This summer I have clients traveling to New Orleans, Paris, London, Cedar Point, Ohio, Norway and, of course, Walt Disney World. I’m even planning a brief jaunt with two of my daughters to Disneyland in California for the Diamond Anniversary. It’s hard to believe I haven’t been there in over ten years! I wish everyone safe and happy travels and the joy of making new memories together. Let the summer begin!
As the school year comes to an end and we anticipate summer vacations, I love to think back on so many wonderful trips my family has enjoyed. People often ask me what's been my favorite vacation. I simply can't answer that question -- it's like asking which is your favorite child! Each trip has had its own memorable moments. Whether it's the exhilaration of whitewater rafting in Colorado, the wonder of seeing masterworks like the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory and Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris, or the magic of snowflakes falling on Main Street, U.S.A. in Disneyland, the memories of these times and places make up a kaleidoscope of shared experiences.
This summer I have clients traveling to New Orleans, Paris, London, Cedar Point, Ohio, Norway and, of course, Walt Disney World. I’m even planning a brief jaunt with two of my daughters to Disneyland in California for the Diamond Anniversary. It’s hard to believe I haven’t been there in over ten years! I wish everyone safe and happy travels and the joy of making new memories together. Let the summer begin!
While it may be too late for this year, start thinking about planning a trip during the Christmas season next year. You don’t have to go on Christmas Day (in fact, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is the busiest week of the year) because the festivities start right around Thanksgiving. Walt Disney World absolutely comes alive during the holidays and here are my Top Ten reasons why you should experience the holidays there at least once.
10. Downtown Disney – throughout the holidays, the entire resort sparkles with Christmas decorations. While we love to shop for Christmas trinkets in Downtown Disney, Disney Parks Merchandise is also offering Hanukkah-inspired gifts. The area also hosts special entertainment during the holidays. One can find carolers, street performers and even a holiday DJ dance party. Of course no visit would be complete without a visit to Santa!
9. Decorations – All the parks and resorts are decorated for the holidays, adding a festive atmosphere to an already magical place. Holiday topiaries and themed gardens delight the imagination. This year Magic Kingdom decorators had to alter the garland that traditionally hung across Main Street because the floats in the new daytime parade are so tall!
8. Holiday treats – Throughout Walt Disney World you will find yummy treats created for the Christmas season. From the seasonal popcorn buckets (Mickey dressed as an elf!) to gingerbread cookies to hot applejack cider, special treats for the holidays can be found in every park.
7. Giant gingerbread houses – Every year a giant gingerbread house is erected in the lobby of the Grand Floridian. Joining in the gingerbread celebration, this year a “Frozen”-themed gingerbread house adorned the Contemporary lobby and a gingerbread carousel took center stage in the Beach Club lobby. Resort-hopping is a must during the holidays to see all the uniquely themed decorations.
6. Holiday entertainment -- "Joyful! A Gospel Celebration of the Season" brings soulful Christmas music to Epcot. Live on stage several times throughout the day, this group of powerful singers and instrumentalists delights visitors with traditional Christmas music in their own inimitable style. And back by popular demand at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special will have you in stitches with their holiday-themed improv show.
5. Cinderella’s Castle absolutely shimmers every night
during the holidays.
Draped with 200,000 lights, the castle appears to be
covered in icicles. Since “Frozen” has become
the hit sensation that must touch nearly everything Disney
does these days, Elsa has been added to “magically transform
Cinderella Castle into a glittering ice palace during the
‘Castle Dream Lights’ and ‘A Frozen Holiday Wish’ stage show.”
4. Holidays Around the World at Epcot – The countries around World Showcase offer their unique take on the holidays. From stories of Father Christmas dating back to 15th-century England to the colorful mariachis and dancers of Mexico or the Lion Dance of the Lunar New Year in China, each country presents its own time-honored traditions. They also feature seasonal food and beverage selections such as the Buche de Noel au Chocolate (chocolate Christmas log) in France, Gluhwein in Germany, sweet tamales in Mexico and so much more.
3. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – This is a special “hard ticket” event that takes place at Magic Kingdom from 7 p.m. to Midnight on select nights in November and December. The park closes early for people who haven’t purchased the Party ticket. Ticket prices range from $67-74 per adult and $62-69 per child, depending on the date. While this may seem pricey, you could skip using a regular park ticket on the day of the Party…do something else earlier in the day…sleep in, go out for lunch, shop, resort-hop…then go to Magic Kingdom when they start letting Party-goers in at 4:00. So what’s included for your special ticket? Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party boasts “live entertainment, spectacular fireworks and an oh-so-jolly holiday parade at this festive winter celebration.” There are also character meet & greets, free cookies, candy canes and hot cocoa at various locations throughout the park and…wait for it…it snows on Main Street! Make sure to nab your parade-viewing spot early!
2. The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights – At Disney’s Hollywood Studios you will find the most incredible Christmas light display you’ve ever seen! Filling the Streets of America, millions of lights are strung throughout the area and every twenty minutes or so, the music starts and the lights come alive, synchronized to the music. It really is a ‘spectacle’ you have to see to believe! NOTE: This closed January 6, 2016 to make room for new attractions at Hollywood Studios.
1. Candlelight Processional at Epcot – This wonderful Christmas event is so popular that they perform three shows every night during the holiday season in the America Gardens Theatre. Each night the Bible story of Jesus’ birth is read by a celebrity narrator and, as they say on the Disney website, “All the while, gorgeous choral pieces are woven into the production as an orchestra and choir provide an inspirational backdrop with songs of hope and joy.” Some of the narrators change from year to year but some who’ve come back frequently include Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Patrick Harris, Edward James Olmos, Steven Curtis Chapman and Jodi Benson among others, each performing for two or three nights. If this doesn’t fill you with the Christmas spirit, nothing will!
Merry Christmas to you all ~ I wish you a New Year filled with health, joy and wondrous travels!
While one expects that things will be different than what you’re used to when traveling to a foreign country, there were a few particular things that I normally take for granted and missed while away:
1. Street signs – Most of the streets in Italy have signs that range from limited to non-existent. Even when driving on the expressway, one is loathe to find signs indicating mileage to your next destination. There are the occasional small signs on the driver’s side of the car with letters about 2” high, which makes challenging reading when you’re going past them at about 75-80 miles per hour. In the cities, forget about it. There may be a small sign on the side of a building at corners, but you quickly realize that even though you walk down the same street, it goes by a different name on the each block.
2. Washcloths – We stayed in 3 different places in Italy and Ireland and none of them had washcloths. I did like getting fresh towels every day, though, as un-eco-friendly as that might be – and the bath towels were nice and large!
3. Cream for my coffee. Let’s face it – a cup of “Americano” coffee just isn’t the same – it’s watered-down espresso, which doesn’t make for a rich aromatic brew. Add to that the fact that the milk they use to put in coffee (I guess they use all their cream for making cheese!) seems to be more like skim milk than whole milk, thus watering the coffee down more. Stick with espresso!
4. Accurate maps – You will find that what may look like a straight street on a map does, in fact, curve. There are also small side streets that they just don’t bother putting on the map, so forget about counting the blocks.
And last, but not least,
5. Toilet seats – While our hotels certainly had decent commodes, I found that many public restrooms, particularly the rest stops along the highway, did not have toilet seats. Guys may not care so much, but for us gals, toilet seats are more than a mere luxury; they’re a necessity. No more needs to be said on this subject!
Yes, Walt Disney World can be expensive…but there are a few things you can get or do for FREE! Here are my Top Ten:
10. Water – Bottles of water currently cost $2.50, but you can get free cups of water at any counter service location – just ask.
9. Celebration buttons – At the front of every park, at the resorts and Downtown Disney, they will give you a button to show what you’re celebrating. It can be anything from a birthday or anniversary to a first visit or family reunion.
8. Trading cards – In the Magic Kingdom you can play “Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom” in which you pick up free trading cards at the Fire Station and use them in a scavenger hunt of sorts around the park, attempting to defeat villains. The cards are yours to keep and many people collect them. Similarly, you can collect a souvenir map in Adventureland and play the game “A Pirate's Adventure ~ Treasures of the Seven Seas.”
7. Campfires – Many of the resorts offer nightly campfires with storytelling and sing-alongs. While the experience is free of charge, refreshments may be purchased – or you can bring your own.
6. Movies Under the Stars – Most, if not all, of the Disney resorts now offer nightly outdoor movies. As with everything, you should check the resort activities guide as there are sometimes changes in schedules.
5. Kidcot Fun Stops – While you do need a park ticket for this one, you can take away a free souvenir from Epcot. Each of the 11 countries around World Showcase has a Kidcot Fun Stop where kids can color and decorate a cardboard character on a paint stick (currently it’s Duffy). They also stamp the sticks with each country’s “passport” stamp.
4. Passports – During the Flower & Garden (Spring) and Food & Wine (Fall) Festivals at Epcot, they offer free Passport booklets. The Passports serve as a guide to show what’s available at each festival location. When you visit any of the locations in the booklet, they will stamp your Passport. Note: you do not have to purchase anything at the food booths to get your passport stamped.
3. Ghiradelli Chocolate – At the Ghiradelli shop in Downtown Disney they hand out those delectable little squares of filled chocolate! You never know which flavor they might be sampling on any given day, so you might discover a new favorite!
2. Art classes – At Disney’s Hollywood Studios you can take an art class from a Disney artist! I discussed this in a previous blog as it’s one of my favorite things to do. After a 25-minute class, you will walk out with your very own drawing of a Disney character. You never know which character they’re going to teach in any given class and it may be surprising to learn how well you can draw when you’re talked through it step by step!
1. Entertainment – Whether it’s in the parks or at Downtown Disney, you can be entertained by some of the best talent anywhere around. Yes, you need a park ticket to see the shows and concerts in the parks, but you can also see and hear some amazing performers at Downtown Disney and Boardwalk. School music groups of all ages perform on the Dockside Stage – some of my favorite trips have been with talented high school groups. Restaurant locations also have wonderful entertainment like the Irish dancers at Raglan Road and street performers at Boardwalk.
My family and I recently spent a long weekend in New Orleans, traveling there primarily for a wedding. While we packed a lot into just a few days, I’ll admit that we didn’t make the most efficient use of our time. Having driven through the night, when we arrived in New Orleans around noon, we were pretty hungry, but first wanted to check-in to our hotel, the Hotel Monteleone. In the heart of the French Quarter, this hotel is beautifully appointed. While the rooms are not large, they are adequate and provide nice amenities like bathrobes and toiletries. More about this spot later. Being the foodies we are and being in a city famous for its restaurants, we were eager to try some storied eateries. Mother’s Restaurant, famed for their po’ boy sandwiches, was within walking distance of our hotel.
Dinner was a different story. We dined at the famed Commander’s Palace, perhaps the most highly acclaimed restaurant in New Orleans. The service was first-rate, as was most of the food we tried. We ordered several appetizers, entrees and desserts and shared bites as we love to do. My favorite thing was the foie gras, beautifully prepared. The only disappointment was my daughter’s veal dish which was somewhat dry. Still in search of a decent bread pudding, we tried their “Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé” which was really more soufflé than bread pudding…oh well.
Back at the hotel, the large Carousel Lounge was the perfect spot to hang out, since the wedding party and so many of the guests were staying there. There’s a bar in the front with barstools that revolve around, hence the name. Farther back is seating, a second bar and a small stage which frequently hosts a band. A popular spot, the bar seemed to be a busy place day and night during our entire stay.
Friday ladies lunch at Galatoire’s is an event. People line up early to put their name on a list for either of two seatings. We were late, I guess, because by 10:15 we were already assigned to the second seating. Lucky for us, our friends had openings, so we got into the early seating after all. The food was delicious and the service, once again, impeccable. This is why both Commander’s Palace and Galatoire’s show up on every list of the best restaurants in New Orleans. Try the Crabmeat au Gratin for a rich, creamy seafood delight. Their Black Bottom Pecan Pie is maybe the best thing we ate in New Orleans, or ever for that matter! I wish I had the recipe!
Later we walked down to Jackson Square and the French Market area, passing numerous tacky souvenir shops and dingy watering holes. I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of New Orleans, especially in August. I found it to be hot, dirty and littered with drunks and druggies. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good adult libation, but this town takes it to excess. We had to stop at the famous Café du Monde for beignets and coffee (iced, in this case). So many people love this place, but on the afternoon we were there it was incredibly crowded and frankly, filthy. I’m in no hurry to go back. It’s just fried dough! We stopped in at a microbrew place for a beer and found dinner at a fairly nice, albeit non-descript family restaurant in the French Quarter. Back at the hotel, the post-rehearsal dinner party was going strong in the rooftop suite. We really enjoyed spending time with our friends and meeting new people from the bride’s family.
Since the wedding on Saturday didn’t start until the evening, we had time to drive out to Oak Alley Plantation. If you don’t have a car, there are companies that offer regularly scheduled tours, leaving New Orleans by motorcoach, but since we had our own car, we drove the 40 minutes or so ourselves. The 25-acre plantation offers a guided tour of the big house, self-guided walking tour of the reconstructed slave quarters with an exhibit, a restaurant and gift shop. You can also stay overnight in one of the cottages on the grounds. The beautiful 300-year old oak trees are a sight to behold.
Of course the main reason for our trip to New Orleans was for the wedding of my oldest friend’s oldest son. The wedding mass in the historic Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church couldn’t have been more beautiful. Upon exiting the church, we were met with baskets of flip flops for the ladies (so we didn’t have to walk on cobblestone streets in our heels) and coolers of beer and cold water. A “second line” jazz band led the wedding party and 200+ guests down the streets to the reception, with motorcycle police blocking off streets to let us pass, tourists taking photos of us and people throwing beads from balconies above us! The reception at Latrobe’s was a party from start to finish, filled with buffets of fabulous food and a rockin’ band that kept the dance floor full all night. At the end of the evening, the second line came back and led us from Latrobe’s back to the hotel. It was a grand event for a wonderful couple!
On our last day in New Orleans, we opted to take the “Hop On, Hop Off” tour on the double-decker bus. We really should have done this the first day, not only to get an overview of the city, but also because the cemetery tour was closed on Sundays. We did, however, hop off in the Garden District and did the walking tour there. We loved hearing the history of the area as well as seeing the beautiful architecture. We saw both John Goodman’s and Archie Manning’s houses (from the outside, of course!).
For our last dinner in New Orleans we chose the Court of Two Sisters. The lovely courtyard setting has earned this restaurant the award for “Best Outdoor Dining in New Orleans”. The waitstaff shows Southern hospitality at its best. The food was good, but not great, prompting my husband to speculate that many of these New Orleans restaurants are living on their reputation. If I ever do find myself in New Orleans again, I would try this place for brunch as it has garnered many awards for best brunch.
After dinner we walked down to Frenchman’s Street to find a place we could go for a drink and hear some jazz. You’d think this would be easy, but we had a 20-year-old in our party, so that limited where we could get in. Frenchman’s Street is purported to house many clubs where jazz groups play and there was indeed music coming out of many doors. However, it was already later on a Sunday night, so the musicians stop playing considerably earlier than on weekends. We did find a place we could all go in and enjoyed listening to some music for a little while. Take note, though, that this is not a neighborhood you want to walk to alone at night. It’s advisable to take a taxi.
While I say that I’m in no hurry to go back, I’ll admit that we did have some fun and memorable times during our few days in New Orleans. I am all too aware of how many people absolutely love New Orleans and I can see why they do. It does have a certain charm, but I’d avoid August.
When I started writing this blog I found myself quite conflicted on what ten attractions were the most “overlooked”, meaning an attraction that does not get the attention it rightfully deserves. So I queried three reliable Disney aficionados – my three daughters – on which attractions they thought were the most overlooked. There was surprising disagreement, not only with which attractions should be included on the list, but also on the order in which to list them. Therefore, I decided to take all the lists and average the ratings and here they are, the Top Ten Overlooked Attractions at Walt Disney World:
10. These two attractions are listed as number 10 largely because at least half of us did not think they were “overlooked” – rather than continue the debate, let’s give Mickey’s PhilharMagic and Country Bear Jamboree a tie…personally I love the 3D musical film at Mickey’s PhilharMagic, but am not a big fan of the animatronic Country Bears. Don't argue with me - everyone has their own tastes!
9. Kidcot Fun Stops at Epcot – At each country around
World Showcase there is a little craft station where kids (or adults can join the fun!) can create a free souvenir to take home – it’s usually a mask or cut-out of Duffy attached to a paint stick. They can color on it and get it stamped with each country’s “passport” stamp. These stops are not always easy to spot and if you don't know what it is you could easily walk by wondering why there are children gathered around a table with crayons etc. without ever knowing that your child could take part for free!
8. Grouped together in the number 8 spot are the three spectacular movies in the China, France and Canada pavilions at Epcot. “Impressions de France” is a traditional film, while “O Canada!” and “Reflections of China” are shown in Circle-Vision 360. While people may overlook these because they think they’re a boring travelogue, all are beautifully filmed highlights of their respective country and, incidentally, a great way to beat the Florida midday heat. Be forewarned -- watching them can also make you dizzy!
7. Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover at Magic Kingdom – apparently I like this 10-minute ride around Tomorrowland more than my kids do. I think it’s fun to circle above that section of the park, going in and out of shops and attractions while looking down at all the people…listen for the announcement “Calling Tom Morrow…”!
6. In Epcot’s Land Pavilion, while rushing to the popular Soarin’ attraction or one of the restaurants, you could easily miss Living With The Land. This takes you into the back of the pavilion through the greenhouses where they are constantly experimenting with different growing techniques. Depending on when you’re there you could see anything from a 9-pound lemon to Mickey-shaped pumpkins being grown.
5. Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros in the Mexico pavilion of Epcot transports you on a gentle boat ride while you take in the sights and sounds of various places in Mexico. Donald Duck and his amigos Pancito and Jose Carioca appear throughout the ride. It’s easy to miss when you’re distracted by the shops and Cava del Tequila!
4. In Disney’s Animal Kingdom park you can board the Wildlife Express Train in the center of Africa. While people may think it’s a long ride out to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, the 1.2 mile journey takes only 7 minutes and you’ll see some of the animal housing and veterinary facilities where they take care of the park’s animals.
3. Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress in Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland is a classic piece of Disney straight out of the mind of Walt himself. Though the outdated reputation of this ride and the fact that it isn't a "thrill" make this a less desirable attraction for some, it’s still fun to see the vast changes in communication through the 20th Century in this audio animatronics show.
2. In the Animation Courtyard section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios you’ll find an attraction called The Magic of Disney Animation. This attraction has several components including an entertaining short film about the process of creating Disney animated characters, a character meet and greet area, a gallery of original artwork and more. But one of the more overlooked areas (although it seems to have gotten more crowded lately!) is the Animation Academy where a Disney artist will teach you how to draw a character. This is one of my favorite things to do and I now have my own “gallery” of characters I drew myself! NOTE: This attraction has been closed to make room for Star Wars Launch Bay.
1. The most overlooked attraction could be at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream is both a small “museum” and a film tribute to the man who started it all. People walk right past this treasure trove of rare models, sketches and costumes. Walt's story is recounted through these artifacts in the gallery, which leads into the theater. Narrated by Julie Andrews, the film tells the story of Walt’s life and genius, including rare footage from home movies. It always brings a sentimental tear to my eye!
So what are your favorite attractions that you feel deserve more attention? Did I miss anything? Let me know!
It's been quite a few weeks since I wrote a blog post -- this is largely due to how crazy busy I've been lately! I'm truly gratified by all my clients entrusting their special trips to me, but it hasn't left much time for writing!
Add to that the fact that we've been helping our daughter and son-in-law move into their new home and the youth community theatre program I direct is now in full swing.
Regardless, something I've been wanting to do for a while is to get feedback from readers about their favorite vacation destinations. If you've read this blog at all, you know that so far it's been mostly about Walt Disney World, which just happens to be one of my favorite places on earth! However, one of my favorite trips was going to Napa, California with my husband -- it's such a beautiful place and there's something so serene about it. Of course, the wonderful wine and fabulous food in the area are the main reasons to travel there!
Another favorite vacation was traveling around England with all five of us -- we saw a lot, but I really wish we'd had more time. I definitely want to return -- there's a comfortable familiarity about London that's unusual and it's an easy city to navigate.
So now it's your turn -- tell me your favorite vacation destination -- what was special about a place you've been. I'd also love to hear where you'd like to go next!
Happy & safe travels, everyone!
When I started to write a Top Ten list for Disney World snacks I quickly realized that what I might consider a snack is not necessarily what would be included as a snack credit on the Disney Dining plan. So for the purposes of this list, I’ll stick with only items that may be purchased with a DDP snack credit…I’ll have to cover other ‘snacks’ in another column!
This is the symbol you see on a Disney menu when it qualifies for a snack credit. Here are my favorites – and no judgments please about how many of them are sweets!
10. All-American Sundae – Plaza Ice Cream Parlor, Magic Kingdom. I know you can get ice cream sundaes anywhere, but there’s nothing like sitting at one of those white parlor tables, enjoying a cool, creamy bowl of ice cream covered with hot fudge and peanut butter drizzle, watching the crowds pass by on Main Street USA!
9. Croissant Berry Pudding – Sunshine Seasons, Land Pavilion, Epcot. This is the ultimate in bread pudding and you can even have it for breakfast! This is a rich bread pudding made with buttery croissants and laced with blueberries.
8. Pain Au Chocolat (Chocolate Croissant) – Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie, France Pavilion, Epcot. There are several places around WDW where you can get ‘croissants,’ but most of them resemble the texture you’d find in a Danish, rather than a croissant. If you’re looking for the real thing, Les Halles is the place to get it!
7. Giant Cookie – Writer’s Stop, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I know, you can get giant cookies at lots of places, but these are extra good. There’s something about the texture that’s soft without feeling under-baked. The big cookies come in chocolate chip (my fave), sugar, peanut butter and white chocolate macadamia. Note: Writer's Stop is scheduled to be closed for the construction of the new Star Wars and Toy Story Lands. For the time being it is serving as a spot to grab appetizers and drinks and may become a waiting area for the Sci-Fi Dine In restaurant next door.
6. Croissant Jambon Fromage -- – Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie, France Pavilion, Epcot. If you’re getting a sense that I like croissants, you’re right! I had to include something savory on this list and here it is – you can get a ham and cheese croissant sandwich for a snack credit!
5. Caramel Corn – Karamell Kuche, Germany Pavilion, Epcot. You may think you’ve had caramel corn before, but this is not your run-of-the-mill Cracker Jack stuff! Made fresh on site, this is sweet and savory (kind of!) and crunchy goodness!
4. Chocolate-Covered Sea Salt Caramels -- Karamell Kuche, Germany Pavilion, Epcot. The name says it all – what’s not to love?!
3. Carrot Cake Cookie – Writer’s Stop, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Yes, I already talked about the big cookies at Writer’s Stop, but this is more than a cookie. It’s like carrot cake and cookies rolled into one. There’s a delicious cream cheese frosting sandwiched between two carrot cake flavored cookies. Don’t tell anyone, but I often have this for ‘breakfast’! As state above, Writer's Stop is no longer a coffee and pastry shop, but you can still get the carrot cake cookie at Sweet Spells.
2. Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich – Plaza Ice Cream Parlor, Magic Kingdom. One of my family’s favorite things is getting one of these to share while waiting for the parade or fireworks. We used to get them from the Main Street Bakery before it became a Starbuck’s. Thank goodness we can still get them from the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor. They take two fresh-from-the-oven big chocolate chip cookies and slather rich ice cream in between. If you’re trying to down this without sharing, you better eat quickly before the ice cream melts!
1. Dole Whip Soft Serve – Aloha Isle, Magic Kingdom. It’s a classic. There’s just nothing like Dole Whip – that fruity, creamy, sweet and tangy cone or cupful of pineapple deliciousness – straight up or as a float, you can’t go wrong. If you’ve had one you know what I mean. If you haven’t, just do it!
I’m sure everyone has favorite in this category that didn’t quite make it on this list: Cupcakes of all sorts throughout the parks and resorts, funnel cakes, chocolate-dipped fruit…and I haven’t even mentioned snacks to be had at the Epcot Food & Wine or Flower & Garden Festivals! Let me know you’re favorites!
As with the Table Service Restaurants post, it was difficult to narrow this list down to ten Walt Disney World watering holes! Once again, the criteria had to be places to which I’ve actually been and had drinks – even then, it was challenge to pick only ten!
#10 High Octane Refreshments – Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Tucked back in the corner of Streets of America across from the Studio Backlot Tour, this outdoor walk-up offers a variety of frozen and specialty cocktails (I like the Rum Runner!) as well as wines and beers, both bottled and on tap. There are several small tables, but with the afternoon sun beating down, I had a hard time finding some shade. Note: This location has been closed to make room for the new Star Wars and Toy Story Lands.
#9 Cookes of Dublin Patio – Downtown Disney – Watch the crowds walk by at this little spot next to Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant. I like to grab a pint here and relax after hours of shopping. And it may be one of the few places in America that serves a proper pint of Magner’s over ice, a perfect refreshing beverage for a warm day. It’s also a great place to meet up with friends without going into a restaurant. You can grab a bite from the Cookes counter and bring it out to the patio.
#8 Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar – Italy Pavilion, Epcot – Just like the name says, this is a cozy, somewhat dark wine “cellar” that also offers small plates. They have a nice selection of Italian wines, meats and cheeses as well as a few dishes from the Tutto Italia kitchen. It’s a must-do for every wine lover.
#7 Tune-In Lounge – Disney’s Hollywood Studios – This would rate much higher on my list except for the fact that there aren’t really tables to sit at since it serves as the “waiting room” for the 50’s Prime Time Restaurant. The bar has a dozen or more seats and you can actually order off the restaurant menu and dine here. The rest of the room is decorated to look like a mid-20th century suburban rec room, complete with black & white TV screens playing clips of old shows. They have nice drinks here like Dad’s Electric Lemonade and Grandma’s Picnic Punch and I do like the atmosphere.
#6 Tambu Lounge – Polynesian Resort –This iconic bar next to ‘Ohana restaurant features delicious tropical beverages like the Lapu Lapu served in a fresh pineapple. A visit to this lounge is a tradition with many long-time Disney guests, whether they’re staying at the Polynesian or hopping off the monorail from the Magic Kingdom.
#5 Territory Lounge – Wilderness Lodge – If you’re looking for a nice quiet place to relax and enjoy a cocktail, this is it. Back off the lobby of Wilderness Lodge, this rustic lounge has quite a few tables and a nice little menu of small plates including cheese fondue (oh, yes!) and buffalo nachos. It’s easy to get to Wilderness Lodge if you have a car, but you can also take a Disney bus from one of the parks or Downtown Disney or take a boat from Magic Kingdom.
#4 River Roost Lounge – Port Orleans Riverside – I realize this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine! This place is more about the entertainment than anything else. It serves up the standard Disney cocktail menu, but Wednesday thru Saturday nights, ‘Yehaa’ Bob Jackson entertains with his wacky sing-along show and rockin’ piano. He’s a real hoot!
#3 California Grill Lounge – Contemporary Resort – It’s first-come, first served at this lounge within the California Grill restaurant. If they’re full, you may not even be able to get up there. Check in at the CG desk and, if there’s room, they’ll escort you to the elevator that goes straight to the 15th floor. Their hand-picked wine list includes dozens that are available by the glass and the inventive cocktails created by their expert mixologists are worth the trip. I’m told at present you do not need to have a dinner reservation to go to the lounge, but that could change seasonally. If you can get in, it’s also a great place from which to see the Magic Kingdom fireworks.
#2 & 1 – Perhaps not surprisingly, Epcot boasts a tie between my personal favorites: La Cava del Tequila (Mexico Pavilion) and the Rose & Crown Pub (United Kingdom Pavilion). They are both wonderful places to escape from the hot Florida sun or just to relax over drinks and conversation.
At the bottom of the ramp inside the Mexico pavilion, La Cava del Tequila has become a very popular place. There are rumors that they’re going to expand the lounge because there is usually a line to get in. It features over 100 tequilas and they concoct such interesting margaritas as avocado-melon or jalapeno, rimmed with a hibiscus Himalayan salt or blood orange, topped with a wild berry foam – delicioso! While you can get drinks to-go from the bar, it’s even better when you can sit and sip while enjoying a basket of warm tortilla chips with queso or something else from their small tapas menu. They frequently have special promotions like free chips and salsa for following them on Twitter. Ask your server if there are any promos going on while you’re there.
The Rose & Crown Pub on the opposite side of the lagoon has the look and feel of a traditional English pub. The large carved-wood bar serves both the restaurant and the lounge area in the front. If you’re lucky enough to get one of the handful of tables here you may want to order something from the limited pub menu. I recommend the fish & chips or the cheese plate! One of the best things about hanging out here was the opportunity to be entertained by “The Hat Lady”. Apparently things have changed somewhat of late… WDWMagic reported “…the entertainment at the Rose and Crown will be purely music, with guests being able to sing along and make requests. The former ‘Hat Lady' will continue to appear, but as a pianist only, and she will not perform the 'Hat Lady' show.”…not sure exactly what that means, but let me know if you’ve been there lately and have more info.
Honorable Mention: One of my favorite cocktails, the Yak Attack, comes from the Yak & Yeti restaurant in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. I couldn’t include it on this list, however, because it’s really not a lounge – just a service bar inside a restaurant. Do stop in and get a Yak Attack to go or, if you’re lucky, you might be able to enjoy it at one of the few stools at the bar.
There are other places I need to try, but it’s hard not to visit my favorites and there’s never enough time to do everything! I hope you’ll make time to enjoy some lively libations on your next visit. Leave comments here and let me know your favorite spots. Happy and safe travels!
This week’s Top Ten is my personal favorite table service restaurants at Walt Disney World – Parks & Resorts. I did not include Downtown Disney restaurants on this list because there would be too many to narrow down to ten! There are also some highly acclaimed restaurants that are not included in this list simply because I haven’t eaten there. For example, every list of Disney restaurants places Victoria & Albert’s at the top of the list, but since I haven’t had the pleasure of dining there, I didn’t include it. Also, I chose my favorites based not only on food, but also on atmosphere and themeing. Moderately priced restaurants (approx. $15-30/person) are indicated by ($$), while expensive restaurants (approx. $30-60/person) are indicated by ($$$) – note these prices generally do not include alcohol. So here are my Top Ten:
#10 ESPN Club ($$) - BoardWalk area – This casual sports bar restaurant is a perennial favorite because, while you might go there to relax and catch a favorite game on TV, the food is also reliable, albeit standard American sports bar fare.
#9 Hollywood Brown Derby ($$$) – Disney’s Hollywood Studios – The reason this restaurant didn’t rank higher on my list is that it can be pretty pricey for what you get. I’ve had some great food there, but it’s generally not inventive. The menu changes seasonally, so sometimes there are better choices than others. The menu and prices here are the same at lunch and dinner…gotta love that famous Grapefruit Cake, though!
#8 Artist Point ($$$) – Wilderness Lodge -- A few years ago this might have garnered the #2 or 3 spot, but it’s been inconsistent. While some of my best Disney meals were here, I’ve also been very disappointed. The Smokey Portobello Soup is Heaven in a bowl! Hopefully they’ve worked out whatever glitches they had.
#7 50’s Prime Time Café ($$) – Disney’s Hollywood Studios – I love everything about this place. From the décor to the servers’ shtick to the food, it’s worth a trip. The menu is all about home-style cooking and comfort food. My favorite order is the entrée sampler, which includes crispy fried chicken, fork-tender pot roast and meatloaf “with all the fixings”. It’s hardly a trip to Disney without a stop for drinks at the bar or their famous PB&J shakes (yes, really!).
#6 Chefs de France ($$) – Epcot’s France Pavilion – If you enjoy French cuisine, this is a reasonably priced place to enjoy it. It really feels like a bistro in Paris and the menu includes some of my favorites like Quiche Lorraine and Cabernet-braised beef short ribs. All I can say is YUM!
#5 Citricos ($$$) – Grand Floridian – This upscale restaurant in the Grand Floridian offers dishes you won’t see elsewhere in Walt Disney World. While there is somewhat of a Mediterranean influence, especially in the appetizers, you won’t see big pasta dishes on the entrée menu. Rather, there are more classical offerings like pan-seared Florida grouper and their house specialty Braised Veal Shank.
#4 Be Our Guest ($$) – Magic Kingdom – As the newest table service restaurant, getting a reservation for dinner here isn’t easy. While they do pack quite a few tables into the large ballroom of Beast’s castle, the candlelit atmosphere is delightful – like you just stepped into the movie. Our food was delicious and reasonably priced. The service was great and our host, Beast, even made appearances throughout the evening, remaining in the library for photos after your meal. *Note – while this easily made the number 4 spot as a dinner location, at lunch it’s a counter service restaurant with a better than average fast food selection.
#3 Jiko – The Cooking Place ($$$) – Animal Kingdom Lodge – When I asked my daughter to describe this, her favorite restaurant, her response was “expensive but amazing – the filet mignon is to die for.” People love this restaurant for the African ambience and unique flavors that Jiko’s menu offers. While my daughter may enjoy the beef filet best of all, what brings diners in is the opportunity to try more regional dishes like Spicy Botswana-style “Seswaa” Beef Short Rib or Tagine Chicken.
#2 Flying Fish Cafe ($$$) – BoardWalk area – Most of my family members had dined here and raved about it, but after several WDW trips, I still hadn’t had the opportunity. When I finally crossed the threshold of Flying Fish, what I found inside was true bliss. Despite its name, Flying Fish is not just about seafood. Their talented chefs produce dishes highlighting fresh local produce, sustainable seafood and aged meats. There are a few seats at the counter of the show kitchen where you can watch the food being prepared while you dine. They’re famous for their Idaho Potato-wrapped Red Snapper which I love, but I’m frequently tempted by something new. I try to make it here at least once on every trip and have never been disappointed. Editor's Note: Flying Fish is closing for a few months, beginning January 31, 2016, for a complete renovation including a menu overhaul. I can't wait to try it when it re-opens!
#1 California Grill ($$$) – Contemporary Resort – Newly remodeled and re-opened in the Fall of 2013, the California Grill offers signature gourmet dining – a most inventive and unique menu, expertly prepared. With spectacular views from the top of the hotel overlooking the Magic Kingdom area, you can go out on the roof to watch the fireworks. The wine list is extensive, with over 300 hand-picked wines. The menu featuring “the flavors of the Pacific Coast” changes seasonally and includes such diverse choices as sushi, brick oven-fired flatbreads, Sonoma goat cheese ravioli, and oak-grilled filet of beef.
Honorable Mention: The charming Rose & Crown at Epcot's U.K. Pavilion and steak-lovers’ favorites Le Cellier ($$$) at Epcot’s Canada Pavilion and Yachtsman Steakhouse ($$$) at the Yacht Club Resort.
Do you have a favorite restaurant on this list – or one that’s not on the list? What’s a spot you can’t miss? Keep it to the Parks and Resorts. We’ll discuss Downtown Restaurants in a future post. Let me know in your comments!
Jan turned her love of travel into a "second half" career. In her spare time, Jan directs youth community theater.