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February 2012 Archives

February 7, 2012

Disney Fun With Your Pets


My wife Carol and I have been Disney fans for decades, but did you know that our dogs, Zak and Blue, are Disney fans too? They just love to head to Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground with us. It's a very pet-friendly place. It's Disney's only pet-friendly resort.


The 788 campsites are arranged in "loops"; each loop is a road which exits the main road and contains twenty or more campsites. When we first started visiting our favorite campground there were only a few "pet-friendly" loops, but now seven of the twenty camping loops welcome pets. And it's not just dogs, there are plenty of cats and we've also seen some unexpected pets such as parrots there.

We often see dogs or cats laying on the dash of motor homes as we walk past. Some folks even bring collapsible dog runs with them and set them up on their site so the pets are not tied all the time.



Naturally there are rules, but they all make perfect sense. Pets must be leashed and controlled and you must "pick-up" after them. There are areas set aside for "pet walks" and there are areas, such as around the comfort stations, where pets are not allowed. These areas are all well marked.


Is there a fee for pets who camp with you? Yes, Disney charges $5.00 per day if you camp with pets. That is a flat fee; it is not $5.00 per pet. The one fee covers all your pets. What do you get for your five dollars? Quite a bit . . . it really is a bargain! The pet facilities are excellent.

The pet walk areas near each of the pet-friendly loops are spacious and scenic. Most of them run beside one of the canals that criss-cross the campground on their way to Bay Lake. There are handy bag dispensers at the entrance to the pet walk area and a few more located along the walk. Most people are conscientious and pick up anything the little dears leave behind.



Fort Wilderness has plenty of wildlife to keep your pet's attention. We've encountered squirrels, armadillos, turtles, deer, wild turkeys and even a few small gators! Fortunately the dogs didn't notice the gators!

The off-leash doggie park, called "Waggin' Trails", is a fairly recent addition and it has become a favourite for our pups! It is located beside the 300 camping loop and opened in 2010. Our boys just love to head over and romp with their new BFF's. There's always someone new for them to play with.





Zak and Blue just love Fort Wilderness because they get so much more attention there than they do at home. While we are at "The Fort" we tend to walk them more than we normally do and they really enjoy their time along the canals and at Waggin' Trails. Of course they also enjoy just walking around whatever loop we are camped in. There are always new scents to sniff and other dogs to meet. Many of the other pet owners come out to chat with Carol and I so the pets have a visit too! Often there are extra cookie treats for them as we make our way around the loop.

Zak and Blue really enjoy riding on the golf carts we rent. The first few times on a cart they were both nervous but they've learned that a ride on the cart often means a trip to the dog park and now they are anxious to hop aboard. Sometimes there's too much activity for the dogs and they just can't keep up!


What they really enjoy though are the "extra special" activities. The dogs have enjoyed some unique experiences over the years; they never know quite what to expect next.

A few years ago there was a special "Pet Day" at Downtown Disney and we took Zak and Zoë.


They loved meeting Santa Claus who was waiting beside The World of Disney Store to meet four-legged Disney fans!


In years past we would sometimes take the dogs to the theme parks and leave them in the kennels which were conveniently located near the entrance to each park.


This gave the pups a great opportunity to mingle with their favourite Disney characters.



They have even gotten to meet some of our good friends from the Disney fan community.



The kennels at each park were closed recently and kennel services are now provided by Best Friends Pet Care from their new location on Bonnet Creek Parkway across from Port Orleans Riverside. They offer a full slate of services including grooming and pampering!

The highlight of the year for pets at Fort Wilderness has to be the annual "Pet Costume Parade" held on Halloween. It's a blast for the four-legged participants and the two-legged ones as well. There are usually about one hundred dogs and two or three very wary cats.

The pets parade past the judging table beside the Waggin' Trails park and then stroll through the 300 loop where adoring crowds of campers applaud them.


The parade ends inside the off-leash park where prizes are awarded in a variety of categories.


Zak and Blue have a howling good time at the Costume Parade!

Having the dogs with us changes our vacation experience in a very positive way too! When we fly down to WDW and stay in some other Disney resort we tend to spend long hours in the parks. We head out early and stay late, trying to cram as much as we can into every day. Having the boys with us forces us to take a break and attend to their needs. So when they're along we normally spend the morning at a theme park and then head back to The Fort for the afternoon. After spending time with the dogs and relaxing for a while we head back to a park for the evening. It's so much more relaxed for us . . . we savour the Disney experience rather than try to cram it all in! Aaah - so nice!

So if you think you might like to treat your dogs to a Disney vacation, it's easy to do. Make a reservation at Fort Wilderness and come join us.

Zak and Blue would be happy to show your pets around their favorite place!

February 9, 2012

Introducing Kristin Ford


I'm new to AllEars, but I'm not new to the Disney experience. My love of The Mouse began, like so many others', with childhood family vacations to Walt Disney World. In 1979, I stayed at the Contemporary; rode the monorail to the only Disney World theme park, the Magic Kingdom; swam at River Country; and visited Discovery Island. I still miss The Skyway cable cars and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. At the same time, I'm excited to see the Fantasyland Expansion begin its rollout this year.

Some of you may recognize me as the former A Mom and The Mouse, my name when I blogged about all aspects of The Walt Disney Co. for the Orlando Sentinel. I also was a member of the newspaper's Theme Park Rangers blog team and the Visitor Guide editor for years before TheDailyDisney.com launched. I have been a journalist for almost 20 years.

As an Orlando local, I visit the Disney parks often with my husband and two elementary-school-age children. We have been fortunate to experience two Disney cruises onboard the Wonder and the Dream in the last couple years. After those experiences, my nine-year-old son announced he plans to be a Disney Cruise Line captain one day. My seven-year-old daughter alternates between wanting to be a mermaid like Ariel, her favorite Disney princess, and a dolphin trainer.

During my time covering Disney, one of the most amazing things I have discovered is how welcoming, passionate and knowledgeable members of the fan community are. I have had a wonderful time getting to know so many people and hope to meet even more in my new role at AllEars. I will be blogging on a regular basis at AllEars, writing feature articles for the weekly newsletter and also working behind the scenes.

Please come and say hello on Twitter @Kristin_B_Ford and at @AllEarsNet!

February 14, 2012

Disney World to enforce return times for FastPasses in March



Families planning to visit Walt Disney World after the first week in March may want to reconsider their touring strategies for the theme parks. Beginning March 7, cast members will enforce the end times on FastPass tickets, according to multiple reports and sources.

FastPasses are essentially reservation times for guests to return to the most popular Disney attractions at specific times in exchange for shorter wait times. Under the current system, a FastPass is issued for a one-hour window. However, cast members routinely do not enforce the end times, meaning guests can use their FastPasses anytime during the day once the start time arrives. (To read more about FastPasses, see the AllEars resource page.)

When cast members begin enforcing the FastPass policy in March, guests will be allowed to return five minutes earlier than the FastPass window starts and 15 minutes past the end time.

One common strategy for those familiar with the FastPass system is to ride attractions in the morning when the parks are less crowded and collect the maximum number of FastPasses -- one every two hours -- to use in the afternoon or evening when lines are longer.

With that option disappearing, families will need to determine their priorities -- experiencing more attractions per day by planning with the FastPass system or being able to explore at their own pace and take their chances on the standby lines.

Critics say that enforcing the FastPass windows will eliminate the spontaneity from a Disney vacation, as dining reservations, parade and fireworks times and other entertainment will have to be considered more closely with FastPasses. They also claim guests will be able to ride fewer rides. Those in favor of Disney using the system as it was designed remind guests they are not being forced to use FastPasses; they are simply an option for those who want to plan ahead.

Longtime Disney writer Jim Hill points out that enforcing the FastPass times is not a random change; it's being done to prepare for the rollout of the XPass system this year. XPass is a premium guest experience that is said to include such perks as FastPasses for every attraction a guest wants to ride, reserved parade seating in front of Cinderella Castle, special seats for the fireworks, dining reservations and more -- all booked from home well before a vacation starts.

Perhaps the most-talked-about aspect of the XPass system is the personalization of character experiences and rides for those with the RFID wristbands. Hill says characters will be able to greet guests by name and there even will be additions to rides such as it's a small world that allow computer-generated dolls to interact with the guests who created them. Hill reports XPass will first be made available only to guests staying at deluxe Disney resorts.

Disney World has not officially announced the XPass program, but it has been alluded to in public comments by company leaders talking about its NextGen project. Last summer, cast members at the Magic Kingdom tested a FastPass system for parade seating.

As one writer astutely observed: These changes, which begin by enforcing the FastPass windows, are a step toward Disney World offering all-inclusive vacations, where everything is planned for the guest, much like going on a Disney Cruise. Do they make you want to step onboard?

Leave a comment on your thoughts about these changes.

February 17, 2012

Girl Scouts to celebrate 100th birthday at Walt Disney World



Girl Scouts will have a unique opportunity to celebrate their organization's 100th birthday this spring with special events at Walt Disney World during Memorial Day weekend. "Bridging into the Next Century" takes place May 25 to 28 at Epcot in Orlando, Florida.

On Saturday, troops will recite the Girl Scout Promise in unison with all attendees and then participate in a one-time bridging ceremony. Afterward, they will receive commemorative keepsakes and can elect to attend a group breakfast in the theme park and have meet-and-greets with Disney characters. (Tips for meeting characters can be found at http://allears.net/tp/fur.htm)

Girl Scouts also will be able to learn about their organization's history with memorabilia on display at Epcot and explore Walt Disney World using a special booklet designed to guide girls toward activities that may help them complete National Proficiency Badge and Leadership Journey.

In addition, troops can elect to attend a Disney Youth Education Series program. During "Many Cultures, One World," girls will examine what defines culture and discover that while people come from many different backgrounds, they all have similar needs, interests and issues. (Because of advanced educational content and activities, this program is open to Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes, Seniors and Ambassador Girl Scouts. Daisies -- who are kindergarteners and first-graders -- are not eligible.)

Registration for the historic weekend is now open. The deadline is May 1, or when capacity has been reached. Packages and pricing options for Girl Scouts and their families can be found at www.DisneyURL.com/GirlScouts100 for this event. Annual and cast member passes will not be accepted for these events.

A comparable event is being held at Disneyland in California the same weekend, but it has already sold out.

February 20, 2012

HGTV’s 'My Yard Goes Disney' host says new things are in store for show’s new season


The second season of HGTV's popular My Yard Goes Disney kicks off this week with a one-hour premiere at 9 p.m. ET on Friday, February 24. I talked with the show's host, Brandon Johnson, about what viewers can expect this season and about how he enjoys his various Disney-related TV roles.

"We're going to be doing some things that are just a little bit more outrageous. We're doing things that we've never done before," Johnson said about the second season of My Yard Goes Disney. "We're going to be a lot more interactive than we were last year. "

This will be evident in the premiere, which Johnson jokingly called "My House Goes Disney" because the design team decided to renovate not just the yard, but some of the interiors as well. Even the space for the family pet was transformed with a magical makeover.

"We really want to do something special for this [Lakeland, Florida] family, and you'll certainly see why when you tune in," Johnson said.

So how outrageous are the yards going to get this year? Of course, Johnson can't give away too many details, but he did reveal this: "I can't say we've put in a roller coaster, but we've done something recently that is pretty unbelievable. ... It's got twists and turns, and you're up in the air. We're not just transforming stuff on the ground this year, we're going up in the air."

Johnson admits he would like this particular backyard for his own because he is a bit of an adrenaline junkie. His favorite ride at Walt Disney World is Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios. (Check out the AllEars page here to see what makes this Disney's Hollywood Studios attraction so great.)

"We're always trying to outdo the last thing, given the circumstances and the size of the backyard we get to work in. As always, it's playing off of the family's love of whatever their particular Disney experience may be," he said.

In addition, Imagineers consider what is new at Disney vacation destinations when creating their designs. This year, Disney will roll out Cars Land at Disney California Adventure, the Art of Animation hotel at Disney World, and the Disney Fantasy cruise ships. Wonder if we'll get sneak peeks?

Viewers can again expect to see other parts of the Disney theme parks featured in the show in some different ways. "We always have shots of the family enjoying themselves in various parks, and I'll be in there setting up stories," Johnson said. "This time we're also going to be going more into the places where some of these installations are created."

Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

If you don't happen to bump into Johnson when he's filming My Yard Goes Disney, you'll have other opportunities to meet him when he is a featured speaker at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. He will give 30-minute presentations on ways to make your own yard go Disney at noon and 3 p.m. April 13-15. Johnson will explain how to recreate some of the design elements featured on the show that blend Disney imagination with HGTV design. After each presentation, he will meet and greet the audience. (AllEars gives you the scoop on what's new at the 2012 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.)

Disney Channel roles

When he's not busy with actual hosting duties, Johnson portrays a television host on Disney Channel's hit sitcom Shake It Up. He plays Gary Wilde, an the over-the-top character on the show's second season. He began developing the idea of a self-involved host when he had a recurring role as Brian Winters on Hannah Montana. Johnson said he was asked to portray Winters as a spoof of popular television host Ryan Seacrest, while making the character his own. Johnson built on his impression of Winters to create Wilde.

"It's a pretty amazing gift to be able to go to work and say this is how I make a living. I don't take it for granted at all. I've been extremely blessed to be a working actor and host for 10 years now," Johnson said. "I'm starting to come into something -- I'm not sure if the universe wants me to be an actor or a host, but it definitely seems to want me in front of the camera. I'll say "Thanks" and gladly hit my mark."

On Valentine's Day, Johnson launched his new website, www.officialbrandonjohnson.com, where there are links to all his social-media platforms. He enjoys connecting with fans and invites them to drop in and say "hi."

February 21, 2012

Dining at Chefs de France

Andrew Rossi

A Relaxing Yet Sophisticated Dining Experience at Chefs de France

When it comes to having a variety of dining options, the France pavilion in World Showcase offers a little something for everyone. Whether it is just grabbing a freshly made crepe from the stand on the Promenade or maybe a Napoleon, éclair, or one of the other delectable pastries from the Boulangerie Patisserie, France is one of my favorite spots to visit if I am looking for a quick snack. At the same time, if you are looking for a relaxing sit-down meal, France features two vastly different dining experiences.

The Bistro De Paris is one of the most refined dining locations not only in Epcot, but all of Walt Disney World. This Signature restaurant boasts a gourmet menu as well as an extensive wine list which, when combined with its quiet and elegant setting, make it a great location for those couples looking for a romantic night out. If you are looking for a dining option that is a little more family friendly , but without necessarily losing the French grace and sophistication, then Chefs de France is a must-do. Not only will this restaurant's atmosphere make you feel as though you have been transported to the heart of Paris, but its menu will give you a taste of some of the country's legendary cuisine.


Disney World features several restaurants by famous chefs, such as the Wolfgang Puck Café in Downtown Disney, Cat Cora's Kouzzina at the Boardwalk, and Todd English's Bluezoo at the Dolphin, but Chefs de France's pedigree is just as impressive even if it bears no one's name. The reason for the restaurant being named this way is due to the fact that it was actually founded by three well known French chefs: Paul Bocuse, Roger Verge, and Gaston Lenotre.

Outside by Night

Of the three Bocuse is probably the best known. It might be said that Bocuse was the first real celebrity chef. Nowadays we know many chefs by name, with icons such as Emeril and Paula Deen. If it had not been for Bocuse, none of these chefs may have achieved the status which they have today. Bocuse became a household name when, in 1965, he became the first chef to put his name on his restaurant. Prior to this point, as Bocuse himself noted, "Chefs spent their professional lives in basement kitchens, rarely seeing the sun and consoling themselves with the sherry bottle that brought them to the tomb at age 50."

The other restaurant founders are just as impressive. Roger Verge's restaurant in France is a favorite of stars attending the Cannes Film Festival and the late Gaston Lenotre was famous in France and around the world for his pastries. Together, these three chefs give Chef de France a certain legacy that cannot be matched by any of the other restaurants in World Showcase.

Chefs de France is patterned after a French brasserie, a type of restaurant with a relaxed yet upscale setting. Indeed, the dining room at Chefs de France is very much about contrasting feels and styles. On one hand you have the light, open, airiness created by the high ceilings, massive mirrors, and large windows, but combining with this are the dark woods of the tables and chairs, the polished brass light fixtures, and crisp white tablecloths that add an air of sophistication and refinement to the dining experience.

Dining Room1

Because of the massive amounts of natural light the restaurant receives, the dining room takes on a different feel when dining for lunch as opposed to dinner. At lunch, sunlight helps create a mood is very bright and cheerful, a feel that is a little more relaxed and laid back. At night, the restaurant takes on more of an intimate, romantic feel, one that is more upscale and refined.

Dining Room by Day.jpg

Dining Room by Night

When it comes to the time of day, I actually prefer this restaurant by day. When I go for lunch I make sure to request a table by the window. Not only do they offer great views of the Promenade and the World Showcase Lagoon, but watching the hustle and bustle of guests walking by make you almost feel as if you are at a real Parisian bistro in the heart of the city.

If you do decide to dine here at night, these same windows do offer views of Illuminations, although a little more obstructed than those found at the Rose and Crown in the United Kingdom or La Hacienda de San Angel in Mexico.

Chefs de France is certainly a restaurant which relies more on light and the views from its windows more than architectural style, color, or decorations to create its atmosphere. That being said, there are still some great details to be found around the dining room. Near the front entrance of the restaurant are a variety of black and white photographs featuring the restaurant's illustrious founders. This helps give the restaurant a sense of history and also lends to its authenticity.

Chef Photos1

Chef Photos2

Of course, no French restaurant would be complete without wine and Chefs de France utilizes wine bottles as a form of decoration that is featured prominently throughout the dining room.

Wine Bottles1

Also, if you look carefully, you will probably notice more than one model of one of France's most enduring landmarks.

Wine Bottles2

One of the nice touches that I found in the dining room might actually go unnoticed by most guests because you need to look up to see it. French art is probably just as well-known and respected as French cuisine and, towards the front of the restaurant, the ceiling features an array of paintings depicting various scenes of men and women dining. These paintings help to add a splash of color to a dining area that is otherwise dominated by whites and creams.

Ceiling Paintings1

Ceiling Paintings2

It might not have the same level of immersion as the San Angel Inn nor the decorations and details of the Rose and Crown, but the dining room at Chefs de France is still one of my favorites in World Showcase. Combining a relaxing, open feel with French sophistication, Chefs de France is a restaurant that everyone can feel comfortable in, whether looking for a nice sit-down meal to enjoy with the entire family or a more romantic night out for just the two of you.

The Menu:
Just as the feel and mood of the dining room change whether there for lunch or dinner, the menu likewise undergoes a transformation. I generally go to Chefs de France for lunch, but this time I decided to go for dinner to try some of the different menu items that are offered.

Whether dining at Chefs de France for lunch or dinner, the appetizer offerings are the same. Among the appetizer featured on the menu are Assiette Campagnarde ($13.99), an assortment of French pates and charcuteries, Cassolette d'Escargots de Bourgogne ($12.99), escargots baked in parsley and garlic butter, Plateau de Fromages de France ($14.50), an imported cheese plate, Bisque de Homard ($8.99), a lobster bisque, Salade de Chevre Chaud ($11.99) featuring baked goat cheese with walnuts, fresh grapes, tomatoes, endives and arugula salad, and Soupe Al Oignon Gratinee ($7.99), the classic onion soup topped with Gruyere cheese.

Where the lunch and dinner menus differ greatly, in terms of both selection and pricing, is with their entrees. The lunch menu features a generally lighter fare with a variety of sandwiches and other, more casual meals. The lunch offerings include Crepes Florentine ($14.79) filled with chicken, spinach, mushrooms and bechamel sauce, Croque Monsieur ($13.99), the classic French toasted ham and cheese sandwich, Demi Poulet Fermier Roti ($18.99), half of an all-natural roasted chicken served with rissole potatoes and broccoli, Filet de Saumon ($23.99), broiled salmon with smashed potatoes served on a tomato and red pepper sauce, Gratin de Macaroni ($14.99), baked macaroni with cream and gruyere cheese, Lasagnes de Legumes du Soleil ($14.99), a vegetarian lasagna with zucchini, eggplant, onions, bell peppers and tomatoes, Mahi Mahi Sandwich ($16.99) served on Mediterranean bread with braised peppers and onions, Plat de Cote de Boeuf ($22.99), beef short ribs braised in cabernet with pasta, pearl onions and mushrooms, Quiche Lorraine ($14.99), a ham and cheese quiche served with a mixed green salad, and Steak Hache Angus ($15.99) a half-pound angus hamburger with onions, mushroom, tomatoes and Béarnaise served on a brioche.

At dinner, the menu becomes a little more sophisticated and gourmet, but still has some carry-overs from the lunch menu such as the Filet de Saumon, Gratin de Macaroni, and Plat de Cote de Boeuf. Among the items available only for dinner are Canard aux Cerises ($31.99) featuring duck breast and leg with cherries and sweet potato puree, Filet de Boeuf Grille ($34.99), a grilled tenderloin of beef with black peppercorn sauce, potato gratin, and green beans, and the Trio de Fruits de Mer ($31.99) featuring seared scallops, mahi mahi, and black tiger shrimp served in a lobster broth with gnocchi.

You are definitely going to want to save room for dessert as there is an assortment of delectable options to choose from. Among the dessert offerings are Assiette de Sorbets ($7.25), a daily assortment of fresh sorbets served with an elephant ear pastry, Creme Brulee ($7.25) Crepe a la Pomme ($7.25) filled with cinnamon and apple, served with vanilla ice cream, and topped with apple caramel sauce, Profiterolles au Chocolat ($7.25), puff pastries filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce, Salade de Fruits ($7.25) infused with Earl Grey tea syrup and served with mango sorbet, and Tarte au Chocolat, Banane et Noix de Coco ($7.25), a chocolate tart with banana and coconut topped with praline sauce and chocolate ice cream.

I started my meal like I do every time I dine at Chefs de France with the Soupe Al Oignon Gratinee ($7.99). I have had French Onion Soup at many different locations both at Disney and elsewhere, but the soup at Chefs de France remains far and away my favorite. The first thing I have to say about the soup is that it is absolutely huge; this could literally be a meal unto itself and I am never able to finish the entire thing by myself. I usually end up ordering the soup to split with someone else and it is more than enough for two people. Even if splitting with someone else, this soup is extremely filling.

French Onion Soup

One of the things I like most about the soup are how the onions themselves are prepared. I have had French Onion Soup before where the onions are chopped up into very tiny pieces, others that there are hardly any onions in the soup, and still others where the onions are mushy. The soup at Chefs de France is not like any of that and with every spoonful you will get a generous portion of onions. Of everything about the soup, however, it is the Gruyere cheese that makes it what it is. While it can be a little messy to eat, it is extremely good.

For my entrée I decided on the Trio de Fruits de Mer ($31.99). Gnocchi is something that I associate more with Italy than France, but I was willing to try something different and all the seafood in the dish made it sound very tempting. If you order this expecting it to be a pasta dish you will be disappointed. This is, first and foremost, a seafood dish. Rather than the gnocchi being the highlight of the meal, it is merely there to serve as an accompaniment for the seafood.

Trio de Fruits de Mer

The seafood and gnocchi come in a very light, yet flavorful, lobster broth. This dish is definitely a nice change of pace from the heavier, filling French Onion Soup. I was impressed with the generous amount of seafood that came with this dish, featuring two large pieces of mahi mahi, along with several shrimp, and two good-sized scallops. The gnocchi themselves were a little firmer in texture than other gnocchi I have had in the past and they provided a very nice contrast, in both flavor and texture, to the light broth and seafood.

For dessert I was very undecided about what to get because of so many delectable choices, but I finally went with the Crepe a la Pomme ($7.25). I have to warn you that this dessert is extremely sweet and is literally smothered in caramel sauce. The crepe itself was light and soft in texture and the filling was more of an apple puree rather than sliced or chopped apples. What I really enjoyed about this dessert was all the different flavors that blended together perfectly, with the apples, cinnamon, and caramel complimenting each other extremely well with no one flavor really dominating the others. The vanilla ice cream proved to be the perfect complement, providing a light and refreshing contrast to the sweetness of the apple and caramel.


Just as with the rest of World Showcase, all the servers at Chefs de France come from France and this helps to give an added degree of authenticity and sense of immersion to the restaurant. However, this sometimes means that it can be difficult to understand your server due to them having a very strong accent. This was not the case for me on this occasion. My server demonstrated a good grasp of the English language and I had no problem in understanding her at all.

I have dined at Chefs de France many times and have always found the service to be extremely attentive, with servers continually checking in on you during the course of your meal to make sure everything is to your liking. I have also always found the service here to be very courteous and respectful. You can tell that the servers genuinely care about making sure that your dining experience is the best it can possibly be. My meal progressed at a very nice pace and, even though the restaurant was crowded, I did not feel rushed during my meal nor did I see my server running around from table to table; she appeared very calm and poised throughout the entire course of the meal even though serving several tables.

Dining of a Budget:
If you are looking to save some money, then I would definitely recommend dining at Chefs de France for lunch. This restaurant offers one of the best deals on Disney property with its Pre Fixe lunch menu featuring your choice of an appetizer, entrée, and dessert all for just $23.99. With this you get your choice of either Lobster Bisque or French Onion Soup for an appetizer, Croque Monsieur, Crepes Florentine, Quiche Lorraine, or Gratin De Macaroni for an entrée, and Creme Brulee or Profiterolles au Chocolat for dessert. This is a great way to sample a variety of different French cuisine for a very reasonable price and can save you some money as well. For example, if you were to order the French Onion Soup for $8, the Gratin de Macaroni for $15, and the Crème Brulee for $7.25 all separately your total would come to about $30. Ordering the Prix Fixe lunch is like the equivalent of getting your dessert for free.

There is also a Prix Fixe option on the dinner menu, but the cost of this is $39.99. Here you still get a choice of the Lobster Bisque or French Onion Soup for an appetizer, the Beef Short Ribs, Half Roasted Chicken, Broiled Salmon, or Gratin de Macaroni for an entrée, and Crème Brulee or Profiterolles au Chocolat for dessert. While you still end up saving money with the Pre Fixe menu at dinner, the lunch option is definitely the better value.

It should also be noted that some of the items found on both the lunch and dinner menus are cheaper at lunch. For example, Filet de Saumon is $23.99 but increases to $29.99 at dinner. Likewise, the Gratin de Macaroni, which is $14.99 at lunch, goes up to $18.99 at dinner.

Chefs de France does participate on the Disney Dining Plan and is worth one table service credit for both lunch and dinner. If you are using the Dining Plan, then I would definitely recommend coming for dinner because that is going to give you better value for you money. While the restaurant does not offer a discount for Annual Passholders, it does participate in Tables in Wonderland and thus offers the 20% for members. There is also a 20% discount for Disney Vacation Club members for lunch and a 10% discount at dinner.

The Overall Experience:
When it comes to dining in World Showcase it is always a difficult decision about in which country to eat. Yet, even with all the choices and different restaurants that I enjoy, I keep returning to Chefs de France again and again. With its simple and relaxing yet sophisticated atmosphere, its reasonably priced yet great-tasting food, and its attentive service, Chefs de France has become one of my favorite restaurants in Disney World. Every part of the meal, from appetizer to entrée to dessert, is of the highest quality and the portion sizes are very generous. This is one restaurant that you will certainly never leave feeling hungry. Another alluring aspect of Chefs de France is that it is a dining location comfortable enough for families with children and yet can still be appreciated by adults looking for a quiet, more intimate dining experience. It is truly a restaurant that offers something for everyone. It may not be the most immersive restaurants in World Showcase, but in terms of overall dining experience it is certainly one of the best.

See past reviews by Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Chefs de France and post your own too!

February 22, 2012

Kids Will Fall Under Spell of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom



Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, a new Walt Disney World attraction that is a role-playing scavenger hunt, officially opens today after getting a lot of buzz during the testing phase. On Saturday, my husband, 9-year-old son, 7-year-old daughter and I took our turn at trying to defeat the Disney villains.

We went in blind, not knowing much about how the game works, to try to see what it might be like for an unprepared guest to walk into the Firehouse and get started. After checking in, we received our key card to unlock the magical portals, five spell cards and a map for the other secret sites throughout the Magic Kingdom. (See photos of spell cards, the map and additional portals on the official AllEars Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom page.)

Our game began on Main Street, U.S.A., during the afternoon parade -- not an ideal time or place to start for the first time, by the way! But as we stepped up to the first portal, my kids were excited to try something new. Because we were playing as a family, we gave each child a "job" so they both could be involved -- one held the map and directed us to the portals while the other unleashed the spell cards. To be fair, they traded roles after each mission.

We all enjoyed the animation at the portal screens, which are cleverly hidden in existing structures, and seeing the various Disney characters on the spell cards use their special powers. For example, Rapunzel whips out her hair to do battle and Sorcerer Mickey's brooms whisk away the evil.



As parents, my husband and I especially appreciated that even if there is a line to check in at a portal, those waiting will not have the surprise ruined because the experience depends on which cards the guest plays. Seeing what lies ahead if you arrive at a checkpoint with another party is a disappointing aspect of the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure at Epcot. (Read what AllEars readers think about the Kim Possible Adventure.)


Another advantage to Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is that you can start and stop playing the game whenever you want -- take a break for a meal, a FastPass reservation, etc. And if you save your key card, it's good for life, a cast member told me. That means you can continue playing the same game until you defeat all eight villains and take on Hades in the finale, if you choose. Or, you can swipe your admission ticket once each day you enter the Magic Kingdom, get a new key card, and start fresh.


Each mission is designed to take 20 to 30 minutes in one particular area of the Magic Kingdom. That seemed to work well for my kids' attention spans. They were happy to complete one mission and then go ride some rides before returning to the game.

Our Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom experience focused on getting used to the basics -- until we ran into a helpful cast member. Enrique explained more about the strategy of the game -- certain spell cards are more effective on some villains than others at certain points in each mission. (Check the card for its energy attack, energy boost and energy shield point values.) Plus, you can increase your playing power by holding up to seven spell cards at the screen. Then, the powers of all seven characters will be directed at the villain. In addition, if you have one of the four fairy cards, you can win the game by using her spell at any point. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom has been testing in its "easy" mode, but two more difficult levels will be available as well.


Today, another engaging aspect of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom begins -- expanded trading of the spell cards. Guests who have played the game during the testing phase have been exchanging cards among themselves, but cast members now can be another resource. Guests are issued five random cards each day they play the game, and there are 60 total cards available. (There were an additional 10 cards issued initially, but Disney has stopped making them. So, if you get your hands on original cards numbered 61-70, hang onto them!) Already have a full set of spell cards? Walt Disney World is set to begin selling mystery packs of additional cards.


I have a hard time picturing first-time visitors to the Magic Kingdom planning their days around Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom -- there are just too many things to see and do to try to incorporate this game into a busy schedule when you're unfamiliar with the theme park. But I can certainly see its appeal for repeat and even multi-day guests and passholders. Scavenger hunts through the parks have long been popular with fan groups, and this new, permanent game has improved the experience for all ages.

February 25, 2012

Meet 'Kingdom Keepers' author Ridley Pearson at Walt Disney World



Fans who missed Ridley Pearson when he visited Walt Disney World in January will be happy to know the author will be back on Disney property March 29 and 30 to greet readers. Pearson returns to Lake Buena Vista to preview and sign copies of the fifth installment of his hugely popular Kingdom Keepers series, which goes on sale April 3.

The signings of Kingdom Keepers V: Shell Game take place from 4 to 6 p.m. March 29 at Once Upon a Toy store at The Marketplace in Downtown Disney and 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. March 30 at The Writer's Stop inside Disney's Hollywood Studios. Park admission is required for the Writer's Stop event.

Once Upon a Toy will begin selling KK5 at 3 p.m., an hour before the signing begins, and The Writer's Stop will start sales when the park opens Friday. A wristband, which is required to meet Pearson, will be distributed to guests with each book purchase. If you purchase KK5 at Once Upon a Toy and want to get an autograph at The Writer's Stop, bring your book and receipt to get a wristband while supplies last.

Kingdom Keepers
is a young adult series published by Disney Hyperion that pits a group of kids against Disney villains trying to take over the Walt Disney World theme parks. KK5 is the first novel in the series to be set onboard a Disney Cruise Line ship, the Disney Dream.


Disney World hosted Pearson for similar events last year to preview Kingdom Keepers IV: Power Play, and I took my then-8-year-old son to meet one his favorite authors. It was the first time either of us had attended a book signing at Disney World, and we learned a few things from the experience.

First, don't underestimate how many fans will embrace the opportunity to meet Pearson. Last year, we left straight from school and got to Downtown Disney about 15 minutes after the signing started, and we were among the last fans to meet Pearson. I was just thankful we received the coveted wristbands so my son wouldn't be disappointed after waiting in the hot sun for almost two hours! From what I understand, the crowd size was double the number of fans who came out for the Kingdom Keepers III book-signing the previous year.

Know that in order to get an autograph, you are required to purchase KK5. Last year, it seemed that most of the people in line were like us and couldn't wait to get an advance copy, so no grumbling there. Each person with a wristband was allowed to purchase two copies of the book. Fans who wanted to purchase the book but didn't want to wait for an autograph were directed to a separate queue.

Finally, if the lines are anything like last year, expect your time with Pearson to be brief. He worked quickly to not disappoint his waiting fans, and although he was willing to answer a question or two while writing, he did not stop to pose for photos. Fans are allowed to take photos while he is signing, however.

Have a question about Disney Cruise Line's newest ship, the Disney Fantasy? Pearson might have the answer because he will be sailing on back-to-back preview cruises before the book signings. (See what differentiates the Disney Fantasy from its sister ships on this AllEars page.)

February 28, 2012

Epcot Flower & Garden Festival offers lots of activities for kids



If you think the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, which begins March 7, is just for adults, think again! Sprinkled throughout the beautiful scenery are several interactive opportunities for kids that will make parents smile as well.

For my elementary-age children, the hands-down favorite is the annual "Let's Get Moving" area along Imagination! Walkway. This is the only time during the year that guests will find play structures this elaborate at Epcot.

The first year we saw the crowded play area, my husband and I thought, "Why do we want to waste time at Epcot on a playground -- something we can do anywhere other than Walt Disney World?" But the bright colors and unusual shapes called to my kids, so we went inside to check out the PlayBooster play sets, which are made for ages 5 to 12.


Our opinion changed after we saw just how much fun our son and daughter had. Honestly, they would stay there for hours each visit if we let them! There is also a PlayBooster Weevos area just for 2- to 5-year-olds and a Sensory Play Center.

The photos pictured above are from the play set from the past few years. I'm told this year's new, larger equipment, the PlayBooster Vibe, is expected to look like this.


Bambi's Butterfly House

While you're on that side of Epcot, be sure to check out Bambi's Butterfly House. Hundreds of native butterflies float through the air and guests can see them growing at different life stages. Topiaries of favorite characters from the movie Bambi lead up to the enclosed gazebo.


Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden

Another must-do for our family is the Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden, which is located in the Test Track Walkway and presented this year by Disney's Secret of the Wings, which will be released in the fall. The garden, which first debuted in 2009, has grown as Disney has released each direct-to-DVD Tinker Bell movie over the last four years.

Inside the lush area, guests will find beautiful topiaries of the Disney Fairies and miniature fairy houses. The creativity and attention to detail in the houses is just amazing, and my kids enjoy trying to find everyday items incorporated in the structures. A Disney landscape artist said they use things like watering cans and teapots because they help illustrate the size of fairies.

Kids of all ages can make crayon rubbings in the garden, and young visitors (ages 2 to 5) can check out the Weevos play set and the Cozy Dome hide-away tucked into the landscape.

Adjacent to the fairy garden is Tinker's Nook, where kids can color and receive fairy stickers and seed packets.

New this year

The Backyard Play Garden, located between Morocco and France in the World Showcase, is a new play area full of unusual gardening ideas for families. See how to turn a concrete block wall into a planter, reuse an old bathtub outdoors or make the roof of your doghouse green. "The whole theme of the garden is getting your kids out of the house and into the yard," said Eric Darden, horticulture manager for the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.

Also new this year is a Haiti garden near Germany -- only at Epcot! This is the first illuminated night garden in the 19-year history of the festival. Kids of all ages can participate and show off their creativity by coloring their very own Haitian "Tap-Tap." Families will also find other ways to delve into the Haitian culture and refreshments in this produce garden and marketplace.

(Check out the AllEars Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival page for even more details.)

There are many other kid-friendly aspects to the Flower & Garden Festival, from Sorcerer Mickey and Toy Story topiaries to concerts to HGTV presentations. Disney Channel fans won't want to miss Brandon Johnson, who plays Gary Wilde on Shake It Up, talk about his other show, My Yard Goes Disney, on April 13, 14 and 15. (The premiere of My Yard Goes Disney aired Friday, and you can get a sneak peek at what this season holds in my previous AllEars blog post.)

The festival, including all gardening programs and exhibits, is included in regular Epcot admission.

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About February 2012

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in February 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2012 is the previous archive.

March 2012 is the next archive.

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