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November 2, 2016

From Black Lake to Disney Springs

Gary Cruise banner

A long, long time ago there was a quiet, tranquil pond outside the sleepy little Florida village of Vineland. The pond was called Black Lake; it was surrounded by struggling vineyards which gave the nearby village its name, some mature orange groves, a few old cherry orchards and swamps. Lots and lots of swamps!

Farming was always a struggle in central Florida so it must have seemed like a miracle when a mysterious buyer started optioning and buying large tracts of swamp, grove and orchard in 1964. I’m sure that most of those hard working farmers were thrilled to have the opportunity to retire in comfort!

On November 15, 1965 Florida Governor Haydon Burns made the big announcement; the Disney Corporation had bought up over 30,000 acres of land, about 48 square miles, and planned to build “the greatest attraction in the history of Florida."

Walt Disney press conference 1965

Construction began in 1967 and the sleepy area around Black Lake has never been the same! Bulldozers, back-hoes and cranes were busy everywhere. New canals were dug and soon did their jobs draining the swamps. New roads and highways were built, new hotels sprung up, new stores and shopping centers took shape, all in anticipation of the tourism boom that Disney’s new Magic Kingdom would create.

And it certainly was a boom. The Magic Kingdom opened on October 1, 1971 and only 8 years later, on October 22, 1979 they welcomed their 100 millionth guest. It was still only one theme park, but it was already the most popular tourist destination in the world!

But let’s skip back to Black Lake, and let’s take a look at the area within a mile of the lake. One of the first things Disney management did was rename the lake, they called it Lake Buena Vista, in honour of Buena Vista Street where Disney’s Burbank studios and headquarters are located. And Lake Buena Vista is still there, not far from Hotel Plaza Boulevard, just behind the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Hotel. It is connected by canal to its man-made sister lake, Village Lake, which is now the focal point for Disney’s shopping and entertainment district.

It didn’t take long after the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971 for the world’s richest mouse to realize that many of his guests were leaving the Disney resort area to shop, dine or be entertained somewhere else. Mickey took quick action to plug that financial leak!

The new Disney shopping area, Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village, opened March 22, 1975. Guests at Walt Disney World could stay in the 133 town homes or the 60 tree house villas at the nearby Buena Vista Club.

Two years later, in 1977 Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village was renamed Walt Disney World Village.

The earliest printed information I have is an article from the February 1981 issue of Walt Disney World News pictured below. It gives some examples of the shopping and dining that was available in those early days.

Walt Disney World News February 1981
Click on the image to see a larger, easier to read version.

My earliest recollection of the area dates back to a trip in about 1979 when we enjoyed dinner and Monday Night Football in the upper deck bar in the Empress Lily, which we now know as Fulton’s Crab House. My memories of the shopping are a bit vague, but that evening was my first experience with Florida’s “love-bugs” and I remember them quite vividly!

Here are a few brochures that will give you a sampling of what guests could enjoy back in those early days. (Don't forget to click on the images)

1982 Walt Disney World Village Brochure
1982

1982 Walt Disney World Village Brochure
1982

1984 Walt Disney World Village Brochure
1984

1987 Walt Disney World Village Brochure
1984

1987 Walt Disney World Village Brochure
1987

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1987

In 1989 there were some big changes. The area was renamed once again; it became Disney Village Marketplace and a newly developed area called Pleasure Island opened May 1, 1989. Pleasure Island featured night clubs, restaurants, a dance hall and a variety of other entertainment geared toward adults.

Walt Disney World News 1990 Pleasure Island
1990

Did you ever dance the night away at Mannequins or stomp your feet at Neon Armadillo?

Every night was New Year’s Eve at Pleasure Island! Frankie and the West End Boys played most nights on the outdoor Waterfront Stage and revelers danced the night away!

1990 Pleasure Island brochure
1990

Two of the most popular venues in the new area were The Adventurer’s Club and The Comedy Warehouse, both of which developed groups of extremely loyal followers.

1991 Walt Disney World Village and Pleasure Island
1991

1991 Walt Disney World Village and Pleasure Island
1991

1992 Disney Village Marketplace
1992

1992 Disney Village Marketplace
1992

1992 Disney Village Marketplace
1992

1993 Disney Village Marketplace and_Pleasure Island
1993

1993 Disney Village Marketplace and_Pleasure Island
1993

I wish I could pick up a few of the cels that they used to sell in the early '90's at Suspended Animation!

In June 1995 a further round of enhancements was announced. Disney Village Marketplace and Pleasure Island would be joined by a third entertainment zone to be known as West Side. The three areas would be known collectively as Downtown Disney. West Side officially opened September 15, 1997 and included a new theatre built specifically for the Cirque du Soleil show La Nouba, a Virgin Megastore, Rainforest Café, Planet Hollywood and Disney Quest. The House of Blues followed just a few months later.

2000 Christmas Brochure
Christmas 2000

Downtown Disney was a vibrant area during the first few years of the 21st century, on the east side the Marketplace shops were busy each and every day then Pleasure Island and the West End would come to life at night!

Sunday mornings were, and still are, a busy time at The House of Blues; their Gospel Brunch is a hand-clappin' toe-tappin' good time!

2001 Downtown Disney
2001

2001 Downtown Disney
2001

2001 Downtown Disney
2001

Then after a few years things began to falter a bit in Pleasure Island. It seemed that the adult-themed area was having difficulty sustaining itself in the middle of a family-themed vacation area. One by one the restaurants and bars grew quiet and shut down.

2005 Downtown Disney
2005

2005 Downtown Disney
2005

2005 Downtown Disney
2005

The Adventurers Club and The Comedy Warehouse carried on the longest, but eventually they too closed permanently, on September 27, 2008. Disney announced the complete shut-down of Pleasure Island “to make room for additional family-oriented entertainment”.

And then Pleasure Island sat dormant for a long time. A very long time! It took almost 5 years for new plans to materialize. During that 5 year period the only signs of life on Pleasure Island were at Fulton’s Crab House and Raglan Road.

2012 Downtown Disney
2012

2012 Downtown Disney
2012

The guide maps of the era designated a large portion of Pleasure Island "For future enjoyment"

Finally, on March 14, 2013 “Disney Springs” was announced, to include 2 multi-level parking garages and 150 new tenants in four distinct districts:
• The Marketplace
• The Landing (formerly Pleasure Island)
• Town Center
• West Side

Work on the areas being redeveloped for Disney Springs has been ongoing since 2013 and most of the venues in those newly developed areas are now open . . . but I have yet to see them! My wife Carol was there about a month ago and she has assured me that I will like what I see.

So that’s a brief history of how that quiet, tranquil little pond known 52 years ago as Black Lake has become surrounded by hotels, restaurants, theaters, night clubs and all the other infrastructure needed to sustain the largest and busiest tourist destination in the world. Buses, cars and trucks speed past, moving people and merchandise on new highways; boats transport tourists through the rivers and canals that lace the resort area; planes and helicopters pass constantly overhead; there’s even a balloon for sightseeing. Black Lake has seen a lot of change in those five decades!

Carol and I will be pointing our motor home south and heading back to our happy place in just a few weeks. I plan to spend some quality time exploring Disney Springs while we’re there. Once we get back home I’ll be sure to share my impressions and some pictures with you.

October 12, 2014

From The Tickle Trunk - WDW News November 1982

Gary Cruise banner

Let's dip into the Tickle Trunk and have a look at the Walt Disney World News from November 1982. That was an exciting time in Disney history; EPCOT had just opened a month prior.

A few months ago, when we looked at the October 1982 copy, my blog focused primarily on EPCOT; I purposely ignored almost everything else in the news since most was repeated in the November edition.

So let's see what else was going on in Disney history 32 years ago!

November 1982 Front Page
(Click on the picture for a larger view of the image)

The lead article on page 1 still spotlighted all those new sights, attractions and experiences at EPCOT but let's take a closer look at that "Special Entertainment at Magic Kingdom"

November 1982 Magic Kingdom Entertainment

When you click on the image to zoom in for a close-up you only see the text from page 1, so I'll quote the entire article . . . here's what it said!

"MAGIC KINGDOM - Fanciful parades, rollicking revues, and the "oom-pa-pa" of merry bands fill every nook and cranny of the Magic Kingdom. No matter where you are, chances are there's one of a dozen different groups who perform every day just a step away.

On Main Street, U.S.A., where shops, attractions, and restaurants reflect turn-of-the-century, Victorian America, you can hear a barbershop quartet harmonizing "Dai-sy, Dai-sy, give me your answer true!" While further down the avenue a rinky-tink piano player tickles the ivories of a snow-white upright at the Refreshment Corner.

Just beyond the whispering palms, the exotic, mysterious world of Adventure-land beckons. The rousing sound of an authentic steel drum band fills the open-air bazaars and follows explorers as they penetrate the wilderness on the "Jungle Cruise," climb high into the sky on the "Swiss Family Treehouse," and wander Caribbean Plaza.

As guests stroll the pioneer streets of Frontierland toward Liberty Square, they just might catch the banjo-pickin' and fiddlin' of a country group playing up a storm along the Rivers of America.

From Frontierland and the tunes of yesteryear to Tomorrowland's hits of the future, stop by the Tomorrowland Terrace where the rock band Tabasco spices up the menu with the space-age sounds of the Eighties. For something more down to Earth, be sure not to miss the very talented Kids of the Kingdom at the Tomorrowland Stage. In a 30-minute musical salute, they bring each land of the Magic Kingdom to life while letting you know that "Walt Disney World Is Your World." The show also features some of your favorite Disney characters - in some rather "out of character" roles.

Of course, you'll find Disney characters throughout the Magic Kingdom. In front of Cinderella Castle, they'll be singing and dancing their way into your hearts with medleys from the "Best of Disney." At the Fantasy Faire Stage in Fantasyland, Mickey, Goofy, Alice in Wonderland, and more appear several times each day in the music and comedy revues of the "Fantasy Follies."

And the whole gang comes out for the exciting new Character Parade down Main Street, U.S.A. Each afternoon, along with marching bands and merrily whirling floats, Mickey Mouse and a host of Disney characters turn Main Street into the Fourth of July.

Plus, on November 26 and 27, the Magic Kingdom features extended hours along with the return of the sparkling Main Street Electrical Parade (9 and 11 p.m. nightly) and spectacular "Fantasy In The Sky" fireworks (10 p.m. nightly).
The Magic Kingdom is filled to the brim with fun, fantasy, and music. For an up-to-the-minute schedule of what's happening where, check at City Hall in Town Square as you begin your journey through "the happiest place on Earth."

Special Entertainment
November 26 and 27, the Magic Kingdom features extended hours that let you enjoy more of your favorite attractions longer - along with the sparkling Main Street Electrical Parade, 9 and 11 p.m. nightly and spectacular "Fantasy In The Sky" fireworks, 10 p.m. nightly

Special Event
Armed Forces Days
From November 1 through 30, members of the armed forces and their families receive special-value admission to the dazzling new Epcot Center and the warmth and wonder of the Magic Kingdom. With each Epcot Center ticket pur¬chased, a voucher will be issued entitling each person to one day's admission to the Magic Kingdom anytime up to three months after their Epcot Center visit for just $8 per person. And a special Armed Forces Days ticket for just $12 per person entitles you to one day's admission to the Magic Kingdom."

My favourite parade was there - The Main Street Electrical Parade! I don't recall that "spicy" rock band Tabasco, but I do remember the Kids of the Kingdom and their exciting musical revue. I wonder what those talented kids are doing today?

November 1982 Page 2

Page 2 describes a dazzling show at the Top of the World.

November 1982 Top of the World

The picture is captioned "Five exciting entertainers will take you on a musical tour through the show stoppers of "The American Musical Theatre".

I remember this show from a visit in 1983; it was high-energy and very entertaining. This was my very first dinner show at Walt Disney World and I distinctly recall how impressed I was!

November 1982 Page 3
Page 3

Fort Wilderness had a lot to offer in 1982! River Country and Discovery Island were exciting destinations, but this article looked at the many other things to do at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.

Great Outdoors

Fort Wilderness is still one of Disney's hidden gems; most visitors to Walt Disney World have no idea the campground exists. Many of those who do know of the resort are not aware of all the activities available. There is even more to do now than there was 32 years ago. It really is a wonderful place; come on over and see for yourselves!

November 1982 The Village

The area we know as Downtown Disney (currently transforming into Disney Springs) was still known as "The Village" in 1982. It was a busy spot . . . click on the image to read what was going on!

Gosh . . . a $5.00 beverage minimum, what a quaint concept!

The Village was a very busy area in 1982. Many of the shops and restaurants have changed over the years, but the popular Festival Of The Masters is still presented each year in November. The festival draws hundreds of talented artists from around the world. It's a cornucopia of sights, sounds and flavors!

From the very beginning EPCOT staffed the international pavilions around World Showcase with young people from the various countries represented there. Here's an article describing the benefits of having these young people represent their home countries.

November 1982 International Representatives


Disney talked about "a true family of man" and "a spirit of international fellowship" and their description is as accurate today as it was all those years ago. The young people working in every country around the lagoon are wonderful ambassadors for their nations!

November 1982 Page 4
Page 4

November 1982 Character Breakfasts

There were three different character breakfasts to choose from . . . Wow - only $5.50 for adults.

I really enjoy looking back at these old newsletters; they bring back some very fond memories of happy times. They also give me cause to reflect on how things have changed; look at those prices! A $5.00 beverage minimum and a character breakfast for $5.50. Today a single adult beverage costs more than $5.00 and the character breakfasts at most locations now cost about $30.00 for adults!

Of course, I also reflect on the many things that have not changed. Prices are higher, but the value is unchanged! The wholesome family atmosphere, the quality, the attention to detail, the "magic" which Walt Disney built into everything he did - it's all still there!

March 28, 2014

Disney Vacation Club Member Magic at Splitsville

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by David Abel
AllEars® Guest Blogger


Back in February, Disney Vacation Club announced "Member Magic," featuring a collection of discounts and events especially for Vacation Club members. One of the new events featured is Member Night at Splitsville Luxury Lanes™ at Downtown Disney. My traveling party during the Flower & Garden festival opted to experience this new event, so we booked a 5 p.m. session the first week of March. (At the time, there were 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. sessions. Now the DVC Members' website indicates only a 6 p.m. event.)

We arrived at Splitsville a few minutes early and checked in at the main desk, providing our names and shoe sizes. Once our shoes were ready, we were escorted to our lane, lane #1 along the windows on the first floor. We soon found out we'd be joined by another family bringing the total number of bowlers on our lane to eight!

member-magic-at-splitsville-1.jpg


As with any bowling outing, the event was only as fun as you make it. We had two full hours of bowling time, but with everything going on (including the food to be talked about shortly), we only bowled one full game and about four more frames.

With the package, which cost $188 for a party of four, we each received a 'Signature beverage' (a glass of beer or wine, or a refillable souvenir [soda] cup), a shared appetizer (one for every two people) and an entree. We ordered the Blazing Chicken and Alley Nachos for our appetizers, and then we ordered a Steak Fajita Bowl, Cheeseburger Deluxe and two Cheese Pizzas.

When a server came for our drink order, I asked for a raspberry ginger ale and was told they didn't have that. When I commented that I thought they had a 'Coke Freestyle' machine, I was told that wasn't included in our package, so we just ordered four regular sodas. The server brought us our beverages and then he never came back. I noticed DVC members at other lanes receiving the souvenir cups for the Freestyle machine. These members told me that the cups were included, so I asked the server taking care of the lane next to us, and she brought us our cups.

The food pretty much came all at once and we hardly had enough room on the table for all of it!

member-magic-at-splitsville-2.jpg


At the end of the event, we were given a 'bill' even though we had pre-paid. The waiter explained that we didn't need to pay it, but that it was only 'informational,' as gratuity was not included. On our way out, I asked about the 'special gift' listed on the website and we were each given a pair of Splitsville socks.

So how do I really feel about the event? Having been a Disney Vacation Club member since the very beginning, I must say this is the most disappointed I've been with anything related to DVC. Most of this disappointment falls directly on Splitsville, but some I feel also falls on DVC.

In the recent issue of Disney Files Magazine, there's a description of the event: "The special package includes an extended bowling time of an hour and 45 minutes with shoe rental, a shared appetizer, a select entree, a signature beverage and a special Disney Vacation Club gift, all for a fixed price that represents a significant savings off the regular cost of a standard bowling session with equivalent food and beverage. Special decor and entertainment, including music by Radio Disney, add to the festive atmosphere."

The 'extended bowling time of an hour and 45 minutes' is confusing as that's the time shown on Splitsville's website for 6-8 people, and we actually bowled for two hours. Maybe this is a misprint in the magazine.

The amount of food, coming as it did all at one time, was too much for the tables at the alleys, especially since we had eight people bowling and eating. I would have preferred to have the appetizers while we bowled, and then the entrees afterward (when our bowling clock was done ticking).

Maybe I set my expectations too high, but I don't really consider a pair of Splitsville socks to be a "special Disney Vacation Club gift." I was hoping for an exclusive pin designed for the event.

I also question whether the "fixed price represents a significant savings off the regular cost." As I said before, I was charged $188 for the four people in my party. By my calculations, the regular cost of our event was $213.80, indicating there was indeed a 12 percent savings. However, had we really been there "on our own," we would have used our Tables In Wonderland card on the food and beverages and we wouldn't have purchased the Splitsville socks. Our bill would have been $167.84, which would have been 10.7 percent less than the DVC's "significant savings" price.

As for the special decor, there were balloons tied to the ball returns. Maybe there was music by Radio Disney, but we didn't really pay notice to that. We didn't see or meet any representation of Disney Vacation Club, or anything that made it really special.

Splitsville was hosting a major reception event the night we were there, and the whole second floor was dedicated to that. I wonder if that event had not been going on, would we have had a different experience? I really hope other members have better feelings about this event than I did.


January 21, 2014

Earl of Sandwich: A Simple Meal Fit For Royalty

Andrew Rossi

One of the great things about dining at Disney World is that there are no shortage of options, even if you are just looking for a quick bit to eat. While many of Disney's full service restaurants garner great popularity and acclaim, there are also numerous compelling counter service options to be found as well. Just because you may not have the time to devote to a sit-down meal, or even if you are dining on a more stringent budget, does not mean that you have to suffer in terms of the quality food that you are receiving. While some of these locations feature the staple burgers, hot dogs, and pizza, there is such a great variety of food to be found at counter service restaurants across the parks, resorts, and Downtown Disney.

One of my favorite counter service restaurants at Disney World is actually found at Downtown Disney. The irony of this restaurant is that it is not actually Disney-owned, but part of a chain that has locations all across the United States. Nevertheless, when it comes to counter service dining, there are not too many locations at Disney World that can match Earl of Sandwich.

Earl_Signage.JPG

Located at the Downtown Disney Marketplace, Earl of Sandwich offers great variety of sandwiches, wraps, and salads at a very reasonable price; it comes as no surprise that the restaurant is always packed with people. The Earl of Sandwich alone is a worth a visit to Downtown Disney and, if you do not feel like waiting maybe an hour or more for a table at one of the full service restaurants, offers a great alternative for both lunch and dinner.

Earl_Exterior

Overview:
The story of the invention of the sandwich helps provide the back-story for the Earl of Sandwich restaurant. John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, was commander of the British navy, a noted explorer, as well as someone who greatly enjoyed gambling and card games. As the story goes, Montagu was so busy that he had very little time for food and came up with the idea (possibly while playing a game of cards) of putting meat between two slices of bread for a quick and easy meal that could be eaten on the run. As a result, in 1762, the sandwich was named in honor of its inventor. Now, nearly 250 years later, the Earl of Sandwich restaurant continues this tradition and boasts that it is home to "The World's Greatest Hot Sandwich." The Earl of Sandwich's illustrious history and tradition is set forth in the restaurant's official charter and aptly describes the restaurant's premise and objective:

Earl_Charter.JPG

Atmosphere:
Earl of Sandwich has become extremely popular and is always crowded no matter what time of day you go, but especially during the peak dining times. For this reason, seating (or lack thereof) can become a real issue. The restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating, but it can sometimes be difficult to find a table. This can clearly be seen on extremely hot or colder days because people do not want to eat outside and there is not enough indoor seating to handle everyone. The seating area inside is not very big and the tables are packed very tightly together. Combined with the large crowds, this makes it a little loud inside the restaurant. If you are looking for a quieter dining experience, it is probably best to find a table outside.

Earl_Indoor_Seating.JPG

Earl_Outdoor_Seating.JPG

All that being said, there are several aspects of Earl of Sandwich's atmosphere that are very appealing. The restaurant's high ceilings give it a much-needed open feel (especially with the tables being so close together) and the light fixtures, book shelves, faux fireplace, and fresh-cut flowers on every table give a little touch of refinement to what is an otherwise very causal and laid-back environment.

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Earl_Atmosphere.JPG

The classical music playing in the background is also a nice added touch, even though it can be somewhat difficult to hear at times. All this helps to give the restaurant a little taste of 1762; you can almost feel as though you are sitting in John Montagu's parlor waiting to play a game of cards.

An aspect of the atmosphere that probably goes unnoticed by most guests is the Earl of Sandwich Historical Society. Located around the corner from where you place your order, the Historical Society is a full wall that features maps, pictures, paintings, and other information about the history of John Montagu.

Earl_History2.JPG

Here you can find, among other things, a portrait of the Earl of Sandwich as well as the family coat of arms. It really helps to give the restaurant a level of detail and history that goes beyond what you would typically expect to find in a counter service restaurant.

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The Menu:
One of the things that stands out most about the menu at Earl of Sandwich is the sheer number of options. Each of their sandwiches are $5.99, are made to order, and served on one of their fresh artisan loafs. The menu includes The Original 1762, with fresh roasted beef, cheddar, and a creamy horseradish sauce, The Earl's Club, featuring roast turkey, smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and sandwich sauce, the All American, topped with roast turkey, buttermilk ranch, cranberries, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and tomato, the Italian, which includes salami, capicola, roasted ham, mortadella, mozzarella, tomato and a zesty Italian dressing , The Full Montagu, featuring roast beef and turkey with sharp cheddar and Swiss cheese, romaine lettuce, tomato and the Earl's mustard sauce, Cannonballs, with meatballs, mozzarella parmesan cheese, and marinara sauce, the Tuna Melt, featuring albacore tuna salad and Swiss cheese, the Chipotle Chicken Avocado, topped with grilled chicken, bacon, cheddar, avocade, lettuce and chipotle sauce, the Hawaiian BBQ, featuring roasted ham, grilled chicken, Hawaiian BBQ sauce, Swiss cheese, and fresh pineapple, the Ham and Swiss, topped with roasted ham with Swiss cheese and the Earl's mustard sauce, the Holiday Turkey, complete with turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce, the Caprese, topped with mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil, and balsamic vinaigrette, the Caribbean Jerk Chicken, with grilled chicken, roasted red and banana peppers, and a spicy jerk sauce, and the Best BLT, featuring smoked bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, and seasoned mayonnaise.

The menu does not stop with sandwiches, but also includes an array of wraps, all of which are $5.99 as well. Among these are the Buffalo Chicken, with grilled chicken, cheddar, romaine, tomato, buffalo sauce, and ranch dressing, Chicken, Bacon & Avocado, topped with grilled chicken, bacon, romaine, avocado, bacon, tomato, cucumber, and balsamic vinaigrette, the Baja Chicken, featuring grilled chicken, cheddar, romaine, tomato, fajita seasoning, chipotle seasoning, and balsamic vinaigrette, the BBQ Ranch Chicken, which includes grilled chicken, cheddar, romaine, cilantro, tomato, crispy onions, BBQ sauce, and ranch dressing, the Thai, with grilled chicken, romaine, Chinese cabbage mix, sweet chili sauce, and Thai peanut dressing, the Chicken Caesar, topped with grilled chicken, parmesan, romaine, croutons, and Caesar dressing, and the Spicy Tuna, which includes albacore tuna salad, romaine, tomato, kalamata olives, pepperoncini peppers, chipotle sauce, and balsamic vinaigrette.

For those looking for something a little on the lighter side, there are also a number of salads available, which are also $5.99. These include The Earl's Cobb, topped with grilled chicken, smoked bacon, Swiss and cheddar cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, cranberries and ranch dressing, the Baja Chicken, featuring romaine, grilled chicken, cheddar, cilantro, avocado, tomato, roasted corn, black beans, tortilla strips, and a red wine vinaigrette, the Chicken Caesar, with grilled chicken, field greens and romaine lettuce, parmesan cheese, croutons, classic Caesar dressing, the Chicken, Berry and Almond, featuring spinach, grilled chicken, fresh strawberries, fresh blueberries, almonds, and balsamic vinaigrette, the Greek, which includes romaine lettuce, grilled chicken, feta, tomato, kalamata olives, pepperoncini peppers, and a zesty Italian dressing, the Asian, featuring romaine, grilled chicken, Chinese cabbage, mandarin oranges, almonds, wontons and an Asian dressing, the BBQ Chicken, which includes field greens, grilled chicken, cheddar, cilantro, tomato, crispy onions, BBQ sauce and ranch dressing, and the Thai Chicken, with field greens, grilled chicken, Chinese cabbage, sweet chili sauce, wontons, and a Thai peanut dressing.

There are also various side items available for purchase, including potato salad ($1.99), pasta salad ($2.29), the coleslaw ($1.99), and potato chips ($1.29). It is really a menu that offers something for everyone and the hardest part is really deciding what you want to order.

Despite all the variety on the menu, I have a small number of mainstays that I gravitate to each visit. This time I decided on The Original 1762, with fresh roast beef, cheddar, and a creamy horseradish sauce. I think the best place to start talking about the sandwiches is the bread because this is really what makes them so special. While bread alone does necessarily not make a sandwich, it can certainly break a sandwich. At Earl of Sandwich, however, is a highlight unto itself. Every sandwich is made to order so you know it is always going to be fresh and hot. The bread is perfectly toasted so it is slightly crispy on the outside but still soft and warm on the inside. The bread is so good that I could just go there, order some toasted bread, and be completely satisfied.

Earl_Original.JPG

There have been times that I ordered The Original and the roast beef was a little too rare for my liking, but most of the time it is cooked absolutely perfectly with just a slight hint of pinkish color. For those of you who might be scared away by the horseradish sauce, it is not too strong at all and really serves compliment the roast beef rather than being too overpowering. The horseradish helps add to the flavor of the sandwich and gives it just a little bit of a kick, making it something more unique than your standard roast beef sandwich.

Along with the sandwich I chose a side of potato salad. The light and refreshing flavor of the potato salad provided a perfect complement to the heartier flavor of The Original. The potatoes were red-skinned and were cooked just right so as to be not too soft and mushy nor too hard. The potato salad did have a strong mayonnaise base, but also featured a slight hint of dill to provide some extra flavor. While the potato salad did not have the same "wow" factor as the sandwich, it was still a good accompaniment for the meal.

Earl_Potato.JPG

Dessert at Earl of Sandwich is definitely something that should not be overlooked. Even though the sandwiches can be very filling, it is worth saving room for dessert. Like the rest of the menu, there are a good number of dessert offerings to choose from, ranging from fresh baked chocolate chip cookies ($1.99) to brownie bites ($3.99), brownie sandwiches ($2.49), cupcakes ($2.49), bread pudding ($2.49), strawberry shortcake ($2.99), and even ice cream sandwiches ($3.29).

My favorite dessert by far is the Peanut Butter-Filled Brownie Sandwich. The one word I could come up with to describe this dessert is heavenly. The brownie is extremely moist and also has chocolate chunks throughout that gave it added texture and flavor. The peanut butter filling is extremely smooth, sweet, and creamy; the combination of peanut butter and chocolate is just perfect. This is a very rich and heavy dessert and is easily big enough to be split by two people (but it is so good that you may just want to eat the entire thing yourself).

Earl_Brownie.JPG

Service:
Like with every quick service dining location, the Earl of Sandwich is able to serve a large number of guests in a small amount of time. Because the restaurant is so crowded, this efficiency takes on an even greater importance. Guests place their order at one end of the counter and are then given a pager to let them know when their food is ready. Everyone then makes their way down to the other end of the counter to pay. The service is often so fast that, by the time you pay for your meal, your pager is already vibrating to let you know to go pick up my order.

The service at Earl of Sandwich is so quick in part because they have so many people working behind the counter. The only problem I noticed was that they sometimes resorted to yelling as a way of keeping the guests moving in line. While it seemed that they were doing this in order to serve as many people as possible, it was unfortunate that it came at the expense of their interaction with the guests. I have seen other quick service locations throughout Disney World that are able to provide speedy service but still have Cast Members who are able to interact with guests in a way that is both pleasant and personable. This might be due to the fact that Earl of Sandwich is not a Disney-owned restaurant.

Dining on a Budget:
When it comes to dining on a budget, there are not too many places in Disney World that are better than Earl of Sandwich; it may be the best value on all Disney property. The prices are all very reasonable, the food is great, and the portion sizes are big. With sandwiches, wraps, and salads all just $5.99, this is cheaper than most of the offerings found at other counter service locations across the parks and resorts. When you also take into account that side items are just around $2.00 and desserts range between $2.00 and $3.00, you can have a whole meal for a very reasonable price. If you are dining on a budget, Earl of Sandwich is definitely the place to go.

It is also worth mentioning that Earl of Sandwich is on the Disney Dining Plan and worth one counter service credit.

The Overall Experience:
One of the reasons why I like Earl of Sandwich so much is consistency. All the times that I have been there I have never been disappointed. I always know my sandwich is going to be hot and fresh, the portion size is going to be big, and the price is going to be reasonable. This is the recipe for success that has made Earl of Sandwich so popular. The quality of food is definitely worth having to wait in what can often be a long line. Even though it is a chain restaurant, Earl of Sandwich has become synonymous with Downtown Disney. Next time you are looking for somewhere to eat at Downtown Disney, and you do not feel like waiting a long time for a table at one of the sit down restaurants, definitely consider giving Earl of Sandwich a try. Its cuisine may be simple (just sandwiches, salads, and wraps), but its quality is top notch and the prices are extremely affordable. After you try it once, you will want to go back again and again.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Earl of Sandwich and post your own too!

January 12, 2013

Earl of Sandwich: Perfecting Sandwich-Making Since 1762

Andrew Rossi

One of the great things about dining at Disney World is that there are no shortage of options, even if you are just looking for a quick bit to eat. While many of Disney's full service restaurants garner great popularity and acclaim, there are also numerous compelling counter service options to be found as well. Just because you may not have the time to devote to a sit-down meal, or even if you are dining on a more stringent budget, does not mean that you have to suffer in terms of the quality food that you are receiving. While some of these locations feature the staple burgers, hot dogs, and pizza, there is such a great variety of food to be found at counter service restaurants across the parks, resorts, and Downtown Disney.

One of my favorite counter service restaurants at Disney World is actually found at Downtown Disney. The irony of this restaurant is that it is not actually Disney-owned, but part of a chain that has locations all across the United States. Nevertheless, when it comes to counter service dining, there are not too many locations at Disney World that can match Earl of Sandwich.

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Located at the Downtown Disney Marketplace, Earl of Sandwich offers great variety of sandwiches, wraps, and salads at a very reasonable price; it comes as no surprise that the restaurant is always packed with people. The Earl of Sandwich alone is a worth a visit to Downtown Disney and, if you do not feel like waiting maybe an hour or more for a table at one of the full service restaurants, offers a great alternative for both lunch and dinner.

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Overview:
The story of the invention of the sandwich helps provide the back-story for the Earl of Sandwich restaurant. John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, was commander of the British navy, a noted explorer, as well as someone who greatly enjoyed gambling and card games.

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As the story goes, Montagu was so busy that he had very little time for food and came up with the idea (possibly while playing a game of cards) of putting meat between two slices of bread for a quick and easy meal that could be eaten on the run. As a result, in 1762, the sandwich was named in honor of its inventor. Now, nearly 250 years later, the Earl of Sandwich restaurant continues this tradition and boasts that it is home to "The World's Greatest Hot Sandwich." The Earl of Sandwich's illustrious history and tradition is set forth in the restaurant's official charter and aptly describes the restaurant's premise and objective:

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Atmosphere:
Earl of Sandwich has become extremely popular and is always crowded no matter what time of day you go, but especially during the peak dining times. For this reason, seating (or lack thereof) can become a real issue. The restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating, but it can sometimes be difficult to find a table. This can clearly be seen on extremely hot or colder days because people do not want to eat outside and there is not enough indoor seating to handle everyone. The seating area inside is not very big and the tables are packed very tightly together. Combined with the large crowds, this makes it a little loud inside the restaurant.

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If you are looking for a quieter dining experience, it is probably best to find a table outside.

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All that being said, there are several aspects of Earl of Sandwich's atmosphere that are very appealing. The restaurant's high ceilings give it a much-needed open feel (especially with the tables being so close together) and the light fixtures, book shelves, faux fireplace, and fresh-cut flowers on every table give a little touch of refinement to what is an otherwise very causal and laid-back environment.

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The classical music playing in the background is also a nice added touch, even though it can be somewhat difficult to hear at times. All this helps to give the restaurant a little taste of 1762; you can almost feel as though you are sitting in John Montagu's parlor waiting to play a game of cards.

An aspect of the atmosphere that probably goes unnoticed by most guests is the Earl of Sandwich Historical Society. Located around the corner from where you place your order, the Historical Society is a full wall that features maps, pictures, paintings, and other information about the history of John Montagu.

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Here you can find, among other things, a portrait of the Earl of Sandwich as well as the family coat of arms. It really helps to give the restaurant a level of detail and history that goes beyond what you would typically expect to find in a counter service restaurant.

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The Menu:

One of the things that stands out most about the menu at Earl of Sandwich is the sheer number of options. Each of their sandwiches are $5.99, are made to order, and served on one of their fresh artisan loafs. The menu includes The Original 1762, with fresh roasted beef, cheddar, and a creamy horseradish sauce, The Earl's Club, featuring roast turkey, smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and sandwich sauce, the All American, topped with roast turkey, buttermilk ranch, cranberries, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and tomato, the Italian, which includes salami, capicola, roasted ham, mortadella, mozzarella, tomato and a zesty Italian dressing , The Full Montagu, featuring roast beef and turkey with sharp cheddar and Swiss cheese, romaine lettuce, tomato and the Earl's mustard sauce, Cannonballs, with meatballs, mozzarella parmesan cheese, and marinara sauce, the Tuna Melt, featuring albacore tuna salad and Swiss cheese, the Chipotle Chicken Avocado, topped with grilled chicken, bacon, cheddar, avocado, lettuce and chipotle sauce, the Hawaiian BBQ, featuring roasted ham, grilled chicken, Hawaiian BBQ sauce, Swiss cheese, and fresh pineapple, the Ham and Swiss, topped with roasted ham with Swiss cheese and the Earl's mustard sauce, the Holiday Turkey, complete with turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce, the Caprese, topped with mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil, and balsamic vinaigrette, the Caribbean Jerk Chicken, with grilled chicken, roasted red and banana peppers, and a spicy jerk sauce, and the Best BLT, featuring smoked bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, and seasoned mayonnaise.

The menu does not stop with sandwiches, but also includes an array of wraps, all of which are $5.99 as well. Among these are the Buffalo Chicken, with grilled chicken, cheddar, romaine, tomato, buffalo sauce, and ranch dressing, Chicken, Bacon & Avocado, topped with grilled chicken, bacon, romaine, avocado, bacon, tomato, cucumber, and balsamic vinaigrette, the Baja Chicken, featuring grilled chicken, cheddar, romaine, tomato, fajita seasoning, chipotle seasoning, and balsamic vinaigrette, the BBQ Ranch Chicken, which includes grilled chicken, cheddar, romaine, cilantro, tomato, crispy onions, BBQ sauce, and ranch dressing, the Thai, with grilled chicken, romaine, Chinese cabbage mix, sweet chili sauce, and Thai peanut dressing, the Chicken Caesar, topped with grilled chicken, parmesan, romaine, croutons, and Caesar dressing, and the Spicy Tuna, which includes albacore tuna salad, romaine, tomato, kalamata olives, pepperoncini peppers, chipotle sauce, and balsamic vinaigrette.

For those looking for something a little on the lighter side, there are also a number of salads available, which are also $5.99. These include The Earl's Cobb, topped with grilled chicken, smoked bacon, Swiss and cheddar cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, cranberries and ranch dressing, the Baja Chicken, featuring romaine, grilled chicken, cheddar, cilantro, avocado, tomato, roasted corn, black beans, tortilla strips, and a red wine vinaigrette, the Chicken Caesar, with grilled chicken, field greens and romaine lettuce, parmesan cheese, croutons, classic Caesar dressing, the Chicken, Berry and Almond, featuring spinach, grilled chicken, fresh strawberries, fresh blueberries, almonds, and balsamic vinaigrette, the Greek, which includes romaine lettuce, grilled chicken, feta, tomato, kalamata olives, pepperoncini peppers, and a zesty Italian dressing, the Asian, featuring romaine, grilled chicken, Chinese cabbage, mandarin oranges, almonds, wontons and an Asian dressing, the BBQ Chicken, which includes field greens, grilled chicken, cheddar, cilantro, tomato, crispy onions, BBQ sauce and ranch dressing, and the Thai Chicken, with field greens, grilled chicken, Chinese cabbage, sweet chili sauce, wontons, and a Thai peanut dressing.

There are also various side items available for purchase, including potato salad ($1.99), pasta salad ($2.29), the coleslaw ($1.99), and potato chips ($1.29). It is really a menu that offers something for everyone and the hardest part is really deciding what you want to order.

Despite all the variety on the menu, I have a small number of mainstays that I gravitate to each visit. This time I decided on The Original 1762, with fresh roast beef, cheddar, and a creamy horseradish sauce. I think the best place to start talking about the sandwiches is the bread because this is really what makes them so special. While bread alone does necessarily not make a sandwich, it can certainly break a sandwich. At Earl of Sandwich, however, is a highlight unto itself. Every sandwich is made to order so you know it is always going to be fresh and hot. The bread is perfectly toasted so it is slightly crispy on the outside but still soft and warm on the inside. The bread is so good that I could just go there, order some toasted bread, and be completely satisfied.

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There have been times that I ordered The Original and the roast beef was a little too rare for my liking, but most of the time it is cooked absolutely perfectly with just a slight hint of pinkish color. For those of you who might be scared away by the horseradish sauce, it is not too strong at all and really serves compliment the roast beef rather than being too overpowering. The horseradish helps add to the flavor of the sandwich and gives it just a little bit of a kick, making it something more unique than your standard roast beef sandwich.

Along with the sandwich I chose a side of potato salad. The light and refreshing flavor of the potato salad provided a perfect complement to the heartier flavor of The Original. The potatoes were red-skinned and were cooked just right so as to be not too soft and mushy nor too hard. The potato salad did have a strong mayonnaise base, but also featured a slight hint of dill to provide some extra flavor. While the potato salad did not have the same "wow" factor as the sandwich, it was still a good accompaniment for the meal.

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Dessert at Earl of Sandwich is definitely something that should not be overlooked. Even though the sandwiches can be very filling, it is worth saving room for dessert. Like the rest of the menu, there are a good number of dessert offerings to choose from, ranging from fresh baked chocolate chip cookies ($1.99) to brownie bites ($3.99), brownie sandwiches ($2.49), cupcakes ($2.49), bread pudding ($2.49), strawberry shortcake ($2.99), and even ice cream sandwiches ($3.29). My favorite dessert by far is the Peanut Butter-Filled Brownie Sandwich.

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The one word I could come up with to describe this dessert is heavenly. The brownie is extremely moist and also has chocolate chunks throughout that gave it added texture and flavor. The peanut butter filling is extremely smooth, sweet, and creamy; the combination of peanut butter and chocolate is just perfect. This is a very rich and heavy dessert and is easily big enough to be split by two people (but it is so good that you may just want to eat the entire thing yourself).

Service:
Like with every quick service dining location, the Earl of Sandwich is able to serve a large number of guests in a small amount of time. Because the restaurant is so crowded, this efficiency takes on an even greater importance. Guests place their order at one end of the counter and are then given a pager to let them know when their food is ready. Everyone then makes their way down to the other end of the counter to pay. The service is often so fast that, by the time you pay for your meal, your pager is already vibrating to let you know to go pick up my order.

The service at Earl of Sandwich is so quick in part because they have so many people working behind the counter. The only problem I noticed was that they sometimes resorted to yelling as a way of keeping the guests moving in line. While it seemed that they were doing this in order to serve as many people as possible, it was unfortunate that it came at the expense of their interaction with the guests. I have seen other quick service locations throughout Disney World that are able to provide speedy service but still have Cast Members who are able to interact with guests in a way that is both pleasant and personable. This might be due to the fact that Earl of Sandwich is not a Disney-owned restaurant.

Dining on a Budget:
When it comes to dining on a budget, there are not too many places at Disney World that are better than Earl of Sandwich; it may be the best value on all Disney property. The prices are all very reasonable, the food is great, and the portion sizes are big. With sandwiches, wraps, and salads all just $5.99, this is cheaper than most offerings found at other counter service locations across the parks and resorts. When you also take into account that side items are just around $2.00 and desserts range between $2.00 and $3.00, you can have an entire meal for a very reasonable price. If you are dining on a budget, Earl of Sandwich is definitely the place to go.

If you have a AAA card, you will receive a 10% discount on your items.

It should also be noted that Earl of Sandwich is on the Disney Dining Plan and worth one counter service credit.

The Overall Experience:
One of the reasons why I like Earl of Sandwich so much is consistency. All the times that I have been there I have never been disappointed. I always know my sandwich is going to be hot and fresh, the portion size is going to be big, and the price is going to be reasonable. This is the recipe for success that has made Earl of Sandwich so popular. The quality of food is definitely worth having to wait in what can often be a long line. Even though it is a chain restaurant with locations across the country, Earl of Sandwich has become synonymous with Downtown Disney. Next time you are looking for somewhere to eat while at Downtown Disney, especially if you do not feel like waiting a long time for a table at one of the sit down restaurants, definitely consider giving Earl of Sandwich a try. Its cuisine may be simple (just sandwiches, salads, and wraps), but its quality is top notch and the prices are very affordable. After trying it once, you will want to go back again and again.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Earl of Sandwich and post your own too!

October 8, 2012

Jack Skellington and Sally's First Meet and Greet at Walt Disney World!

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by Sandi Lamborne

In honor of the upcoming movie "Frankenweenie," Walt Disney World celebrated a special weekend in honor of the director, Tim Burton, at Downtown Disney, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, September 28-30.


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As part of that weekend, Jack Skellington and Sally from the director's film "The Nightmare Before Christmas", had their first-ever Meet-n-Greet at Walt Disney World. Jack and Sally were scheduled to meet their fans from 6 to 11 p.m. each night. They were located right outside the AMC Theater next to the Harley-Davidson shop.

Fans started lining up hours before the scheduled time. My husband Dave and I got in line at 5 p.m. and there were approximately 100 people in front of us already, some with chairs and umbrellas. Most of the fans in line had dolls or T-Shirts or hats depicting Jack because he is so popular.

Everyone was wondering how Disney would outfit Jack so that he would still appear to be a skeleton. He appeared to the cheers of the crowd with a mask covering his face from the lip up. He was able to talk and asked us if we went through a door to get there. His voice even sounded like the real Jack, and Sally just batted her very long eyelashes and looked confused when I shook her hand, as if to signify that she didn't know what shaking hands was all about. Dave told her she looked nice and she smiled and said thank you.

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The cast members kept the line moving quickly. There were no autographs allowed and you could take a photo as an individual or group, but not both. When we got to the front of the line, a cast member took our camera and bags while another cast member ushered us to Jack and Sally. Our camera was handed off to another cast member, who took a picture along with the PhotoPass photographer (who took only two). Our bags were given to another cast member, who then collected our camera and they were waiting at exit so that the line kept moving along.


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We're all hoping that Jack and Sally show up for Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party!

August 5, 2012

Think Outside The Parks – Part 1

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There are plenty of things to do at Walt Disney World without going to a theme park!

A couple of years ago, while we were heading home from Florida's Gulf Coast in our motor home, we stopped for a four-day stay at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Our Annual Passes had expired; we each had a One-Day Base Pass. We decided that we would not renew our AP's; we would use the One-Day Base tickets to spend a day at EPCOT and enjoy the Flower & Garden Festival. The rest of the time was "park-free" and we kept very busy. In fact we were so busy with non-park activities that we added two extra days to our vacation!

It is truly amazing the wide variety of things you can do at Walt Disney World outside the parks. Carol and I are just like most Disney guests, we often get so focussed on the theme parks that we miss out on many other exciting opportunities for fun. Some of them are even free!

Let's take a few minutes to look at what you can do when you "Think outside the parks"

Let's start with Downtown Disney. This is where Carol likes to shop, shop, shop. But of course there's plenty to do without shopping. Take a free boat ride along the Sassagoula River to the Port Orleans resorts, Old Key West or Saratoga Springs. You pass some breathtaking scenery along the way. Check out all the giant Lego figures outside the Lego Store.

Lego Figures

Watch a movie at the AMC Theatre; there are 24 screens! How about bowling? Splitsville will be opening at Downtown Disney in the fall of 2012. There are always children's entertainers, shows, choirs and bands performing at the Waterside Stage near the World of Disney Store. Sit for a while at the open air amphitheatre and enjoy the show while you relax and wait for those die-hard shoppers!

Downtown Disney Waterside Stage

Disney Quest offers five floors of video games and virtual reality fun. Don't forget Cirque du Soleil . . . Carol and I have seen close to a dozen different Cirque shows and La Nouba is at the top of our list of favourites!

After you've had your fun at Downtown Disney you might want to play a round or two of mini-golf. There are two great courses, Fantasia Gardens located near the Swan Resort's Convention Centre on EPCOT Resorts Boulevard and Winter Summerland near the entrance to Blizzard Beach. Fantasia Gardens features pirouetting gators, tutu-clad hippos and dancing water fountains. Putt your way through five musical sequences from Fantasia.

Fantasia Hole

Fantasia Hole

Winter Summerland is themed as Santa's permanent off-season retreat. The elf-sized course is divided into two 18-hole experiences. One course carries the snow-clad Florida look reminiscent of Blizzard Beach, and the other has a more tropical holiday theme, with Christmas ornaments hanging from palm trees.

WinterSummerland Entrance

WinterSummerland Hole

Whichever course you choose you are sure to have a good time!

If you're a real golfer and you'd prefer a full-sized golf experience you are in luck! Walt Disney World is home to four beautiful 18-hole golf courses; the Palm, Magnolia, Osprey Ridge and Lake Buena Vista courses as well as a 9-hole course, Oak Trail. Didn't bring your clubs? Not to worry, they have plenty of rentals!

Magnolia course

Osprey Ridge course

If your interests lean more toward water sports you won't be disappointed. There are two great water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Blizzard Beach is themed as a ski resort which has had a "meltdown". Slalom courses, bobsled and toboggan runs are now downhill waterslides. The creek of melted snow that formed at the base of the mountain is a relaxing "lazy river" tube ride. The chairlift now carries swimmers instead of skiers and the former ski jump is the tallest and fastest water slide in the world.

Blizzard Beach

Blizzard Beach Lazy River

Blizzard Beach Pool

Blizzard Beach Toboggan Racers

The second water park, Typhoon Lagoon, is a lush tropical paradise. There are water slides galore, a lazy river and the wave pool is truly awesome. You can take a surfing lesson in the wave pool! Looking for more adventure? Try swimming with the sharks or take a plunge down Crushin' Gusher - a wild and crazy water roller coaster!

Typhoon Lagoon Wave Pool

Typhoon Lagoon Wave Pool

Typhoon Lagoon Surfing

Would you like to take a boat ride on your own? Many Disney resorts have marinas where you can rent a Sea Raycer personal watercraft or rent a pontoon boat for a family outing. The Disney property has plenty of lakes and rivers to explore! And fishing is allowed, catch and release only!

Sea Raycer

Pontoon Boat

If you like to live on the edge, how about Para-sailing? Head to the Contemporary Resort. At the marina you'll find Sammy Duvall's Watersports Centre where you can book your aerial adventure!

Parasailing

Attention NASCAR Fans: Next to the Ticket & Transportation Centre is Walt Disney World Speedway, home of The Richard Petty Driving Experience. Here's your chance to drive or ride in cars that were used in past Indianapolis 500 events. Or you can hop behind the wheel of a supercar by Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, or Porsche and take a few laps. What are you thrill-seekers waiting for?

Richard Petty Track Ferrari

Take advantage of Disney's terrific transportation system to do a bit of resort hopping. All the resorts feature amazing themeing and some wonderful pools, most with afternoon activities for children. Enjoy a movie on the beach at the Polynesian Resort some evening, then watch Wishes from the beach. So romantic!

At Port Orleans Riverside visit the River Roost Lounge where Yee Haw Bob performs Wednesday through Saturday from 8:30 p.m. to midnight. This free show is a foot-stompin' sing-along. You and your children will love it.

Port Orleans Riverside Yee Haw Bob

Just down the road, at Port Orleans French Quarter, Elliot Dyson performs Wednesday to Saturday, 8:30 p.m. to midnight at Scat Cat's Club. Elliot plays a mean saxophone, a bluesy guitar and sometimes adds some steel drums to the mix. You'll be singing along at Scat Cat's too!

Port Orleans French Quarter Elliot Dyson

While you're at Port Orleans take a horse-drawn carriage ride along the beautiful Sassagoula River. It's a very romantic way to wrap up a day at Disney with the special person in your life!

See the Electric Water Pageant as it passes by the Magic Kingdom area resorts. This amazing (and free) show has been running every night since October 26, 1971. It will pass by the resorts the same time every evening. Polynesian Resort - 9 p.m., Grand Floridian - 9:15 p.m., Wilderness Lodge - 9:35 p.m., Fort Wilderness - 9:45 p.m., Contemporary Resort - 10:05 p.m., Magic Kingdom - 10:20 p.m. (only when the park is open past 10:00 p.m.)

Electric Water Pageant

If you are at the Polynesian Resort at 6:00 p.m. watch the Torch Lighting Ceremony just outside the main lobby door. The short show features an authentic Polynesian dancer who does a traditional fire-knife dance, and lights the torches leading into the Great Ceremonial House. Another Polynesian entertainer completes the scene with chants and authentic drumming. The ceremony is presented each evening, Tuesday through Saturday, at 6 p.m.

Polynesian Torch Lighting

The Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Resort is a real treat. The cast of Polynesian singers and dancers will capture your attention as they tell the story of their culture with humour, song and dance. The grand finale, the fire dance, will leave you speechless.

Spirit of Aloha

Enjoy a walking tour of Wilderness Lodge with a Ranger. The "Wonders of the Lodge" tour is offered at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The tour focuses on the resort's architecture and how the Lodge was built. The ranger takes you outside, talks about landscaping, and then goes back inside and talks about the artwork, the metal work, the Totem Poles and the paintings.

Wilderness Lodge Lobby

Check out Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Animal Kingdom Lodge Lobby

After you have admired the amazing African artefacts in the lobby walk out the doors opposite the main entrance and you will find the Arusha Rock Savannah. There are over 100 animals grazing on three different savannahs. You can see Ankole Cattle, Bongo, Blesbok, Eland, Grant's Zebra, Greater Kudu, Impala, Reticulated Giraffe, Thomson's Gazelle, Waterbuck, Red River Hogs, White-Bearded Wildebeest, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Blue Crane, East African Crowned Crane, Greater Flamingo, Marabou Stork, Ostrich, Pink-Backed Pelican, and Ruppel's Griffon Vulture.

Arusha Rock

If you visit the Arusha Rock Savannah after dark you might enjoy a special treat. The African guides on duty often have night-vision glasses which you can use to spot the animals in the dark.

Arusha Savannah

Just before you return to the lobby you will see a huge fire-pit surrounded by wooden chairs. Guides light up the fire and tell African folk tales here every night at Arusha Firepit.

Arusha Firepit

You can feed flamingos at the Flamingo Pond, play wildlife games in the Sunset Lounge, decorate cookies at Boma . . . there are almost limitless things to do at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Ask at the front desk for a list of activities and times.

At the EPCOT Resort Area you can tour around Disney's Boardwalk and check out the many restaurants and shops. Stop into Beaches and Cream - even if you don't have the appetite for a Kitchen Sink Sundae you can still enjoy watching someone else eat one!

Kitchen Sink Sundae

Rent a surrey bike and tour the area.

Boardwalk surrey bikes

Watch street performers who appear throughout the day. Tour the adjacent Yacht Club, Beach Club and Swan & Dolphin Resorts. Check out the Stormalong Bay Swimming Pool shared by the Yacht & Beach Clubs. Wow!

Are you convinced yet? Walt Disney World offers just so many things to do without going to a theme park. The things I have mentioned so far just scratch the surface. There are so many more activities . . .

I have visited Walt Disney World more than thirty times and there are plenty of things I haven't gotten to yet! It's a challenge and I'm working at it!

I know, I know, you're probably thinking . . . "But Gary, you haven't mentioned Fort Wilderness!" Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is a hidden gem. If you have not visited the campground you don't know what you're missing. As a matter of fact there is so much to do at the campground that it will be a chapter of its own.

I will cover "The Fort" in Part 2 of this blog. Stay tuned!



P.S. - I'm always looking for new subjects to blog about. Is there anything you would like to see me cover in a future blog?

July 22, 2012

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Disney Things

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What is your favourite park at Walt Disney World?

What are your "must-do" rides or activities?

What are the things you only do once in a while?

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One of the greatest things about Walt Disney World is the diversity of experience you can enjoy there. With the four theme parks, two water parks, golf courses, hotels, campground, scores of restaurants and all the surrounding attractions there is virtually no limit to the things you can enjoy.

Many of our friends who, like Carol and I, are frequent visitors have established some favourite attractions and activities, things they "must-do" every time they visit Walt Disney World.

Here's my list of favourites. Let's start with my favourite park, the Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom

Why does this park top my list? Well, it's the classic, the first Florida park. This is where I first took my children in 1977. It is chock-full of good memories and will probably always be my "special place"! I remember the huge grins on both my daughter Michelle and son Steve's faces as we rode Dumbo together all those years ago. They loved It's A Small World and Peter Pan's Flight.

Peter Pan

About two years ago my son Steve took his family and they stood in line for 90 minutes to see Peter Pan. His comment? "What a hokey ride . . . why did I stand in line an hour and a half for that?" It will never be hokey for me because I'll always remember Steve's reaction when we rode it together in 1977. Peter Pan is one that Carol and I ride every visit.

The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean are two more that we never miss.

Mansion

Pirates

These rides are not "hi-tech" like some of the newer attractions but they still transport me to another world or another time. As I ride I sing along with the 999 happy haunts and the scallywag pirates. "Yo-ho, Yo-ho, a pirates life for me!" As we pass through Adventureland we are always compelled to savour a cold treat. Carol heads to Sunshine Tree Terrace to pick up a Citrus Swirl while I scoot to Aloha Isle for a Pineapple Float. We meet in the middle somewhere and try to achieve simultaneous brain-freezes.

We take a spin with Buzz Lightyear almost every trip.

Buzz

This ride brings out the worst in us. We become ultra-competitive, each trying to outscore the other as we blast Emperor Zurg into the next galaxy! It's great fun!

We enjoy many of the other rides as well but we don't feel compelled to enjoy them every time we visit. Once in a while is good for most of them. Of course, Wishes, the fireworks spectacular, is a "must-do" as well. We try to position ourselves at the back of The Hub, near Casey's Corner to get the best view of the show with Cinderella Castle in the foreground. That leads me to the one other snack we always stop for . . . a Casey's hot dog. Yum!

Many will probably be surprised at my second place ranking. Disney's Animal Kingdom ranks second for me. Why? Well, it's all about the animals.

Tiger

Meercat

Both Carol and I love seeing the animals. We walk all the back trails around the Tree of Life to see and photograph things most visitors miss. Hint: If you walk these trails at noon you will often see cast members feeding the animals and the animals will be front and center for you. There are plenty of photo-ops around noon on the Tree of Life Trails.

Kilimanjaro Safaris is an irresistible draw for us. We sometimes ride it twice, once in early morning and then again just before the park closes. Hint: You can get better pictures from the back row of the truck, but be prepared for the bouncing! It's the bumpiest seat!

Lion at Coppies

Carol is not a fan of roller coasters; she does not like the upside-down experience, but for some reason she really enjoys Expedition Everest. I don't understand why, but I'm glad she does. We ride together once and that's enough for her. I sometimes go directly to the single-rider line and take another spin.

Expedition Everest

After coaxing for a while I finally convinced Carol that coasters are smoother and less stressful if you raise your arms and stop fighting against the rocking and shaking motion. Once she tried it she agreed with me and now she often rides with her arms in the air. The only problem is that she cannot stop giggling when her arms are up. So if you see a woman on Everest, arms in the air and giggling like crazy - that's Carol!

Flights of Wonder is another great show we always enjoy. It always surprises us how many people walk by and skip this awesome performance. The need for conservation is delivered in an entertaining and inspiring fashion. Carol has co-starred in the show four times.

Flights of Wonder

When they ask for volunteers in the owl segment she is always up and waving her hands. Another regular stop is at the gibbon habitat near Kali River Rapids; we love to watch them swinging around their island. If you ever hear them calling to each other you will never forget the experience!

Gibbons

If we have lunch at Animal Kingdom it is almost always egg rolls from the quick service counter at Yak & Yeti; try them - they're great!

Third for me is EPCOT. This park is all about education . . . but the learning at EPCOT is all bundled up in a package of fun so you really don't notice. Educators need to look into this to see how it's done . . . learning can be fun!

Our first "must-do" is the very first attraction, Spaceship Earth.

Spaceship Earth

History, communication and science in one easy lesson; we seldom miss it. Another regular is Soarin'.

Soarin

I like the hang-glider ride one more than Carol but she humours me and rides along with me. It all evens out when I stifle my yawns as I wander through Germany's Der Teddybar shop with her.

We always look for Off Kilter, the celtic rock group who play beside the Canada pavilion, we both enjoy them.

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When I hear the Jamitors or The British Revolution I stop to listen while Carol dashes off to shop. Our interests aren't always the same but there are so many things to do that we can both enjoy ourselves at all times.

Dining at EPCOT is great, there are so many good restaurants, but our favourite is Canada's Le Cellier. We seldom miss having dinner at Le Cellier.

Last, but certainly not least is Disney's Hollywood Studios. This is also a wonderful park full of many terrific attractions, rides, sights and sounds. I love the "Streetmosphere", the many street entertainers who put on such entertaining shows.

Streetmosphere

I can sit and watch them again and again, which works out well because Carol can shop again and again!

Studios is home to the newest ride at Walt Disney World, Toy Story Midway Mania. Similar to Buzz Lightyear it's a giant video game that places you in the middle of the action. We try to ride Toy Story several times each trip if we can.

Toy Story Potato Head

We don our 3D glasses and turn into shooting demons, each of us once again striving to totally annihilate our beloved spouse. "I am not your mother . . . break those plates!"

We both enjoy the Tower of Terror and after riding it Carol generally heads down Sunset Boulevard to explore the Villains in Vogue shop while I head to the single-rider line for a spin on Rock 'n Roller Coaster.

Another "must-do" at Studios is a trip to the Animation Courtyard and a visit with David Rippberger, the Disney Ink and Paint artist who works in the Animation Gift Shop. David creates the hand painted animation cels which Carol collects and we like to visit with him to keep abreast of what's coming up next.

Our final irresistible lure at Studios is a relatively new discovery for us. Italian sausage in a bun at Min & Bill's Dockside Diner. We shared our first sausage in a bun about a year ago . . . as soon we bit into it we agreed we would never share one again. They are just too good to share! Don't miss this delicious lunch treat.

Of course no vacation would be complete without a trip to Downtown Disney. I always take my book along and find a spot to sit while Carol shops.

Days of Christmas Store

I read and people-watch while she scours through the Art of Disney Shop, the Disney Days of Christmas Shop and of course Disney's Pin Traders. Once she has worked up a good appetite she joins me and we head directly to the Earl of Sandwich.

Earl of Sandwich

This place has elevated the simple sandwich to an art form. Wow they're good! We often get back to "Earl's" several times during our stay!

There is so much to do outside the parks that I may make that the subject of another blog sometime. For now I will just mention two more of our favourite "non-park" things. First is dinner at 'Ohana in the Polynesian Resort . . . we never miss it. Great food, great location, great value! If you time it right and get a window table you can watch the Wishes fireworks extravaganza from your table. They pipe in the soundtrack too!

Second is a camping favourite, if we're staying in our RV at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground we head to the beach at the campground a few evenings during our stay. There is a nice little patio beside the dock and we relax at a patio table as we watch Wishes. They pipe in the soundtrack here as well and as an added treat the fireworks are reflected on the waters of Bay Lake. It's a terrific place to watch the show with no crowds! Shortly after Wishes is over the Electrical Water Pageant sails past . . . what a great way to end a day!

So those are a few of my favourite things! There are so many things to do at Walt Disney World that it just never gets stale for us and I doubt that it ever will!

What are your favourite things?

May 19, 2012

Aspiring young chefs can learn to cook at 3 Downtown Disney restaurants

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Young chefs work with about 30 feet of fresh pasta dough.

UPDATE: The class on June 23 has sold out. Levy Restaurants has added a second class on June 24 at the same time and price.

It's probably no surprise that many kids love to help their parents in the kitchen, but it's often with baking. Stirring and then sampling sweets is fun for all ages, right?

Levy Restaurants, however, is offering kids ages 6 to 12 the opportunity to make three delicious dishes at three different Downtown Disney restaurants at Walt Disney World. The kid-friendly cooking class takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 23, at Fulton's Crab House, Portobello Restaurant and Wolfgang Puck Café.

So, what will the budding chefs create? The professionals at each restaurant will help kids make Goin' Fishin' snack mix, ravioli gigante and dessert sushi, and then they will sample what they have created.

"Last year we had about 30 feet of fresh pasta dough spread out with kids elbow to elbow filling, forming and cutting ravioli to simulate what we do in our kitchen every day for one of our signature items, 'Ravioli Gigante'," said Steven Richard, area chef for Levy Restaurants and former executive chef at Portobello. "It was a huge hit, and we are doing it again this year."

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Kids ages 6 to 12 learn to make sushi.

This is the third year that Portobello, Fulton's Crab House and Wolfgang Puck Café have teamed up to offer a spring cooking class for children. Richard said the young chefs have learned to prepare "variations of sushi ranging from the well-known, such as California rolls, to chicken finger rolls and this year's dessert sushi at Wolfgang Puck's. We've done pizza and homemade ravioli at Portobello. Fulton's has also done a range of things from chocolate chip cookies to the " Goin' Fishin' " snack mix that we will do this year."

Parents who might be hesitant to drop off their younger children are welcome to observe and even participate in the class. Others might seize the four hours that they know their kids are well-supervised and having fun to enjoy their own lunch and shopping at Downtown Disney.

"What we try to do for adult, as well as kids', cooking classes is to simplify and remove the mystery from things that people might not otherwise try at home. There is no reason why you can't make sushi, homemade pizza or fresh pasta at home, yet many people are intimidated to try it," Richard said. "Exposing children to a culture of home cooking is a very positive thing, and it can broaden the way that they look at food and inspire a healthy curiosity."

"Last year I made sushi for 16 second-graders [in his wife's elementary-school class] who had never tried it before. Most had never heard of it. By the end of the class, every one of them tried it and loved it," he said. "We get much of the same reaction when we do the classes in the restaurants. Imagine having your six-year-old asking for sushi instead of a burger and fries."

The Levy cooking class is $36 per child. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis until the class is full. To sign up, call 407-828-8996.

April 24, 2012

Take a peek at new Disney Dooney & Bourke bags and find a deal

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Dooney & Bourke Retro collection

In the last few years, some Disney fans have found a new, high-end souvenir to collect. Who wants to bring home more scrapbooks and T-shirts when you can choose an unusual, well-made handbag? Combining the whimsical designs of Disney with the well-known quality of the Dooney & Bourke brand, these stylish bags have become increasingly popular.

Disney Dooneys, as they are fondly called, are introduced in several new patterns each year. West Coast collectors are eagerly awaiting the release of two new collections on May 12 -- just in time for Mother's Day! The Retro collection with a unique color palette depicts traditional graphics and logos of the various lands inside Disneyland. This new line will be available in a variety of silhouettes including a wristlet, mini barrel, tassel tote, satchel and letter carrier as well as an iPad case, which is a first. Prices range from $78 to $268. On the release day, Ian Ray, creative director for Dooney & Bourke, will be signing the new Disney Dooneys from 2 to 5 p.m. at Disney Vault 28.

The second collection, called Buttons, is being kept under wraps until closer to its debut on May 12. Disneyland and Walt Disney World guests will be able to purchase the Buttons collection on its release date. Disney World guests will find the Buttons collection at TrenD at Downtown Disney West Side.

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Dooney & Bourke Disney Cruise Line Fantasy Inaugural Voyages collection

A new Disney Cruise Line Dooney & Bourke collection debuted on the maiden voyage of the Disney Fantasy cruise ship earlier this month, and the bags feature more muted colors than most of the Disney Dooney bags we've seen so far. The design incorporates names and icons of all the ships on a blue-gray background.

"To make the new collection even more enticing for Disney Fantasy guests, the select collection silhouettes on the Disney Fantasy will feature leather embossed luggage tags that showcase they were part of the Inaugural Disney Fantasy Voyages," said Laura Caszatt, product developer for Accessories.

The new DCL collection includes a variety of shapes, including a wristlet, mini barrel, Susanna tote, satchel and travel duffle, and prices range from $55 to $395. These bags are exclusive to the Fantasy until this summer, when they will be available on all the DCL ships.

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Upcoming Dooney & Bourke Disney Cruise Line collection

Another cruise collection will debut later in 2012 on Hawaiian itineraries. Disney offered a sneak peek at the striped, nautical satchel, which will cost $235. It, too, will have widespread availability on the ships later in the summer.

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Dooney & Bourke Sketch collection Crossbody bags

Some of the most popular DIsney Dooney & Bourke bags both on land and at sea are from the Sketch Collection, said Erin Catalano, merchandise communication specialist at Walt Disney World Resort. The bags in the Sketch Collection show various colorful icons from the ships or Disneyland or Disney World.

Looking for a deal on these expensive bags? A few discounts can be yours for the asking. Stores on Disney World property that sell Dooney & Bourke bags will honor the 10 percent discount for annual passholders and 20 percent discount for premium annual passholders. Or, Disney Visa cardholders can get a 10 percent discount for any purchase over $50 at Disney World.

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Dooney & Bourke Princess collection bucket bag

To find a deal on Disney Dooney & Bourke bags off Disney World property, visit the Dooney & Bourke outlet stores. There is one in Orlando Premium Outlets on Vineland Avenue (near Downtown Disney) and one in Orlando Premium Outlets at the end of International Drive. Both locations usually carry a small selection of Disney Dooneys and sell them at a 40 percent discount. Currently, the Vineland Avenue location has the Princess bucket bag for $99. (It originally sold for $165.) At the International Drive location, shoppers will find the Princess bucket bag, plus the Princess satchel with black background for $132. (It originally sold for $220.) That location also has several of the 2011 Disney Dream Inaugural Voyages Crossbody Bag for $74. (It originally sold for $165.) If you wished you had purchased one last year, now is your chance!

If you're not on vacation, you can still purchase Disney Dooney & Bourke bags. DisneyStore.com carries most of the bags you will find at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and occasionally even offers Disney Cruise Line bags. Currently, there are 27 bags for sale, and two of those are 2011 Disney Dream Inaugural Voyages bags, which have been marked down 40 percent. The website also has the Disney Sketch Crossbody Bag in four colors marked down 24 percent. Plus, any Dooney & Bourke purchase allows you to buy a Sketch credit card holder/keychain for $15. The one drawback with ordering online is that you cannot choose the pattern placement. For bags with a uniform pattern, such as the Minnie Mouse bows, this is irrelevant, but for patterns such as the popular Sketch collections, it can make a difference.

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Dooney & Bourke Princess collection satchel


April 7, 2012

DisneyQuest is more than video gaming for kids

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DisneyQuest, Walt's Disney World's five-story gaming attraction at Downtown Disney, is all about the video games, right? Yes, but that's not all there is to do.

The entire second floor is set up for kids -- and adults -- to explore their creativity by making art, music and roller coasters. At the Animation Academy, guests sit at shiny red desks with embedded computers and learn how to draw Mickey Mouse and his friends from trained Disney artists. The instructor leads the aspiring artists through the process, step by step. Then, finished drawings are displayed in a slide show at the end of the class, and individuals can choose to purchase their drawings on paper. The Artist's Kit also includes a sheet with animation instructions so you can recreate your drawing at home, and you can add a collectible pin, too.

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Each class at Animation Academy lasts 25 minutes, and a schedule of the featured characters and times is posted nearby daily. We found this attraction to be a welcome break from all the lights and sounds of the video games, and most kids love to draw and color. Plus, it's an unusual opportunity for guests at Walt Disney World. Only the Animation Courtyard at Disney's Hollywood Studios offers a similar experience.

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In the center of the second floor is another drawing opportunity. A circle of Living Easels allows guests to create -- and recreate -- images to their hearts' content. This mostly involves pushing buttons to make the art come to life. A few years ago, we found the concept engaging. Now, with the popularity of touch-screen technology available on iPads, IPod Touches and iPhones, it doesn't seem as complex as some of the apps kids use on a daily basis. Still, it can be a fun diversion while waiting for an animation class. When your Living Easel work is complete, you also can choose to purchase a paper copy.

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In the Radio Disney SongMaker booths, guests create custom CDs. The process begins with the guest choosing to be a male or female singer. Next, it's time to select the type of music from a large collection, including rock, pop, country, salsa and reggae. Then, pick your title and piece together your lyrics from funny and traditional sets of phrases. Finally, listen to your song and choose a CD cover. If you love your song, it is, of course, available to purchase. These booths always seem to be popular and provide lots of silly fun.

Remember the boy in "Toy Story" who dismantled toys and created bizarre, sad new ones? Well, you can be him at Sid's Create-A-Toy. Build your toy on the screen from a selection of parts and then take it home afterward (for a price).

Finally, there is the always-popular CyberSpace Mountain, where passengers design a roller coaster and then ride it. Artists can make this as tame or as wild as they choose, even including multiple loops. My 7-year-old daughter loves this simulator, but we ride it sparingly with her because her coasters are always back-to-back loops. There is a 51-inch height requirement to ride, but anyone can design a coaster. A DVD is available for purchase after your ride.

CyberSpace Mountain is similar to Sum of All Thrills, simulators located in Innoventions East at Epcot. Sum of All Thrills seems to offer a smoother ride, though, because it has more precise automation with passengers sitting in chairs connected to moving arms. On CyberSpace Mountain, riders sit in an enclosed capsule that rolls and leans, increasing the nausea factor, in our experience.

DisneyQuest is open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. One-day admission is $37 plus tax for children ages 3 to 9 and $43 for ages 10 and older. Annual passes are $71 plus tax for children ages 3 to 9 and $89 for adults. The Disney Quest & Water Parks Annual Passport is $105.44 for children ages 3 to 9 and $137.39 for adults.

Children younger than 10 must be accompanied by an adult, and strollers are not permitted in the building.

For more details, be sure to check out the AllEars.net resource page http://allears.net/btp/dqfaq.htm


October 19, 2011

What's New, What's Next: Downtown Disney October 17, 2011

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Near Earl of Sandwich and Once Upon a Toy, a giant Mickey pumpkin has been set up.

Giant pumpkin

Halloween decorations are set up outside of Pin Traders.

Decorations

Walls are up around a portion of the exterior of World of Disney as they work on the pavement.

Walls

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Outside of World of Disney, there is a Halloween display set up.

Display

The pavement work has been completed outside part of World of Disney.

Pavement

Walls are up around a portion of the Lego Store as well.

Lego Store

Some of the pavement work has been completed outside the Lego Store. The Lego sculptures have been moved around somewhat.

Pavement

Buzz and Woody

Sculptures

Over on the West Side, signs are up for the new stores.

Something Silver

Sunglass Icon

Blink

Halloween displays have also been set up on the West Side, across from D-Street.

Halloween

Halloween

Click here to see my September Update which included Downtown Disney.

That's all for this update. Have a great day!

August 8, 2011

Disney World: What's New, What's Next August 5, 2011

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Things have changed quite a bit since my last visit in early July.

The exterior of the tunnel on the right side of the train station is under scrims.

Tunnel

Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room (formerly Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management) is still being worked on.

Tiki Room

The new sign for the attraction is out.

New Tiki Room sign

In Frontierland, Pecos Bill's is under scrims.

Pecos Bill's

The Frontierland Shootin' Arcade is also under scrims.

Frontierland Shootin' Arcade

The Fantasyland Skyway station is gone and walls are up.

Skyway station

The rock work around Maurice's cottage is progressing quickly.

Rock work

The rock work is also progressing quickly on the Little Mermaid attraction's building.

Little Mermaid rock work

The top of the building is looking great.

Top

Building

In Fantasyland, Enchanted Grove is behind scrims.

Enchanted Grove

The Tangled meet-and-greet features Rapunzel only now.

Tangled

There's been a lot of progress on Storybook Circus.

Storybook Circus

Storybook Circus

The Firehouse has closed.

Firehouse

We met friends for lunch at Downtown Disney. We had every intention of walking around but the heat and humidity drove us out after lunch. We did see, though, that the Harley Davidson store has moved into the space formerly occupied by Little Miss Matched on the West Side.

Harley

Harley

That's all for this update. Have a great day!


July 18, 2011

A Taste of the Americas at Paradiso 37

Andrew Rossi

Pleasure Island at Downtown Disney may no longer be the nighttime hotspot that it was in its heyday when clubs like the Comedy Warehouse and the Adventurers Club entertained guests on a nightly basis, but that does not mean that the area is completely devoid of life. As Disney works to develop and breathe new life into the former club district, there are still locations on the island worth visiting. Raglan Road is one such establishment that has helped provide some new energy and excitement to the area with its combination of food and live entertainment.

While Raglan Road brings a little taste of Ireland to Disney World, another restaurant on Pleasure Island provides guests a similar experience but with a much different feel (and one that is a little closer to home). Located next to some of the now-closed clubs, Paradiso 37 is another step in Disney's effort to reinvigorate this area of Downtown Disney.

Paradiso Sign

Overview:
Paradiso 37 is a very eclectic restaurant. Rather than highlighting the cuisine of one specific country or region, the restaurant offers diners a far larger scope that encompasses the varied cuisines of two continents. A meal at Paradiso 37 allows guests a taste of North, Central, and South America as well as the Caribbean. The result is a wide array of dishes and flavors that contrast and compliment each other.

The name of the restaurant itself is significant. The 37 acknowledges the thirty-seven different cuisines highlighted on the menu from countries all across the Americas. The restaurant also presents these cuisines in a unique way. Rather than focusing on the gourmet aspects these various cultures have to offer, the restaurant chooses to emphasize what it calls the "street foods" of the Americas. This is the type of cuisine you would find at stands and carts at markets, festivals, and on the streets in the countries of North, South, and Central America. There is nothing really flashy or elegant about the items on the menu, but it does feature many traditional favorites.

This is a restaurant that offers diners a culinary journey from start to finish, sampling foods from many diverse and different areas; you may choose to start with an appetizer of corn dog bites reminiscent of the streets of New York City then travel to South America with an entrée of Chilean Salmon or Argentinian skirt steak and finish your meal with some traditional Mexican churros.

Paradiso 37 is more than just a restaurant and in many ways is similar to Raglan Road except with a Latin rather than Irish spin. Inside the restaurant you can find two bars, including one with a tequila tower featuring (not surprisingly) thirty-seven different kinds of tequila. Other specialties from the bar include a variety of margaritas and what they claim to be the "world's coldest draft beer," served at a chilly twenty-nine degrees. In addition, Paradiso 37 features nightly entertainment with a live band performing starting at 6pm until close. It is definitely a restaurant that offers a little something for everyone, not only in terms of its cuisine, but also with its variety of beverages and entertainment.

Paradiso Exterior1

Atmosphere:
Paradiso 37 is a restaurant that highlights all of the Americas, but it has a distinctly Latin flair. This is evident from the moment you enter with the restaurant's lively music and vibrant color scheme. The walls throughout the restaurant feature bright red, yellow, orange, green, and blue, giving Paradiso 37 a very vibrant feel.

Interior Color Scheme

The colorful interior of the restaurant is a contrast to its rather bland-looking, brown exterior.

Paradiso Exterior2

Also as you enter, be sure to take notice of the very unique light-fixture, a chandelier featuring martini glasses and bottles of tequila.

Entrance Chandelier

Another distinguishing feature of the restaurant is its very open, airy feel. Contributing to this are large windows that let in ample amounts of natural light and offer great views of the water in addition to the restaurant's high ceilings.

Paradiso Ceiling

The interior of Paradiso 37 is divided into an upper and lower level. I was surprised to see that they actually had a small elevator for guests travelling in wheelchairs that made the upper level accessible to them. The upper level features tables with brightly colored chairs and booths.

Upstairs Seating

There is also a beautiful mural depicting a vineyard and shelves displaying bottles of wine.

Vineyard Mural

The bar in this section of the restaurant is really a site to behold and is almost like a piece of art in itself, crafted out of melted glass wine bottles.

Upstairs Bar

I found this upper section of the restaurant to have a quieter, more intimate feel compared with the rest of the restaurant.

The lower level is more open and its distinguishing feature is its bar and tequila tower. This part of the restaurant had more of a bar-type feel about it and, although it was not crowded when I was there for lunch, I can imagine this part of the restaurant getting very loud when crowded at dinner, especially when the live entertainment starts.

Downstairs Seating

Downstairs Bar

Tequila

The restaurant's décor is fairly simple. Just as the restaurant's cuisine offers a culinary journey featuring dishes from many different countries, travel plays a large role in the theme of the dining room. In addition to their bright colors, the walls are adorned with vintage travel posters from all across the Americas, ranging from locations in Florida and California to Mexico, South America, and various Caribbean islands.

Travel Poster

There are also large passport stamps printed on the walls highlighting some of the countries whose cuisine you are able to sample on the menu.

Passport Stamps

One of the main draws of Paradiso 37 is the restaurant's location overlooking the water and the restaurant features ample outdoor seating that takes advantage of the spectacular views. While outdoor seating might not be the most appealing option during the hot, humid days of summer it becomes a very desirable place to dine on balmy Florida nights.

Outdoor Seating

The restaurant also features an outdoor bar for those who do decide to sit outside.

Outdoor Bar

Overall, Paradiso 37 is a restaurant with a very laid-back, relaxing, casual feel that goes along well with the cuisine that the restaurant features. It is the type of restaurant that you would feel comfortable dining at with the entire family, but at the same time would be a nice place for a night out for couples looking to get away from the kids or if you are looking for somewhere to have good food and drinks with some friends and enjoy the entertainment.

It should be noted that if you are planning on dining here with children it is probably best to come for lunch or an earlier dinner as the restaurant becomes louder and more bar-like as it gets later into the night.

The Menu:
Since Paradiso 37 highlights the cuisines of countries from all across North, Central, and South America as well as the Caribbean, the menu features something for almost everyone. As with the restaurant's atmosphere, however, the menu does have a heavy Latin influence.

Since the restaurant highlights street foods from the Americas, I felt that the appetizers were definitely the strongest part of the menu and offered some of the most intriguing options.There are some traditional offerings such as Quesadillas ($12.99) with your choice of chicken or steak, P-37 Nachos ($13.99), North American Corn Dogs ($8.50) served with honey dijon mustard dipping sauce, and Chili Con Carne ($7.00).

There are also several more unique appetizers such as the Caribbean Crab and Fish Fritters ($9.50) served with a coconut lime dipping sauce, Chorizo & Beef Skewers ($15.99) accompanied by chimichurri pita bread, marinated mushrooms, and citrus yogurt sauce, Shrimp Ceviche ($9.75) featuring shrimp topped with lime juice, tangy tomato sauce, fresh chilies, cucumber, and avocado, Mac & Cheese Bites ($8.50) served with a jalapeno and cilantro dipping sauce, and Central American Crazy Corn ($8.50), which is fire-roasted corn on the cob topped with a spicy yellow pepper sauce and imported cheeses.

There is also an entire section of the menu dedicated just to Chips & Dips. These items are great for sharing if eating out with a group. There is the Mexican Dipping Trio ($7.99) of chunky guacamole, chili con carne, and spinach queso dips, the Salsa Trio ($7.99) featuring pineapple salsa, tomatillo salsa verde, and fire roasted salsa diablo, the Paradiso 37 Queso ($8.50) featuring imported cheeses flavored with spinach, cilantro, peppers, chiles, and onions, Guacamole (Regular: $4.99, Large: $7.99), and just plain Chips and Salsa ($3.99).

The menu also includes a variety of salads, sandwiches, and burgers. For salads there is the exotic Skewered Shrimp & Jicama Orange Salad ($16.99) featuring three jumbo shrimp with mixed greens and tossed with orange slices, jicama, dried apricots, raisins, toasted almonds, and pumpkin seeds and topped with a prickly pear vinaigrette, or the Grilled Chicken Tortilla Salad ($13.99) featuring mixed greens tossed with roasted corn, diced tomatoes, crispy tortilla chips, and queso fresco in a citrus vinaigrette, as well as a traditional Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad ($13.99).

The sandwich offerings include the Grilled Chicken Sandwich ($14.99) topped with bacon, guacamole, queso fresco, borracho beans, and serrano slaw and the Blackened Mahi Mahi Sliders ($13.99). Even the burgers have an exotic flair including the Bacon and Pineapple Burger ($14.99) topped with smoked gouda, grilled pineapple, honey glazed bacon, borracho beans, and serrano slaw in addition to the Jalapeno Burger ($14.99) topped with cheddar cheese, guacamole, marinated jalapenos, and pico de gallo.

The final section of the menu is what they call Platters of the Americas, featuring a variety of entrees from different parts of North, Central, and South America. Among the offerings are Chicken or Beef Enchiladas ($14.99) accompanied by cilantro rice and black beans, Baja Fish Tacos ($14.99) topped with roasted corn salsa, lime crema, and spicy slaw, Chicken or Beef Burritos ($14.99) with sautéed peppers, squash, red onions, imported cheeses, and sweet chipotle barbeque sauce served with cilantro rice and black beans, Chilean Style Salmon ($20.99) fire-roasted and served with roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables, Colombian Style Crispy Hen ($19.99) marinated with onions, garlic, lemon, and cilantro, topped with fresh citrus marmalade, and served with grilled corn cakes, Char Broiled Filet ($29.99), Citrus BBQ Pork Ribs ($22.99), and Argentinean Skirt Steak ($23.99) topped with caramelized onions and chimichurri sauce.

Be sure to save some room for dessert as the menu features several tantalizing options including the Paradiso 37 Chocolate Stack ($7.99), which is layers of chocolate cake and chocolate mousse served on a bed of warm caramel sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream, the Churros & Sopapillas Combo ($5.99) served with caramel and chocolate sauces, Mini Ice Cream Cones ($6.99) with vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and cookies & cream ice creams, Tres Leches ($5.99), which is layers of white cake soaked in sweet milks and layered with fresh strawberry mousse and topped with meringue, and Seasonal Fruit Empanadas ($6.99) served with caramel and fresh fruit marmalade dipping sauces.

When I was looking at the menu there was no one entrée that really stood out to me, but there were several appetizers that sounded very interesting. Therefore, I decided just to order a couple of appetizers for my meal. The only question was which appetizers I wanted to order. I decided on the Mac & Cheese Bites and the Caribbean Crab and Fish Fritters.

The Crab and Fish Fritters were smaller in size than I expected, but the overall portion was still substantial. The fritters themselves included not only crabmeat and fish, but also shrimp as well as bell peppers and cilantro. The flavors of the crab, fish, and shrimp blended together perfectly so that no one flavor really stood out in relation to the others. The peppers added just the slightest kick to the fritters and the cilantro was barely noticeable at all. The fritters were fried to a beautiful golden brown, but they were only slightly crispy on the outside and still soft and moist on the inside.

Crab and Fish Fritters

The fritters came served with a coconut-lime dipping sauce which really helped to kick the dish up a notch. The sauce had a slight sweetness that presented a light and refreshing contrast to the heavier fried fritters. While the sauce had a very distinct flavor, I felt that it served to actually enhance the flavor of the fritters rather than overpower them.

The Mac & Cheese Bites were something I had never seen before. I have had baked macaroni and cheese and this was somewhat similar except served in a ball-shape and deep fried. The bites were fried perfectly so that they were crispy on the outside, but when you cut them open the cheese oozed out. The macaroni inside was small elbow pasta cooked al dente while the coating to the bites themselves was standard breadcrumbs. While the bites may not have appeared very big, they were very filling and I was not even able to finish all of them.

Mac and Cheese Bites

My only complaint about the dish was the jalapeno and cilantro dipping sauce that accompanied the bites. I thought that the sauce was far too strong in flavor to be paired with the mac and cheese. When dipping the bites into the sauce, the flavor of the mac and cheese was completely overwhelmed by the taste of cilantro. Personally, I felt that the mac and cheese bites were good enough on their own that they did not even need a dipping sauce.

For dessert I decided on the Churros & Sopapillas Combo. The churros and sopapillas are similar to each other in some ways, but they also have some differences and both actually complimented each other very well. The churros were firmer in texture, almost a little crispy on the outside, while the sopapillas were softer and more moist on the inside.

Churros and Sopapillas

What really made this dessert were the warm chocolate and caramel dipping sauces. While I tried the churros and sopapillas in both, I actually preferred dipping the churros in the caramel and the sopapillas in the chocolate. I felt that the texture and flavor of the churros combined better with the sweeter caramel while the heavier chocolate sauce proved to be a better compliment to the sopapillas. The churros and sopapillas combined with the dipping sauces to make a heavy dessert and the portion size was large enough that I was not even able to finish the whole thing.

Service:
Paradiso 37 is not owned or operated by Disney and as a result the quality of the service was not quite up to the high standards set by other restaurants across Disney World. It was not all bad, however. My server was actually very efficient and the meal proceeded at a good pace but one in which I did not really feel rushed. What disappointed me about the service, however, was that I felt as though my server basically ignored me throughout the course of my meal. I saw my server when he took my order, brought out my food, cleared the table, and brought out the check, but that was it. I was really surprised that my server never even stopped by my table while I was eating to see if I was enjoying everything. There was really no excuse for this because the restaurant was not very crowded while I was dining there and I noticed that my server only had a couple of other tables that he was waiting on.

Dining on a Budget:
One of the things that impressed me most about Paradiso 37 was the relative affordability of many of the items on the menu. My personal recommendation, and one which could save a lot of money if dining with a group, would be to order several appetizers to share. The Crab and Fish Fritters are $9.50 while the Mac & Cheese Bites and the Corn Dog Bites are each $8.50 and even the P-37 Nachos for $13.99 are a good value. Another affordable appetizer selection to split are the various chips and dips. The Mexican Dipping Trio is just $7.99, the Salsa Trio is the same price, and you can't go wrong with the Chips and Salsa for $3.99.. Combine a few appetizers with a dessert or two to split and you have a very affordable meal for the entire group.

Even if you would rather have an entrée rather than splitting appetizers, the Paradiso 37 menu features numerous options for those that are dining on a budget. The Enchiladas, Baja Fish Tacos, and Burritos are each $14.99. Likewise, if you are in the mood for a burger, the Jalapeno Burger and Bacon and Pineapple Burger are each $14.99. Even the desserts are very affordable, ranging in price from $5.99 to $7.99. These prices make Paradiso 37 much more affordable than many of the other sit-down dining options found at Downtown Disney.

The Overall Experience:
I had never been to Paradiso 37 before this trip, but I can say that I will definitely be dining there again. One of the great features of the restaurant is that it highlights the cuisines of such a large, diverse, and dynamic area ranging from North, Central, and South America to the Caribbean. The result is a menu that features a lot of different choices and there are still several other items on the menu that I really want to try the next time I go.

There are many dining options at Downtown Disney and Paradiso 37 does not receive the same attention as some of these other establishments, largely due to its location on the now mostly abandoned Pleasure Island. Just because Paradiso 37 may go overlooked does not mean that it is not worth a visit. On the contrary, I felt that the restaurant's laid-back, relaxed, Latin feel (in terms of both atmosphere and cuisine) offered a nice alternative to the other dining locations I have been to at Downtown Disney. Also, the restaurant's lack of notoriety may make it a little easier to get a table during the busiest dinner times. With its casual atmosphere, good food, and affordable prices, Paradiso 37 is a great place for a night out with family or friends.

Check out Reader Reviews of Paradiso 37 and post your own too!

April 22, 2011

Disney World: What's New, What's Next April 21, 2011

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On April 21, we went to Magic Kingdom and Downtown Disney. A lot of changes had been made in since we were at Disney World the last time.

These banners had been added to Town Square Theater:

Banners

The scrims on the Confectionery had been partially rolled up and it's looking great! Easter displays were in the windows.

Confectionery

Easter display

The back of the castle is still being worked on:

Back of the castle

Through the trees, we were able to see the exterior work of Beast's castle. I was very excited. :)

Beast's castle

My brother and I rode Dumbo and got a look at what's going on in the expansion area.

Expansion

Expansion

More progress has been made on the 'wall' in Storybook Circus:

Storybook Circus

I had heard that Beast's castle was visible from the Astro Orbiter. I had never ridden the Astro Orbiter so I figured now was a good time to do so. It was a gorgeous view from the platform!

Beast's Castle

We went back to the Haunted Mansion and finally got to see the new interactive queue. Click here to see the image gallery of the queue. Disney really did a great job with it.

When you first enter the interactive queue, there is a set of busts of a family. Beginning with Uncle Jacob (middle bust), read the epitaphs to figure out who killed who.

Busts

The bride's engagement ring is in the pavement. It's been thrown to the ground like it was trash .

Ring

Be sure to touch the cat on the Decomposing Composer's Crypt.

Crypt

The Hitchhiking Ghosts' effects were back. The video is a little dark but it should give you the general idea of what goes on. We liked the new effect and heard other guests saying they did too.

We made our way over to Pirates of the Caribbean and some 'On Stranger Tides' pictures can been seen near the ride's exit:

Blackbeard

Jack Sparrow

We noticed there is a new sign out at Tortuga Tavern with Angelica, the new character from 'On Stranger Tides', on it:

Tortuga Tavern

Angelica was greeting guests just over the Adventureland bridge:

Angelica

Angelica

The temporary bridge to Adventureland had been removed:

Bridge removal

Mr. and Mrs. Easter Bunny were greeting guests near City Hall. This area had been under scrims the last time I was there so I was glad to see it was open.

Easter Bunny

Mr. and Mrs. Easter Bunny

We went in Curtain Call Collectibles (in Town Square Theater) to have a look around. The Mary Poppins dress being sewn together was new:

Mary Poppins dress

Mary Poppins dress

The work on the porch for Tony's has been completed:

Tony's

After lunch, we went to Downtown Disney. The renovated Lego Store is open and the displays on the exterior of the store are awesome.

Family

Prince Phillip

Buzz and Woody

Snow White and Dopey

Dwarves

The interior of the Lego Store was more spacious but had less displays than they used to.

Lego Store

Lego Store

Lego Store

The temporary tent for the Lego Store is still up near Once Upon a Toy but it is closed:

Tent

Marketplace Fun Finds is now open. It's not entirely a discount shop- there are some items there that have been discounted/deals but there are some current merchandise items there that are under $10, under $20, etc. It's more of a bargain store. It's all well marked.

Marketplace Fun Finds

Marketplace Fun Finds

LittleMissMatched is now in its new location:

LittleMissMatched

LittleMissMatched

LittleMissMatched

The Pooh and friends photo-op has been moved back to its original spot:

Pooh and friends

Outside Pin Traders, chalk artists were drawing Simba and Nala:

Chalk artists

The Harley Davidson store is still open in its spot on Pleasure Island:

Harley Davidson

Harley Davidson will be moving to LittleMissMatched's old location on the West Side this summer:

Harley Davidson

The walls were down around the exterior of the AMC Theatre's Dine-In area but it doesn't open until May.

Dine-In

Dine-In

The Times Guides have a coupon for 25% off dining at select locations attached to them:

Coupon

The Times Guides also have information on how to receive real-time updates while you're at the parks. I signed up for the text messages at 11 AM this morning and my first update didn't come in until 7:30 PM.

Real-time

That's it for this update. Have a great day! :)

April 3, 2011

Disney World: What's New, What's Next April 1-2, 2011

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On April 1, I spent the afternoon at the Magic Kingdom. A lot had changed since my last visit less than a week before.

Part of City Hall is still behind a wall:

City Hall

The new Mickey Mouse and Princesses meet-and-greet was open. Click here to see pictures of the new area.

Sign

Part of the Tony's patio is now open. A smaller part is still behind the scrims:

Tony's

This sign was new to me:

Sign

Sidewalk had been added along the side of the Confectionery:

Sidewalk

The Confectionery is still behind scrims:

Confectionery

Magic Kingdom was very crowded and Tortuga Tavern and the Tomorrowland Terrace were serving meals:

Dining

The Haunted Mansion interactive queue was open on April 1. The ride had a very long wait to we decided to bypass the Haunted Mansion in favor of doing it early one morning soon.

Lots of progress has been made on the buildings for the Fantasyland expansion. The parts in the pictures were the most visible. You could see the rest but they had propped the trees higher up so it was hard to get pictures of it.

Fantasyland

Fantasyland

This area near Dumbo has been walled off:

Walls

The back of the castle is still being worked on:

Castle

This wall, for lack of a better term, was being built in the Storybook Circus area:

Wall in Storybook Circus

The Confectionery had springtime treats:

Treats

Treats

Treats

Tomorrowland Terrace was open for dinner when we went by:

Tomorrowland Terrace

We spent the evening at Downtown Disney. Work continues on the area for the dining area at the AMC Theater:

Amc Theater

LittleMissMatched is still open on the West Side:

LittleMissMatched

A new pin cart was set up near Bongos:

Pin cart

The Lego Store is still under construction:

Lego Store

Lego Store

The temporary tent near Once Upon a Toy is still open:

Lego Store temporary location

Work on the exterior of the former Mickey's Mart has begun:

Exterior work

The wall is still up on Pleasure Island:

Wall

On April 2, we spent some time at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Sounds Dangerous was operating:

Sounds Dangerous

Walls are now up around the entrance area to Star Tours:

Star Tours

The walls are down around the speederbike photo-op area:

Speederbike

A Winnie the Pooh poster is up outside of the Magic of Disney Animation:

Pooh poster

Pooh artwork is now being displayed at the Magic of Disney Animation:

Pooh artwork

On the other side of the case, Cars 2 artwork is displayed:

Cars 2

Some scaffolding is still on Tower of Terror. It has been getting an eco-friendly repainting- click here to read more about the new paint.

Tower of Terror

Have a great day!

March 21, 2011

Walk Around Walt Disney World - What's New, What's Next: March 19-20

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We were able to spend the weekend at Disney. We stayed on-property and since it was Extra Magic Hours at Disney's Hollywood Studios on Saturday morning, we took advantage of the extra time in the park.

'Let the Memories Begin' banners were up near the main gates:

Banners

Work on the Tower of Terror exterior is still be done:

Tower of Terror

One of the things I love most about Extra Magic Hours is that's it's not overly crowded yet and you can wander a bit. It had been a while since we had been nto the Tower of Terror courtyard and store so it was nice to wander around and see some details that I'd never seen before.

We went over to the Animation Courtyard to look around. I had never seen the sketches of the princesses above the costumes- I love this kind of detail!

Jasmine sketch

I heard a lot of families talking about seeing the new Disney Junior show once the park opened for the day.

Disney Junior

It had been at least five years since my brother had seen the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show so we decided to catch the first show (pun intended). I had seen it a couple of years ago but missed the detail of the trident lighting up!

Unlit trident

Lit trident

One Man's Dream is one of my favorite attractions. I was hoping the back section might be finished but the walls still say 'coming soon.'

One Man's Dream

I'm a Star Wars fan so I knew I had to see what was going on around Star Tours. The area where the speederbike photo-op was/is is currently behind a very large wall:

Speederbike wall

Speederbike wall

Behind the Jedi Training Academy is a character meet-and-greet location:

Meet and greet location

[Star Wars side note: In the lobby of Mama Melrose's, there is a picture of Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker). It's near the bathrooms. Also, in the dining room, there is an Italian version of The Empire Strikes Back movie poster.]

My brother and I rode Rock 'n Roller Coaster and noticed that they have put up these gates at the exit area of the ride:

Gates

I wandered through the watch shop and noticed an animator drawing Jedi Stitch:

Jedi Stitch

Friends from Chicago were in town and we met them at Epcot after lunch. On our way to meet up with them, we noticed this flamingo. It made us smile:

Flamingo

Our friends' son was absolutely enchanted with the train village at the Germany pavilion. I'm so glad he was- the village was hosting its own Flower & Garden Festival and I hadn't noticed it when I was there previously:

Train Village

The Lightning McQueen topiary was out at the World Showcase entrance:

Cars 2

Cars 2

Cars 2

For dinner, we decided to go to the Animal Kingdom Rainforest Cafe. On the way in, we noticed they had two lines:

Rainforest Cafe

The 'extreme supermoon' was visible Saturday night. My mom got a kick out of me leaving the room every 15 minutes to see if it was visible yet.

Supermoon

I went out to the parking lot around 7 AM to see if I could still see the supermoon. I definitely could! It was a great view:

Supermoon morning

Supermoon morning

Magic Kingdom opened at 8 AM Sunday morning so I wandered around to see what was new or had changed.

City Hall is still being worked on:

City Hall

The walls were down around Exposition Hall- the new sign says Town Square Theater. The doors are very ornate. The far right side of the building is open for PhotoPass viewing and camera accessories. Otherwise, the windows are still covered.

Town Square Theater

Town Square Theater

The exterior of Tony's is being worked on:

Tony's exterior

The Confectionery is also being worked on:

Confectionery

There is a wall up on the right side of the castle (if you're facing the back of the castle):

Castle wall

The exterior of Cinderella's Royal Table is still being worked on:

Cinderella's Royal Table

The tops of some of the buildings behind the Fantasyland walls are now visible over the walls:

Fantasyland

Fantasyland

The walls around the construction area had been moved back so there was a lot more room to walk around.

Fantasyland walls

A solid wall has gone up between the Tomorrowland Speedway and ToonTown:

ToonTown wall

The Tomorrowland Speedway was back to four lanes:

Tomorrowland Speedway

Only Minnie remains on the ToonTown sign:

ToonTown sign

I went to the Haunted Mansion to see if the new queue line was being tested. I knew it was a long shot since it was around 9 AM when I got there. It was not being tested but I could see a good bit of it.

Entrance to the new queue:

Queue entrance

This is clearly visible above the shrubs:

Queue line

The walls around the queue line are down and have been replaced with thick green screens:

Queue line

The walls around the Adventureland bridge were down. The new bridge is flat- there is not a hill anymore. The bridge they had set up for guests to use is also still there:

Adventureland bridge

Adventureland bridge

Adventureland bridge

After I had finished my Magic Kingdom 'walk', Mom and I went over to Downtown Disney. The AMC Theater now has automated ticket machines outside the theater.

Automated ticket machines

Walls were up where one of the Pleasure Island clubs used to be. A sign showed the concept art for the store going in its place.

Pleasure Island construction

Concept art

The Lego Store is being worked on. Temporarily, they have a tent set up near Once Upon a Toy.

Lego Store construction

At World of Disney, they have a new section of D-Tech merchandise. It's got mouse pads, laptop bags, iPad and iPhone cases and other assorted 'tech' goodies.

D-Tech

The Winnie the Pooh and friends photo-op has been moved to the Guest Relations area since Pooh Corner has closed.

Pooh photo-op

The temporary Lego Store is in a big yellow tent between Once Upon a Toy and Earl of Sandwich. It was very busy inside... and very yellow because of the tent!

Temporary Lego Store

Tempoary Lego Store

Outside of the tent, they had a little display set up for Flower & Garden at Epcot.

Flower & Garden display

Pooh Corner, unfortunately, has closed.

Pooh Corner

Goofy's Candy Company has started letting guests their own treat.

Create your own treat

That's all for this update. Have a MAGICAL day!! :)

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October 26, 2010

House of Blues - Downtown Disney - Review

Andrew Rossi

There are some times when a restaurant can completely blow you away when you least expect it. This is exactly what happened to me at the House of Blues at Downtown Disney's West Side.

I decided to go here because I was looking to try something different, but I did not really know what to expect. Whenever I would think of House of Blues I pictured a bar or club-like atmosphere with music blaring and people being really loud and obnoxious, a place that you would be more likely to go to just to get a drink rather than a full sit-down meal. The reality turned out to be far different and I do not think I have ever been more pleasantly surprised by a restaurant at Disney World. House of Blues exceeded my expectations in every way in terms of the atmosphere, the service, and especially the food. After eating here just once I can say that it has become my favorite dining location at Downtown Disney and I will definitely be going back frequently.

House of Blues - Downtown Disney

House of Blues - Downtown Disney


Overview:

When you think of the House of Blues, a restaurant may not be the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, most people are far more likely to think of it as a concert venue. This is largely because House of Blues itself heavily promotes the various musical groups that it has coming to perform. The House of Blues draws performers from all across the country, some well known and others less so. However, the music hall where these groups perform is separate from the main dining room. Others may associate House of Blue with a bar or club for people looking to party. While the restaurant does have a bar, I found House of Blues to be a restaurant more along the lines of Raglan Road, featuring a laid back and relaxing atmosphere where you can come if you just want a drink at the bar or if you are looking for a nice sit-down meal. It is a dining location that offers something a little different from your typical Disney restaurant. While not inappropriate for families with children, House of Blues offers a more mature setting that can be enjoyed by adults looking to relax and escape from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks.

Atmosphere:

The House of Blues is dedicated to educating and celebrating the history of Southern culture, especially African American contributions to music and art. Since the first House of Blues opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1992 one of its primary goals has been to introduce the world to the music of the rural south, including blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, jazz, and rock & roll. The result is an atmosphere which is very eclectic. Upon first seeing the interior of the restaurant I was not sure exactly what to make of it. On one hand the restaurant had a definite Louisiana bayou/voodoo feel. It is an atmosphere in which Dr. Facilier from "The Princess and The Frog" would feel right at home. At the same time, the restaurant is like a shrine to all things music, especially jazz and blues.

So puzzled by what the theme of the restaurant was meant to be, I went to the House of Blues website to do some research. It turns out that juke joints are a major inspiration for the look and feel of the restaurant. Juke joints have their origin shortly after the Civil War and emancipation where they were primarily operated by African Americans in the South. Plantation workers and sharecroppers needed a place to relax and socialize following a hard week, particularly since they were barred from most white establishments by Jim Crow laws. Juke joints were thus set up on the outskirts of town, often in ramshackle buildings or private houses, and offered food, drink, dancing, and even gambling for weary workers. Juke joints are still in existence today and are full of hand-painted collections of art, posters, furniture, wall murals, and all other sorts of decoration. This tradition is carried on in the décor of the House of Blues. In fact, many of the artifacts and items throughout the restaurant have historical significance.

The dining area itself was dimly lit and had a somewhat foreboding and mysterious feel, but what really stood out the most about the decor were the vibrant colors. The walls are littered with a wide variety of different types of art. A large amount of the artwork is a celebration of African American history, tradition, and culture, but strong religious imagery and many musical references can also be found.

House of Blues - Downtown Disney


House of Blues - Downtown Disney

Items on the walls are not limited to paintings and also feature an eclectic mixture of various types of artwork, such as masks, statues, and colorful musical instruments. This is definitely a restaurant that gives you plenty to look at while you are waiting for your meal.

House of Blues - Downtown Disney

The artwork is not only limited to the walls, and you might find yourself staring up at the ceiling even more. One thing not to miss is the painted ceiling above the bar area, which is like the House of Blues version of the Sistine Chapel and helps to reaffirm the strong religious imagery of the restaurant, where music is a religion.

House of Blues - Downtown Disney

There is also a vaulted ceiling which stretches the entire length of the center of the main dining area and features tiles with images of various jazz, blues, gospel, and R&B legends, ranging from B.B. King to Bob Marley to the Blue Brothers.


House of Blues - Downtown Disney

House of Blues - Downtown Disney


Overall, this décor helps to give the restaurant a very authentic feel, but at the same time one that is both exotic and adventurous.

The Menu:

I was very impressed by the menu at House of Blues largely because of its wide selection of offerings highlighting what can best be described as Southern soul food. The menu, which is the same for both lunch and dinner, starts with a vast array of appetizers, ranging from Spicy Buffalo Chicken Wings to Crispy Catfish Nuggets served with sweet potato fries, Whole Wheat Chicken Quesadillas, Spicy Calamari tossed with chili sauce, kalamata olives, parmesan cheese and lemon olive oil, Crab and Artichoke Dip, and Turkey Shrimp Gumbo.

The menu also features variety of burgers and sandwiches. Burgers include the Mushroom Swiss with sautéed mushrooms, onions, and Swiss cheese, The Bleu with sautéed onions and bleu cheese, and the Smokehouse featuring barbeque sauce, bacon, and cheese. Among the sandwich selections are the Pulled-Pork Sandwich, Shrimp Po-Boy, and "The Elwood," a blackened chicken breast sandwich with chili garlic mayo, green chilis, and sour cream.

Entrees feature some traditional southern favorites, most notably the Creole Seafood Jambalaya with shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage, and roasted green onions. Entrée choices also include Grilled Citrus Chicken, Cajun Meatloaf, Baby Back Ribs with Jim Bean BBQ Sauce, Grilled Rib-Eye Steak with a spicy garlic-pepper cream sauce, and Wild Mushroom and Roasted Chicken Pasta featuring shiitake, oyster, and portobello mushrooms topped with smoked gouda cheese.

For an appetizer I chose the Pan Seared Voodoo Shrimp and it could have been a meal unto itself. The shrimp themselves were fairly large and were cooked so that they were perfectly tender. The shrimp came in a rich, thick, creamy sauce that was very spicy. This is definitely not an appetizer for the faint of heart. While the sauce is a beer reduction, I did not find the flavor of beer to be too overpowering.

The shrimp is also accompanied by a large slice of the House of Blues' famous Rosemary Corn Bread. This is was what really made the appetizer special. The sweetness of the cornbread provided a nice contrast to the spiciness of the sauce, but at the same time the two complimented each other perfectly. This would have been a great appetizer even without the shrimp because it was great to just dip the cornbread into the sauce.

House of Blues - Downtown Disney

With so many choices on the menu it was hard to decide what I wanted for an entrée, but I finally decided on the Eggplant-Stuffed Salmon. I have had salmon at many different restaurants before, but nothing ever like this; it was a dish that was truly unique. In contrast to the Voodoo Shrimp, the sauce that accompanied the salmon was milder in flavor and I had a hard time figuring out exactly what the sauce was. After asking my server I found that it was actually a balsamic-butter sauce. The piece of salmon was absolutely huge and was pan-seared perfectly so that it was slightly crispy on the outside but still soft on the inside, in addition to being very light and flaky. The stuffing was a mixture of eggplant and shrimp and its rich/heavier flavor paired well with the lightness of the salmon and sauce. The piece of salmon itself was not actually stuffed, but it was served on top of the stuffing. The salmon was also accompanied by four good-sized crab claws that were great to dip into the sauce. While this entrée was not spicy (especially compared to my appetizer) it did offer a variety of different flavors that all blended together very well.

House of Blues - Downtown Disney

For dessert I went with the White Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding and I was astounded by the huge portion size. This was an extremely rich and filling dessert and it was so big that I was not even able to finish it all. I was a little hesitant at first to order this dessert because it is served with a whiskey sauce. The sauce, however, is actually very sweet and the whiskey flavor was just enough to add an extra little kick to the dessert. The bread pudding was served warm, but not piping hot. There were pieces of banana inside which added extra flavor and texture to the dessert, but too much so that the flavor of banana overpowered everything else. The bread pudding also came topped with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, which was a light and refreshing compliment to an otherwise heavy dessert. I have tried bread pudding at several Disney restaurants and I would have to rank the one at House of Blues above that of Ohana and second only to Raglan Road.


House of Blues - Downtown Disney

Service:

I found the service at House of Blues to be very laid back and casual, which is in keeping with the feel of the restaurant on the whole. That being said, my server was very helpful in describing items on the menu and answering my various questions about the different dishes. Also, even though my server was waiting on several tables, she was also very attentive to my needs and made sure that I always had plenty of water (which is very important when eating spicy food). The service was efficient, but the meal progressed at a nice, leisurely pace, allowing some time to relax between courses.

Dining on a Budget:

One of the things that surprised me the most about House of Blues was that it offers Happy Hour every day of the week from 3pm to 5pm during which time all appetizers are half price. This is a great value, but one which is not very publicized. With such a wide variety available, you could easily make a meal of just appetizers. Whether dining by yourself or with a group of people, you could order several appetizers to share (or maybe a few appetizers and a dessert) and have a great meal at a very affordable price. Also during Happy Hour, House of Blues offers $2 domestic beer, wine, and cocktails. This is definitely one of the best deals on Disney property. Even if you do not go during Happy Hour, the appetizer prices are still very reasonable and the menu also features several other affordable options, such as the burgers for $12.99 as well as the Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwich and Shrimp Po-Boy which are also just $12.99. Not only does the menu feature reasonable prices, but the portion sizes that you get for that price are very generous.

House of Blues offers discounts for Disney Vacation Club Members, Annual Passholders, Table in Wonderland card holders and D23 members. Be sure to show your card at check-in to learn about the current offers.

The Overall Experience:
While I did not really know what to expect when I went to House of Blues, I now know that I will definitely be going back again. Everything about the restaurant completely exceeded my expectations, especially the food. The menu features such a wide variety of offerings that there are several items that I still want to try. With an atmosphere that looks like something straight out of a Louisiana bayou and a menu that features flavorful and spicy southern soul food, House of Blues is an adventure for both your eyes and your taste buds. More than just a bar or music hall, House of Blues is a restaurant that offers great food and large portions at an affordable price (a real recipe for success). House of Blues is definitely a hidden gem when it comes to restaurants and, while other dining locations may receive more attention and a far more crowded, it has become my favorite restaurant at Downtown Disney.

Have you dined at House of Blues recently? Share your experience and read what others have to say! AllEars Rate and Review the House of Blues!

Be sure to click on the comment link below and let me know what you think of my House of Blues blog!

February 2, 2010

Wolfgang Puck Grand Café - Downtown Disney - Photo Blog

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For fans of gourmet cooking, the name Wolfgang Puck is synonymous with the fusion of delicious Asian and Californian cuisine. The term "California Cuisine" refers to the use of fresh, local ingredients in an ever-evolving menu of artistically presented offerings.

Among his many accomplishments, Wolfgang Puck helped to introduce inventive, West Coast culinary delights to the masses and popularize them in the eyes of mainstream America by way of his many restaurants and cookbooks. Among his many accomplishments, the Austrian born entrepreneur opened the first Spago restaurant in Los Angeles, California in the 80's. His empire now reaches into the realms of catering, publishing, and television. He owns over a dozen restaurants spanning the country. From Las Vegas, Nevada to Ontario, Canada and Orlando, Florida, his brand now spans the continental United States.

Of the afore mentioned locations, I have only dined at the Orlando restaurant. My experiences there have been favorable. So when I began to plan my most recent trip to Walt Disney World, I decided to make reservations for a return visit.

The official name of the restaurant is the Wolfgang Puck Grand Café. It's located in the "Westside" district of Downtown Disney, next to Bongo's Cuban Café. In the photo below, look at the bottom row of buildings, it is in the middle.

Wolfgang Puck Cafe from Above


Wolfgang Puck Cafe Exterior


Wolfgang Puck Cafe Entrance


The title refers to three restaurants which are actually housed under one roof. The Grand Café on the first floor, the Dining Room on the upper level, and the annexed Wolfgang Puck Express (there is another, separate location at Downtown Disney Marketplace). Wolfgang Puck Express offers quickly-served, truncated versions of the meals served at the full-service restaurants. Tasty Sandwiches, Salads, Rosemary Garlic Chicken, Tortilla Soup, and homemade potato chips are just a few of the items offered on their menu.

The Café is decorated in a colorful and vibrant art-deco style. It has a bustling, hurried atmosphere.

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Entrance to Cafe


Wolfgang Puck Cafe Open Air Kitchen

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Bar Area

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Chef's Counter

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Cafe from Above

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Interior

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Interior

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Interior

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Interior


The Dining Room upstairs has a more sedate, formal setting geared toward fine-dining. Both offer scenic views of Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort and The Characters in Flight hot-air balloon.

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Stairway to Dining Room

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Upstairs Dining Room

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Upstairs Dining Room

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Upstairs Dining Room


Wolfgang Puck Cafe Upstairs Dining Room

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Upstairs to Dining Room

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Upstairs Dining Room


My most recent meal there was in early January, and it was wonderful. Since Wolfgang Puck is so well known for Sushi, I felt obliged to begin my meal with some. The restaurant has a dedicated Sushi bar and offers seating "in the round".

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Sushi Bar


Patrons may walk right up, grab an available seat, and watch as the Sushi Chefs slice, dice, and prepare wonderful meals. Their extensive Sushi menu is available to guests of both the Café and Dining Room.


Wolfgang Puck Cafe Sushi Chefs at Work

I'm always a little squeamish about ordering Sushi in unfamiliar restaurants, so I chose an old favorite. The California Roll ($12.95) is also a good introduction for folks who may be inquisitive about Sushi but have never tried it.

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Sushi California Roll

California Rolls are considered a "Maki Sushi". The term Maki-Sushi is derived from the process by which the Sushi is prepared. A Makisu (usually made of bamboo) is a mat that the Sushi is rolled on. California Rolls are one of the many types served here. They are presented with the traditional accompaniments - Ginger, Wasabi, and Chopsticks. I love Wasabi on Sushi and can not get enough of it. For those who may be unfamiliar, its' primary ingredient is horseradish and it is a very spicy condiment. The roll was cut into eight pieces and topped with Roe (fish eggs). This topping had an almost non-existent flavor. Perhaps it was my love of Wasabi I can thank for that. It is known to temporarily numb the taste buds thanks to its' spicy flavor.

A few more appetizer choices - Crispy Calamari, Artichoke and Five Cheese Spinach Dip, Teriyaki Beef Satay, and Asian Style Vegetable Spring Rolls (pictured below - $10.95)

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Sushi Asian Spring Rolls


I chose one of the more popular menu items for my entrée, the Macadamia Nut Crusted Breast of Chicken ($25.95).

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Macadamia Chicken


This consists of two golden, pan-fried chicken breasts served on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes and finished off with Sho-Yu Cream sauce and Papaya Puree. Sho-Yu is a reduction of Soy Sauce and cream. I would compare the texture to a demi-glace. This sauce was quite tasty and gave the meal some flare. Interestingly, the Papaya Puree was chilled, sweet, and brought out the flavor of the chicken. The plate was dusted with sesame seeds.

An important note for folks with food allergies - because of the broad spectrum of ingredients used by the chefs here, the servers make a concerted effort to understand and relay any food allergies on to the chef. If you have an allergy to certain foods, please convey this to your server if they don't inquire.

Another favorite of mine is the Meatloaf (pictured below - $19.95). The generous serving of Ground-Beef and Pork is wrapped with bacon and served atop garlic mashed potatoes and topped off with crispy onion rings.

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Meatloaf

Other Entrée selections include: Pumpkin Ravioli, Chilean Salmon, Asian Hoisin BBQ Ribs, and a Chinois Chicken Salad (named after Wolfgang's Santa Monica restaurant of the same name).

On to dessert! I chose the Crème Brulee Cheesecake ($7.95).

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Creme Brulee Cheesecake

This was made more in the New York style of cheesecake, and had a thick consistency. It had a very thin layer of caramelized sugar glazed over the top. Strawberries, Raspberries, and a Strawberry sauce rounded out the dessert. I had the Espresso with Cinnamon Biscotti ($2.95) to caffeinate and revive me after this delicious meal.

Florida Key Lime Pie (pictured below - also $7.95), Chocolate Lava Cake, Carrot Cake, Double Chocolate Mud Pie, and Sugar-free Cheesecake Mousse are also on the dessert menu.

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Key Lime Pie

There is a lot for kids to enjoy here, too. The Children's menu includes Grilled Chicken, Pizza, Mini-Burgers, Spaghetti and Salmon. For dessert "make your own" sundaes can be created from a wide variety of toppings.

The meals at the Café are reasonably priced. Most of the entrees run under $20.00. The pricing is on par with restaurants at Disney's Moderate resorts. The Dining Room is more on par with Disney's signature restaurants, with prices to match. Entrée prices range from $24.95 - $42.95. Both participate in the Disney Dining Plan and Annual Passholder discounts are also available. Tables in Wonderland discounts are also offered as of January 2010. Lunch is served from 11:30-4:00 p.m. Dinner runs from 4:00-10:30 Sunday and Monday, 4:00-11:00 Tuesday-Thursday, and 4:00-11:30 on Friday and Saturday. The (upstairs) Dining Room opens nightly at 6:00. Reservations can be made Online through Disney at http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/downtown-disney/dining/wolfgang-puck-cafe/reservations/ or by contacting the restaurant directly at (407) 938-WOLF(9653). Please note that they only accept reservations for dining before 6:30 or after 9:00.

One of my favorite aspects of dining at the Grand Café is the abundant choices their menu offers. It seems that no matter what type of meal I am in the mood for, I can find something to enjoy here. From imaginatively spun comfort foods to exotic seafood presented with intricate detail, they have something to satiate anything I may be hankering for. And with three restaurants under one roof, they have a setting to suit any mood or occasion. I enjoy dining here after a day of shopping at Downtown Disney. With the AMC Movie Theaters, Cirque du Soleil, and the House of Blues just a stone's throw from their front door, you may want to stop in for a bite before a night out on the town. Wolfgang Puck's Grand Café is a dining hub that has something appealing to everyone.

Related Links:

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Lunch Menu

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Dinner Menu

Wolfgang Puck Cafe Kids Menu

Readers Rate and Review Wolfgang Puck's Grand Cafe


Wolfgang Puck Dining Room Menu

Readers Rate and Review Wolfgang Puck Upstairs Dining Room


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

September 21, 2008

What’s all the Hoopla (HOOPLA!) about?

by Emily Owens-Pickle

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In 2006 I embarked on what has been and will be the adventure of my life... marriage.

True, it is not a trip for everyone and I might not have made the journey myself except that I lucked out in my choice of partner -- laid-back, hard-working, and awfully cute, one of the first things my then-boyfriend-now-husband said to me was that love is an 'adventure' (*swoon).

It was time to celebrate this adventure that could be likened to an exotic safari: romance, danger, possibly some angry growling and cherished memories. Last weekend Evan and I combined all of the above and took advantage of what will soon be a myth itself... the Adventurers Club (AC) in Downtown Disney.

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This was my first initiation into the AC and I was taken as soon as I whooshed through the revolving doors. You enter the AC on the second floor of the building; artifacts, pictures, and other AC paraphernalia line every inch of space along the walls. Anniversary pins in place and being that the evening is a celebration, I headed toward the bar where I was given a generous (VERY generous) drink -- KUNGALOOSH!

While in line we mingled with other guests and I was pleased by the 'type' of crowd the AC draws. Everyone was friendly and ready to be a bit silly; one guest helped me pick out my drink, another couple strolled by in full 1930s regalia, and another guest helped teach me the official AC toast, the aforementioned KUNGALOOSH!

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Drinks in hand we headed downstairs to trial run our new toast... for the second or third time. Well -- Evan 'headed', I jogged. I absolutely could not stand to miss one minute of this club -- we only had two and a half hours to enjoy the show! Immediately I met the club curator and treasurer, both who wished Evan and I a happy anniversary and agreed that 'relief' of getting through marriage this long was probably the best gift to one another. The treasurer, Mr. Otis T. Wren, kindly offered us both some 'half-eaten' mints... I declined but Evan tried one.

Licorice. Mints. Half-eaten licorice mints.

Let me pause at the mints in case I have lost you at 'half-eaten' for a quick AC tutorial. When you walk in the front door at the AC you have left the current year and Walt Disney World. You are now a recruit in a spirited membership drive for a 1937 adventurers club. Surrounded by a wild cast of characters, you and other guests are taken through a series of new member activities including initiation, sing-alongs, and adventure-sharing. The extensive club theming, the cast, the guests -- everyone and everything is a part of making this an escape into a different time and place; it is an irreplaceable evening experience.

While Evan reluctantly finished his mint we wandered into the mask room and then almost immediately were back in the main salon for an official AC toast refresher given by the dim-witted Adventurer of the Year, Emil Bleehall, and Treasurer Wren. These two were an absolute riot and inside jokes flowed freely about the impending closing doors of the AC. After some of Bleehall's absent-minded shenanigans Treasurer Wren commented that Bleehall was going to be a fantastic addition to Halloween Horror Nights. Blehall enthusiastically replied by throwing his hands in the air and shouting 'I have a job!'

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Treasurer Wren explained the evening's events to the recruits ending with an announcement of the AC finale 'The Hoopla!' His last word was immediately echoed with a resounding shout of 'Hoopla!' from at least 60 percent of the audience. Wren played it up repeating 'hoopla' every few words while his audience shouted it back louder and louder each time. Defeated by the almost deafening shouts he finally hung his head and finished his monologue adding, 'I really hate you guys.'

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The night went by in a blur of songs, new friends, and laughing faces interspersed with shouts of KUNGALOOSH! Evan and I were lucky enough to grab seats at 'The 'Hoopla (HOOPLA!). The songs were clever and ridiculous; I could have easily enjoyed a much longer hoopla (HOOPLA!!). We sat with a very nice older couple who we chatted with -- after the hoopla (HOOPLA!!!) the gentlemen took us outside and pointed out some of the amazing Imagineer creativity and detail that went into the 'artifacts' lining the mezzanine and balcony of the club. As we started to leave he stopped to give us a homemade CD of the Adventurers Club Greatest Hits!

It was such an amazing experience to enjoy a place as unique as the AC is with another couple with whom we would seemingly share little common interest at first glance. Yet there we were giggling together as Bleehall belted out 'Put Your Cheeks Against the Window', his family's long-used mating song that includes the heart-wrenching verse 'You had my heart when I saw your full eclipse...'

It made me really sad to see first-hand how much this club means to so many adult guests of differing ages and backgrounds. I have a family so, yes, I am thrilled that Disney caters to my demographic... at the moment. One day, Evan and I will be celebrating our 50th anniversary... what then? Will we have an opportunity to sit down with a young couple and share something as adult (and juvenile) and original and as wonderful as the Adventurers Club?

I cannot see Saturday night's scenario playing out at T-Rex restaurant. Or Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or any of the myriad of attractions that have recently been added to cater to a much-younger demographic while the adult-only entertainment has been ignored or, in the case of the Pleasure Island, eliminated.

I cannot help but grin when I see the lights twinkling on a whirling Cinderella's Golden Carrousel. I cry every time Marlin tells Nemo how old sea turtles are -- I am an unabashed kid at heart. But for every Mickey Ear ice cream I eat (devour), I equally enjoy sipping (devouring) a glass of Jardin at Jiko. And for every Voices of Liberty ballad I tear up at, I want to snicker at an AC song. It seems lately that Disney is making a clear shift to an almost exclusive focus on family entertainment. Again -- I have a small child and I know that families always have and always will be Disney's 'niche'. But families come in all shapes, sizes... and ages. The mission of Disney is to '"create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment to people of all ages, everywhere." Their very statement of purpose shows that Disney prides itself on catering to diversity -- my hope is that their guest pendulum is not swinging too far to one side and subsequently away from an admirable mission.

Maybe I am wrong... maybe by 2066 Evan and I will not be interested in anything Disney except for an occasional shuttling in from Mars to watch virtual reality fireworks from the comfort of our hovercraft... but I would like to think that many years from now, Evan and I will be as adventuresome, savvy and kind as the couple we sat with. I would also like to think that Disney will have a place as unique and wonderful as the Adventurers Club where we will be able to knowingly share a lifetime of adventures with a couple just starting their own...

To all fellow club members I lift my morning coffee and offer a heartfelt and grinning KUNGALOOSH!

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About Downtown Disney

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in the Downtown Disney category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Disney Springs is the previous category.

Golfing at Walt Disney World is the next category.

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