Archive for November, 2010

Site Navigation Tweaks

by on November 17, 2010

We’ve updated our site navigation scheme (see the top of this page, and the top of the TouringPlans.com to better reflect the focus of the site: the Crowd Calendar, Touring Plans, and Lines. We moved the Books, Dining, and Resort sections into the “More” tab. These new changes should make it easier to hop around the key sections of the site more easily. Please let us know in the comments what you think!

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Holiday Happenings Around the Parks

by on November 17, 2010

The holidays are getting to be in full swing at Walt Disney World so I thought I’d take this week to discuss some of the events and special activities guests can enjoy throughout the parks this week.  I have been lucky enough to make an annual trek to WDW at Christmas time for the last three years.  I’ll be heading down again this year from December 1-6 to take in the holiday traditions around property as well as meet with friends to enjoy the WDWtoday Reunion.  I simply love Christmas time at Disney and it always puts me in the holiday spirit!  I’m really looking forward to making my trip this year to enjoy some of the following activities.

Let’s start with the Magic Kingdom where the halls have been decked for a few weeks now.  The decorations on Main Street are hard to beat.  I just love the garlands strung across the road and the fruit stuffed decorations on the street lamps.  The main tree at the Magic Kingdom is massive and will be placed in the circle near the train station to great guests as they enter the park.  We can’t forget what waits for us at the end of Main Street with Cinderella’s Castle covered in lights to look as though it has been coated in ice.  Every night the Fairy Godmother will light the castle with a little show.  This presentation is a lot of fun, especially with families with kids who I’m sure would just love to see the characters prepare for the holidays.

I can’t talk about Christmas at the Magic Kingdom without telling you about Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.  This hard ticket event takes places on certain nights from November 8th until December 19th. Prices start at about $53 for adults and $48 for kids.  The party features a special parade called Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade and the Holiday Wishes fireworks display.  Complementary cookies and hot cocoa are available at several places around the park so check your event guide maps.  I’ve been to the party a few times, and after taking last year off I’m headed there again this year.  I’m really looking forward to walking down Main Street as it snows with my friends.

Epcot is my favorite park year round, but especially at Christmas time.  I just love seeing all of the nations of World Showcase decked out for the holidays. Holidays Around the World is back again this year and brings performers in most of the countries who present the traditions of the people there.  For example, in Japan … discusses the Japanese New Years traditions since many people there subscribe to Buddhism rather than celebrating the Christian holiday of Christmas.  In select other countries (like Canada pictured) their version of Santa Claus shares their gift giving traditions.  I try to catch as many of these little shows as possible throughout my holiday stay at WDW.  I think I’ve now seen most of them, and I have to say they are really well done and enjoyable.  Your kids will love seeing Father Christmas and Pere Noel and learning what the kids in other countries do on Christmas morning.  Be sure to check Epcot’s time’s guide to see when various festive performances will be made throughout World Showcase.

If music is your thing, be sure to stop by the Fountain Stage in Future World to see Joyful! four times daily from November 26 through December 26.  This lively group called D’Vine Voices was a lot of fun last year, and they have returned to bring us more joyful sounds.  Likewise, the Voices of Liberty can be found inside at the American Adventure Pavilion where they sing a special Christmas set of songs.  They will melt your heart as they serenade guests dressed in their caroling best.

Another, can’t miss musical presentation is the Candlelight Processional performed three times nightly from November 26 to December 30. A cast member choir is joined by a community choir, a full orchestra, and a celebrity narrator to tell the story of Christmas through beautiful music in the American Gardens Theater.  I don’t have a musical bone in my body, but I think this show is stunning.  The beauty of the music along with the spirit of the occasion could move just about anyone.  This is one of my favorite activities around WDW at the holidays and I will see it at least once on my upcoming trip.

Guests can either wait in a standby line or purchase a Candlelight Processional dining package which entitles them to reserved seats.  While I have taken advantage of a dining package in the past, the prices these days are a bit too steep for my comfort.  My friends and I may try to grab a beer and some food and hang out together in queue this year.  With a fun group waiting it out shouldn’t be too bad.  If you decide to use this strategy be sure to arrive well in advance of show time to ensure you are allowed in.

It’s hard to decide if I prefer the Candlelight Processional or the holiday version of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.  I adore the standard presentation of Illuminations (I saw it on three out of the four nights on my last trip), but the holiday tag is simply amazing.  The normal show starts off at the regular time and just when the folks who have never seen the holiday tag before think the show is over, there’s more.  Walter Cronkite’s familiar and comforting voice comes over the speakers and he talks about the holiday season before “Let There Be Peace On Earth” is played with choreographed pyrotechnics.  There are more fireworks shells launched in this special holiday tag than there are in the whole standard Illuminations show.  The ground shakes, you can feel the vibrations in your chest, and there are very few dry eyes standing around the World Showcase Lagoon.  After being lucky enough to experience this display for the last few years, I can’t imagine my Christmas season without it.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios also has special events each December.  The brightest of those festivities being the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.  Disney’s Imagineers have rigged up millions of lights along the New York Street since the mid 90s.  It all started when a man named Jennings Osborne displayed these lights at his home in Arkansas.  When his neighbors took issue with his holiday spirit and he could no longer hang his lights, he gave them to Disney where they have put their own touch on his magical idea.  You may be wondering why this display is called the Dancing Lights.  Well, that’s because the folks at Disney have found a way choreograph these millions of lights to some of your favorite Christmas songs!

The Osborne Lights come on at dusk each day and run until park closing and they will run from November 8th til January 3rd this year. Guest should be aware that inclement weather can put a damper on things at the famous DHS display.  Last year when I tried to see the lights, some light rain earlier in the day wreaked havoc and they had to be shut down when about a quarter of them were not working properly.  Also, please be forewarned that this area can get very crowded in the evenings.  Try to keep your group together or designate a meeting place outside of the madness should you get separated.    The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is a sight guests looking for a little Christmas cheer shouldn’t miss.

Animal Kingdom’s Christmas decorations are really beautiful.  Animal ornaments and natural materials come together to make something magical in a place where one wouldn’t assume Christmas would be a priority.  Some of my favorite Animal Kingdom decorations can be found in Camp Minnie Mickey.  Take my advice and head that way to see the trees scattered throughout the area which are themed to match the personality and interests of different Disney characters.  Kids will enjoy guessing which tree belongs to Mickey, Goofy, and other pals.  Cast members working in the area are usually happy to help guests who might be stumped.  Also at the Animal Kingdom, Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade is fun for the whole family with its lively entertainment and fun floats.  The parade is essentially the standard celebration with a Christmas twist.  Dance and sing along with your favorite characters as the floats travel around the park.

What are some of your favorite December activities in the Disney Parks?  I’d love to hear all about your traditions and what you are looking forward to seeing most this year!

Next week I’ll keep the holiday spirit going when I discuss my upcoming trip!

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WDW Today Episode 800 – Listener Questions

by on November 16, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 800 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join TouringPlans.com owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

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Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: The Basics

by on November 16, 2010

While most of us are still raiding our children’s Halloween candy stashes and preparing to defrost the Thanksgiving turkey, at the Walt Disney World Resort, it is already Christmas. Of all the celebrations taking place on property, the biggest is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) at the Magic Kingdom.

MVMCP is a hard ticketed event and is set up much like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Those wishing to go to the party will need to buy a separate event ticket and can not get into the party using a regular park ticket or annual pass. When party goers enter the park they are given a wristband. Once the party begins, cast members begin checking for wristbands at attractions, entrances to lands, and even just while walking around. Anyone without one will be asked to leave and directed to the exit. The official party runs for 5 hours from 7pm-12midnight, however, you can usually get into the Magic Kingdom with your party ticket from 4pm.

During the event there are select attractions open, however, most people prefer to focus on the happenings exclusive to MVMCP. Also, no table service restaurants will be open since most people do not want to waste time eating at a sit-down place.

The entire park is in the Christmas spirit for the party. All around there are decorations, carols play in every land, Cinderella’s Castle is lit up with beautiful sparkling icicles, and on Main Street it even snows! Cast members are dressed up in red and green, special party merchandise is sold, guests wear Santa hats and reindeer antlers, and it really does begin to feel a lot like Christmas.

During the event free hot chocolate and sugar cookies (or apple slices) are offered. These are handed out at seven different stations located throughout the park, designated with a lit up sign. There are also two dance parties where all-ages can boogie with the characters. The dance parties are “Woody’s Hootin’ Holiday Open House” at The Diamond Horseshoe and “Cosmic Ray’s Jingle, Dance and Play” at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe.

From 7pm-11:30pm, there are special character greets in select locations. These greets include all 7 Dwarfs, Pooh and friends, and many more all dressed up for the holidays. These lines can be some of the longest at the party, so plan accordingly.

There are also two holiday shows that take place. “A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas” is put on at the Rockettower Plaza Stage in Tomorrowland at 7:45, 8:45, 9:55, 10:50, and 11:45. The show is a high energy Christmas bash with Buzz Lightyear, Stitch, and more. It includes upbeat carols, contemporary dancing, and some of Stitch’s usual antics. The “Celebrate the Season” show is performed on the Castle Forecourt Stage at 7:45, 10:05, and 11:20. It combines some favorite Disney characters with classic Christmas icons and songs. The stage comes alive with dancing horses, living toys, and so much more. It is not to be missed.

However, the main highlights of MVMCP are “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade” and the “Holiday Wishes” fireworks.

“Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade” runs twice each party night at 8:15 and 10:30 along the parade route from Frontierland to Main Street. The parade features many festive characters, including some rarely seen ones, delicious smells, enchanting music, and a sleigh-load of magic. Make sure to look out for the very special guest who closes out the parade!

The “Holiday Wishes-Celebrate the Spirit of the Season” fireworks spectacular occurs at 9:30pm. While the display can be seen from almost anywhere in the park, the best view is from Main Street in front of Cinderella’s Castle. The show is set to a soundtrack of Christmas favorites with some beautiful effects that cause the crowd to gasp in delight.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is definitely a fun experience for the whole family, and a great way to kick off the holiday season.

Have you been to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party? Are you going this year? What did you like best about the event?

Dates for MVMCP in 2010:

November 8, 11, 12, 16, 18, 19, 28, 30

December 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 19

Note: After December 19, some of the experiences from the party, like the parade and fireworks, will be offered nightly during regular park hours with no extra cost.

Pricing for the Party:

Advance Purchase Price: $53.95 + tax (Ages 10+), $47.95 + tax (Ages 3-9)

Note: Advance purchase tickets must be bought prior to the day of the event. Also, Advanced purchase pricing is not valid on December 7, 10, 12, 17, or 19.

Day of Event Price: $59.95 + tax (Ages 10+), $53.95 + tax (Ages 3-9)

Disney Vacation Club or Annual Passholder Price: $49.95 + tax (Ages 10+), $43.95 + tax (Ages 3-9)

Note: DVC and AP discounts are not valid December 7, 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, or 19.

Attractions Open During the Event

Adventureland:
-Pirates of the Caribbean
-The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
-Swiss Family Treehouse

Frontierland:
-Splash Mountain
-Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
-Country Bear Jamboree

Liberty Square:
-The Haunted Mansion

Fantasyland:
-Peter Pan’s Flight
-Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
-Dumbo the Flying Elephant
-Mickey’s Philharmagic
-Snow White’s Scary Adventures
-”it’s a small world”

Tomorrowland:
-Astro Orbiter
-Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover
-Space Mountain
-Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
-Stitch’s Great Escape!
-Tomorrowland Speedway
-Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor (note: last showing is at 10pm)

Mickey’s Toontown Fair:
-The Barnstormer at Goofy’s Wiseacre Farm

Locations for Food Open at the Event

Main Street, USA:
-Casey’s Corner
-Main Street Sweets

Frontierland:
-Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe (closes at 10pm)
-Westward Ho
-Turkey Leg Cart
-Frontierland Churros & Pretzels

Liberty Square:
-Sleepy Hollow

Fantasyland:
-Storybook Treats

Tomorrowland:
-Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe
-The Launching Pad at Rockettower Plaza

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Disney Weekends – A Holiday Tradition

by on November 15, 2010

My very first blog on Touring Plans was all about doing a Disney World weekend trip.  The reason for that is because in years past, I had always taken a trip around the first weekend in December, as part of a holiday tradition.  There’s so much to do around Disney at the holidays that one weekend was never enough, but we gave it a try anyway. 

These trips were such a part of my holiday traditions that in my computer’s picture folders, there’s one for “Christmas at WDW” every year beginning in 2001 all the way through 2007.  We did not take that  trip in 2008 or 2009 because of other issues, but this year, we’re heading back to Walt Disney World for the holidays, as part of Reunion 2010! 

The things I missed about these trips were the little things.  We would always leave my office in Atlanta on Thursday night and stay at the same exit off I-75 that night, exit 5.  At that exit, there’s a Days Inn and a Travelodge we would stay in, cramming ourselves in a tiny, cheap room because we wanted to save as much money as we could for Disney. 

The next morning, we always ate breakfast at the Cracker Barrel.  They have a holiday sampler every year that includes cinnamon biscuits.  Those biscuits, combined with a cup of coffee, the roaring fire in the fireplace and the fresh pine wreaths hanging on the wall, were a signal to me that Christmas was on the way.

After a hearty breakfast, we drove from Lake City, Georgia to the Ocala Disney visitor’s center (sorely missed), then all the way into Orlando and straight to Downtown Disney for shopping.  I know everyone goes shopping for the holidays, but with a son who’s a diehard Lego fan, a daughter who loves princesses and two devoted Disney fans for parents, in our family Downtown Disney was the shopping mecca.  Hearing the carols around the walkways, grabbing some hot chocolate or buying some candy were all getting us in the mood.

Friday night, after checking into the hotel, we went over to Trail’s End for dinner.  Stuffing ourselves again, it was good preparation for the weekend, as right after, we’d take the boat over to the Magic Kingdom and enjoy Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.  I know it’s overpriced and the quality has gone down over the years, but there’s something magical about the party, especially the parade.  My fondest memories of Disney include sitting at Sleepy Hollow and watching my 2 yr old son gasp with amazement as the parade goes by.

Saturday morning, we’d get up bright and early to ride all the rides in Magic Kingdom that we missed the night before, then head over to Epcot for the rest of the day.  We’d start with lunch at the Garden Grill, so my son could see Mickey.  I loved the food there, and I’m sad we won’t get to experience it that way again.

As a “grown up” I found my appreciation for the holidays at Epcot grew every year. Seeing the different Santas from around the world, browsing the shops to see the holiday traditions and foods and of course, Holiday Illuminations were all highlights.  As well as the Lights of Winter, but I won’t start that discussion. (Bring them back, Disney!)

Notice all the things at Disney that I didn’t mention?  The gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian, the Osborne Lights, touring the resorts and many other things were left off our list for many years.  It wasn’t that we didn’t like these things, it was that we had so little time.  Still, these annual short trips hold so much joy for me, that I am dying to return.  Now, the trip holds extra meaning, because not only will I get to relive these old memories with my children and make more, but I’ll get to meet a bunch of the Disney fan community I have not seen yet.  And I get to do it all while living out my Disney holiday tradition.

What about you?  Do you have any special Disney holiday traditions that you are doing again this year?  Or some that have lapsed that you want to bring back?

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WDW Today Episode 799 – Oh Babycakes!

by on November 14, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 799 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join TouringPlans.com owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

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Foto Fridays: Extending the Vacation Through Photography – Scrapbooking

by on November 12, 2010

If you’re reading this blog, it’s probably pretty safe to say that you inundate your life with all things Disney. From news & rumor discussion forums about the parks, to Twitter “meets” to watch Disney movies with fellow fans, to websites dedicated to showing people how to lead a Disney Driven Life, the Mouse manages to invade our lives on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

My wife and I have found more ways to surround ourselves with Disney than we can even remember.  Seriously.  However, on a recent episode of BetaMouse, when Henry Work made a sarcastic remark about scrap-booking, he sparked my memory regarding one of the ways that I used to get a dose of Disney in my daily life, and in so doing, he challenged me to demonstrate just how cool/hip/fun/”BetaMouse” scrap-booking can be. Challenge accepted.

That’s right, I was once a scrap-booker. It was the wild and loose spring of 2008, and everyone was experimenting. I had resolved to make a photo book documenting our August and Christmas trips from 2007, and I found that all of the pre-fabricated designs on the various photo book sites were lousy. I discovered an option on one of these sites to use a full page image per page, and the light went off that I could design my own layout, save it as an image, and viola, have my own designs. I had never used Photoshop prior to this, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I could have simply aborted the digital photo book idea and made conventional scrap-books, but my misguided sense of masculinity wouldn’t allow for that. At least digitial photo book creation (I refused to call it scrap-booking) seemed more tech-savvy and manly than regular scrap-booking. Plus, in my experience with traditional scrap-booking, it always made a mess and was expensive, and I hate expensive things and messes, so digital scrap-booking, even if it would prove more difficult, was the clear choice for me.

For those unfamiliar with Photoshop (CS3 was the version I used), it has somewhat of a learning curve. However, I was persistent, and through video and written tutorials, along with my own inquisitiveness, I managed to create my first layout. It only took me 4 hours to create.

Tomorrowland layoutAbove is the first layout I made.  Relatively simple.  I cannot believe it took four hours to make!

MGM Layout 1

The process became significantly less time consuming as I learned the ropes, and when I was finally done with the project, it was only taking me around twenty to thirty minutes per page. Not bad, given that it was something that I enjoyed. So you don’t have to reinvent the wheel if you decide to scrapbook, here are some tips concerning ‘mistakes’ I made.

Epcot Title Page

Contemporary & Poly at Christmas

If using Photoshop, use Actions. Actions allow you to record a series of commands that you make within Photoshop (similar to macros in other programs). You can then apply the Action to other objects/images after recording the first action, rather than repeating the repetitive process for each image/object. For scrap-booking, I found this especially helpful for the addition of borders, drop shadows, and other enhancements to photos themselves within a layout.

Osborne Lights

Magic Kingdom Christmas 1

For those planning on turning these layouts into a photo book, find a template with guidelines on the photo book producer’s website. If there isn’t a template, find the dimensions (gutter, etc.) and add these guidelines in Photoshop (or whatever program you use). Trust me, you don’t want to rearrange a layout because the page-preview on the photo book website indicates one of your pages will be cropped such that it features “pcot” rather than “Epcot.”

Epcot Christmas Layout

Country Bear Christmas Layout

Flickr and Google images can be great resources for backgrounds, but searching these sites for high resolution backgrounds will be time consuming. Take your own background photographs at the parks. The Tower of Terror bell hops may give you some weird looks for taking close-up photos of a wall, but it’s a lot less time consuming (and more authentic!) than finding something that “sort of” fits your theme online.

Tower of Terror Layout

Epcot Title Page

Epcot World Showcase 2

Don’t do all of the work yourself. There are a number of websites that offer free (or paid) scrapbook embellishments. Use them. I found myself making far too many of my own, and this was time-consuming. For some pages, there was no way around this. There simply were no logos for certain Disney resorts, etc., that I could find online, so I had to carefully extract them from literature I found. Another helpful resource that will add a little zest to your layouts is MickeyAvenue.com. Mickey Avenue has countless fonts used at Walt Disney World.

Epcot Christmas World Showcase Luggage

Figment Layout

Save tickets, maps, paper menus, hard ticket wristbands, and anything else that might look cool in the scrapbook, and scan it when you return home. These items bring a nice touch to your pages, and provide a nice change of pace from the typical purely-photo layouts. After all, back in the ‘old days’ when scrap-booking was done with paper and scissors, these type of things were common staples of a good scrapbook.

Pirate & Princess Party Layout

Typhoon Lagoon Layout

The end result was really cool, but that wasn’t the big draw for me. The draw was creating something I thought to be neat, and in so doing, extending our Disney vacation a bit further. I think this process of “extending the trip” is something we all do, and is really quite fun. It provides a more gentle transition back to reality. Rather than simply sinking into the depths of depression (kidding) after the conclusion of a Disney trip, we have something to cushion the blow. For some of us, this is photography-related. For others, it’s a support group via Twitter. Whatever it may be, for those of us, like myself, who are truly obsessed with the Mouse, it’s imperative.

I have since ceased scrap-booking. Not because I don’t like it, but because other commitments and interests have displaced it. It was something that I did to preserve our memories, but also to “extend the trip,” and now I extend the trip in other ways. Through editing images, preparing extremely long trip reports, and even writing this weekly blog, I’ve found that I have plenty of Disney in my daily life. While I could probably find the time to make these photo book layouts, too, I think that would be pushing it–it’s good to have some balance.

For those who have an interest in creating similar photo book pages, I encourage you to give it a try. You certainly don’t have to use Photoshop (there are a number of paid and free alternatives, although I can only vouch for the wonderful powers of Photoshop), and you don’t have to start with anything complicated. There are also many online resources, and places to share your creations, so give it a try!  You can check out my other Disney photo book pages here.  If you need any embellishments, Disney logos, or borders, feel free to send me an email: tom@touringplans.com

How do you extend your Disney vacations? Do you scrapbook? Have you ever created photo book layouts? Do you have an interest in creating any now? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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WDW Today Episode 798 – Holidays At Animal Kindom/Resort Displays

by on November 11, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 798 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join TouringPlans.com owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

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Three Meals, One Family

by on November 11, 2010

Recently, I finished my yearly family vacation at Walt Disney World.  It’s not generally a long trip, but it is a high paced roller coaster ride of pure park madness each year that I look forward to.  The kind of trip a neurotic Disney person like myself can really sink my teeth in to.  There are a couple of things that attract us into the parks during October each year.  For starters, October is prime time for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.  We generally schedule a wine tasting or two, tackle the food booths, etc.  And then, both my stepdad’s birthday and my birthday happen to fall in October.  We generally have a “who gets the most free stuff from our birthday button contest” each trip.  Pretty sure my stepdad won by a cupcake this year.

However, after all the running and free treats, we like to sit down and have a nice dinner each night we’re there.  Without a doubt one of the biggest parts of any WDW trip is the food.  As a result, a large part of our planning is spent taking into account the needs and wants of our families and fellow travelers.  Then, we wake up early one morning roughly six months before our trip, and spend time calling the Disney Reservation Center or hopping online to book our meals.  First choices, second choices, etc.  And then suddenly, when all is said and done, you have your dining reservations.  Months later you find yourself in the parks, eating.

Kouzzina

For our first night we tried something a bit different then my parents are generally used to, mostly because we thought my brother would really enjoy it.  My wife, Cheryl, and I have eaten here a handful of times before.  And while I disagree with some of the menu choices – like the fact that that Parmesan cheese is a bad choice on top of Brussels sprouts – I’ve found that like all Disney restaurants they are willing to make modifications if you desire them.  The experience at Kouzzina has always been a mixed bag, though they have always taken great care of Cheryl’s dietary needs. This time was no different.

We had a 6:45pm reservation, and we arrived about 10 minutes before that.  Unfortunately we were made to wait until 7:20pm before being seated.  This would have been okay normally, except that we watched other parties of 5 or 6 come in after us and be seated before us.  So we got a bit irritable, especially my Stepdad.  When we were finally being seated he let everyone know how upset he was from the greeter, to the wait staff, to other people eating as we were led through the restaurant.  Ultimately the restaurant did the right thing and comped us the Kouzzina Sampler platter, but when they brought it to us, instead of being sized for two, it was sized for all five of us – that’s a lot of food, but it was nice because we could all taste anything we wanted.

Interestingly enough, there was a special event going on – we knew this because we were seated at a table between the outdoor seating door, and the event room.  Then, as we were picking up our menus a familiar looking chef walked by and into that room, it was Cat Cora herself in her restaurant working her magic that night.  While ordering, and eating, we watched her do some work in the kitchen, and move some plates into the back room.  After, she began moving from table to table throughout the restaurant.  Eventually working her way to our table – she was really sweet, nice and very friendly.  She even made a phone call to a friend for me (yes Cat Cora held my iPhone), and spent a number of minutes with us.

I had ordered the Wood-grilled Flank Steak medium as it was one of the main courses I’d not yet had before.  It was great, exactly what I needed after a day at Animal Kingdom.  The meat was crisp on the outside and super moist and soft on the inside – perfectly cooked to be honest.  My brother got a the whole fish, something I’d done on two prior occasions he loved it.  To be honest, if you can stomach a fish head being on your plate, it’s the best dish in the restaurant.  You can pick at it yourself, or have your waiter fillet it for you.  The pins (bones) are of the large, thick variety and easy to avoid, and don’t forget to pick out the cheek meat from the head – typically some of the best meat on any fish.

The Chef (no, not Cat I’m afraid), made Cheryl this fantastic bean, vegetable, and humus dish – the leftovers for this became my breakfast the next day after my morning run.  Spicy goodness.  My stepdad got the Trio which consists of Pastitisio (meat pie), Char-grilled Lamb Burger, and Cinnamon-stewed Chicken with Orzo.  He seemed to enjoy all but the chicken which he felt was sort of bland.  My mom had a bowl of Avgolemono (lemon chicken soup), and Spanakopita (spinach pie).  She loved the soup, but felt that the Spanakopita was a bit plain and a little dry.

Overall the meal started on a real low point, hit a nice high point with Cat Cora, and balanced out somewhere in between.  After talking with the family I’d say the restaurant probably came out to be a solid B rating for us.  Not spectacular, but not not terrible either – just somewhere in between.

Le Cellier

On our second day we went to an early dinner at Le Cellier.  My stepdad had been wanting to eat here for the past two years of trips prior, and there had been no reservations both times.  Cheryl managed to get a reservation this year, but it was for four because we made it before we knew my brother was coming down also.  However, there was no way to rescheduled it or change the number.  While they were turning away walk-ups left and right including this one guy who pleaded with them for a good 10 minutes, they gave me no problems with changing the reservation to five and we were seated quickly.

This was a somewhat exciting meal for me as the menu had recently changed, some items were replaced with similar items.  But like all meals at Le Cellier there was only one way to start, with Pretzel bread rolls.  We did polish off the initial mixed batch, and followed up another full batch of Pretzel bread only.  My brother went for one of the specialty beers, the Trois Pistoles – I tried some and it was pretty good.

For appetizers the Duck Three Ways has been replaced with Duck Meatballs served on puff pastries, which my brother ordered.  Each was topped with water cress and a diced tomato mixture along with some sauce. He noted that they were good except for being a bit salty.  My parents each got the Prince Edward Island Mussels (a dish I can’t eat at all) but it looked really good – the kind of mussel dish where your only utensils should be the shells they come in.

For our meals I ordered the new Maple and Pecan Crusted Salmon that is served on top of mushrooms and creamed corn mixture.  And as if I needed more cream in the meal I went with the creamed spinach as a side dish.  Usually I’m having steak in Le Cellier, so I’d never gotten this side dish before, but had always wanted to try it.  Since I’d had steak the night before, and I was getting fish, this was the time.  And while the salmon was good, but nothing special – the creamed spinach was a big win.  Can’t recommend it enough.

Cheryl got another amazing looking creation by the chef complete with corn, peas, asparagus, carrots, mushrooms, and fried shoe-string sweet potato.  I’m pretty sure she loved it because nothing came back to the room with us that night.

Everyone else ordered the fillet.  Usually this is the dish to get if you’re going to have steak at Le Cellier and haven’t before.  My brother also ordered a side of the asparagus – I was supposed to split this with him so he could have some of my creamed spinach.  At this point the meal took a nose dive.  While Cheryl and I had fantastic dishes, you could tell there were problems in the kitchen that night.

All three fillets, while coming out at the same time and all having been ordered the same way came out at three different levels of doneness.  Including my brothers being completely rare in the middle.  On top of that the risotto underneath was majorly over salted by the kitchen as was the asparagus.  The spears had so much salt on them that there was a layer of black charred particles on top – as I almost never salt my food it was inedible to me. I bailed on splitting the asparagus with my brother.

Desert helped redeem the meal as a whole.  My brother got the Mount Blanc Semifreddo which is like a dessert soup, not my thing, but he slurped it all down.  Cheryl got the sorbet as it was dairy free already.  My stepdad got the ever popular Chocolate “Moose”.  When it was set before him he said, “Did I order this?”  He wasn’t expecting the little moose head design on his plate.  I got Chocolate on Chocolate Whiskey Cake.  It was very rich, but also pure chocolate excellence – hard to finish but loved every bite.

This meal was not a complete disappointment, but my stepdad and brother were both expecting more out of the experience, and were a bit disappointed with their entrees.  My mother, Cheryl, and I sort of knew things had changed and understood what we were getting ourselves in to.  Family rating puts it around a B+.

The Wave

Since it’s opening The Wave has become one of my favorite restaurants at Walt Disney World.  In the beginning the service had been very slow, but the food has always been consistent and great.  Now that the service has picked up and with its concept of sustainable foods, I suspect that in the years to come the popularity of this restaurant will increase dramatically.  I can only recommend that you try it.  And if you’ve been here before there have been some menu changes, so come on back.

Cheryl’s parents joined us at this meal, so we were able to get one of the larger U shaped booths, I’d only ever been at a table before so I enjoyed this a lot.  It gave me a different viewing perspective as I only had to look out, not around.

Let me tell you a secret, the multi-grain bread that they give you is literally my favorite bread in all of Walt Disney World.  To the point where if I could have one slice of any single bread every day for the rest of my life, I would pick this bread.  Combined with some butter & rock salt… excuse me I’m shvitzing.

In the “more stuff I can’t eat” department, Cheryl’s parents split an order of scallops for an appetizer while my parents split a combo scallops and crab cakes.  My brother also got the scallops and crab cakes.  They all enjoyed their appetizers immensely.  Cheryl and I split the avocado and citrus salad – if you like the chemical reaction between citrus and avocado you can’t go wrong with this salad.

Both of our moms ordered the Fried Chicken and Waffle.  The waffle is not actually a traditional waffle, though it is pressed in a Belgian waffle press, it’s actually potato.  Even so it’s still served with maple syrup on the side.  I had to try a piece of the waffle with the syrup, and found myself surprised at how good it tasted.  The moms both really enjoyed this dish.

Our dads also ordered the same dish, but they chose the Linguini which comes with littleneck clams and rock shrimp.  Cheryl’s parents are from Massachusetts originally (they live in Kissimmee), and that there were no complaints from her dad, I’d say this dish is a win.  No complaints came from my stepdad either, he just quietly ate his dinner.  He also had a side dish that he split with my mom – it looked like a scoop of mashed potatoes, but it’s actually a different root vegetable entirely (sorry don’t recall the name).  It had a really great flavor from the few forkfuls I had.

My brother and I both got the Lamb Shank, and I have to say it was fantastic.  I never once picked up my knife – it just flaked off the bone as I picked at it, but it wasn’t falling from the bone without that picking.  Generally this is the right consistency for a shank, you want to pull it from the oven just before the meat falls off the bone on it’s own – otherwise you get stew.  My brother also got the Wilted Rainbow Chard side dish – I didn’t try it, but he said it was great.

Chery’s special dish of the evening was rice pasta elbows with tofu and an assortment of vegetables. Again she seemed very satisfied with her meal.  And from the bites I had (I always like to try what she’s eating), it was very tasty indeed.

Initially I wasn’t going to get dessert, but the waitress said that both birthday boys were getting their desserts on the house.  How could I say no?  The deserts at the wave shift around constantly, but are generally three small bits of desert that are combined together into a tasting tray.  I chose a gelato trio of caramel corn, raspberry cheesecake, and rocky road.  I wish i could get a pint of the caramel corn.  My stepfather and brother each got trios, I don’t remember what they got specifically.  Cheryl got a bowl of Tofutti with a gluten free brownie and some strawberries.

Overwhelmingly my family felt this was the meal to remember for the trip.  They literally had no problems with anything that was put in front of them.  Everyone was both happy and content with their meals.  And they felt the restaurant was a fantastic value.  It was also voted that of the three, The Wave was the restaurant to book again for our next family trip to WDW.  Definite A from my family.

What about you? Have you ever eaten at Kouzzina, Le Cellier, or The Wave?  How was it?  Would you go back?  What did you like?  What did you hate?  What WDW restaurants do you and your family love to eat at? Eat healthy, be well.  Or is that the other way around.  I forget.

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BETAMOUSE #39 – Mouse Hacks

by on November 11, 2010

betamouse logoA new episode of Betamouse is out, co-hosted by TouringPlans.com developer Henry Work.

Download the episode directly or subscribe via iTunes or RSS.

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