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November 15, 2009

D23 Sip and Stroll -- Part 1 of 2

Guest Blogger Cedric Ching is back! This time he has an extensive review of the D23 Sip and Stroll Event!

INTRODUCTION

On Sunday, October 18th, 2009, D23 held its second official member event in Florida: D23's Sip & Stroll at Epcot.

D23 Sip and Stroll Event

Event Description from the D23 website:

"Join D23 at Epcot® at the Walt Disney World Resort during the annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, as we raise a glass to our Charter Members and their friends and family.

This exciting day begins in the exclusive D23 Hospitality Suite, where Members can relax and enjoy engaging presentations from some very special guests, including Marketplace Cookbook editor Pam Brandon, Epcot Vice President Dan Cockerell, and Marianne Hunnel, the woman who leads the team behind the Festival - with some truly magical surprises mixed in along the way! Following these behind-the-scenes presentations, guests will receive a gift card, which they can use to "sip and stroll" through Epcot's Food & Wine offerings to create a personalized Festival experience!

After lunch, attendees can savor one of two Food & Wine sessions - a mouth-watering culinary demonstration or a palate-pleasing wine tasting - exclusive to D23 Members and their guests. Afterwards, with dusk descending, guests will head over to the American Gardens Theatre to enjoy reserved seating for Jon Secada's "Eat to the Beat" concert. After the show, they'll indulge in a private D23 "Party for the Senses" - the Food & Wine Festival's signature event - reserved for our Members and their guests! Each delicious dish will be complemented with its own wine and/or beer pairing, and a live, three-piece band will entertain throughout the meal. After a day of culinary and musical highlights, it's then time to top it all off with a VIP viewing of IllumiNations featuring a mouthwatering specialty dessert, the perfect backdrop for mingling and reminiscing about the day's adventures."


Before I go into the events of the day, I feel like I have to make a quick recap of D23's first official event in Florida - D23's Flower & Fireworks Celebration earlier this summer - as a point of reference:

D23's Flower & Fireworks, also held at Epcot, was an event back in May to both celebrate the D23 members here in Florida and to celebrate the end of the Flower & Garden Festival. The event included reserved seating at the "Flower Power" concert followed by a private dessert party that overlooked the World Showcase Lagoon and the IllumiNations fireworks show. The recognition by Tony Orlando at the concert was envigorating, the selection of Walt's favorite desserts was thoughtful and delicious, and the set of D23 buttons given to us as we were leaving was an unexpected second "kiss goodnight". The event was at no costs to participants - members just had to register online beforehand - and the event's 200-guest limit was met.

That said, D23's Sip & Stroll event was not sold out - actually, far from it - probably due to its seemingly-hefty price of $240 per person. But taking into account all of the experiences and extras involved (plus other, unannounced surprises), I was able to convince myself that the cost was well-justified and signed-up.

This trip report will be given in two parts: Part 1 covers "Check-In" up to the "Culinary Demonstration", Part 2 covers the rest of the evening, from the "Eat to the Beat Concert" to "IllumiNations".

CHECK-IN & WELCOME at the Odyssey Center/D23's Hospitality Suite

The day began with a drive over to Epcot. I arrived at 9:00am and stopped by the Guest Relations window to the right of the park's front gates. There, I showed the cast member my confirmation email, D23 membership card, and driver's license, and received an envelope containing my two complimentary 1-day, 1-park tickets, in case I needed it for admission. But like most of the event's attendees, I was a WDW Passholder, so we'll be able to use these tickets to treat family or friends, as long as we do so before December 30, 2009.

From there, I did stop by Innoventions East and considered checking out The Sum of All Thrills before the lines got too long but decided to just continue onto the Odyssey Center for check-in.

D23 Sip and Stroll Event


The Odyssey Center served as the hospitality suite for today's Sip & Stroll. Its entrance was roped off, with a cast member stationed nearby. As I approached, she greeted me and welcomed me in.

Inside, the first thing I noticed was how open the area was - there were only nine small tables set up. And although there wasn't a lot of decoration, I felt that it was enough to establish a casual, easy-going tone for the event.

D23 Sip and Stroll Event

I imagined that there would to be a larger crowd. When I saw the number of packets on the check-in table, I quickly adjusted my expectations - I later learned that there were only 34 guests (including 2 that managed to sign up day-of).

Anyways, there were a couple of beverage stations set-up for us: one with coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, and one with water and cold sodas.

D23 Sip and Stroll Event

D23 Sip and Stroll Event

And these refreshments would be available to us here at the Odyssey Center throughout the day until 4:30pm.

I made myself a cup of coffee then took a look through our guest packet. In addition to the two 1-day, 1-park passes in the envelope from Guest Relations (#1 in the picture below), there were the the following:

D23 Sip and Stroll Event

2. a Welcome Letter from Steven Clark, Head of D23
3. a D23 Sip and Stroll Itinerary sheet
4. a "Presenter Biographies" sheet
5. a Food & Wine Festival Guide
6. a pair of Sip & Stroll lanyards (as a single guest, I wasn't sure why I received two)
7. a $50 Gift Card
8. two complimentary DisneyQuest passes, and
9. pairs of FastPasses to Soarin', Test Track, and our choice of Maelstron, Mission:Space, or Living With The Land.

Also, when we were handed our packets, we were asked if we would be interested in attending the 2:00pm Wine Seminar, the 2:45pm Culinary Demonstration, or both. Originally, due to the limited number of reserved seats, we would have had to choose one or the other, but because of the actual turnout, everyone was able to to participate in both sessions (the tickets for those events are #10 in the picture above). [Note: Stitch was not included in the packet.]

As other D23 members and guests got checked in, prepared themselves a drink, and looked through their packets, Clay Shoemaker, one of Walt Disney World's two WDW Ambassadors, was going around to each of the tables making sure everyone was having a good time and entertaining any questions guests had. It wasn't much longer before the event began and Clay welcomed everyone again to D23's Sip & Stroll event.

Disney Ambassador Clay Shoemaker

Clay introduced to us our host for this opening session, Barry Jacobson, Director of Corporate Meetings & Events and General Manager of the D23 Expo.

Barry Jacobson


Barry talked about this 30 years with the Disney Company and the D23 Expo back in September. And he briefly introduced us to one of his associates in planning the D23 Expo, Joanna Pratt, Disney's Senior Corporate Communications Specialists who works on the West Coast - it was Joanna's first time at Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival and her first visit to Florida (later in this report, there is a picture of both her and Barry.

During his Q&A portion, Barry was asked about the official attendance number for this year's D23 Expo -although he couldn't say what it was exactly, he told us that it was safely over 30,000. When asked about the location of next year's D23 Expo, he said that it will again be held in Anaheim, mainly because of the size of their convention center. He also emphasized to us that there should be an announcement soon about next year's expo.

Next, Barry introduced Dan Cockerell, Vice President of Epcot. Dan talked about his experience with the Disney Company, including how he starting off in the parking lot at Epcot Center and how he also acquired "parking lot experience" at Disneyland Paris.


Dan Cockerell, Vice President of Epcot

During his Q&A session, Dan was asked about the possible return of the Tapestry of Nations - to which he said that Epcot is always taking into account feedback from guests. Then, when asked about the possible addition of new countries to the World Showcase, he says that are frequently approached by various groups who want to support new nations and that Epcot definitely has the land to expand, but they want to ensure that the country would be a good fit into their storyline.

Dan apologized for not being able to stay longer - he had a couple of his children's soccer games to attend - but he did leave us with a few recommendations for the Food & Wine festival: the Lobster & Scallop Fisherman's Pie at Cork, Ireland; the Seared Sea Scallop at Wellington, New Zealand; and (for those of age) the Raspberry Chiller at Krakow, Poland.

Next was Marianne Hunnel, the Event Content Development Area Manager for the 14th Annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

Marianne Hunnel

Marianne talked about coordinating the festival and how, when deciding on which tastes to offer, she and her team tries to take into consideration both guest feedback and emerging trends -- such as the increasing popularity of spirits as food pairings. She also mentioned that her husband was also a chef - he works at Victoria & Albert's - and how, for their last vacation, they actually went to Disneyland.

For her Q&A session, she was asked about the possibility of the return of a large exhibit (like those for Louisiana, Oklahoma, or Australia in recent years), and she was asked for any plans for having "hands-on" cooking seminars. Marianne didn't say much about a large pavilion exhibit for next year except that she and her team are always open to the possibility. As for "hands-on" cooking seminars, she said that they're looking at possibly offering activities such as sushi-rolling and cake-decorating.

Then, before leaving, Marianne made a couple Food & Wine recommendations of her own: the Seared Barramundi from Melbourne, Australia and also the Fisherman's Pie at Cork, Ireland.

The last presenter of the morning was Pam Brandon, an award-winning journalist and author, who worked as a senior publicist for Walt Disney World Resort and who helped produce several cookbooks for Disney Publishing. In setting up for her portion of the presentation, she brought with her a stack of cookbooks she's worked on.

Cookbooks

She quickly touched on each one, sharing the idea behind them - for instance, with the Food & Wine Festival recipe binder, she and her creative team imagined guests returning to the festival year-after-year being able to purchase more recipes for it, but that idea didn't really take off. Also, Pam admitted how, for the first couple Disney cookbooks, the recipes were more-or-less untested (so if they don't turn out quite right, you'll know why).

Of course, they have thoroughly tested each recipes ever since - though she did share with us a funny anecdote of someone calling her up out of the blue to tell her how one of the recipes for chateau briand never said to put the meat in the oven. I found this presentation to be the most insightful and enjoyed her openness and enthusiasm.

A self-taught cook, Pam told us that with each dish, she tries to share a story - the central idea behind the only non-Disney cookbook she brought with her, her "Culinary Confessions of the PTA Divas". We then experienced an Oprah moment as she told us that we were each going to receive a copy of the cookbook and that she'd sign it for us. And that concluded the morning presentations.

Pam Brandon

After I received my autographed copy of Pam Brandon's cookbook, I made myself another cup of coffee, mingled with some of the other D23 guests, then headed out to the next adventure.

Everyone was all on their own to explore the Food & Wine Festival, etc until 2:00pm, when we were to meet up at the Festival Center for the Wine Presentation and Culinary Demonstration.

BREAK #1: THE SUM OF ALL THRILLS & EXPLORING THE WORLD SHOWCASE

The first thing I did after leaving the Odyssey was head over to Innoventions East to visit The Sum of All Thrills. I met a couple of fellow Sip & Stroll-ers in line, and we went through the process together.

The Sum of All Thrills

I won't go into detail (just check out Jack Spence's article about the attraction) - but I'll say that I would've gotten right back in line and could've spent the rest of the break in both Innoventions. But the focus of this trip was the D23 Sip & Stroll, so I made my way to the World Showcase to scout out some food.

I've been to the Food & Wine Festival these past couple weekends, trying a few samples each time -my favorites so far being the Tostada de Pollo at Mexico City, Mexico, the Beef Empanada at Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the Escargots Persillade en Brioche at Paris, France. This time, I wanted to continue to try some new tastes, including a couple of the ones the presenters called out as their favorites:

First, I went to Santiago, Chile to sample their Rock Shrimp Ceviche. The interaction between the flavors of the buttered popcorn and the ceviche wasn't as well-defined as I'd hoped, but I was pleased with the amount of shrimp in it. Anyways, it was at this booth that the cashier saw my Sip & Stroll lanyard and gave me an extra smile and nod.


Rock Shrimp Ceviche


Next was the Seared Sea Scallop with Vegetable Slaw and Lemon Oil from Wellington, New Zealand - one of the items Dan Cockerell recommended. Unfortunately, I didn't care for it. My scallop had an uneven sear, I happened to bite into a chunk of salt, and I found the slaw to be just too tangy.


Seared Sea Scallop with Vegetable Slaw and Lemon Oil


The last thing I tried this time around was the Lobster & Scallop Fisherman's Pie at Cork, Ireland - recommended by both Dan and Marianne. And this has to be my new favorite dish. It had really good flavor and textures, plus my sample had a generous portion of lobster and scallops. I will definitely have this one again.


Fisherman Pie


Inside Fisherman Pie

I was able to make only a little dent into the gift card and halfway through the World Showcase before I decided to make my way back to the D23 Sip & Stroll Hospitality Suite for another cup of coffee and to sit down and relax before the next event.

Perhaps I could've been more aggressive with the sampling, but I knew that I needed to save some room for the culinary demonstration and "Party For The Senses" dinner to come. I enjoyed talking with another couple of Sip & Stroll-ers at the Odyssey Center, and when the time came, we walked over the Festival Center together.

WINE SEMINAR & CULINARY DEMONSTRATION at the Festival Center

As participants of D23's Sip & Stroll, we were given priority seating at both the wine seminar and the culinary demonstration. This was a nice perk, and it did feel very VIP.

Wine Seminar w/Kate MacMurray

At the wine seminar we attended, we were able to sample three varieties of wine from the MacMurray Ranch - the MacMurray Pinot Gris, the MacMurray Russian River Pinot Noir, and the MacMurray Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.


MacMurray Ranch

The presenter for the seminar was Kate MacMurray, daughter of Disney Legend Fred MacMurray (The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor).

Kate MacMurray

Kate gave us some background, telling us how her father in 1941, at the age of 32, purchased the large parcel of land in Sonoma County, California that became the MacMurray Ranch. She told us how her father had wanted to but was unable to enlist in the military because he was deaf in his left ear from years of shooting guns without hearing-protection. He still wanted to help out efforts, so, as advised, they diversified their farming and raised a variety of animals/livestock. Then, every couple weeks or so, a truck would come by to pick up the surplus crops to support the troops. She noted how the crops they supported evolved, and how the history of the ranch was really the history of agriculture in Northern California.

Kate also mentioned other facts about their operations. For instance, they employ the services of a falconer to fend off birds instead of netting their crops which could damage the plants. And she also said that they used other natural techniques such as planting red clover on every other row to attract good bugs.

Kate also spoke of her father's close friendship with Walt Disney, and how Walt personally asked her father to star in The Shaggy Dog. She shared her memories of being with her father at the ribbon-cutting ceremony that opened Epcot Center in 1982. It was an honor just to have attended this particular session. Kate was well-spoken and listening to her, it was like being in the presence of a Disney Legend.

Here's a picture of Barry Jacobson and Joanna Pratt at the Wine Seminar.


Barry Jacobson and Joanna Pratt

After the wine presentation, D23 event cast members escorted us directly to the culinary demonstration, where we were also given priority seating.

Culinary Demonstration w/Chef Andy Trousdale

This session began with a brief presentation about the 2005 Jack London Cabernet, the wine-pairing for the dish that was going to be prepared.

Then, the host of the culinary demonstrations, Pam Smith, made mention of the D23 club and acknowledged us before introducing everyone to Chef Andy Trousdale from Le Bistro Restaurant in Lighthouse Point, FL .

In this session, Chef Andy prepared his Roasted Beef Tenderloin "Diane".

Pam Smith

Chef Andy started off the hot pan with shallots & garlic then added veal glaze/stock which provides a meat flavor to the sauce. He mentioned how cooking was about building up flavors and how it required a level of intuition - because sometimes measuring ingredients takes more time than just cooking. And he told us how these cooking demonstrations were always a pleasure to do because all the ingredients are already prepared and so beautiful, like the variety of mushrooms provided. He added some more ingredients to the sauce, but pointed out that he let the mixture cook and reduce further before adding the cream to the sauce.

To prepare the beef tenderloin, Chef Andy demonstrated a couple techniques for tying up the meat. He then seasoned it with salt, pepper, and oil before browning the beef in a heated sauté pan.


Chef Andy Trousdale


Chef Andy Trousdale

I've attended a number of these culinary demonstrations at this year's Food & Wine Festival, and this session took the longest before sending out the food for us to sample, or it just seemed that way - we were all getting hungry watching him cook, but when we got our food, it was quite a treat. The beef was very juicy and the mushroom sauce worked out wonderfully to compliment.

Beef Tenderloin

And that ended our events at the Festival Center. I went to get Chef Andy's autograph and a picture with, then had about an hour of free time before the D23 group was to regrouped at the American Gardens Theatre for the "Eat To The Beat" concert.

Coming Soon, Part 2!

November 16, 2009

D23 Sip and Stroll -- Part 2 of 2

http://land.allears.net/blogs/guestblog/2009/06/d23_flower_fireworks_celebrati.htmlIn the first half of this D23 Sip & Stroll report, I went over the Check-In and the Welcome Presentations at the Odyssey Center, a few tastes from the Food & Wine Festival, and the Wine Seminar & Culinary Demonstration at the Festival Center. When we left off, we were just let out for our second free period - an hour before the "Eat To The Beat Concert".

BREAK #2: FASTPASSES OR A TRIP TO THE CAR

This break would've been a good opportunity for Sip & Stroll-ers to finish using the FastPasses we were given or to have another taste or two from the Festival booths. But I decided to use this time to make a stop by the car to drop off some stuff. Apparently some other Sip & Stroll-ers had the same idea because I spotted the familiar lanyards on a couple walking back from the parking lot, and we gave each other a friendly wink and nod as we passed by.

I had parked a ways off, so I basically had just enough time to walk to my car and then all the way back to the American Gardens Theatre.

EAT TO THE BEAT" CONCERT featuring Jon Secada

Eat to the Beat Concert

A D23 cast member was waiting at the theatre's left entrance to escort me to the front rows where there were seats reserved for Sip & Stroll-ers. The cast member also mentioned that we were going to gather by the left side of the theatre after the concert for more instructions.

Jon Secada performed five songs in this first "Eat to the Beat" show of the evening:

- "Do You Believe In Love"
- "I'm Free" (English and Spanish)
- "Angel" (jazz-version, English, Spanish)
- "Always Something"
- "Just Another Day"

Jon Secada was a lively performer, moving about the stage to cover the entire audience. As it was still warm outside, he took a moment to take off his jacket and then joked "that's as far as it goes." He was very charming and surprisingly quick on his feet.

Eat to the Beat Concert

During the show, Jon Secada also sang with a lot of passion, especially "I'm Free" and "Angel" which he sang partly in Spanish.

Eat to the Beat Concert

Eat to the Beat Concert

For more pictures of Jon Secada and his band, please check out Michael Bachand's Blog:

Jon Secada acknowledged the D23 section during the show, but not to the same extent that Tony Orlando did at D23's Flower & Fireworks celebration. I shouldn't expect any extra special attention by the entertainer during the show, but I think it would've been a nice touch for Jon Secada to also have led us in singing the Mickey Mouse Club's "Alma Mater", like Tony Orlando did during his concert, as some sort of D23 tradition.

Still, everyone had a good time at the concert, and afterwards, we gathered along the theatre's left wall as previously instructed.


Eat to the Beat Concert

We were surprised with the opportunity to go backstage to meet Jon Secada and have our picture taken with him. For me, the excitement was two-fold - first, to meet someone I enjoyed listening to growing up, and second, just to see the area behind the stage. I'll let you discover backstage on your own, but here's the picture of me and Jon Secada in his dressing room.

Eat to the Beat Concert

The VIP treatment continued as we were let out for our third and final break.

D23 Sip and Stroll

BREAK #3: THE AMERICAN ADVENTURE

After going backstage and meeting Jon Secada, we had an hour free to walk around before we were scheduled to meet-up for dinner.

Without much to do in the area besides sampling more food (and possibly spoiling our dinner), a few Sip & Stroll-ers and I decided to catch the 6:00pm show of the American Adventure. Afterwards, we made our way to the World Showplace.

"PARTY FOR THE SENSES" DINNER at the World Showplace

After the American Adventure, we made our way to the gate in front of the World Showplace, where we saw some familiar faces gathered and a cast member holding up a D23 sign.

D23 Sip and Stroll

It wasn't long before we were escorted into the World Showplace.

D23 Sip and Stroll

Our private "Party for the Senses" dinner was held in the Wine Place Lounge portion of the World ShowPlace venue. As we walked in, a server was positioned to hand us our first drinks.

D23 Sip and Stroll

At the far end of the room, a four-piece band performed on a small stage.

D23 Sip and Stroll

In the center of the room were about a dozen small tables - enough to accommodate everyone comfortably - and each place-setting included a Mickey-shaped tray and a "Party For The Senses" wine glass.

D23 Sip and Stroll

The Mickey tray was supposed to be used to transport the food from the stations to our tables with the right ear of each tray designed to hold our wine glass, but many of us found this arrangement too cumbersome and just walked back-and-forth to the stations bare-handed (asides from cameras).

There was a total of eight food/beverage stations to our left and right; and they including one well-stocked open bar. I'm afraid that I didn't get good photo-coverage of these stations, but I did get a good sample of food pics.

D23 had posted the menu beforehand on the Sip & Stroll event webpage:

First Course
Artisan Cheese selection served with Complimenting Accompaniments

Second Course
European Greens tossed with Aged Sherry Vinaigrette served with Warm Goat Cheese Polenta Cake and Heirloom Tomatoes

Third Course
Pan Seared Scallop over Lobster Risotto with Piquillo Peppers and Asparagus

Perigourdine Braised Beef Shortrib with Parsnip Mash, Crisp Leeks and Petit Brioche

Pan Seared Poulet Rouge with Wild Mushrooms, Shallots and Fig Reduction

Dessert
Vanilla Bean Gelato with Whiskey Sabayon and Candied Cinnamon Almonds

Apple Tarte Tatin with Aged Stout Cheddar

Petit Baileys Chocolate Soufflé served with Crème Anglaise
Biscotti

Each dish had its own wine pairing, and an additional cast member was at each food station ready to refresh our wine glass.

Because of lactose issues, I decided to skip the selection of gourmet cheeses, and the salad was at the same station, so unfortunately, I overlooked that course completely.

D23 Sip and Stroll

Many of the night's recipes included dairy products, but I remembered to bring some lactose pills and did try to sample all of the other dishes.

I hardly had to wait in line at any of the food stations, and all of the servers were friendly and very attentive.

D23 Sip and Stroll

The pan-seared scallop was well-prepared, and the lobster risotto was very savory. I also enjoyed the beef shortrib, and the accompanying pasnip mash was a new experience.

D23 Sip and Stroll

I didn't enjoy the chicken with the mushroom-fig reduction; the chicken was dry and the sauce just did not pair well with it.

D23 Sip and Stroll

As for the desserts, I passed on the vanilla gelato but heard from others that it was very good, especially the almond brittle pieces. I tried the apple tarte tatin with cheddar, but I didn't care too much for it.

D23 Sip and Stroll

Then I had the Baileys chocolate soufflé, and it was absolutely incredible; I tried for seconds but they had ran out.

D23 Sip and Stroll

By the end of dinner, everyone was stuffed, and we couldn't imagine having any more dessert at the IllumiNations viewing. Time seemed to have flown by.

As we left the World Showplace, each guest was given their own "Party For The Senses" wine glass plus a bonus piece of stem ware - a D23-exclusive Arribas Bros. wine glass.

D23 Sip and Stroll

D23 Sip and Stroll

These parting/thank you gifts were handed to us at this point knowing that there probably be no better opportunity. And in addition to the wine glasses, tucked away in one of the bags was a pair of special "3D" glasses for us to wear during IllumiNations.

DESSERTS & ILLUMINATIONS at Italy Isola

On the walk over to our private IllumiNations viewing area at Italy's Isola, we passed by a couple other private-viewing areas set up, and it was interesting to see the variety of experiences Epcot offers special guests.

The Italy Isola is the area by the World Showcase Lagoon near the gondolas at the Italy Pavilion; it is accessible by crossing either one of the pavilion's two bridges (Isola is Italian for "island") . I took pictures of this area earlier in the day.

D23 Sip and Stroll


For the D23 event, there were several small tables and chairs set up for us, and it was again very comfortable - although I wouldn't want to imagine 200 people in this same space.

For the refreshments, there was a staffed hot-beverage station with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, water.

D23 Sip and Stroll

...and a table with a lovely assortment of truffles:

- White Chocolate Truffle with Sprinkles
- Dark Chocolate Truffle with Pralines
- Milk Chocolate Truffle with Coconut

D23 Sip and Stroll


There was just enough time for us to get a few truffles and a drink (another coffee for me), and put on our special 3D glasses before the narrator blew out the torches and IllumiNations began.

D23 Sip and Stroll

At the first explosions, we all erupted with chuckles and applause. The 3D glasses we were wearing produced swarms of Mickeys - it was like Epcot's own "Spirit of 3D".

D23 Sip and Stroll

To many of us, the 3D glasses really made the event - a simple gesture, but one that was really that cool. It was IllumiNations as we've never seen before - although I'm sure it won't be the last time.

D23 Sip and Stroll


CONCLUSION

D23's Sip & Stroll was similar to the earlier Flower & Fireworks celebration in that they both involved a concert and fireworks, but Sip & Stroll-ers were treated to so much more - more giveaways (park tickets, gift card, wine glasses), more experiences (food & wine presentations, private dinner), and more opportunities (hospitality suite, going backstage and meeting Jon Secada). It was truly an all-day event - the pace was brisk but relaxed - and very much worth the price.

The D23 team did a fantastic job organizing this event - everything ran smoothly - and I thought it was nice that some of them were able to join us and experience it from our perspective. Really, it just felt like we were one big family. And I think that's what makes these events so special - D23's Sip & Stroll was another opportunity for Disney fans of all types to get together and celebrate a brand we love. Thank you D23 team, and I look forward to Magic & Merriment in December.


November 21, 2009

Review of Paradiso 37 - Downtown Disney Walt Disney World

Guest Blogger Jeff Onorato shares his recent experience dining at Paradiso 37!

During my September visit to WDW, I had the opportunity to dine at Paradiso 37. The restaurant is located in the Pleasure Island district of Downtown Disney, between the Adventurer's Club and Harley Davidson Orlando.

Paradiso 37

Paradiso 37

Paradiso 37

Paradiso 37

On the night of my visit, the restaurant was surprisingly empty given that it had only been open for a few months. I expected a more sizable crowd. The fact that it was mid-week undoubtedly played a part.

The theme of the restaurant is eclectic and colorful, as evidenced in the Cuervo Chandelier hanging above the entryway. There are 2 bars within the restaurant, and seating is split between the main level and an upper-level of the building.


Paradiso 37

Paradiso 37

Paradiso 37

Paradiso 37

Paradiso 37


Patio tables are also available for outside dining. They offer a nice view of the boat dock and Saratoga Springs.

Paradiso 37

Paradiso 37


The menu at Paradiso 37 is inspired by the "Street Foods of South, Central, and North America". That mantra perfectly sums up the broad array of food offered. Tequila is the main attraction here, and they have 37 varieties of it (as referenced in the name). The only type I didn't see on hand was Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo brand.

Paradiso 37

Paradiso 37

In celebration of this I opted to start off the meal with their signature Mangled Margarita, which is a mixture of Sangria and a typical Margarita. I found the drink to be slightly sweeter than a typical Margarita, and perfectly blended. By the time I finished the first one I was ready for another!

Paradiso 37

For those folks who are interested in beer, the restaurant takes pride in serving the coldest beer in WDW! As evidenced on the thermometer hanging in the Dining Room, their beer is served at around 29 degrees.

For my appetizer I chose the Queso Fundido ($7.99) which was a good way to start the meal. The chips were served hot in a large bag adjacent to the bowl of Jack-cheese dip, which was garnished with Scallions. The appetizer was very hearty, and could be served as a meal in and of itself.

Paradiso 37

Service of my Entrée was nicely paced so as not to rush the meal. I decided on the Baja Burritos ($14.99), which are stuffed with either Chicken or Beef - I chose the Beef. Alongside the generously portioned burritos were Black Beans & Rice. I did not find the meal to be especially spicy and the need for a firehouse was not felt. The BBQ flavor was prominent in the dish, and I would liken it to Pork BBQ in texture and taste.

Paradiso 37

The food was quite filling and a good value for the money. While the desserts they had on offer were more than tempting, there was no more room at the Inn! Next time, I will skip the appetizer in favor of the Churros or Mini Ice Cream Cones.

My visit to Paradiso 37 was a solo one. In light of this, I did not feel rushed or out-of-place. In fact, I noticed several other solo diners in attendance that night both in the dining room and at the bar. My server did not seem to mind either; he took ample time going over the menu with me and making recommendations on what to try on my first visit.

I would recommend this restaurant for families visiting Downtown Disney or couples looking for a night out on the town. While they do serve alcohol with an emphasis on tequila and specialty drinks, I don't think that children will feel out of place here. I would most liken the restaurant to the Maya Grill at Coronado Springs or San Angel Inn at Epcot, with more menu options. Paradiso 37 is open from 11:30 a.m. - 12:00 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Reservations can be made by calling the restaurant directly ((407) 934-3700) and were not available through Disney Dining Reservations when I checked. Also, they do not accept reservations during peak Dinner hours, only up until 4 o'clock.

There are currently no discount offers for Annual Passholder or Tables in Wonderland when I inquired with my Server. Also, Paradiso 37 does not currently accept the Disney Dining Plan.

Related Links:

Paradiso 37 Menu

Readers Rate and Review Paradiso 37

About Jeff: I am 33 years old and from Gettysburg, PA. By day I work in the Accounting Department of a Newspaper Publishing Company. My first visit to WDW was at the age of 2, and have been back around 35 times since then. I often travel solo to WDW, as well as with family. I make good use of my Annual Pass, and trek to Orlando about 5 times per year to visit my favorite travel destination. My favorite resort is the Polynesian, but have stayed at all of the WDW resorts at least once. In fact, my favorite aspect of visiting the Walt Disney World Resort is trying out the different Resorts and Restaurants. I also enjoy the many restaurants and sampling different foods that I normally would never try at home! (such as Escargot at the France pavillion).


November 26, 2009

Gingerbread House at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Gingerbread House at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa Established 1999 -- 11th Anniversary Open Daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.


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Lollipops
Oreo Cookie Chocolate Pops (1.6 oz.) -- $4.00
Mickey Face (3 oz.) -- $5.75
Princess (1.6 oz.) -- $5.75

Chocolate Snowman with Chocolates (4.2 oz.) -- $7.25
Chocolate Holiday Snow Globe (3.25 oz.) -- $7.50
Chocolate Holiday Hexagon Box with Truffles (7 oz.) -- $10.00
Chocolate Grand Floridian Frame (5.8 oz.) -- $12.00

Signature Items handmade

Large Chocolate Chip Cookie (4 oz.) -- $2.50
Gingerbread Cookie People (1.6 oz.) -- $4.00
Gingerbread* Shingle (2.8 oz.) -- $7.00
Peppermint Bark 1/2 lb. Bag -- $12.00
Stollen Bread with Marzipan (2 lbs.) -- $18.25

09GF_GingerbreadFront.JPG


Signature Gingerbread* House (3 1/2 lb.) -- $65.00

Gingerbread Ornaments*
Small (1 oz.) -- $8.50
House (3.8 oz.) -- $16.50
Butterfly (5.4 oz.) -- $16.50
Tree (3 oz.) -- $16.50
Cup (4 oz.) -- $16.50

Assorted Gingerbread Cookies 1/2 lb. Bag -- $15.75
Happy Holidays Chocolate Box with Truffles (8.6 oz.) -- $19.00

Chocolate Disney Characters
Cinderella (9.4 oz.) -- $19.50
Donald (9.4 oz.) -- $19.50
Goofy (10.4 oz.) -- $19.50
Mickey (14.2 oz.) -- $19.50
Minnie (12.5 oz.) -- $19.50
Tinker Bell (9.4 oz.) -- $19.50

Grand Floridian Seasons Greetings Box with Truffles (14.6 oz) -- $23.00
Poinsettia Chocolate Box with Truffles (20 oz) -- $29.00
Signature Chocolate Box with Truffles (2 lb 5 oz.) -- $75.00
* made from a classic "gingerbread" lebkuchen recipe

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Making of the Gingerbread House

1,050 lbs. of Honey
800 lbs. of Flour
600 lbs. of Chocolate
600 lbs. of Powdered Sugar
180 lbs. of Apricot Glaze
140 pints of Egg Whites
35 lbs. of Spices
Tons of Creativity,
Disney Magic and
Pixie Dust

It takes the Grand Floridian cast more than two months and 840 hours of labor to produce, cut and bake the 5,089 "shingles" used to decorate the Gingerbread House.

Gingerbread House & Ornaments

HONEY DOUGH
4 lbs honey
3 lbs bread flour

Method
Bring honey to a boil and mix into bread flour. Mix until dough has a smooth texture. Allow to cool. Wrap in plastic and allow to rest for up to two months.

SPICE DOUGH
2lbs all purpose flour
4 eggs
2 cups light corn syrup
1.5 oz ammonia*
1 cup pwater
1 oz ground cinnamon
1 oz ground nutmeg
1 oz ground cloves
1 oz ground ginger

Method
Mix all purpose flour, eggs, light corn syrup, and spices together. Dissolve ammonia* in water and add to mixture. Combine the honey dough and spice dough.
(* powdered ammonia or ammonium carbonate is found in drugstores and must be ground to powder before using)

Preparation
Roll the dough into 1/8" thick sheets and cut desired pieces.
Brush with milk and bake at 340F for 12 minutes.

Yield: 1 gingerbread house (13" x 15" x 10") or 10-15 ornaments

ROYAL ICING
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp cream of tartar
4 each egg whites
1 tbsp lemon juice

Method
Make icing just before the assembly of the gingerbread house.
Beat egg whites until light and frothy. Add the powdered sugar and beat until incorporated. Add the cream of tartar and lemon juice while continuing to beat until smooth and icing is stiff. Cover the surface with plastic wrap to avoid it drying out. Assemble your gingerbread house according to your pattern using the royal icing as glue. For soft icing add 2 more egg whites and add food coloring.

Yield: one Gingerbread House

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Thanks to Guest Blogger Cedric Ching!!!

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About November 2009

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in November 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

October 2009 is the previous archive.

December 2009 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.