin's restaurant being built.

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My favorite Discovery Island Trails are closed and under some kind of construction. I hope the birds and animals will return. Missing the Galapagos Turtle, the African-crested Porcupines and the painted storks. Anyone know what's going on in this area?

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Since I couldn't get a last minute, or actually any FP for the Safari, I headed to the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. One Okapi was out grazing...

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One Hippo was actually close to the viewing window :)

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The Meerkats were hiding but the Zebras were out and about, including the camera shy baby.

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Swung by the Harambe Market but it was too early for lunch.

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Then it was off to Asia! The Caravan Stage and Flights of Wonder show are open again. I kept missing the start of the show but was told it is pretty much the same thing as always.

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Here's a couple photos of the Rivers of Light seating areas:

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Walking "deep" into Asia I noticed a sign has been added for the lantern festival:

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Now in the Rivers of Light area, this is one of the gates that will allow folks to enter the seating area:

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Walking further I found what appears to be the wheelchair seating area. I will say this area concerned me because it looked like you won't be able to sit in the wheelchair and see much of the show, unless you are tall. But, since it is closed, I couldn't walk into the section and actually see for myself. Hope I am wrong.

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Here is another area a bit further down that might be wheelchair and/or standing room?

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At the Upcountry Landing, Baloo and Louie have new signage since I saw them last.

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Nice lunch at Flame Tree with friends from the west coast and soon it was time to head back home. Here is a panoramic view of the Discovery River and seating area for Rivers of Light.

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As I walked back to my car, I again passed the Preferred parking area (1pm) wasn't but a couple cars inside, maybe.. hard to tell.

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Here's an exclusive look at the Rivers of Light that I filmed during the April media event. It is from the middle of the show:


Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed the walk about.


April 11, 2016

Tutto Italia 3-Course Summer Lunch Preview

Deb's Digest Blog

Recently I had the opportunity to preview the new Three-Course Menu that will be offered at Tutto Italia this summer. Tutto Italia is located in Epcot's World Showcase in the Italy pavilion.

Tutto Italia in Epcot

This summer special menu will debut on May 3 and be available until August 31. The lunch includes one appetizer, one main course, one dessert and a soft drink (Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, ginger ale, iced tea).

The meal begins with Tutto Italia's home-made bread and olive oil service.

Bread Service at Tutto Italia

The appetizers are: Antipasto, Insalata Mista, Caprese or Minestrone soup. (The photos are in the same order.)

Antipasto at Tutto Italia in Epcot
Insalata Mista at Tutto Italia in Epcot
Caprese Salad at Tutto Italia in Epcot
Minestrone Soup at Tutto Italia in Epcot


I selected the Antipasto, which included sopressata, finocchiona, roasted pepper, and ovolini mozzarella. This was excellent and I believe the appetizer to select! Each item had wonderful flavor! I also tasted the Caprese Salad and it was very good.

The main course really offers foods for a variety of tastes. Your choices are: Scaloppine di Pollo (chicken), Filetto di Sogliola (sole), Caesar Salad with Chicken, or Spaghetti. (The photos are in the same order.)

Scaloppine di Polla at Tutto Italia in Epcot
Filetto di Sogliola at Tutto Italia in Epcot
Caesar Salad with Chicken at Tutto Italia in Epcot
Spaghetti and Meatballs at Tutto Italia in Epcot


I went with the tried and true Spaghetti and Meatballs. The pasta was good and there was plenty of it. Everyone seemed to enjoy their selections.

Soon it was time for dessert. There are three yummy desserts to choose from: Cannolo, Tiramisu, and Gelati (chocolate, vanilla, or stracciatella, which is a chocolate chip). The desserts are all winners as far as I am concerned! I thought the gelato was particularly flavorful. I should mention we were given small portions of several desserts offered at Tutto Italia.

Desserts at Tutto Italia in Epcot

Bottom Line: If you are looking for a full-service lunch in Epcot this is a very viable option and in my opinion well worth the $27. I did not leave hungry. Selecting an appetizer and entree off the regular lunch menu would cost you $29 alone and not include the dessert or beverage.

It is priced competitively with other Prix Fixe lunch menus in Epcot -- Chefs de France, which offers a three-course lunch special for $25.99 and Restaurant Marrakesh, whose fixed price lunch runs $28.99.

If you want a full-service dining experience for lunch in Epcot and enjoy Italian food, give it a try!

Particulars: The three-course experience is $27 +tip/tax per person. Reservations are recommended. Substitutions are not allowed. If you have special dietary needs, talk to a manager before ordering. The three-course lunch WILL be part of the Disney Dining Plan.

For more information about Tutto Italia, check out our Dining Section which includes menus!

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Tutto Italia to preview this new lunch offering. My observations and opinions are my own.

March 24, 2016

Review - Diamond Horseshoe All You Care to Eat Dinner

Deb's Digest Blog
Diamond Horseshoe - Magic Kingdom

Over the last few years, the Diamond Horseshoe in the Magic Kingdom's Liberty Square has been open during peak times with limited selection counter service lunch serving a basic BBQ chicken sandwich, turkey sandwich and a chef's salad.

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As of March 13, 2016, the Diamond Horseshoe is now open for an "all you care to eat" table service lunch and dinner. I tried this new dinner recently with my cousin, Kathie.

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Kathie had a 4:50 p.m. reservation and we arrived a few minutes early. We were greeted in a prompt and friendly fashion and were told that we'd be seated in a few moments. There are some chairs to the right of the podium, but our wait was not long at all (about five minutes).

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Our server, Randi, came over right away to take our beverage orders and explain how the meal works. Dinner begins with a salad and cornbread brought for the table to share. There are three entrees offered, and you begin by choosing one. After that, you may order more of the same entree or either or both of the remaining two options. After that, it's dessert time.

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If the place-setting looks familiar, it's the same one used at the Liberty Tree Tavern. Honestly, the food, while not identical, reminded me of dinner at the Liberty Tree Tavern as well.

Soon after we placed our drink orders, our Frontier Salad arrived. It consists of tossed greens, tomatoes (on the side of the plate), onions (on top of the salad), roasted corn and cornbread croutons. The dressing is a house-made chipotle ranch. Don't let the chipotle scare you off. It was a flavorful dressing, but didn't have the typical chipotle kick to it that some folks dislike. We both enjoyed the salad and even asked for a second serving!

Frontier Salad Diamond Horseshoe Magic Kingdom

The cornbread is good and is served with a side of sweet whipped butter.

Corn Bread Diamond Horseshoe Magic Kingdom

We each decided to order the turkey to begin the meal. I asked the server if we could receive smaller portions since we wanted to taste everything, but everything is the same size.

Of course, it really would have helped if I read the menu carefully. I have no idea why, but I was expecting sliced turkey. Imagine my surprise when BBQ turkey with jalapenos showed up! The turkey sat on top of a slice of cornbread and came with string beans.

BBQ Pulled Turkey Diamond Horseshoe Magic Kingdom

After pulling off the peppers, I started to eat the BBQ. I love BBQ, but this just tasted strange to me. Maybe it's because I was expecting sliced turkey, but I just couldn't wrap my head around turkey BBQ and didn't really care for it. Kathie liked it well enough, but agreed that it was odd.

Next, we ordered the spit-roasted ham with country beans and seasonal vegetables (again green beans). Again, I thought the dish was OK, but nothing special. Kathie, on the other hand, thought it was good.

Spit-Roasted Ham Diamond Horseshoe Magic Kingdom

Finally we tried the stewed beef with mashed potatoes and, again, green beans. This was the winner to me, except it really wasn't a stew -- more like a pot roast. It was VERY tender and had some flavor to it. I ate almost the entire portion of the beef.

Stewed Beef Diamond Horseshoe Magic Kingdom

By this time we were both quite full and again commented how we wished the entrees had been available in smaller portions. From what we could see glancing around the room, the kids' portions appeared to be almost the same size.

There are two items for dessert, the Campfire Brownie and the Apple Tart. If you've eaten at Liberty Tree Tavern you've had the Apple Tart. The brownie was dense chocolate with a thin layer of toasted marshmallow on top, not exceptional. We both preferred the Apple Tart and found it quite tasty.

Campfire Brownie and Apple Tart Diamond Horseshoe Magic Kingdom

While there is no designated kids' menu, chicken tenders and grilled cheese are available.

Chicken Tenders Diamond Horseshoe Magic Kingdom

So what did we think?

If you are looking for basic, plentiful food, this is certainly a viable option. However, if you are like me, the Diamond Horseshoe might not be your best choice. Except for the beef I found the food average. It was a great place to escape from the packed Magic Kingdom and the air conditioning was nice and cool. As I mentioned before, our service was excellent. But I typically don't eat enough food to justify the cost of "all you can eat" dinner.

Speaking of cost, the bill for the two of us came to $83.97 ($33 per person plus tax and gratuity). Soft drinks, tea, coffee and milk were included. My Tables in Wonderland card was accepted for a 20 percent discount. (Kids ages 3-9 cost $19 plus tax and gratuity.)

Reservations are available for dates now to May 30th.

For a more traditional turkey dinner, you can dine at Liberty Tree Tavern for about the same price (depending on the season). Tony's Town Square will also run you about the same price (unless you order the steak.) The less expensive full service option is the Plaza Restaurant on Main Street (their food is good!). Your other full service/all-you-can-eat/buffet options in the Magic Kingdom are much more expensive: Be Our Guest, Cinderella's Royal Table and Crystal Palace. You can also dine at the new Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen, but the food there is a bit more exotic.

So where would I go for dinner if I was spending time in the Magic Kingdom? If I planned far enough ahead for a reservation I'd go to the Plaza Restaurant. Otherwise, I'd probably head over to Columbia Harbour House for a much less expensive counter-service meal.

What are your thoughts on the full-service dining options in the Magic Kingdom?

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