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January 5, 2011

Tables in Wonderland Holiday Spirits Dinner

by John Bowers

Tables in Wonderland hosted a Holiday Spirits Dinner at Epcot's Norway Lounge on Friday evening, December 17, 2010. The Norway Lounge is a somewhat-secret space above Maelstrom, the pavilion's signature attraction.

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There were maybe 60 people in attendance. We started out with a reception so people could have a chance to meet one another. We were served wine and three scrumptious small bites, passed around by the gracious servers. Those treats were Caramelized Beets with Microgreens, Pomegranate Free-Range Chicken with Citrus, and Charred Beef with Watercress Pesto. The servers were scrambling in and out of the room to keep plenty available.

We were seated at tables of 8, each table had the name of one of Santa's reindeer, and we were given cards with our names on them and the name of our table. Lovely table settings, red tablecloths and gold plates, plus a Christmas-y centerpiece on each table.

Each course had its own specialty mixed drink served with it. Our appetizer, Spicy Seared Tilapia with Creamy Corn Pudding and Crispy Leeks was served with a martini glass that held a 'Belle's of St. Mary's', a bracing concoction of gin, triple sec, apricot brandy, and lemon juice. The tilapia and the libation were exquisite.

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Our salad was a Medley of Winter Greens and Herbs tossed with Sundried Cranberry Vinaigrette topped with Crunchy Sunflower Seeds. It was matched with a drink called a Red Nosed Reindeer: vodka, triple sec, and grapefruit juice. The drinks disappeared quickly.

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The entree was Prosciutto and Sage Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Tomato Chutney, and Italian Olive Oil Braised Yukon Gold Potatoes and Brussel Sprouts. This time it was a drink called Santa's Little Helper: tequila, orange juice, and tomato juice. Nary a discouraging word from anyone at my table!

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The Dessert Trio: Warm Chocolate Ganache Brulee, Asian Apple Crumble, and Eggnog Foam with Nutmeg Dust. Alongside came Crockpot Mulled Cider, the main ingredient being Apple Brandy.

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Even with all those wonderful mixed drinks, the servers were busy pouring chardonnay, cabernet, and pinot noir for anyone who wanted it.

By this time it was about 7:45. Everyone who wanted to attend the Candlelight Processional was asked to follow the leader with the big lighted torch (battery-powered, not on fire, fortunately) from Norway to the American Gardens Theater, where seating had been arranged for us.

The walk from Norway to the theater was fun all by itself. It was dark, and the Christmas lights in the pavilions along the way were beautiful. It seemed every adult you passed had a drink of some sort, and I don't mean a Coke. Unless there was rum in it. Drinking around the World, Christmas-style.

A great meal, a great show, and lots of Christmas spirits. How can you beat that?

The recipes for the drinks follow:

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January 15, 2011

ESPN Club: A Sports Fan's Paradise

Andrew Rossi

Andrew Rossi returns with a review of the ESPN Club at Disney's Boardwalk Resort.

If you are a sports fan like me then you always want to keep track of how your favorite teams are doing, even when you are on vacation. This, however, is sometimes easier said than done. What if there is a major sporting event like the World Series or Super Bowl that you really don't want to miss? Sure, you could probably go back to your room at your resort and watch the game there, but where is the fun and excitement in that? Fortunately for guests at Walt Disney World, the ESPN Club at the Boardwalk Resort offers the perfect location to enjoy a game and celebrate a big win with your fellow fans. Whether you are just looking for a drink and a couple of appetizers at the bar or a full sit-down meal, the ESPN Club completely immerses you into the world of sports.

ESPN Club Sign

Overview:
Nestled at the far end of the Boardwalk, the ESPN Club may appear quiet by day but at night it is transformed and comes alive with the raucous cheers of the many sports fans rooting for their favorite teams. The ESPN Club has become a very popular location in Disney World for sports fans who do not want to miss a big game when they are on vacation. Much of its popularity is also due to the fact that it is the only real sports bar/restaurant in Disney World (there is the ESPN Grill at the Wide World of Sports Complex, but its location makes it much more difficult to get to). In addition, the ESPN Club's location at the Boardwalk makes it easily accessible, being just a short walk from Epcot or a quick boat ride from the Hollywood Studios.

ESPN Club Exterior

The ESPN Club should not be confused with the ESPN Zone, like the one found at Disneyland in California. The ESPN Club is smaller and more intimate in size and does not have some of the added features of an ESPN Zone, such as a rock climbing wall, massive sports arcade, and rooms for private functions like the one in Disneyland. The ESPN Club's smaller size, however, does not limit the fun and excitement of this dining location, especially during a big game.

Atmosphere:
As soon as you enter the ESPN Club you are given the option of sitting in the bar side or the restaurant side. The bar features open seating with booths, high-top tables with stools, as well as regular tables and chairs. The bar area can get very loud, especially when there is a major sporting event being shown. It can also seem more crowded because the tables are placed closer together in this area.

ESPN Club Bar Seating Area

If you are looking for a slightly more quiet meal, the restaurant side may be better for you.

ESPN Club Restaurant Seating Area

One important note: The ESPN Club can get very crowded at night and especially during major sporting events like the World Series and Super Bowl. If you are hoping to catch a specific game while you eat, it definitely helps to show up early so you will be able to get a table.

The ESPN Club is a restaurant that is just as much (if not more) about the atmosphere as the food. Everywhere you look throughout the restaurant you will see pieces of memorabilia from every major sport, both college and pro. There are jerseys representing almost every professional hockey, basketball, football, and baseball team, many of which are autographed.

ESPN Club Hockey Jerseys

ESPN Club College Football Jerseys and Helmets

ESPN Club NFL Jerseys.JPG

The walls are also covered with balls, helmets, and photographs signed by sports legends of both past and present. Its almost as if you are eating in a sports museum rather than a restaurant.

ESPN Club Sports Memorabilia

Another major feature of the restaurant's atmosphere is the hundreds of televisions throughout the dining room and bar. From your table, no matter which way you look, you will be able to see multiple televisions showing different games. The numerous amounts of televisions ensure that you do not miss a moment of the action, even when you are in the restroom.

ESPN Club Televisions1

ESPN Club Televisions2

With so many televisions showing different games, different sections of tables throughout the restaurant receive the audio from different televisions. When it is not crowded, and there is a particular game you are interested in, they will seat you so that you will be able to see and hear the game of your choice. One of the best parts of the televisions is that they actually turn the audio off during the commercials.

The restaurant's atmosphere, with the noise from the televisions and cheering fans, can make it difficult to have a conversation with the other members of you party. If you are looking for a more quiet meal, consider coming for lunch when it is less crowded. This might not be the best restaurant if travelling with smaller children, but it is great for teenagers and adults. It is a very laid-back dining location that makes it a great place to relax, escape the theme parks, and enjoy a good game with friends or family.

The Menu:
The ESPN Club is not the type of restaurant you would go to if you are looking for a gourmet meal, but this does not mean that the food is not of good quality. Quite the contrary, I was very pleasantly surprised by the wide selection of offerings on the menu, which offers classic Americana and ballpark fare kicked up a notch and provides new twists on many traditional favorites. In this way, the menu pairs perfectly with the atmosphere of the restaurant, providing diners the type of food you would want when watching a sporting event.

The appetizer selections are great for sharing, especially if you are going to the ESPN Club just to sit at the bar and enjoy a game without having an entire meal. Among the appetizers are Red Wings ($11.49), which are chicken wings served with your choice of medium, hot, flame, teriyaki, or barbecue sauce and accompanied by celery and blue cheese dressing. A slight variation on this are the ESPN Dingers ($8.99), which are chicken breast nuggets served the same way. There is also a Black Bean and Spinach Dip ($8.49) served with Tortilla Chips, Macho Nachos ($9.99) topped with chili, cheddar cheese sauce, pico de gallo, sour cream, and jalapenos, and the Overtime Fries ($8.99) featuring a generous portion of French fries topped with chili and cheddar cheese sauce.

The entrée selections include a lot of variety and offer something for everyone. If you are in the mood for a burger, the menu features not only a traditional hamburger or cheeseburger, but also a Cuban Burger ($11.99) topped with dijonaise sauce, ham, Swiss cheese, and pickles, the Southwestern Burger ($11.99) served with jalapenos, pico de gallo, avocado, cheddar, and lettuce, and the Muffalata Burger ($12.49) which comes with prosciutto, cappicola, salami, provolone, and olive tapenade.

The menu also includes several different sandwiches. There is the Championship Chicken Sandwich ($13.49) topped with sun-dried tomato pesto, greens, and goat cheese on rosemary focaccia, the Triple Play Turkey ($11.49) with brie, greens, and cranberry mayonnaise on multigrain bread, and the Extreme Reuben ($10.49) with sliced corned beef, sauerkraut, and swiss on sliced rye.

If you are looking for some seafood there is the Salmon "Club House" ($14.49), which is a BLT Sandwich with a fresh grilled salmon fillet, as well as the Fish on the Bun Sandwich ($14.49) featuring fresh grilled mahi mahi on a whole grain roll. For vegetarians there is the Vegetable Sandwich ($10.49) with chilled, grilled zucchini, onion, and portobello mushrooms with greens, tomatoes, and roasted red pepper hummus on multigrain bread.

If you are looking for something more than just a sandwich the menu also features Rack 'em-Ribs ($20.99) topped with a tangy barbecue sauce and served with coleslaw, corn on the cob, and French fries, a Sports "Center Cut" Top Sirloin ($20.99) served with chipotle-lime butter, macaroni and cheese, and spicy green beans, as well as a Grilled Salmon Fillet ($20.99) accompanied by buttered Yukon potatoes and spicy green beans.

You may want to save room for dessert because there are some delectable options available. The Rocky Road Cake ($5.99) is a chocolate cake layered with chocolate mousse, walnuts, marshmallows, and fudge sauce. There is also a Lemon Meringue Pie ($5.49) with a graham cracker crust, fresh lemon filling and a toasted meringue, as well as a Boston Cream Pie ($5.99).

As I was perusing the menu I was greatly intrigued by the Italian Hot Dog. Although a hot dog is not something I would typically order when going out to eat, it was so unlike anything I had heard of before (topped with roasted potatoes, sautéed onions, and peppers) that I decided to give it a try.

ESPN Club Italian Hot Dog

While $10.99 might seem like a lot for a hot dog, it was absolutely huge. Its size also made it a little difficult and sloppy to eat; it was so big that I needed to eat it with a knife and fork and I was only able to finish about half. The hot dog did not come served on a typically hot dog bun, but rather on an Italian roll that was just slightly toasted so that it was a little crispy on the outside.

The hot dog itself was very thick and was cut in half to make it easier to eat. The onions and peppers were cooked perfectly, not too hard and yet not mushy, and their flavor really blended well and complimented that of the hot dog. Actually, although there was a good amount of onions and peppers topping the hot dog, I would have liked it if there had been even more. The combination of roasted potatoes and a hot dog may seem odd, but their flavors actually blended together very well and the potatoes added a little contrast in texture. There was also mustard topping the hot dog, but just enough to add a little extra flavor without being too overpowering.

For dessert I decided on the Bananas Foster Cream Pie ($5.99), which after a very filling entrée provided a nice, light contrast. The pie was layered with fresh bananas and custard over banana bread and topped with white chocolate whipped cream.

ESPN Club Banana Fosters Pie

The pie was extremely creamy and smooth with a flavor that was sweet without being overpoweringly so. The bananas were soft, but not mushy, and there were actually fewer bananas in the pie than I thought there would be. Personally, I would have preferred it if there were more bananas and less custard. The pie came drizzled with caramel and chocolate that added a little extra flavor and sweetness, but did not overpower the flavor of the bananas. There were also white chocolate flakes atop the pie that added some extra texture. This was actually a much more elegant dessert than I was expecting, providing a contrast to the more simple, traditional offerings found throughout the rest of the menu.

Service:
Matching the restaurant's atmosphere, the service is very laid back and casual. I noticed that many of the servers seemed to be rushing around the restaurant serving a lot of different tables. As a result I really did not see my server too much throughout my meal. I was very surprised that the server never even checked with me during my meal to make sure I was enjoying everything. While the food was brought out in a timely manner I did find the service to be a little slow as I had to wait a while for the table to be cleared when I was finished and even longer for the check to be brought out to me. However, this slow service was not necessarily a problem because it allowed more time for watching the various sporting events on the restaurant's televisions. If you are looking for a quick meal this is probably not the restaurant for you, but if you have time to relax and enjoy a game then the ESPN Club is the place for you (and the service is geared more toward the latter).

Dining on a Budget:
While the prices on the menu may seem a little steep for ballpark food, you get what you pay for in terms of both quantity and quality. The portion sizes of my meal and every other dish that I saw being brought out of the kitchen were absolutely huge. One great way to save money, especially if you are dining with a group of two or more, is to just order appetizers. The menu features a wide assortment of appetizers and if you split two or three you could easily have a filling meal at a very reasonable price.

If you are looking for something more than just appetizers, the hot dogs and hamburgers offer another affordable option. Ranging in price from $10.99 to $12.49, you are getting much more than your typical hot dog or hamburger as they come piled high with various toppings. When you consider a quarter-pound cheeseburger at a Disney World quick-service dining location will cost about $7, then $11.99 for a burger at ESPN Club is not too bad because you are getting a larger burger, with more toppings, and at a better quality. In addition, you are getting a restaurant atmosphere better than any counter service location.

The Overall Experience:
The ESPN Club at the Boardwalk Resort is a really unique restaurant because it is one of the only dining locations in Disney World that offers the opportunity to enjoy various sporting events. It is a great place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks, relax, and enjoy a good meal along with a good game. If you are a sports fan then the ESPN Club is a must, especially if there is a big game that you do not want to miss. It may not be the place to go if you are looking for a quiet, gourmet meal, but it does deliver a lively, exciting, and laid back atmosphere along with a menu that provides a new twist on traditional ballpark fare that is of good quality and large portion size. It may not be my favorite restaurant at Disney World, but it is a restaurant that serves a specific purpose and does it very well. If I am ever looking for a place to enjoy some good food while watching a major sporting event, I know exactly where I will be going.

Check out Reader Reviews of the ESPN Club and post your own too!

January 17, 2011

Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun Parade Debuts at Disney's Hollywood Studios

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The new Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun parade, the successor to Block Party Bash, debuted today at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It follows the same parade route as Block Party Bash did.

Disney's Hollywood Studios Times Guide

Disney's Hollywood Studios Map

The Cast Members seemed excited that this parade was starting. I had several tell me to be sure to check it out this afternoon.

Prior to the parade, they were asking about celebrations and reminding everyone that the parade was going to be coming. We decided to catch it at the very beginning of the parade route. It began promptly at 3 PM.

The parade starts off with several characters from "The Incredibles" on scooters. If you're at the beginning of the parade route, they zip by very fast so have your camera(s) ready.

Incredibles

Incredibles

They were followed by Mr. Incredible on a float with a countdown to fun on the side.

Mr. Incredible


After that, characters from "A Bug's Life" danced their way (or rolled their way on a float) by.

A Bug's Life

A Bug's Life

A Bug's Life

Remy from "Ratatouille" was on hand to help celebrate as well.

Remy

My personal favorite part of the parade as the "Monsters, Inc." portion. I love that movie and the float was a work of art!

Boo and George

Monsters, Inc.

Sully

Monster's, Inc.

Monsters, Inc. - back

Characters from "Up!" followed the "Monster's, Inc." float.

Up!

Up!

The "Toy Story" segment was very cool. Jessie and Bullseye were adorable dancing. The float that Woody, Buzz and Lotso were on was absolutely incredible. There were toys and such all over it. It was a visual treat.

Jessie and Bullseye

Woody

Buzz

Lotso

The cones brought up the rear of the parade, followed by two Cast Members holding a jump rope.

Cones

Cast Members

The parade is very high energy. However, it is short! My mom was with me today and she timed it at 6 minutes from start to finish. It did look like the parade made a show stop on Hollywood Boulevard. It wasn't my favorite thing I've ever seen at Disney World but it wasn't my least favorite, either. In all honesty, it felt sort of like the "Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! Street Party" at Magic Kingdom only with Pixar characters. For what it was, it was cute. I wouldn't make a special trip back to Disney's Hollywood Studios just to see it, though.

Have a MAGICAL day! TTFN, ta ta for now!

January 24, 2011

Disney Dream Maiden Voyage - Pre-Trip Report

by AllEars.Net Guest Blogger Lori Edelman

It all started with a lottery. When my name was drawn, I had no idea of the real journey we were about to begin. I had thrown my name in the hat for a chance to sail on the maiden voyage of Disney's new ship: the Disney Magic. Lo and behold, we got a spot! Room 2114. (I remember the number because it matched the last 4 digits of my original cell phone number!). So, in July 1998, we got to sail our first maiden voyage.

On the Magic, we shared our dinner table with a fun group from Michigan. One gal was a travel agent and through her we were able to continue our journey of maiden voyages. In August 1999, we sailed the maiden voyage of Disney's second ship: the Disney Wonder.

And now we continue! Only a few more days and we sail the maiden voyage of the newest ship in the fleet: the Disney Dream.

Over the last weeks and months, like many of you, we have followed the progress of the Dream as she was put together, first floated out, and then sailed across the Atlantic to her home in Port Canaveral. Michael and I both tearfully watched the ship's christening last Wednesday from the Cruise Line's website. At the same time, I was messaging with All Ears Deb who was lucky enough to be in attendance. What a thrill! Technology has come a long way since our first maiden voyages in 1998 and 1999!!!!

In a few short days, the three of us will rendezvous in Orlando for our adventure. Originally, this was just a trip for Michael and me. Our oldest son is married and out on his own. Our youngest is a freshman at the University of Oregon -- Go Ducks! We told him, "sorry, but you can't miss a week of college". However, in a very poignant email letter to me, he convinced me to change my mind. I am such a sucker! Really though, how many parents have a 19-year-old son that wants to go on vacation with them? He said it was our fault for making him love all things Disney; he went on the first 2 maiden voyages with us and he wants to go on the next 12 with us. So, as a parent, I ask you, how could we say no?

The All Ears team has done an awesome job introducing us to the Dream from the christening through the media cruise. I loved Laura's Aqua Duck video! Please follow me and my family on our next maiden voyage adventure!

Aaron received an "onboard credit" for his birthday....get it?

Aaron gets an onboard credit!

Michael and Aaron, Panama Canal 2008
Michael and Aaron, Panama Canal 2008

Lori, Panama Canal 2008 Lori-Panama.jpg


January 27, 2011

A Saturday Trip to the World

by John Bowers
Guest Blogger

I wanted to take a spin on Snow White's Scary Adventures, since it's going to be closing soon because of the renovation in Fantasyland. So on Saturday, January 22, I went out to see how easy that would be to accomplish.

I like to explore different ways of getting around the 'World' when I'm out there, so I took the bus to the Magic Kingdom. It's fun to watch the families who are on the bus -- the kids are always pretty charged up. Plus there's nothing like not having to drive, you can sit back and chillax (as the kids say).

The bus got me to the Magic Kingdom at about 10 a.m. Kind of crowded at the 'bag search' lines, which I guess we'll have to deal with forever. It was kind of chilly, so people had extra coats and bags, and that probably contributed to the slowdown. Some people you see going into a park look like they're prepared to be there for a week. All I had was my camera, so I cruised through the 'guests with no bags' line, and got ahead of about 500 people.

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Once inside the park, it was a little crowded on Main Street, but by the time I got to Cinderella Castle, it wasn't crowded at all. The wait for Snow White was only about 5 minutes. My camera can take video footage, which I did so I could keep it as a memory of the ride (attraction, sorry), but it's so dark in there that it was pretty useless. Black screen, but the sound track came out nice!

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After Snow White, I walked around toward the venerable Grand Prix Raceway, and then headed back to the front of the Castle. By now, it was nearly 11 a.m., and Main Street was a zoo. I bolted.

Back to the bus stop, got on a bus that was headed to the Epcot resorts. I was the only one on the bus, so I got to chat with Charlie, the bus driver. Great guy. Once he found out I was a local, we talked about goings-on around Orlando.

We stopped at the Swan, the Dolphin, the Yacht Club and the Beach Club, picking up people who were headed to the Magic Kingdom. Lots of excited kids. I disembarked at the Boardwalk and drove over to Olivia's Cafe at the Old Key West Resort.

When I told the guard at the gate that I was there to eat at Olivia's, he said, "How do you know about Olivia's?" I said, "Dude, I live here!" He said, "This is the best kept secret in town!"

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Olivia's was nearly empty about this time (noon), and I had a fried shrimp po' boy. It was OK, nothing really special. (I had seen Emeril Lagasse make a po' boy somewhere in New Orleans on TV last week, that's why I wanted one. Not as good as getting one in the Big Easy, trust me.)

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One thing I didn't pay attention to, and I should have, was the gratuity. When the server first brought my check, I pulled out my Tables in Wonderland card, and he went back to take the 20% off. An 18% gratuity was added to the check when he brought it back. I didn't notice that, I should have. I added another 20% tip myself. I'm sure there was not a gratuity added initially, only after the TiW discount. Probably an oversight on their part, but little things like that can leave a bit of a bad taste in your mouth.

Especially when your mouth is a local mouth, and you've driven 30 miles out there to eat lunch and support Disney. And you're also a member of TiW. And a passholder.

But Olivia's is certainly a lovely little place to eat. Jimmy Buffett on the sound system. Quite peaceful, far from the madding crowd, as they say.

That was it for the Snow White adventure. Short and sweet. Except for feeling like they sneaked one by me on the gratuity. Gotta be more vigilant. I think that's the first time I have seen an automatic gratuity for a party of one.

January 28, 2011

Disney Dream Maiden Voyage - Day 1, Sail Away

by Lori Edelman
Guest Blogger

Wow, where to begin? We were up early, had a nice breakfast at the Hyatt and headed straight to the Disney Cruise Line bus. As early as we thought we were, a lot of other folks had the same idea. We ended up on the second bus out to the Port. Before I forget to mention it, the weather today was in the 60's, sunny, but windy. No tornado warnings like yesterday!

Waiting for the bus

The best part of the drive to the Port is coming over that last crest to get our first glimpse of the beautiful new ship! Again, wow.

Our first glimpse of the Dream!

Huge, but absolutely beautiful. One thing we learned. If you are anxious to get into the terminal, stick with the DCL bus transportation. Our AllEars friends arrived by town car and waited in an incredibly long line outside. We arrived at least 20 minutes after them and immediately entered. Of course, once inside we all waited until close to noon when they finally began the boarding process.

Arrived at the DCL terminal


As we boarded, "The Disney Dream welcomes the Edelman family" was announced and we saw the first of several familiar faces among the cast. It was Ponz, a delightful member of the entertainment staff! And, the best part? He remembered our names! We have sailed with Ponz on 3 other occasions.

Ponz!

First order of business was to find the D Lounge where we got on the wait list for Palo brunch and dinner. (Later in the afternoon we did get a call for a dinner reservation for this evening, but declined as Aaron really wanted to see the first of our 3 rotation dining locations. More on that in a bit.)

Next up: lunch. We decided to try Cabanas on Deck 11. This dining location is described as free-flowing with a wide variety of choices and several different stations. I sampled swordfish and grilled chicken while Aaron tried out the chicken tenders and pizza. Michael found a grilled rib eye steak along with grilled asparagus. Everything was delicious.

When we finished lunch, it was just about 1:30. Staterooms are ready! We found our way to 9058, an outside ocean view room with verandah. We find the room layout to be very similar to those on the Magic and the Wonder, perhaps a little narrower. I do miss the extra cabinet for storage found on the Magic and Wonder. The comfy queen size bed, however, is elevated and we have easily stored 4 suitcases underneath.

Now it was time for some exploring. Aaron and I headed up. Deck 13 aft is Goofy's Sports Deck complete with a very creative 9-hole miniature golf course. Despite some very strong winds, we played a quick round. Great fun! Each hole has a "theme" much like the two mini golf courses at Walt Disney World.

Mini Golf


Next we wandered under the Aqua Duck. We are both anxious to give it a try -- hopefully tomorrow. As we head forward on deck 11 we pass by all of the pools. Nemo's Reef for the smallest tots; theming here is incredible. Next is the Mickey pool which is right beside the family pool. Overlooking these two pools is the giant Funnel Vision and Deck Stage, location of most of the major deck parties. Further back is the adult area -- Cove Cafe, Quiet Cove Pool with swim-up bar. Finally, the double doors at the back of this area lead you to Senses Spa and Salon. This area is much bigger than on the Magic and Wonder, and even more lovely.

Near the end of our spa tour Aaron and I realized we were late to meet Michael for the adult-version of the Disney Vacation Club welcome get-together. We rushed to D Lounge, deck 4 forward, and I ran into another familiar face. Yelena!!!

Yelena!


In 2008 when we sailed the Disney Magic through the Panama Canal, Yelena introduced us to the world of fine tequila. Needless to say she became our best friend. We sailed with her again In February 2009 and thought we wouldn't cross paths again until we went back on the Wonder. Unfortunately, she is no longer a bar tender, but instead an officer! The best part (again): she remembered us! What a thrill.

We caught up with Michael in time to have a quick glass of champagne. My name was drawn and I won a really cool drawstring, sling bag! DVC has some excellent deals for those interested in adding points. If you are a member and decide to add on, a cruise is the best place to do it as they generally offer some great bonuses.

I almost forgot to mention the very important safety drill! Good news: our station is located in the Buena Vista Theater. More good news: no life jackets required! Our drill was completed quickly and easily.

Safety Drill -- no jacket required!


Next we headed to Preludes located just outside the Walt Disney Theater to view special limited edition merchandise. I completed a form to purchase a couple of limited edition, maiden voyage pins through their "RSP", random selection process. Note: credit card -- not your key to the world card -- is required. When I turned in my form, I received a pick up time for Thursday afternoon.

Now it was the time we had all been waiting for. Sail away!!!

Sail-away party

Everyone was on deck listening to music, enjoying champagne, blowing bubbles, waving Mickey hands and streamers. The mood was so festive! Media helicopters followed us out to the open sea. Hundreds of people cheered and waved us on from shore! And, of course, the horn! I lost count of the number of times it sounded!

Cheering crowds line the shore


After we sailed away, I knew they would be opening the shops. Smart move on my part. I waited about 15 minutes in line before they opened the doors. Crazy! Crowds of people just grabbing up all of the maiden voyage merchandise they could get their hands on. I was right there with them. I found cool t-shirts for all 3 of us plus a couple of other items. Exhilarating. One lady compared the experience to Black Friday and I think she was right on.

I hooked up with Michael and Aaron back in our stateroom. Somewhere along the way our luggage did indeed make it to our stateroom. Whew. I took some time to put things away and stow our luggage under the bed. I'm not sure where the day went, but it was time for the show! And, another familiar cast member, Brent! Brent was the cruise director on our transatlantic crossing as well as my birthday cruise in 2009. Michael worked with him to arrange a tour of the bridge and I got to sound the horn on the Disney Magic! What a special moment and one I will always cherish. Tonight's show began with the winner of the recent reality show, The Phenomenon, Mike Super. He is an illusionist -- amazing! Mike was followed by a young lady named Rhema. She is a mere 8 years old, but with the most incredible voice. She sang several selections earning a well-deserved standing ovation.

After the show, we headed back to our stateroom to change for dinner. Michael tried to get us connected to the Internet. He used up 10-15 minutes and never got anywhere! As others who cruised last week on the media cruise reported, the Internet service does appear to be terrible. Fingers crossed that things improve!

Our dinner this evening was in the Enchanted Garden. Lovely! We are seated at table 61 with 3 new friends -- Shelly, Ashley, and Sharon. And guess where they are from? Seattle! It's the Pacific Northwest table!

Enchanted Garden

Oh. I almost forgot. Yet another familiar face and if our friends from the April 2010 transatlantic crossing are reading, you are going to love this. Guess who we have for a our head waiter? None other than Mario, and, surprise, he remembers us... tandoori chicken and all.

Lori at dinner

Our meal was delicious. I started off with a sushi-grade tuna and avocado appetizer followed by a duck consommé. For my entree I selected organic chicken with sweet potatoes and spinach. So juicy and flavorful. Michael and Aaron enjoyed a lobster ravioli appetizer, salads, and tender steaks. Our servers are wonderful, but I need another meal to remember all of their names and from where they hail! Service was excellent especially when handling our special requests. For example, one dessert offered was an ice cream sundae with rum glazed bananas and caramel sauce. Michael only wanted the bananas and caramel sauce which they happily and easily accommodated.

Something new when we finished our meal and dessert: a kiss goodnight. (You might be familiar with this concept from the theme parks.). Ah, but this kiss was little bite size squares of jellied apricot sweetness and the most heavenly chocolate I've tasted. Lucky for me, Aaron asked for seconds and he shared.

We finished up dinner a little after 10pm. (I'm sure my friends at home are shocked since they know I'm such an early-bird.). Michael and Aaron headed to the Buena Vista Theater to watch Tron in 3d. I chose to return to our stateroom and quickly write this blog entry before I forget all of the wonderful things that we experienced today.

Of course, in our room, Sri, our stateroom hostess, had already provided our turndown complete with towel animal. We received a number of gifts from the Castaway Club and from the Disney Vacation Club. You automatically become a member of The Castaway Club when you first sail with Disney Cruise Line. The more you cruise, the more perks you receive. For Michael and me this is cruise #9; Aaron is on cruise #7.

Stateroom 9058

Well, it's pretty late and we've had a long, but exciting day. Tomorrow we dock in Nassau. We have no excursions planned. Perhaps we will get off to snap a few photos of the ship, but mostly we intend to explore even more of this beautiful Dream!

Good night!

P.S. Had a little trouble figuring out how to turn out all of the lights! When we finally thought we had everything set, Aaron, in the pull down bunk complained that he still had a light on near the head of his bed. Next thing I hear, "Genius!" He found the switch and realized he no longer would have to feel his way around a top bunk in the dark! Disney had thought of everything.

Next I hear, "Oh, how cool!" -- softly glowing "stars" on the ceiling above his head. Disney really did think of everything!


January 30, 2011

Dining Aboard the Disney Dream: Royal Palace

Andrew Rossi

Andrew Rossi returns with a review of the Royal Palace aboard the new Disney Dream.

I recently had the good fortune of sailing on a preview cruise of the Disney Dream and was completely blown away by the immense size, beauty, and intricate details of the new ship. I have been on Disney cruises in the past on both the Magic and Wonder and have always been impressed by everything they have to offer. For this reason, I had extremely high expectations when stepping aboard the Dream and it exceeded them in every way. Disney has truly gone above and beyond with this ship and has once again raised the bar for the cruise line industry.

Disney Dream Exterior

One of the things that struck me most about the Dream is how elegant and upscale it felt, much more so than the Magic and Wonder. The Dream's grand atrium with its opulent chandelier is truly breathtaking and sets a tone of luxury that is carried throughout the rest of the ship.

Dream Atrium

Dream Atrium Chandelier

Even with its immense size, there is still great attention to detail everywhere you look. Whether it be in the areas dedicated to kids or teens, the theaters, the shops, or the nightclubs for adults there is always more than what first meets the eye. To truly appreciate the Dream, you really need to take your time and absorb everything you see because some details may not be apparent on just a cursory glance.

The same effort, skill, and craftsmanship that Disney puts into its theme parks have gone into creating this ship. The Dream truly lives up to its name because when you see some areas of the ship you think that they can not possibly be real. Creativity and originality have always been mainstays of the Disney theme parks and this has been carried over to the Dream and is evident throughout the ship, especially evident in its restaurants.

Overview:
Like the Magic and the Wonder, the Dream has three main dining rooms, each with a different theme and menu, and like the other ships diners rotate to a different restaurant each night while their servers travel along with them. Two of the restaurants, Royal Palace and Enchanted Garden, are brand new to the Dream and the only carryover from the Magic and Wonder, Animators Palate, has been completely re-imagined. The result is three completely new dining experiences that cannot be found anywhere else at sea.

Unfortunately, being just a two-night preview cruise, I was only able to experience two out of the three restaurants: Royal Palace and Enchanted Garden. Since Royal Palace is the most visible of the ship's dining rooms, centrally located just off the ships atrium, I have decided to highlight it first.

Royal Palace Sign

Atmosphere:
The restaurants on the Dream are just as much about atmosphere as they are about food. Each dining room has its own unique theme that uses a combination of both atmosphere and food to create a truly immersive dining experience.

The Magic has Lumiere's and the Wonder has Triton's that pay homage to Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid respectively, but Royal Palace is a salute to all Disney princesses and places diners right in the middle of a fairytale setting. Like the rest of the ship, however, the Disney touches are not over-the-top or overwhelming by any means. The restaurant does feature beautiful, hand-painted portraits of various Disney princesses, such as Snow White, Aurora, Belle, and Cinderella, but the other details throughout the restaurant are far more subtle.

Princess Portraits 1

Princess Portraits 2

Royal Palace is quite possibly the most elegant restaurant on any of the Disney ships (with exception of Palo and Remy) and has the feel of dining in a grand ballroom. The fluted columns, polished marble floors, lush carpet, beautiful chandeliers, and even the circular shape of the dining room all contribute to create an air of refinement.

Royal Palace Dining Room 1

Royal Palace Dining Room 2

That being said, one should not think that this restaurant is inappropriate for little children. On the contrary, I would love to see the look on little girls' faces as they enter the restaurant and feel as though they have set foot into the castle of one of their favorite Disney princesses.

What I enjoyed most about the restaurant's atmosphere was all the little details and embellishments that really help to convey the theme of the restaurant and help to create a truly immersive dining experience. These details are evident before you even set foot inside the dining room. The entrance to the restaurant itself has a very grandiose feel and inlaid on the marble floor floor is a coat of arms with the images of a glass slipper, a tiara, a rose, and an apple symbolically representing the different princesses.

Royal Palace Entrance

Coat of Arms

Once inside the dining room you will notice these images continue throughout the restaurant's décor. The carpet features not only crowns and roses, but you might also spot Cinderella's coach, as well as the swords and shields of the various princes. Even the magnificent chandelier at the center of the restaurant is themed and accentuated by glass slippers.

Royal Palace Chandelier

The valences over the portholes have the appearance of tiaras embedded with gemstones.

Porthole Valences

And look carefully at the bread baskets. They are in the shape of Cinderella's coach.

Bread Baskets

The integration of the princess theme into the restaurant is skillfully but subtlety done; it is noticeable and yet not overpowering. The result is an atmosphere that conveys both a sense of fantasy and elegance.

One last note about the atmosphere. Because the Dream is a larger ship and has more staterooms, the dining rooms are larger and accommodate more people. I was worried that the restaurant would have a crowded feel and that it would be noisy once it was filled with people. Instead, I actually found the restaurant to be very spacious and not too loud at all. The restaurant may be grand in scale and design, but it still had an intimate and slightly romantic feel.

The Menu:
Just as the entire ship itself seemed to me to have a more elegant and upscale feel, I also felt that the food offerings throughout the ship were more gourmet and refined that the food found on the Magic and the Wonder. It also appeared as though the restaurant menus featured a wider variety of selections than those on the other ships and some of those choices were far more exotic than anything I had encountered on my other Disney cruises.

Royal Palace features a menu of French-inspired, continental cuisine and its different dishes are fit for a king, queen, prince, or princess. It is a menu offering a complete four-course meal comprised of an appetizer, soup or salad, entrée and dessert. The appetizer selections include Pomegranate Glazed Duck Breast, Double Baked Spinach Soufflé, Escargot Gratines which come topped with finely chopped mushrooms and garlic butter, and Iced Lobster and Jumbo Shrimp served with lemon-dill dressing and horseradish cream.

Soup and salads feature an Avocado-Citrus Salad topped with an orange vinaigrette, a Royal Market Green Salad with a raspberry vinaigrette, the Comtesse Du Barry's Soup (a cauliflower cream soup), and Belle's French Onion Soup.

The entrée selections are numerous and diverse. The most popular item on the menu had to be the Aged Angus Grilled Beef Tenderloin and Lobster Medallions. I noticed this dish being brought to many tables, but it appeared to me that the amount of lobster was not too big. Other entrees include an Oven-Baked Salmon Royale topped with a smoked salmon and horseradish crust, Roasted Wild Boar Tenderloin, a Grilled Farm-Raised Chicken Breast Salad, a Double Cut Rack of Lamb with a Dijon Crust, a Baked Farm-Raised Chicken Breast, Wild Mushroom Filled Pasta in a Vegetable Broth, and Pan-Seared Tofu with Roasted Zucchini, Eggplant, and Red Peppers.

Finally, the dessert offerings include a Grand Marnier Soufflé, Peanut Butter Mousse, a Strawberry Shortcake Sundae, Tahitian Vanilla Crème Brulee, Mango Cheesecake (sugar free), Chocolate Ganache (sugar free), and Sweet Temptations featuring a trio a Peanut Butter Mousse, Mango Cheesecake, and Crème Brulee.

For my appetizer I decided on the Double Baked Spinach Soufflé. I noticed a lot of people ordering the Escargots and they looked really good, but (even though I consider myself to be an adventurous eater) the thought of eating snails just does not appeal to me. However, I was not disappointed by the Spinach Soufflé. Even though the portion size appeared small, it was actually a very rich and filling appetizer. The soufflé was topped with a rich three-cheese cream sauce that paired very well with the flavor of the spinach. I likened this appetizer to a thick, heavy spinach puff.

Spinach Souffle

Next, I chose Belle's French Onion Soup, which may be the second best I have ever tasted next to Chefs de France at Epcot. This was yet another rich, filling dish and I had to control myself not to finish it all or else I would not have room for my entrée. The soup came topped with a generous helping of gruyere cheese that really helped add extra flavor to the dish. Sometimes you order French onion soup and it's just a lot of broth and not many onions, but that was not the case here. I also liked that the onions were cooked just right so that they were not mushy, which really added a nice texture to the soup in contrast to that of the cheese and bread on top.

French Onion Soup

For my entrée I went with something a little more exotic and decided to try the Roasted Wild Boar Tenderloin. I had never had wild boar before and figured that the cruise would be a perfect place to give it a try. Considering that boar is in the pig family I was expecting the flavor and texture to be similar to that of pork tenderloin, but I was surprised to find it more akin to steak. The boar did have a very distinct, gamey flavor, but it was extremely tender and I did not find the flavor to be too overwhelming. The boar came topped with a red currant reduction that provided a light and slightly sweet contrast to the stronger flavored boar. The boar was also accompanied by a carrot and onion potato cake, providing a twist on your traditional potato and vegetable side dishes; it was something different, but very tasty, and combined well with the flavor of the boar.

Wild Boar Tenderloin

Finally it was time for dessert, even though I didn't have much room left at this point to eat anything else. Regardless, I chose the Grand Marnier Soufflé. This was actually a nice, light way to end what had been a very rich and filling meal. The soufflé itself was light and fluffy with just a hint of citrus flavor (which I had been expecting to be stronger than it actually was). It came served warm and the server added in the crème anglaise right at the table. This sauce had a vanilla flavor that paired extremely well with the citrus and added some sweetness to the soufflé.

Grand Marnier Souffle

It should also be noted that in addition to being a part of the roational dining for dinner, Royal Palace also offers an al a carte menu for both breakfast and lunch that provides a nice alternative to the ship's buffet. Being just a two-night preview cruise, I did not have the opportunity to take advantage of these offerings.

The Overall Experience:
Everything about dining at Royal Palace was about elegance and refinement, from the atmosphere to the food. Any Disney princess would feel right at home dining here, with its chandeliers, polished marble, and gourmet food. For those who have been on either the Magic or the Wonder, Royal Palace is most similar to Lumiere's or Triton's, but it has exceeded them and gone to a whole new level. Not only is this true of the atmosphere, which is far more upscale, but also the food as well. While I did find the portion sizes to be a little smaller than on past Disney cruises, in terms of variety, presentation, quality, and taste the food on the Dream exceeded most of the meals I have ever had on the Magic or the Wonder. Whenever I go on a cruise one of the things that I most look forward to is the food and the Royal Palace certainly did not disappoint.

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About January 2011

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in January 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2010 is the previous archive.

February 2011 is the next archive.

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