A Change of Heart

We are hitting the denouement of our Girls’ Trip. We packed up our bags and made our way to the front of the resort. This was the first time we actually got to see the grounds of Port Orleans Riverside in the daylight. It was quite serene.

A leisurely walk to the main building where we would be checking out.

We checked our luggage to be picked up later, then headed to our first mode of transportation. When I had planned this trip, I wanted the moms to have the best experience possible in three short days. In my eyes, Magic Kingdom is the must see for any Disney virgin. Of course, one has to experience my absolute favorite, Epcot. In order to have the most intensive experience, and keeping in mind that we weren’t going to be taking in many thrill rides like the ones that are found in Hollywood Studios (not to mention it’s a construction mess right now) or be wanting to do too much extra walking in the very spread out Animal Kingdom, I planned an extra day at Magic Kingdom to round things out. After day two we had a confab and decided that the ladies had seen all that they needed of Magic Kingdom. On a whim, this lady changed all of our reservations, plans and fastpasses and we instead went to Animal Kingdom. I’ll let you ruminate about how big a deal that is for me while we have breakfast at the Polynesian.

After some monorail transportation issues, we landed by boat at the rear of the resort. A new view for me.

Boat dock at the Poly.

New lobby’s still a hit with me.

The menu had changed a bit since our last visit. No more Pulled Pork Hash. Boo! Thankfully, my fave pancakes are still there!

Pancakes – with Macadamia Nut Butter, Pineapple Sauce and Spiced Ham (yup that’s spam)

Polynesian Egg Platter – two eggs-any style with fresh fruit poke, bakery-fresh muffin, and home-fried potatoes with your choice of spiced ham, bacon, or sausage

Tonga Toast – Banana-stuffed French Toast rolled in Cinnamon Sugar and served with a Strawberry Compote and a side of  fruit poke.

Creamy Grits – with smoked gouda

I don’t remember who had what cause we all shared. Everything was splendid as usual. The service was friendly but molasses slow. What are you gonna do? We made our way to the lobby to catch our bus to Animal Kingdom when we had a classically wonderful interaction with a cast member. She gave us all flower leis and took some photos of the girls. I believe her name was Karen. I did not take her picture, true to form.

Thanks, Karen (I think)!

Flora looking splendid.

Yo!

We made it!

While we were on the bus we learned from another guest that the Animal Kingdom Park would be closing early due to a soft opening preview of the new Pandora-World of Avatar. This would be bad news for those who were staying on for a few more days. One would want to get in a full day at any one park, especially if you didn’t have the hopper option. We however, would have to be leaving by 5:00pm anyway to catch our ride to the airport.

Sorry, folks. The moose outside shoulda told ya!

This revelation turned out to be what we Disney nerds refer to as a bit of pixie dust. Normally this park is  quite close and congested, one of the reasons I had ruled it out. We practically had free rein the whole day!

Breathtaking.

Pandora sign, newly in place.

I got to work right away making fastpasses, which was easy peasy since everyone else bailed. We made our way to Africa to take in Kilimanjaro Safari.

Gonna take a lot to take me away from you…

You guys, we were the only ones on our safari vehicle. This day was going freakin’ awesome!

Look how happy they are!

Mom, getting all the pictures.

The animals made a pretty good showing, though my pictures don’t reflect it.

After the Safari we were trying to make the next show of The Legend of the Lion King Musical. We somehow ended up on another nature trail that took us the long way around.

Excuse me, sir. Can you point me to the…sir?

Almost there!

We had just minutes to spare. Arlene was enjoying some live music from a couple singers outside and I know she wanted to stay and listen, but I coaxed her away because I knew how much she would enjoy this show!

Hakuna Matata!

Due to traveling with someone in a scooter, we got to sit right up close. By no means does this mean you get a  “free ride” by traveling with someone who has any sort of challenge. I have read and heard a lot of snark from people in the Disney community over the years about this. I can say from our experience that Disney is superb at accommodating everyone. I would also say to those able-bodied people who gripe about scooters getting on busses first or being up front; be grateful that you have the blessing of being free to move about at your will. There is no “advantage” that trumps your health. Done rant.

Wow! I can’t even wear heals.

Tumble Monkeys!

Big Finale!

We had no other plans for attractions but we decided to take a nice stroll around to some of the other lands. It was so amazing to essentially have the walkways completely empty. Just to give you an idea of how remarkable this was, here is what we encountered…

Look out for the tumble weeds!

…and here’s what was in store just a few days later!

All the nope.

We made our way to Asia. I love all the details here. Prayer flags hang all throughout.

Shrines surrounding Everest.

Maybe I’ll stay here next trip.

The clouds were rolling in. More about this later.

It was getting close to closing time. We were walking past Expedition Everest when  Meghan noticed there was just a five minute wait. She announced that she was just gonna hop on and headed over. Hey! I love Everest too!!! Wait up!

Made it just in time!

Whilst we were on the coaster, knowing our moms/grandmoms were waiting outside, we saw that storms rolling in. We got off the ride and rushed over to them but it was too late. We were all exposed and just stuck in the wide open as a freaky wild storm blew through. We got our ponchos on and tried to buckle down but moving anywhere undercover was not an option. I couldn’t document this because I stuffed my phone down into my pants…any port… but here’s a view into the kind of rain we encountered:

Again, because of these new circumstances we made some changes. I wanted to have a late lunch at Sanaa in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. However, we were drenched, so I cancelled our reservations. We all decided that some warm, dry clothes, a cocktail and  some snacks back at Port Orleans while we waited for our transit would be a better call.

Our home, sweet temporary, home.

My mom dipped into the gift shop to burn some gift cards. She scored the cutest ever jacket!

My minnie momma!

We settled into some cozy seating at the River Roost Lounge. Disney aficionados know that this is home to Yee-Ha Bob. This is also home to some tasty bar snacks. Just what we were after.

Bayou Buffalo Wings – served with celery sticks and blue cheese

Mardi Gras Fritters – house-made pimiento cheese fritters with pepper jelly

Our snacks met our immediate need but the girls craved some sweets not available at the tavern.  We reached out to the quick serve for dessert.

A magic cookie bar, Mickey Brownie, Red Velvet cake.

I am not a sweets person, but the magic cookie bar is something that is of legend, so I tried it. Oh my! So buttery good!!!

Now’s the time to say goodbye!

Before we knew it, our coach had arrived. This trip was unique to be sure. Meghan and I got such a thrill sharing such a magical place with the moms. I hope they had as good a time as I did. I’m so grateful for all these ladies in my life!

kwaheri!

Posted in Dining Review, International Travel, U. S. Travel, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World | Leave a comment

In Full Bloom

Day two is upon us. Today we will be truckin’ on over to Epcot to experience the Flower and Garden Festival. This would be my second experience with this festival, but it has vastly changed since 2009. Now, it’s pretty much a mini Food and Wine Festival. Disney must have figured out that they don’t make extra money from the people just looking at the pretty flowers. Food and booze is where it’s at. I’m all on board.

Food and Flower and Garden and Wine Festival

All gussied up!

Figment is back!

All the Ladies!

We had fastpasses for the newest version of the Soarin’ attraction. No pictures to take here, but this was a favorite of the moms. This ride works for all ages hence, it’s always crazy busy. You must have a fastpass!

Next we had a leisurely boat cruise on Livin’ with the Land.

With a couple Future World attractions down we made our way to World Showcase to take in the floral vistas…and find some grub.

Mickey says it’s this way.

Peaceful path to the butterfly garden.

This tapestry of flowers is simply stunning.

This bright color scheme wound  throughout the festival.

A place for the kiddos.

Cabbages tucked in with the flowers.

On to the food. We started in Canada. Meghan got a sort of dessert/cocktail. It was yummy, but I needed some real food.

Maple Popcorn Shake with Crown Royal Maple Whiskey

But first, beer. This flight is from one of my favorite breweries, Unibroue.

The Beer Flight:Unibroue Maudite Amber Ale, Unibroue À Tout Le Monde Saison, Unibroue Éphémère White Ale

My first bite of the day was exceptional. The brown butter vinaigrette was bomb.

Seared Scallops with French Green Beans, Buttered Potatoes, Brown Butter Vinaigrette and Apple-wood Smoke Bacon

If you can’t say anything nice….

We strolled around the grounds of Victoria Gardens. This is always spectacular year round. These plantings are not just for the festival.

Victoria Gardens

Stunning

I’m running out of adjectives already.

We were going to watch the Circle Vision movie while we were there. Some folks were murmuring about it being down so I hustled down to check it out.

The view along the way.

They had a young man stationed wayyyy down the end of a long bridge to tell us it was closed. Put that man up at the front, S’il vous plâit!

One last peek at Canada.

With a little Pixie Dust from Peter and Tink, we flew all the way to the U.K. !

Here we go!

Tink!

Her Faery House.

The band was set up but nowhere to be found.

We were doing pretty well with crowds.

Would you like a spot of tea?

We found no offerings of food to our liking in the UK so we moved on to France.

Loved the signage on this Kiosk.

We had our  very favorite taste of the festival here, It was a savory delight! It was like thanksgiving wrapped in a flakey, buttery crust! We all agreed we would loop back around and get another taste, but sadly, it never happened.

Tarte à l’Onion Alsacienne Alsatian Onion Tart with Sautéed Onions, Fresh Thyme and Rosemary on a Flaky Puff Pastry Crust

Santé

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is a creepy relationship.

Still working on this for my backyard. I’m at 0%  completion rate.

We took a stroll through me *favorite Pavilion, Morocco. No food here that we partook in.

A sweet escape is waiting for you in Morocco.

 

Empty tables in the shade. People, you need to seek out these treasures.

Keeping it artsy.

He thinks he’s better than me.

There is intricate tile work throughout.

Our next stop would be in the good ole US of A. We’d been to the American Adventure show here in the past few years, but I hadn’t heard the Voices of Liberty since our honeymoon, 28 years ago. I knew that the moms would love it!

The Voices of Liberty

This acoustically perfect rotunda allows the music to soar. Here’s a sample for your listening pleasure…

All smiles, and a couple of emotional tears.

After Voices, we saw the theater show (read: took a short nap) and headed back out for some victuals.

Hey howdy hey!

It smelled so fantastic out here.

Pulled Pig Slider with Coleslaw. Beef Brisket Burnt Ends Hash with White Cheddar Fondue and Pickled Jalapeños .

Yes, they are classifying that humungous pulled pork sandwich was billed as a slider! Both of these selections were excellent and a good value. Speaking of value, there are certain websites out there that are dedicated to all things Disney Food. While they post a lot of pretty pictures and such, some are so deep in with perks and exclusive invites from the mouse, that their reviews cannot be relied upon.  Josh from EasyWDW, however, has no such loyalties. Really, he’s as cynical as all get out. On our October trip and this latest one I followed his reviews for all our choices. He not only rates on taste, but value for what you get. Without exception, everything recommended was spot on. Thanks, Josh for eating and drinking all the things for us!

I wanted to.

Next up was Italy

Ciao Bella!

You may recall that I previously stated that I would never set foot in Tutto Gusto again. It is a cool and intimate respite from the bustle of the park but it is insanely over priced. However, when Meghan wants to go somewhere, you just do. I did think Arlene would love it. I sucked it up.

It does have its charms.

Some sort of Italian cocktail.

Ladies and gentleman, a TEN DOLLAR cannoli.

Yeah, it made me grumpy too.

With that business behind us, we made our way to Germany.

The Platz.

We did a walk through of The Karmel Kuche simply for the aromas.

Oh my goodness.

Just heavenly.

I felt well guarded.

Germany is always great for a Beer and a Bratwurst, tasty and reasonably priced. For the festival, there were some other tempting options.

Currywurst with Paprika Chips – Roasted Bratwurst with Curry Ketchup and Paprika-spiced Chips

Potato Pancakes with House-made Apple Sauce

The Currywurst and chips were pretty straightforward and awesome. I just wished they put the ketchup to the side so I could regulate the ratio. Just nitpicking here. The potato pancake paired with  applesauce was a surprisingly savory delight. The herb laced pancake paired a low sugar apple sauce made for a perfect  coupling of savory and sweet.

A dunkel, I believe.

I failed to notice the violent thunderstorm headed our way. I see it now.

No trip to World Showcase is considered valid without the consumption of a School Bread from Norway. It’s in the charter.

Norway’s Stave Church.

Meghan ran inside to purchase our pastry when all heck-fire rain broke loose. She was stuck undercover, but we had to find refuge in a bathroom doorway. We made fast friends with all the other folks seeking shelter.

Meghan did a superb job protecting the goods.

The rain left as quickly as it rolled in so we were good to move on to Mexico.

Gorgeous orchid displays.

Keeping it gallery quality on the pics.

We just did a quick loop around. The tequila bar was too packed after the rain to be considered and the Three Caballeros ride seemed a bit tough to board.

We did get to see Mexican Donald. Olé!

Three Caballeros in floral form.

More fantastic topiaries and the from of Worldshowcase.

I need these guys to work in my garden.

Sunset was looking brilliant at this point.

We decided to loop back around to the UK to have a pint and regroup.

Cheers!

We discussed our strategy for the rest of the evening, specifically watching Illuminations. We were getting a bit weary, so I decided to try and snag a reservation with good viewing. I was able to get us in to La Hacienda, however they stuck us in a windowless section of the restaurant. Boo! We ordered our food and drinks, then when the show was about to begin I made the girls hustle out to see the show. It worked out okay I guess. It was pretty remarkable how hungry we were after grazing all day, but here we are!

Taquiza – taco sampler featuring grilled chicken with green tomatillo sauce, grilled steak with roasted chipotle sauce and rajas poblanas, pork chilorio served with queso fresco, and a battered fish served with a mayo-chipotle sauce topped with cabbage

Queso Fundido – melted cheese with chorizo, poblano and serrano peppers, avocado-tomatillo sauce, and flour tortillas

Pork Empanadas (no pic of those. Just the beans. dang it)- corn dough empanadas stuffed with pork, and black beans; topped with mole sauce

I had hoped to do a late night stroll but we were all plum tuckered out and the ladies already got a full Epcot experience. You can’t for better than that.

G’night, muchachos.

Another successful outing. Thanks, Epcot!

*They’re all my favorite.

Up Next: This uber planner throws the itinerary away. Yikes!

 

Posted in Dining Review, U. S. Travel, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World | Leave a comment

Your Mother and Mine

The end of a Disney trip is always sad, that’s a given. The only thing that alleviates the slight depression of that inevitability is the hope that someday, even years in the future, we’ll be back again. You can imagine my pure joy, when while we were yet still in the middle of our epic nine day October trip,  Jeff suggested that we plan another trip just six months in the future! This however, would be a much different situation. Neither my mom or Jeff’s had ever been to Disney World. We decided there and then that this was the time to do it, even if it put us into debt (it didn’t). We also decided that this would be a Girl’s  Only Trip. Sorry, Jeff. We got my daughter Meghan on board and as soon as we returned home I began to make plans for a three day jaunt down to the most Magical Place on Earth!

I broke from my usual Pop Century Resort and instead went with Port Orleans Riverside. The rooms are slightly bigger and have queen beds as opposed to full. It also has pretty grounds that I felt the moms would prefer over the cartoonish Pop theming.

Port Orleans

Some pretty plantings.

Grand Reception Area

Moderate resort=fake flowers. We’ll see real ones later.

My mother-in-law has been struggling with bad knees for sometime now. Surgery is in the future, but for this trip we arranged for a scooter.

Is she not the cutest?

Our flight was in the wee hours of the morning, so we were at the entrance of the Magic Kingdom before 11:30 am.

Back home.

I got some buttons hoping the moms would get some special attention.

Main Street looking fine as ever.

We got to see a bit of the Trolley Show.

The new garden areas are such a nice addition.

Crystal Palace

Hibiscus Blooms

We headed over to Adventureland for our first attraction of the day.

Adventureland

I wanted to do something classic right out of the gate, so I chose the “Jungle Cruise”.

We got such a great skipper!!!

“Let me point out some of my favorite plants. Those over there, that one, this other one.”

“Anyone know what kind of snake this is? Starts with a P? Yup, plastic.”

“This head hunter’s business is shrinking.”

“The backside of water!!!”

 

This guy loves all the corny jokes.

The moms seemed to enjoy this one. Whew. I was really impressed by my first experience touring with someone in a scooter. With all the times I’ve been here, I really hadn’t taken notice of the logistics of these situations. The cast members were great every step of the way. Each attraction was a little different. Sometimes there was a completely different entrance, other rides just required a helping hand. Fortunately Arlene was able to transfer off and on the scooter, but they even have contingencies for those who can’t. We quickly learned what worked and didn’t for us in particular. Low light in winding queues proved too much of a challenge so we simply avoid them. All in all the scooter was such a blessing!

Next up was one that I thought the moms might bail on, Splash Mountain. We stood in front and let them see the big drop and decide for themselves.

The big drop!

I was kinda surprised that they both decided to go for it!

We got to enter through the exit on this one.

We got totally soaked and they loved it!

A quick castle pic.

We moseyed back to Main Street because we had other business to attend to.

Main Street, gorgeous from any angle.

Look at her go!

 

Artsy angle

 

Ok, now she’s just leaving us in the dust.

We made our way to the stunning Grand Floridian Resort where we would be having High Tea. Please reread that sentence in your best Buckingham Palace accent.

A stunner.

Couldn’t you spend all afternoon on one of those couches?

I have never experienced tea and the Grand Floridian. Frankly, it really didn’t interest me. I’m more of a cocktails kinda gal (loyal readers just uttered a collective “yeah, you are!”) and it’s pretty pricey to boot. Anyhoo, Meghan adores tea and I knew the moms would be smitten with this gorgeous resort.

Mrs. Potts greeted us at the Garden View Tearoom.

More pretty designs.

We arrived for the first seating and scored a window table over looking the fabulous grounds.

Look closely, friends. Thats Cinderella’s coach right there.

Weddings frequently take place at a pavilion here at the resort. If you are interested in getting married here, I suggest you elope. It’s crazy expensive. Case in point:

Arrival in Cinderella’s coach complete with miniature white ponies and costumed footmen costs a mere $2,950.

Back to our tea. The tables were set beautifully.

Beautiful, fresh flowers.

Elegant little touches.

Oh, I guess I did have a tipple too.

Veuve Clicquot Champagne. A good value at $15 a glass considering a bottle ranges from $40-$80.

Keeping cozy.

The tea service consists of different packages including sandwiches, desserts, scones etc. You can go all out with champagne and caviar or just do the bare minimum, but everyone at the table is required to order a set selection. I wish you could share, because even the barest package is too much food.

My mother-in-law chose a set that included a fruit and cheese plate. It looked lovely and she really enjoyed it. The only trouble was that our server waited until she was completely though with that extra course before presenting our teeny sandwiches. At this point, we had only eaten the crackers that they give you on the plane, so we were all pretty dang hungry.

Selection of exotic fruits and imported cheeses.

Finally the sandwiches arrived!! All of these were quite tasty. Loved the onion tart.

Tasty selection of tea sandwiches included: Egg salad, Curried Chicken, cucumber with cream cheese, goat cheese and roasted tomato, and a lovely little onion tart.

A fluffy, warm scone served with lemon curd, clotted cream, and apricot jam and a side car of a jam tart.

I lapped up that curd even after the scone was gone. So good!

Desserts! Make note of the Macrons, that’s my only shot of them even though they were my favorite.

Trifle

A cream puff swan along with a juicy chocolate dipped strawberry.

The desserts were by far our least favorite. All the other girls ordered the trifle pictured above, so there were three of those! I chose the plate with the macron, swan and strawberry. The trifle just tasted like jello pudding. Not worth the calories, though the presentation was beautiful. The strawberry was a strawberry, fine. The swan was chewy, obviously filled way ahead of time and refrigerated, not good for cream puffs. However, the two tiny macrons were just perfect. Crispy outside with a nice soft chew. If I ever do this again, I may try to trade the lot for a half dozen macrons.

We were stuffed. We lingered in the lobby for a bit enjoying some live piano music.

I’d hate to cross paths with the bird that escaped this cage.

Flower arrangment.

These are real. That’s what you get when you go deluxe.

A teensy sitting area for the kiddos.

We made our way back to the Magic Kingdom for a few more attractions.

The clouds start a rollin’ in.

We started in Tomorrowland. Keeping it classic, we went right to the Carousel of Progress. Some yahoo stood up during the show so they had to reset it. This meant we got to watch a very long show scene twice through. I’m two for two on fails at C.O.P.

Tomorrowland. The least of the lands.

We also hit Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. No pics, sorry. This show is always a hoot. It got a bit squirmy when one of the character actors in the show innocently asked a gentleman how he knew the lady next to him. His response? “She’s my lover.” EEEWWW!!!! You’re in Disney for Pete’s sake.

Tomorrowland Speedway, still open.

The Little Mermaid attraction. This is where we discovered that dark and windy queues were our enemy.

Believe it or not, it was time to get ourselves to our dinner destination.

The sky was starting to look pretty ominous.

We stopped for a little ragtime piano. Support live music!

We hopped on a boat for a pleasant ride over to the Wilderness Lodge.

Beautiful sunset happening.

Oh my. Those clouds.

My goal here was to show the moms as many of the deluxe resorts as possible. This resort is just as impressive as the Grand but with a wholly opposite design esthetic.

The rugged landscape of Wilderness Lodge.

A lovely spot to perch yourself on a late spring afternoon.

Hot Springs

This lobby.

I hoped we’d have time for a cocktail in the lounge but we were just on time for our dinner reservation at Artist Point.

Artist Point Entrance

The art deco design is warm, yet elegant.

As soon as we were seated comfortably at our table, the heavens ripped open with the most intense rainstorm. We dodged disaster by mere minutes. On to dinner!

Signature restaurants at Disney have been nailing the bread.

And salted butter.

Meghan ordered herself an Old Fashioned. I thought that was a capitol idea!

A perfectly crafted cocktail.

I’ll tell you right off the bat that our dinner was superb. Even beyond that, our server was simply delightful. She was warm and attentive yet gave us our space. As usual, I neglected to take a photo of this cutie pie. She was a doll.

I was not yet super hungry so I ordered and appetizer. This turned out to be wise as it turned out to be an entrée size portion. The Israeli Cous-Cous, not listed on the menu description, made it quite hearty.

Steamed Mussels and Clams Lemon, Huille d’Olive, Spring Herbs, Artisan Bread

Both moms had these scallops. Raves all around.

Seared Diver Sea Scallops Charred Broccoli, Petit Potato, Hibiscus, Blooms

Meghan went the appetizer route too, a soup and salad to beat the band. Look at the glorious composition of these Land Greens! The smoky mushroom soup is an Artist Point classic.

Land Greens: Florida Peaches, Radish, Seed Granola, Goat’s Milk Cheese, Peach Vinaigrette. Smoked Mushroom Bisque Wild Nettle Pistou, Sunflower Seed, Salsify

What phenomenal meal! Perhaps we should end with a cognac?

Perhaps not.

Let’s make it a beer. Bear Republic Racer 5.

He made our way back to the dock to catch our boat and begin our journey back to Port Orleans. We had a sprinkle or two but no real damage considering the Typhoon that occurred during dinner! We even caught a bit of the new Happily Ever After fireworks. It was an exhausting, but a good first day.

A good day indeed.

Up Next: Flower (Food) & Garden at Epcot!

Posted in Dining Review, U. S. Travel, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World | Leave a comment

Games People Play

With the breathtaking vistas of the Falls being completely ensconced by fog, we turned to the other, tackier side of the area, the tourist traps! I had no idea that this section of town existed. What an interesting juxtaposition of (supposed) natural beauty and commerce.

I guess I have to believe it.

Feels like we’re back in Salem.

🎶🎶🎶🎶

If you like to talk to tomatoes…🎶

There’s always a Rainforest Café

None of the previous attractions pulled us in. We needed to find an appropriate place to regroup.

Found it!

The place was cool and empty.

The goods, brewing.

You know you’re in Canada when there’s a curling match on the telly.

Because this place was a micro brewery, the selection was slim and sadly, not very good.

I believe this was a Brown Ale. Meh.

Didn’t dampen our spirits. Cheers!

We got a few apps for the table. Everything was served in abundance, and pretty tasty. I was uncharacteristically still not hungry yet. Stupid stomach.

tortilla chips & guac hand mashed avocado, fresh lime, cilantro, garlic and green chillies served with pico de gallo

The person who was in charge of “hand smashing” the guac must need to work on his upper body strength. The avocados were practically still whole, not that we were complaining!

warm soft pretzels seasoned rock salt pretzel with BEERDEVIL IPA cheese sauce or 3 cheese pretzel with house-made marinara sauce

charcuterie board cured meats, toasted crostini, raw & pickled vegetables with a sage white bean spread

We waited out the downpours for another beer and headed back to Toronto proper.

Au Revior!

Matt spotted a couple record shops in town so we went about exploring.

Poor pooch.

I believe the boy found a record or two.

When I was researching for this trip I found a travel show hosted by Anthony Bourdain wherein here spends thirty-six hours in a city. Yes, it was Toronto. He stopped into a little Japanese knife shop that supplied blades which even the chef himself said were way out of his league. I thought Matt, who has outpaced me by a mile in cookery, would enjoy a look see.

Tosho Knife in Toronto.

Amazing collections.

More detail oriented tools.

Baby’s first chef knife.

Matt did not come away with a new knife, but did buy a sharpening stone and a stone to maintain your sharpening stone. He’s practicing.

We had designs on seeing some live music, but that wouldn’t be happening for a few more hours. Food was already taken care of so we were at a bit of a loss. Matt did what any young millennial would do, he took it to Reddit. A quick inquiry yielded a peculiar result, a coffee shop / bar which hosts board games.

Snakes and Lattes

This place was fascinating. Let me set the table: this was a Tuesday night and the place was jam packed. Every seat was full. They also charged a $6.00 cover charge just to get in. I balked but the gang wanted to go for it.

Packed to the gills.

A huge plus was that they had my very favorite beer on draft, and dirt cheap! Well, it is a Canadian Brewery so I guess it just a domestic beer here.

Unibroue fin du Monde

Here’s how it works. There is a game master that will come around to your table, ask you a few questions about what you’re into and then he selects a few games that may fit the bill.

Our game master giving us an overview of his selections.

You can also just pick and choose on your own. Our first choice was a dice game Matt had played before.

This was fun and fast. I can’t remember the rules now.

This one had a pretty board. It was more of a strategy game.

The winner of the night was a word game called Code Names. We could have played it all night.

Code Name laid out to play.

There was a lot of serious thinkin’ going on here.

We had such a great experience, Matt wanted to go back the next night. We never did, but we did buy the game to play at home. We’ve bullied some friends into playing with us. I was simply floored by this business. How remarkable, in the middle of a work week, to have a full house of young people playing analogue games together in real life! There were no groups of people staring at  phones and ignoring each other. Everyone was chatting and having a real, interactive, good old fashioned time.

Our  bellies were starting to rumble to we decided to forgo the music idea and get some food. When in Canada, you must have poutine. The thing is, most poutineries (I made that up) are walk up stands with no seats, from what I could tell. I wanted to sit somewhere and be cozy. I found a cool looking Irish bar instead.

Flynn’s Temple Bar

Guinness!

My family did not agree with my comfort over quality strategy. They thought the poutine was decidedly average and being chilly and rained on is always worth it for good poutine. I guess I have to agree. We would have amazing poutine before this trip was through.

So-so fries, curds and gravy.

Not pictured were the chicken wings Matt ordered. They were tossed with Chef Patrick’s hot sauce, sounds tasty enough but guys, they were served with maple ranch dipping sauce!!! Maple ranch??? I cannot recall tasting anything as disagreeable as this sauce. Absolutely gross. Canadians, keep your maple syrup on your pancakes and we’ll keep our ranch on our salads down here in America.  We don’t need to mingle.

Meg got herself a nice wedge of bread pudding to finish up. I may have stolen a forkful.

And that was a wrap for today. Honestly we could have drank beer and played board games without flying five hundred miles to Toronto, but this trip was really all about spending time together, and at home there are always too many distractions. I’m sticking with that.

Up Next: The weather continues to be a jerk. 

Posted in Dining Review, International Travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cold, Cold Toronto

Have you ever made a decision you were initially excited about and then spent every subsequent moment doubting said decision? That sums up my apprehension about this family trip to Toronto. For the past several Christmases, Jeff and I have planned an event such as seeing a concert or a show of some sort in town, along with a fancy meal, as a gift for the kids instead buying a whole mess of presents. This year things were a bit more challenging. Our oldest would not be coming home. So sad, I know. He was  living in Illinois with a new job and couldn’t take the time off before the first of the year. We were brain storming about driving out to see him or perhaps meeting halfway somewhere, when Jeff blurted out that we should meet in Toronto. “It’s a great city!” he said. He’d been many times for work. It’s just an hour from the Niagara Falls, which was on my bucket list, so I was more than game. After a flurry of coordination of dates and work schedules we booked flights and hotel and Boom! We were all going to fly to Toronto for five days.

Sounds great so far, right? Then came the second guessing. Guys, this is Toronto in JANUARY! It was undoubtedly going to be crazy cold! With all the cash we were spending on flights, we could have easily taken a cruise to the Caribbean for Pete’s sake! But plans were made so I set about doing all the research I could about what to do in this hip city (read: where to eat).

Flights were uneventful. After some confusion about where to pick up our rental car and a wonky GPS we made our way to the bar I picked out for our first meal.

Bar Hop. Beer-Food-Life. That’s about right.

It looked a bit dark as we approached, but thank goodness it was open.

See.

This was a Monday night, and still the place was buzzing with young, hip clientele.

Bzzzz

Specials for the night.

Always with the Edison lights.

Now we’re on vacation!

All was right with the world.

To be honest, I chose this spot mostly as a place to land after a long day. I figured it would be beer and burgers. Not so, this was by far the best food we had on the entire trip and *spoiler alert* it would not be our last meal here.

Savoury Garlic Doughnuts Fried to order with Parmesan & Bone Marrow Aioli

House Wings Jerk Marinade with Chipotle Slaw and Grilled Lime

The mussels were served with both baguette AND frites! Love this place.

Every dish above was just stunning. The wings were the stand out. They were smoky, well seasoned and simply fell off the bone. The accompaniments of the slaw and lime were perfect with the jerk seasoning. Nothing irks me more than the tendency of kitchens to plonk a cup of bleu cheese dressing alongside wings, no matter the flavor. Thai chili wings and blue cheese? Are you high?

We finished the meal with a round of scotch and a dessert, a rarity for us. The dessert, not the scotch.

Don’t remember what this was.

Butter Tart

The butter tart, I later learned, is considered one of Canada’s, specifically Ontario’s, quintessential desserts. This tart was delicate and sweet, a perfect ending to an exceptional meal.  Our bellies were so very happy. It was time to  head over to our hotel. Fingers crossed it would be as nice as the website made it appear.

I snapped blurry pictures of the city along the way.

The hotel was just great. It had free and safe parking and the facade was impressive (You’ll see pictures in the daylight later). Check-in was painless as well. So far, things are going pretty great!

Floral arrangements graced the reception area.

Domed ceiling

Interior hallway.

Funky light fixtures.

We reserved a suite so we could all have a little privacy. The appointments were a little worn but, all in all, the space was just what we needed.

One of two double beds.

For writing your correspondence.

Kitchenette

A splendid view!

First try.

Meghan loves a robe.

The bathroom was clean and serviceable.

We crashed hard and I can say that the bed was super comfortable. Our stay included breakfast so we made our way to the dining room to check it out.

Coffee? Um yes.

A fine spread.

Just a few slices of bacon.

Pretty iron railing detail.

All my consternation about how cold it may be was completely unfounded.  We were graced with temperatures in the forties….and pouring rain. This was the day that we had set aside to visit Niagara Falls. We finished up breakfast and made the trip. I was hoping things would break, but alas.

A view of the rain and the empty parking lot at Niagara Falls.

We grabbed some Canadian ponchos on the way.

Toughing out the rain was no biggie, but with all the fog, the falls were just about invisible.

Well, we could see a tiny bit of it.

Here’s what I absolutely love about my family; this was a bummer of a situation and we just had a laugh about it. Quote of the day was from Matt: “I think I can see it!”.

Who’s having a blast? This goofy family,

Coming Up: How does one wait out the rain? More beer!

Posted in Dining Review, International Travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Long Goodbye

The final day has arrived, but we mustn’t be sad because, my goodness, did we have such an amazing time on this adventure. However, I would have stayed another day or two if Disney had offered. They didn’t. We checked out of our modest digs at Pop Century, stored our bags and skipped on over to the Polynesian Resort for some breakfast. That’s right folks, I got up early enough for a proper breakfast on vacation.  Mountains can be moved.

The stunning tropical gardens at the Poly entrance.

Breakfast at Kona Café

I made a reservation at Kona for ten o’clock. Hey, I said breakfast, not the crack of dawn! We’d been to Kona once before and had the infamous Tonga toast. It was pretty awesome, but we decided to change it up this time.

Mr. Jones enjoyed a Bloody Mary.

We both enjoyed the press pot coffee. Superb!

The portions and the quality of of all the breakfast entrées here are exceptionally good. I chose the Macadamia-Pineapple pancakes. For about $13.00 you get three gorgeous fruit and nut packed pancakes which could easily be shared amongst two or three people plus your choice of bacon, sausage or ham. There are at least $10.00 worth of nuts alone in these babies. They were fantastic. I did my best but had to leave most behind.

Macadamia-Pineapple Pancakes – with Macadamia Nut Butter, Pineapple Sauce, and your choice of Ham, Bacon, or Sausage

Jeff had this savory extravaganza. Once again this was just $13.00. If this dish was moved to the dinner menu, it would surely be at least twenty bucks. He enjoyed it, along with a good portion of my pancakes.

Poached Eggs with Hollandaise served over Smoked Pulled Pork Hash

This was a great start to a low key day. One wouldn’t want to rush out to use their Space Mountain fastpasses right after such an indulgence. We waddled back over to the Magic Kingdom to take in a few more attractions.

Another look at the gardens.

Walking from the monorail.

The crowds were pretty light, once again.

Main Street putting on a show all by itself.

Following my own advice, we strolled over to Liberty Square for a leisurely ride on the titular riverboat.

The Liberty Belle.

We went right to the top in case the captain needed a hand.

Taking a ride on the riverboat, train or the people mover affords one the opportunity to see the parks from a whole different angle.

Frontierland from above,

The rafts that take you to Tom Sawyer’s Island. We didn’t get there this trip. Next time.

Walkways around Big Thunder Railroad

Big Thunder was having a major facelift.

Back on the riverboat, we nosed around the “captain’s quarters” looking at the artwork. I’m sure there is a backstory behind each picture.

A cushy place to rest.

Dear reader(s), you may remember how excited I was about seeing Great Moments in History Presented by the Muppets. There are two different shows, and we were lucky enough to get to see the second of the two. This one was even better than the first! This time there was an actual live cast member helping narrate the story of the Declaration of Independence.

Our Town Crier.

There was some live singing.

The staging of the muppets was different as well.

What are these guys al looking at?

It’s Sam Eagle!

Both shows were great but this one had much more going on.  Next, we took a leisurely walk through to Fantasyland.

The vistas can’t be beat.

Now we were just tidying up. We’ve visited the Little Mermaid dark ride out in Disney’s California Adventure. It was fine. The new iteration here is the same exact ride, but they went all out with the show building and queue here.

Prince Eric’s Castle.

A grotto along the queue.

Rock work and lanterns.

There were many more details inside, but it was way too dark for pictures. Nice job, though.

Scuttle giving us the 411 on Ariel.

Just about how fluffy I felt after this trip.

It all worked out.

On to Storybook Circus. There’s not much to do here, unless you have small children that you want to get soaked for the rest of the day.

Change of clothes is a necessity if you bring your toddler here!

I find this area a little cluttered, though the theming is cute. There’s also highly themed meet and greets in one of the tents. We popped in for a look-see.

Gawrsh! Looking good, Goofy!

 

Floral carpet.

A stage show happening on the Castle stage.

We circled back around for one last journey through the Haunted Mansion.

A unique angle.

Proper use of the plural possessive.

We started to slowly make our way to the front of the park. Friends, there is no way to describe how difficult it is to leave the MagicKingdom on that last day. No matter how long your trip is or how exhausted and full of food and memories you are, it’s always a sad one.

Dang it’s beautiful here.

A last look down Main Street USA.

Buh bye, Mickey.

We had time for one last meal before we had to head back to the hotel. We had hit all the monorail resorts except the Contemporary so we hopped on the monorail and fix that.

Contemporary, here we come!

View from the monorail back to the Seven Seas Lagoon.

The Mary Blair Mosaic

The Contemporary has a few choices for dining, the most celebrated being the California Grille. We had a smashing meal there with a view of the Wishes fireworks a few trips back. Alas, this is a dinner only joint so no view of anything would be had today. Instead we went inside the dark cavern that is the Wave.

Feels like entering a time machine.

It was pretty quiet.

We bellied up to the bar for a couple of brews.

This place a has great reputation for excellent, locally sourced and reasonably priced food, especially breakfast. It’s also known for being quite plain and boring on the theming. I have to agree.

The waiting area adjacent to the lounge- I call it the Boom Boom room.

That being said, if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the parks or even the presence of the mouse for a bit, this is the place to go. We weren’t super hungry so we  just split a sammie.

My half of a Grilled chicken sandwich.

We thoroughly enjoyed our respite at the Wave. We had less than an hour before we needed to catch our bus back to the airport. The trip was really over, but then we did something kinda crazy. Jeff suggested we hustle back to the Magic Kingdom for one last goodbye. I know, ridiculous right?

We walk/ran all the way back, went through security and walked under the railroad arch just for this:

This may be getting out of hand.

After one missed flight, meeting a good friend for the first time, drinking rum out of a pineapple on the Poly beach, rocking a Halloween party, successfully eating and drinking around the World and personally closing down Epcot, meeting a Wookie,  seeing Animal Kingdom in its night time splendor, eating more fried chicken than a descent human being should at Hoop-Dee-Doo, seeing real live Muppets, taking a backstage tour and conquering the Food and Wine festival it was really, finally time to go home.

Until next time.

So here ends our epically long, adventure filled, food and drink fest. What is the best way to cope? Plan another trip! That’s right my friends. May 2017, I’m headed back for an all girls trip!!! My mom and mother-in-law will be joining me and my daughter for their first Disney experience ever!!!

See Ya real soon!

Posted in Dining Review, U. S. Travel, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World | Leave a comment

Let It Grow

Today we’ll be making our way back to Epcot. If you recall, on our last visit I tried to ignore the Food & Wine Festival and just focus on the original eleven countries. We mostly stuck to that plan. Today we’re all about fully diving into the festival.

Another text book perfect day in Orlando.

The Fountain of Nations putting on a show for us

Mickey’s got the Weber fired up !

First, we had a bit of business to do in Norway.

Grass Roof over the new Frozen meet and greet.

Norway’s village square with traditional architectural elements designed to represent the towns and cities of Bergen, Oslo, Alesund and Setesdahl.

We had fastpasses for the new Frozen Attraction. When Frozen fever broke out a few years back, it was no surprise that Disney would be interjecting the chilly sisters wherever possible. What was not expected was that this attraction would be replacing a fan favorite in World Showcase, Maestrom. Admittedly, Maestrom was long in the tooth and needed an update, but it represented the country of Norway. Arendelle, the setting for Frozen, is fictional! This seemingly goes against the whole intent of World Showcase. What’s more, this attraction could have easily been tucked into Magic Kingdom or Hollywood studios and would have potentially been met with ubiquitous praise, but anon, here we are trying desperately to justify this decision.

A foreign intruder!

All this being said, they did a fantastic job with the ride itself. It’s a typical dark ride, but using all the newest and best animatronic technology. A great addition to the parks in general, just maybe not for World Showcase.  On to the food!

Stunning details in China.

The thing about Food & Wine is that it’s gotten way out of hand with the pricing. I love the little tastings, but you can easily drop $50 on just a couple booths. One is much better positioned to have a good experience if time is taken to look over all the choices. I sought out legit reviews. I say legit because there are Disney Food Blogs that are a little too willing to put a positive spin on everything Disney does. Believe it or not, there are some who are willing to sacrifice objectivity for free stuff (Crazy, I know). Not helpful. I stuck with a Disney blogger who is rather cynical about the Mouse. His booth by booth reviews not only rated how tasty (or terrible) the items were, but what value they held. Using this metric, we made pretty out darn good.

We’ll start in South Korea. You might recognize the Pork Lettuce Wrap from our first night at Food & Wine, though the picture was dark, and slightly blurry as if taken by a buzzed blogger. Both of these were yummy and a nice light start to the day.

Korean-style BBQ Beef with Steamed Rice and Cucumber Kimchi

Roasted Pork Lettuce Wrap and Kimchi

It was about time for some beer. Germany seemed like a solid bet.

Brewers Collection Booth, very popular.

Today’s selections.

I snapped my way around while Jeff stood in line, the dear.

German Chalet with JJ Abrams lens flare.

The train set set in Germany is maximum.

Wishing Well where you may see Snow White. Not today.

We couldn’t decide what to get, but no worries, there was a sampler. I’m in a real IPA place right now, so none of these were something I would tend to order. It was nice to have a wee taste of everything.

Schöfferhofer Zitrone Weizen-Mix, Hacker-Pschorr Hefe Weisse, Radeberger Zwickel Pilsner (Unfiltered)

We tend to just skip the good ole’ USA but they had an interesting offering this year.

The American Adventure

The Hops and Barley Booth is super cute.

Smoked Beef Brisket and Pimento Cheese served on Griddled Garlic Toast and a Anchor Liberty Ale (I think, it was a long time ago).

Why is it that the dish that looks like dog sick is always the most tasty? This was a real winner. My only critique would be that they could have eased up on the butter for the bread, and I love butter.

Despite my negative ramblings about Food & Wine, the rest of the free world must not agree because it continues to be insanely popular, so much so that it has crept over into Future World. The past couple of years the talk show The Chew has been hosting an area that includes modern, organically themed dishes.

We had the Ricotta Ravioli. It was aamzing and I forgot to take a picture.

The Chew Collective

We had the ravioli. It was amazing and I forgot to take a picture.

Our view as we ate the phantom ravioli.

We were approaching time for our next Fastpass which was for Turtle Talk With Crush. This show is seemingly for children but it’s an absolute hoot for adults too, especially if said adults have a little buzz going.

Pre-gaming for Crush!!!

Always a good time.

So next up today we would be doing something we have NEVER, EVER done before! We’re taking a backstage tour! There’s a wide range of Disney tours offered around all the parks that vary in price and time commitment. This is the very cheapest tour and only takes up an hour. You gotta start somewhere!  We are going on the “Behind The Seeds Tour” in the Land Pavilion.

Livin’ with land…

I had considered doing this tour, but thought Jeff would be bored. Turns out he was the one that suggested it! Score one for me on my  subliminal indoctrination game. About ten of us gathered up in the Land Pavilion and were greeted by our guide.

Our guide’s backside.

At our first stop we saw a brief video and got a lesson on how Disney breeds “good bugs” to be released into the greenhouse to eat the “bad bugs”.  What I found most interesting is how this environment, which is basically a sterile “bio-dome”, still struggles with all the pests and diseases with which I battle and usually fail.

Plants hosting said good bugs.

Of course.

From here we moved outdoors to a large window that looked into the Biotechnology Lab. We couldn’t go in cause it was all sterile and whatnot, we just got to stare into the window. Here, we were told how Disney propagates new plants from clippings.

Plants being propogated in mason jars. So hipster.

At the end of the tour you have the opportunity to by one of these clippings. Guess which guest (sucker) bought one. Yup.

How is my ‘lil plant faring? If you make it to the end of this endless blog,  you’ll find out!

The remainder of the tour took place in the greenhouses of  “Living with the Land”.  As a long time visitor of Epcot, being in the actual attraction was the most exciting part!

Who you lookin’ at?

This section mostly entailed the explanation of all the hydroponic gardens. Very cool.

You too can hydroponic at home!

Next we were introduced to the Mimosa pudica or the sensitive plant also known as the sleepy plant, touch-me-not, or shy plant. We’ll stick with Sensitive plant.

This is Stanley. He’s sensitive.

Below is a video showing Stanley in action.

We got to sample some cucumbers grown right here. Disney claims that these greenhouses supply many of the on site restaurants. I find that a bit hard to believe, but ok.

This guy on the right considered himself a bit of an expert. I guess it was because he was a biologist or something.  Whatever.

More hydroponic stuff….

I thought this one was pretty artsy. See the hidden Mickey?

 

Hey, it’s the gang!

This is a nine pound lemon tree. One lemon makes a gallon of lemonade. One of the few facts I’ve retained.

Next was a tour of  the Aquaculture tanks. Here they farm tilapia and such.  We got the opportunity to feed the fish. Just getting close to the tanks made them freak out.

Aquaculture area.

Always with the hidden Mickeys.

We made our way backwards as the tour wrapped up.

Another artsy pic from moi.

This is a Miracle Fruit bush. If you ate one of these berries before taking a bite of your nine pound lemon, it would taste super sweet.

Miracle Fruit

 

One last Mickey.

This was a great take. We learned (and then forgot) a ton about plants and the science of improving crops. Plus, we got to go “backstage” for the first time. It was only twenty bucks a person. With  some tours running into the hundreds of dollars, this was a great deal.

All this learnin’ was making us hungry again. Back to the festival!

Food & Wine signage

The sun was get low in the sky on this stunning day.

Jolly olde England looking dapper today.

Next on my list of must try dishes was at the Morocco booth.

Spicy Hummus Fries with Cucumber, Tomato, Onions and Tzatziki Sauce

This may well have been my favorite bite of the Festival. You might assume that these are just a rectangular version of falafel. Not so, friends. These were miraculous fried sticks of creamy hummus. I’m not sure how they accomplished this, but hats off to the chef!

A stroll past Japan.

Gorgeous.

Each year during the Food & Wine Festival, guests have the added bonus of daily concerts. Most of the acts are admittedly those that can’t fill stadiums anymore but quality, none the less. We were fortunate enough to be there when the inimitable Chaka Khan was performing!

She’s there on the stage behind the Minnie ears.

I really adore Chaka Kahn, but sitting in the bleachers for forty five minutes and not exploring World Showcase is too difficult for me. We stood in the back and listened to a couple of songs and moved on. She was fantastic by the way.

This sunset.

China was the setting for our next snack.

Beijing Roasted Duck in a Steamed Bun with Hoisin Sauce

Kung Fu Punch with Smirnoff Vodka and Bols Triple Sec

Two excellent selections indeed.

Come on! It’s so pretty.

One of the boat docks where you can catch a boat to cut across the lagoon.

Jeff went rogue off my list a few times. This was one of them. It wasn’t very good if I recall. This is what happens when you ignore my research.

Seared Venison Loin with Wild Mushroom Marsala Sauce and Kumara Dumpling

Nobilo Icon Pinot Noir. It was serviceable.

You guys…

Next we visited the Islands of the Caribbean which is right at the cusp between World Showcase and Future World.

Charming Signage

Vibrant Plantings

This little plaza had lovely views.

Pescado don Coco – Seared Grouper, Pigeon Peas, and Rice with Coconut Sauce

Jamaican Beef Patty

Both of our tasting were excellent. The Beef Patty looked so plain but was bursting with Island spices. I loved it!

It was still relatively early, but we were full and getting a bit tired. I proposed that we make it an early night. I know, this doesn’t seem like me at all. I usually try my best to stretch the most out of every Disney day. The thing is, we had had the most amazing eight days and I was so very grateful and happy. This was the point in the trip where I cried. I thought that I would sob when I saw the Castle, or when I finally got to hug Ashley for the first time, but it was in the looking back that I just couldn’t contain how immensely blessed I felt to have experienced all of this.

It was time.

We had just enough steam for a night cap. Pop Century resort is not the most luxurious, to be sure, but they have the decency to offer a proper bar.

Thank goodness.

We bellied up and had a couple cocktails. I don’t remember what we had. The bartender suggested something and I’m sure we enjoyed it. While we were imbibing, a gentleman approached the bar. He had obviously had a few ahead of time. He offered up enough to get an understanding that he was here with the misses and a couple kids and he was totally burnt out. I felt bad for him. It looks so good in the brochures for families, but let’s face it, Disney can be totally overwhelming. It takes planning to near obsession to arrange an actual relaxing vacation. But done right, it can be an absolutely extraordinary experience.

 

So, how’s my plant doing?

It’s alive! And showing how long it’s taking me to blog this trip! Geesh.

Up Next: Gird yourselves, it’s the last day.

Posted in Dining Review, U. S. Travel, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World | Leave a comment

Let’s Walk That-Away

For some people, there are other important things in life besides Disney. I know, crazy right? Today the New England Patriots would be facing off against the Pittsburg Steelers and Mr. Jones couldn’t imagine not catching it. Being a dutiful wife, I did a little calling ahead to find out where the game might be broadcast. The consensus was that the ESPN Zone at the BoardWalk would be our best bet.

The BoardWalk area resorts. So lovely.

Surprise, Lady! You’re in my blog.

We were running a little close to the bone time-wise. When we arrived, there was a line out the door! Oh, dear.

Guess all these people have their priorities mixed up too,

I had another card up my sleeve. I left Jeff in line, just in case, and booked it over to Big River Grille. This is a brew pub that I had heard a bit about. There was a pretty good chance they at least had a TV at the bar.

Big River

They did indeed have a TV, but I made for dang sure they would be willing to switch over the the Patriots game before alerting Jeff to come meet me. Assurances were made so I made the call!

Big River 90s interior.

The bar area with the brewery vats behind glass.

First, the good: Yay!!! Jeff could watch the game, bullet dodged. The beer was pretty good and the bartender was friendly, that ends the good. The place was long in the tooth and really kind of dirty. There was an old carpet smell right when you stepped in. The decor was not only out of date, but didn’t match up with a Brew Pub theme. I expected rustic woods and leather, but it was more like a 50s diner. I love diners don’t get me wrong, it just to didn’t seem to jibe.  The entrance was lined with planters, just like many of the store fronts along the Boardwalk, only all theirs were punky with peeling paint.

Shameful

I was really kind of surprised that Disney has allowed this place to slide so far. The reviews online don’t give them any points for food either. Jeff got some nacho chips to hold him over and even they were pretty shabby. I downed half a beer, but there was no way I could spend four hours sitting in a bar when there was exploring to do. I headed out and took a lap around the BoardWalk.

Surry bikes for rent. Looks like a lot of work.

Margaritas on the go!

I payed a visit to one of the newest additions in the area, Ample Hills Creamery.

Ample Hills. Tee hee

The place was bright and cheery as ice cream parlors are want to be. All the ice cream is made on premises and is rumored to be delectable. I considered asking for samples, but I had no intention of ordering anything. I couldn’t in good conscience.

Clean, open kitchen. Nothing going on right now.

Adorable murals decorate the walls.

Step-by-step instructions in case you don’t know how sundaes work.

I continued around Crescent Lake. It was so pleasant and the sun was starting to dip lower in the sky.

Some sort of pavilion, maybe for weddings?

It was bordering on torture that just down this waterway is World Showcase. I had our park tickets parceled out just so, which made it impossible for me to dip in without messing up the rest of the week.

Water way to Epcot!

There’s France, right there!

In hindsight, it would have been negligible to add and extra day’s tickets onto the package. In this case, I could have spent the afternoon traipsing around the countries taking an obnoxious amount of pictures without feeling like I’m dragging my dear spouse down. Either way, having a little safety zone if there’s a change in plans ain’t a bad idea.

Continuing around the lake…

The Beach Club

Grounds, looking gorgeous.

You guys, remember when we got to stay at the Beach Club and we were upgraded to a suite!? Pretty much one of the best days of my life.

Beautiful fresh flowers

Cape May Cafe, a seafood buffet in the Beach Club. If you’re averse to the smell of boiled lobster, you shouldn’t stay here.

These draperies are new. That’s a sign of multiple trips. Am I proud or ashamed?

The pool here is more like a Water Park. It’s locked down so that you need to use your Magic Band to prove that you’re a guest at the Yacht or Beach Club.

Just a small section of the sand bottomed pool.

Their security was a bit lacking this evening.

More pretty plantings.

A long look down the boardwalk to the Yacht Club.

I made it full circle. The game was just about over so I returned to Big River to polish off my beer and reunite with my husband. The Pats won, by the way.

Back to the beginning.

It was a lovely afternoon.

Now my patience would be rewarded. We called on an Uber and motored over to The Grand Floridian Resort. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that we used the heck out of Uber. Getting from resorts to parks and vice versa via Disney transportation is pretty easy. Getting from resort to resort is not. It saved us so much time going this route. It’s just a few bucks and saved at least an hour each time.

Welcome back!

Tonight we would be embarking on a Monorail Bar Crawl. We started at the Grand Floridian. This place will take your breath away!

The Grand Lobby and Disney’s Signature Resort.

The orchestra serenades us from the mezzanine.

Looking down over the lobby.

Our first stop will be Mizners Lounge. I’ve heard mixed reviews of the service, but I really just wanted to spend some time in the Grand Flo. I wasn’t concerned.

Mizner’s, this way.

I knew something was off as soon as we turned the corner into the lounge. Apparently the hotel’s quick service restaurant was under refurbishment. Mizner’s was being used as a temporary stop gap. Apparently they think pre-wrapped sandwiches and Gatorade are more important than my martini. Fear not, there was a plan B already in place.

You are here.

We bellied up to the bar at Citrico’s. We had dined here as a family a fews years back.

Classy Bar

Another embroidered napkin I didn’t steal.

A perfect glass of cabernet.

We chose a light dinner of Charcuterie.

Prosciutto, Sopressata, Dry Pork Coppa, Duck Confit Rillettes, Domestic Olli Artisanal Salame, Pickled Mustard Seeds, Seasonal Pickled Vegetables, and Marcona Almonds

Some hearty sourdough bread and salted butter.

Disney continues to win with the butter.

We enjoyed a leisurely snack and then hopped on the monorail for our next destination.

Whizzing by the Magic Kingdom on the monorail.

We hopped off to our next stop, the Polynesian. When we visited earlier in the week with Sam and Ashley it was packed with people waiting for dinner reservations at O’hana. A couple hours later and the place was emptee!

No waiting at the Tambu Lounge.

Dranks

I had already crossed one tropical drink off my to-do list. Here comes the second, the Back Scratcher. Yes, that is a full on back scratcher served up with your rum and passionfruit juice. I saved it.

Bacardi Superior Rum, Myers’s Original Dark Rum, and Passion Fruit Juice topped with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and a Bamboo Backscratcher

I mentioned O’hana earlier. This is one of those all-you-care-to-enjoy type places, so we won’t be dining there. They do however serve one of my favorite desserts, bread pudding. More specifically pineapple bread pudding. Thankfully, it was recently made available à la carte right here at the Tambu!

Gorgeous, yes, but wait til we pour on the caramel sauce!

Look at the swirls of vanilla and caramel!

Our light snack at Citrico’s left us perfectly positioned to enjoy this decedent dessert to its fullest. I couldn’t imagine enjoying this after a feast of grilled meats, noodles and pot stickers. Need I remind you of the strawberry shortcake incident at Hoop-Dee-Doo?

As a little bonus, we got to catch a glimpse of Hallowishes once again. We had a great view twice already during the week, so we didn’t need go outside.

Hallowishes from the comfort of the Tambu Lounge.

A true monoril crawl would have finished at the Contemporary Resort, we just didn’t have the steam. We were full and I couldn’t have been happier. Call the Uber!

Goodnight, Poly!

Next Up: We squeeze in some actual educational stuff in at Epcot between stuffing our faces. 

Posted in Dining Review, U. S. Travel, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World | Leave a comment

Pictures In My Head

Today we would be spending our first full day in the Magic Kingdom. I say would because I had to make a bit of a concession due to a certain sports team that was playing that afternoon. More about that later. This was, once again, an absolutely perfect day. We took our time strolling down Mainstreet USA. I just adore all the gingerbread details here. There’s so much to see if you just slow down and look up. Don’t worry, Space Mountain will still be there.

IMG_6036

The firehouse, where you can pick up your Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom cards, if you’re into that.

IMG_6039

The fall decorations are pretty I guess.

IMG_6040

It’s just a store.

IMG_6223

Also, not a theater, but and Meet and Greet location. Talking Mickey’s in there!

IMG_6221

The confectionary. This shop was so vivid in my memory of my first trip. I couldn’t get over how beautiful it was. and the aromas….

IMG_6220

Charming little side street.

IMG_6219

The Plaza Restaurant. Purported to be “just okay”.

First on the agenda was to head to Liberty Square. There you’ll find a new show that I was beyond excited for.

I love these two rocking chars near the Hall of Presidents. I’ve never gotten to sit in one, though. #Disneygoals

IMG_6048

The Liberty Tree  with  thirteen “victory” lanterns hanging from its boughs to represent the thirteen original colonies

IMG_6049

Crowds were super light.

IMG_6042

The ribbon of brown pavement represents a river of sewage. Yup, that’s right. It’s poop.

IMG_6046

Here we are. In just a few minutes those shutters will open up and this lady will transported back to a simpler, more innocent time…

IMG_6051

Kermie!!!!!

That’s right, my friends, real live Muppets before our very eyes. I can’t tell you how wondrous this was. I’m a grown adult. I understand that these are just puppets made of felt with button eyes, but the Muppets were such a huge part of my childhood I was nearly verklempt.

IMG_6052

Hey, friends!

This show takes place about twice an hour from about 9:00am to 5:00pm. It’s really kind of genius. The cast of characters retell one of two stories of American history; The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere or The Declaration of Independence. They perform this in the slapstick manner of Muppets, of course.  When the show was first announced, some Liberty Square purists (yes they exist) fretted that such silliness would take away from the authenticity of Liberty Square. I disagree. This show is silly and fun, but also educational. It takes zero away from the architecture of the square either, so settle down, purists. The performance we saw today the Paul Revere. Yes, we will see the other before the week is out.

IMG_6057

The horse of course.

IMG_6059

The singing chickens, not in the history books.

IMG_6060

The big finale!

Enough of all this nostalgia business, it’s time to eat! We headed over to Adventureland for lunch and the new table service restaurant the Skipper Canteen, or more specifically,  The Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen. Whew.

Jungle Canteen

We didn’t have reservations, but the place has not been filling up so far so I felt pretty confident. When we arrived, the waiting area was teaming with people. Uh oh. Then I realized it was barely 11:30 so the joint was just opening.

IMG_6067

They had a little opening ceremony.

IMG_6072

Boom! we were in.

You may have gleaned that the canteen is themed after the Jungle Cruise attraction. The servers wear skipper cast member costumes and the place is filled to the brim with Jungle Cruise backstory, tchotchke and in-jokes. We were seated in the Mess Hall which was just fine, but I knew there were posher digs in the Jungle Room, and the S.E.A. Room. Because we didn’t have ressies, I didn’t want to ask to switch. It was fine.

IMG_6070

Skipper Canteen Menu

IMG_6069

Cute napkin folding detail.

I had been hearing great things about the food here, that it was different and bordering on exotic, which is probably the reason it hasn’t been brimming with guests. In-park restaurants tend to cater to the masses with burgers and chicken nuggets. It’s usually the resort hotels where you can find upscale or more interesting cuisine. Skipper Canteen is bucking that trend, and my fingers are crossed that they’ll stick with it.

IMG_6073

Complimentary Ambasha Bread served with a honey-infused mustard-style dip.

The bread was heady with spices, and the dip was nice, but I didn’t get much mustard, just honey. I read plenty of reviews (of course I did) and while most everything was favorable, the appetizers seemed to get the most glory. We decided on a tapas style lunch.

IMG_6076

S.E.A. Shu Mai: A Legendary blend of Pork, Shrimp, Edamame Beans, and Spices wrapped in Gyoza Skin then steamed (and adorably presented in a bamboo steamer).

IMG_6077

House Made Arepas – slow cooked beef, black beans, tostones and queso fresco

IMG_6078

Shiriki Noodle Salad- Rice noodles, edamame beans, mushrooms, green mango and cucumber tossed with a sweet chili sauce.

IMG_6079

Falls Family Falafel – A secret recipe of chickpeas, garlic, onions, lemon juice and herbs with white bean dip and tomato-cucumber salad

Everything was simply marvelous, the standouts being the dumplings and the falafel, both perfectly executed. The arepas were excellent. I did notice that recently they’ve changed this dish so that it is more composed, a good idea I think. The only thing that would have made our lunch better would have been a nice glass of wine, but this is a dry park…or should I say WAS  a dry park. As of this dateline, one can have an adult beverage here, and at other select sit-down restaurants in the Magic Kingdom! Cheers!

We had a few fastpasses to take advantage of on this glorious day. I tried to catch as much of the atmosphere in photographs as I could while keeping up with my traveling companion. Snap, Snap, snap!

IMG_6084

The Tiki, Tiki,Tiki Room

IMG_6085

Tortuga means turtle. It’s something I know.

IMG_6087

First fastpass was Splash Mountain.

IMG_6089

Pretty shot from our log.

IMG_6093

Cover photo worthy, right?

IMG_6094

Haunted Mansion was next.

IMG_6095

Ooh, this one is worthy too.

We made our way full circle around back to the Jungle Cruise, the ride, this time.

IMG_6207

This is why you need to stay hydrated in the parks.

You may recall that the last time we rode this attraction, the skipper was decidedly ho-hum at best. This time, we had a charmer. Very witty and enthusiastic.

IMG_6208

…and cute as a button.

IMG_6209

It’s a jungle out there.

A reasonable amount of time had passed so that we could legit get a snack. You may have heard of the Dole Whip, but, my friends, do you know about the Citrus Swirl???

IMG_6212

Tadah!!! Citrus Swirl. A creamy twist of frozen orange juice and vanilla soft serve.

The Citrus Swirl is entangled in a long and sordid story in Walt Disney World. Yes, I said sordid. Back in 1969, Disney solicited sponsors for many attractions and restaurants. The Florida Citrus Commission was the sponsor of The Tropical Serenade (Now known as The Enchanted Tiki Room) and the Sunshine Tree Terrace where one could enjoy the aforementioned Citrus Swirl. They also created a Mascot called the “Orange Bird”, which would not only be visible in Walt Disney World, but throughout the state, on billboards and in advertisements for Florida Orange Juice. At this time, a singer and actress named Anita Bryant was the chief spokesperson for the Florida Citrus growers and had in turn collaborated with Disney in all these endeavors.

Here’s where the controversy comes in. Anita Bryant became a very visible opponent of alternative lifestyles. Her public and vocal opposition of homosexuality lead to a full boycott of Florida citrus products. Because of this, the Florida Citrus Commission ended its relationship with the singer. Sadly, the Orange Bird and The Citrus Swirl, which were inextricably tied together with Bryant, were eventually phased out of the parks. Poor Orange Bird didn’t ask for any of this!

The Orange Bird with the Citrus Swirl

By 1987, there was no trace of Orange Bird or Citrus Swirl anywhere to be found in Walt Disney World. Then, around 2004, the Orange Bird started popping up in Tokyo Disney, probably because of the burgeoning “Orange Day” holiday. This brought the lil’ bird back into the purview of Disney, but it wasn’t until 2012  that the  Orange Bird Citrus Swirl was swung back into action. That’s right, we had gone a full twenty-five years without this creamy, citrus treat. Why, oh why must we let politics take precedence over our frozen desserts?

So, you may recall me whining a bit about having to leave the parks earlier than I would have liked, but we did do a whole lot in a short amount of time, so it’s ok I guess. Maybe.

Next up: Can we find a place to watch football in Disney World?

Posted in Dining Review, U. S. Travel, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World | Leave a comment

Hoop-Dee-Doo!

This evening we would be taking a trip to Fort Wilderness for the Hoop Dee Doo Review! We took bus over to the Magic Kingdom, then hopped on to the Water Launch. Transportation around the parks can be cumbersome at times, but a boat ride crossing Seven Seas Lagoon at dusk is a relaxing voyage indeed.

img_5960

Looking back at the boat launch.

img_5961

Spectacular sunset behind the Grand Floridian Resort

We first hopped off at the Wilderness Resort to have a cocktail before dinner.

img_5964

So pretty.

The Wilderness Lodge has a similar design as the Animal Kingdom Lodge, as it was designed by the same architect, Peter Dominick.

img_5967

Pacific Northwest landscaping surrounds the lodge.

Inside, you’ll find a soaring, grand lobby filled with rustic details and arts and craft touches.

img_5978

Wilderness lodge lobby

img_6033

Massive, strata themed fireplace

img_6032

Carved stanchion poles.

What I just love about these resorts is how they are not just “themed” to look like the design they are trying to mimic, they are authentically constructed and decorated with these elements. All the furniture, light fixtures, and decorations are either actual art affects from this era, or painfully recreated. Here, it feels as if you are really in a lodge at Yellow Stone National park and not anywhere near central Florida.

img_5972

Railroad touches are throughout.

img_5973

Random, cozy seating area.

img_5974

Authentic geometric Arts and Crafts lamp.

We made our way to the Territory Lounge. This serves as the bar for the resort’s signature restaurant, Artist’s Point.

img_5975

Stop right there!

We sipped on a couple of Manhattans and enjoyed the cozy environs.

img_5976

Shadow boxes filled with artifacts.

 

img_5977

Murals of the former Territories.

Soon it was getting on time to take our leave for the Hoop Dee Doo. Another short boat ride later we were at Pioneer Hall, ready to queue up for dinner.

img_5987

Pioneer Hall

img_5990

Hoop Dee Doo!

There are many activities to be enjoyed at Fort Wilderness. The Tri-Circle Ranch is here where all of the Disney World working horses are housed (or barned?). I was considering a wagon ride but time wouldn’t allow for it. They even have free camp fire sing-alongs and movies every night where you can schmooze with Chip and Dale. This is another example of how much a family can do here at the resorts without stepping foot in the parks.

img_5991

Today’s Adventures!

Before entering the hall, we had to wait in a long but quick moving line to check in. To my surprise, instead of scanning our magic bands, our tickets were waiting in card catalogue file box! It was so old school. This is fitting because Hoop Dee Doo is about as old school as it gets!

img_5994

Guess who got seated right next to the stage?

img_5995

You can stop guessing. It was us.

Jeff and I saw this show on our honeymoon almost three decades ago. He had zero recollection of this, even after I showed him a photo evidence of me scraping my spoon on a warshboard with a huge grin on my face. It was burned into MY memory as one of the highlights of the trip.

The Hoop Dee Doo Revue is one of the country’s longest-running dinner shows and has had more than 37,000 performances. They’ve presented two shows a day continuously since 1974, and let me tell you, it hasn’t changed a bit since day one.

img_5996

Table Settings

The food hasn’t changed either, with one exception; they used to serve apple pie for dessert (how American!) now, it’s strawberry shortcake.

img_6001

The Vittles

Here’s why the Hoop Dee Doo is one the best values in Walt Disney World. For a category 3 seating, which is what we had, it is currently $63 per adult. This includes all-you-care-to-enjoy (Disney term) fried chicken and smoked BBQ pork ribs  tossed green salad, baked beans, cornbread and strawberry shortcake and, get this,…unlimited draft beer, wine and sangria!!! To cap it off, the tip and the tax is included! When you consider that a combo burger meal and one Yuengling at at Hollywood Studios walk-up counter will cost you nearly $25, this is a steal.

Now, you may think, “Sure, they say unlimited beer, but good luck getting the server’s attention for another round”, but you’d be wrong, my friend. We got our initial two and then they plunked down a whole pitcher of the stuff!

img_6014

So Much Beer.

We were  just about starving by the time the first round came. The corn bread was sweet and tasty and the salad was… a salad.

img_5997

Good butter to bread ratio.

img_5999

Salad.

The players stomp on in and do a couple numbers at this point. The whole angle of this show is about corny jokes and goofball fun.

img_6003

The players.

img_6009

I told you we were close.

img_6008

Whoopin’ it up!

img_6016

We got to know each other real good.

The players head back stage for a bit and we’re serenaded by a piano, guitar duo. Then the real food rolls out, little pewter pails filled with all the homespun cookin’ one could desire.  This is an all you can eat affair, but we barely ate half of what the server even brought initially. God speed anyone who can beat the system.

img_6018

Barbeque Spare Ribs and Fried Chicken

img_6019

With all the fixin’s

As we continued to stuff our gobs, the players came back out for more antics. You’d never know that these players do two shows every day of the week. They sing the same songs and tell same corny jokes over and over, yet they seem as if they are sincerely having a blast up on stage, even cracking up seemingly breaking character. The show was just as I remembered it.

img_6021

Six Bits Slocum and Claire DeLune

Next up is the strawberry shortcake, but not before a whole number in honor of the toothsome delight.

img_6023

Straw-berry! Straw-berry-short! Straw-berry-short Cake!!!

I have to tell you, I’ve never been so full in my entire life. Not from a Thanksgiving dinner nor a Christmas feast, never. When the dessert arrived it was all I could do to take tiny a bit of cake and a strawberry. Shameful.

img_6026

It was so delicious and we just left it there. Take note of all the beer left in the pitcher!

The last bit of the show is all about audience participation. The players pick out a half dozen folks to help out with a retelling the story of Davey Crockett.

img_6027

A cute little actor.

Let’s just say that these “roles” are slightly less than politically correct. They always pick a cute kid to play a ranger, all fine. There’s also a good lookin’ gal to play a Can-Can dancer. A little creepy, but okay. However, they push the limits of body shaming by choosing a, let’s say, “sizable fellow” to play a pink fairy. The piece de resistance: an “Indian Chief”. Shockingly, the ACLU hasn’t gotten wind of this situation or there would certainly be a cease a desist order. I say all this in jest, but really, I’m surprised they still get away with it.

img_6029

The Ranger and the Indian Chief getting instructions from Claire.

img_6031

The Pink Fairy

We had a heck of time, you betcha! We were a bit ashamed, not by how much we ate and drank, but rather how quickly we tapped out. Still, even with half the beer and food left on the table, it was a good value and an even better time.

img_6007

Take a bow, Hoop Dee Doo!

Up Next: The real Muppets!!!!

Posted in Dining Review, U. S. Travel, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World | Leave a comment