Dining

SATURDAY SIX: The Disney Hipsters Examine Six of Their Assumptions After Visiting the Universal Orlando Resort

by on October 4, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX is a very special one. A little over a year ago I was introduced to the Disney Hipsters podcast via the TouringPlans Podcast Network and I became an immediate fan. They are refreshingly different from the seemingly hundreds of Disney podcasts out there that just recite Disney press releases and while they have a true passion for Walt Disney World they never shy away from pointing out the bad along with the good. When they announced their first ever trip to the Universal Orlando Resort earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to get their unique perspective on the theme parks and staying onsite after years of being “Disney Only” fans. Today Disney Hipster Adam Ferretti is here to examine six of the assumptions they had about Universal before going on the trip and whether or not they held up after the vacation. As always, clicking on any picture will open up its full size version, so with that out of the way I will see you, Dear Reader, at the end of the article and hand the reigns over to Adam…

DisneyHipsters_Krusty

The Disney Hipsters, Andrew and Adam, with Krusty the Clown.

As Disney nerds going into Universal, we had tons of preconceived notions on what to expect. We thought we would discuss six of those assumptions.

ASSUMPTION # 6 – Universal Team Members Would be Inferior to Disney Cast Members

This assumption was very wrong. As a rule, the team members were super friendly, helpful and amazing. We expected the customer service aspect and general employee/guest interactions at Universal to be less than great. We ended up being really surprised by the enthusiasm of the team members at both the parks and our resort (Royal Pacific.) This was especially true of performers inside both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.

Universal pays their team members a bit better (we have heard) and gives them more freedom when doing their jobs. This results in guest interactions that come off as way more genuine along with performances that were truly engaging (check out the hosts of Disaster or the Horror Make Up show for great examples.) Disney is more controlling on Cast Member behavior, including what they can and cannot say. Sometimes this makes Cast Members seem like they’re faking it, resulting in their performances being generally stale and boring (see The Great Movie Ride).

HipstersHorrorMakeUp2_Trygve

Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show. (photo by Trygve Nelson)

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PHOTO REPORT: Atrium Club Level at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

by on October 1, 2014

Recently I had family staying at Disney’s Contemporary Resort for a week, and I joined them for one night to check out the Atrium Club Level experience. I have stayed Club Level at several of the Universal hotels, including the Royal Pacific Resort and Portofino Bay, and have always enjoyed it, so it was time to see what Disney provides. I’ve priced out options at staying Club Level at the Polynesian and Animal Kingdom Lodge before, but eventually get scared off by the price and ended up booking a room at value resorts like Art of Animation or Pop Century. For this stay I booked a Club Level room with the Special Offer: Passholder Room Offer for Late Summer discount. The total was $616.79 for one night. Was it worth the cost? Let’s check it out….

AtriumClubLevel_ViewFromMainRoom

View from the shared area of the Atrium Club Level.

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Menu Monday: Vegan in Prime Time

by on September 29, 2014

My dish!  Cute plate!

My dish! Cute plate!

There has been one thing holding me back from ever dining at 50′s Prime Time Cafe in Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Fear (capital F). I am made so completely anxious and nervous by any type of crowd participation, that the fear of being told to get my elbows off the table, or to clear my plate has kept me away from this DHS mainstay. Even when I heard tell of vegan meatballs on the menu, I kept my distance to avoid any playful interaction that might await me.

The few times I have visited DHS in recent months, I have always looked longingly at 50′s Prime Time Cafe. I knew the decor and theming of the restaurant was right up my alley (starburst clocks! Danish-made end tables!), and those vegan meatballs were an actual menu item. Still, I stayed away, until very recently when I decided it was time to face my fear.

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Crowd-Free Quick Service Restaurants

by on September 29, 2014

Crowds are probably the biggest complaint you hear at Walt Disney World; and throughout most of the year, crowds are pretty much unavoidable whether you’re in line for an attraction or to board the Monorail or even to dine at a restaurant. For me, a line out of the door at the nearest park quick service restaurant is the worst! This is especially true when I’ve burned off all the calories from my Gaston’s Tavern Cinnamon Roll eight or nine spins on Pirates of the Caribbean ago. So after much trial and error during my trips to the parks and resorts, I have compiled a list of crowd-free quick service restaurants which offer short lines even during the busier times at Disney World. Take a look!

Boardwalk Bakery - A Glass Slipper Vacation

The BoardWalk Bakery

Tortuga Tavern – Only open seasonally, I can’t say that Tortuga Tavern never gets crowded; however, it is known for shorter lines and lower crowds than its next door restaurant, Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn. When lunch rolls around, ignore the line out the door for Pecos Bill’s and make your way over to Tortuga.

Gasparilla Island Grill – The Grand Floridian’s quick service restaurant is one of my personal favorite retreats. This is where I usually go for lunch after spending the morning at the Magic Kingdom; and as many times I’ve visited, I have rarely experienced a crowd. The Gasparilla Island Grill is an airy, spacious restaurant with a great selection of flatbreads, sandwiches, salads, and desserts, as well as gourmet cupcakes! If the weather is nice, I like to head outside for the outdoor seating which offers a view of the resort’s marina and the tip of Cinderella Castle in the distance. So if you’re looking to escape the lines for some fresh variety, this is where you should go.

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Menu Monday: The Fabulousness That Is Jiko

by on September 29, 2014

IMG_5151I’m not a fancy girl. If a restaurant employs someone to pull out my chair and place a linen napkin in my lap, then you can bet I’d rather be eating burgers. Over the years I’ve begrudgingly been dragged to nearly every restaurant on Disney property. While they’re all nice, only one has pulled me back over and over: Jiko – The Cooking Place isn’t just my favorite restaurant at any Disney Resort, but it might be my favorite restaurant in the universe! Of course, like all good things, I feel like I should share it with you. So sit back and prepare for the fabulousness that is Jiko!

Jiko can be found at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. When first approaching the lobby, you’ll notice that it’s just across a hallway from Boma – Flavors of Africa. You’ll likely hear loud drums and screaming children. Don’t be deterred: Boma is responsible for all the noise and craziness. That will make it all the more serene when you walk into the quiet calm of Jiko. Around the restaurant walls it looks like a beautiful sunrise. I wasn’t surprised to learn the interior of the restaurant was inspired by the opening scene of The Lion King. In addition to the large dining room, there’s also a smaller wine room for quiet, intimate dining. However, my favorite spot is at the bar. I know what you’re thinking, but it isn’t for the alcohol! :) At the bar a full menu is offered with more relaxed service. Every bartender we’ve spoken to has been at the restaurant for many years and gone out of his way for us. Not to mention there are no reservations needed at the bar!

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Disney Savvy Tips for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

by on September 24, 2014

Cinderella Castle - A Glass Slipper Vacation

Cinderella Castle at Christmas

Ed. – We realize it’s still over a month until Halloween, and you haven’t even ordered your Thanksgiving Turducken yet, but tickets are already on sale for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Enjoy the Food&Wine-aweenThanksmas season and have a Happy New Marathon Weekend.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a popular, hard ticket event at Disney World where guests can enjoy holiday festivities and the Christmas spirit at the most magical park of them all, the Magic Kingdom! The party is scheduled for select dates throughout November and December. In addition to the festive atmosphere, but also a series of holiday performances and activities to enjoy. Like what? New this year is the lighting, or rather freezing, of Cinderella Castle by Frozen’s Elsa! The party also offers character dance parties, Holiday Wishes, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, character meets, and so much more. To help you maximize the Disney magic, I’ve got a little early Christmas present:

Disney Savvy Tips for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

Plan for the Cold - Contrary to popular opinion, Florida is not warm and sunny all year long. In fact, it can get very chilly at Disney World during the holiday season, especially at night. The past two times I attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, I’ve needed several layers or even a coat to keep warm. When your party date draws close, check the extended forecast or monthly average temperatures for an idea of how to dress.

Watch the Once Upon a Christmastime Parade from Main Street – Many guests have their own opinions for where to watch the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street Electrical Parade; but for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, I encourage everyone to find a spot on Main Street, U.S.A. for the popular Once Upon a Christmastime Parade. Why? Main Street, U.S.A. is the only location in the park where fake snow drifts down from above as the parade passes by, creating a picture-perfect winter wonderland! Spots along the parade route go quickly, so claim a space early!

Prepare for Rain - During my first Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party experience, it rained the whole night! Myself, along with most of the party guests, just donned a poncho and braved the damp, but there were few changes to the party due to the inclement weather. First of all, some elements of the parade were removed for safety purposes. The main floats were still included, but some of the characters and dancers were not. Whenever the weather isn’t cooperative, Disney does their best to carry on the night as planned, but some performances and live entertainment can be cancelled, delayed, or altered. It’s just something to prepare yourself and another reason to check the forecast.

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Disney Dining: ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

by on September 22, 2014

It has been years since I have been to ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and I have been looking forward to a return for a long time. Getting dining reservations at this popular restaurant can at times be as frustrating as Cinderella’s Royal Table or Anna and Elsa at Fairytale Hall, so when Tim Grassey – my co-host of the E-Ticket Report podcast - scored a dinner reservation and asked me to join him, I jumped at the chance to see if ‘Ohana was as good as I remembered it being. (Please note that all pictures in this article can be viewed at full size by clicking on them.)

OHANA_BreadPudding

‘Ohana Bread Pudding a la mode with Bananas-Caramel Sauce. More on this later…. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Menu Monday: Disney Dining Plan Snack Credit Savory “Meals”

by on September 22, 2014

If you use the Disney Dining Plan, this may be a familiar scenario. You have an early dinner dining reservation (say around 4:00 PM), and you figure if you use your quick service dining credit for a big breakfast, you’ll be able to last until that meal. Suddenly around 1:00 PM, you realize you really are missing lunch. You don’t want to pay out of pocket for another meal, but you really don’t want to use your Disney Dining Plan snack credit on a cupcake or ice cream bar for “lunch.” Thankfully, there are some savory options that you can use your snack credit on that fit the bill as a small lunch. Here are some of the best.

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2014 Epcot Food & Wine Festival Menus Added to TouringPlans.com

by on September 19, 2014

FoodandWinelogosmallYesterday was the soft open of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, which officially began today. Because of the invaluable help of Chat moderator, Susan Weaver; friend of the site, Heather Pero; and blogger, Maddi Higgins, we’re able to bring you this year’s Food & Wine menus and pricing in plenty of time to start planning your assault on the booths.

The biggest change this year is the elimination of all larger sized beer offerings. Whereas in previous years beers were sold in 6-, 12-, and 22-oz. sizes, for 2014 you’ll only find 6-oz. pours and flights of 4 beers at 4 oz. each. Those are priced $3.50 and $9.25, respectively.

It will come as no surprise that prices have generally gone up from last year. Most of the returning items are 25-50¢ higher this year. The majority of food items are in the $3.75 to $5.75 range. Desserts are usually around $3.

Nearly every booth at least one vegetarian choice, though many times that choice is dessert only. Vegan choices are only found at Terra, which returns this year.

The Food & Wine Festival runs now through November 10. TouringPlans recommends visiting on weekdays to avoid what can be very long lines at the food kiosks.

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Disney World Planning Challenges: Tough-to-Get Reservations—From FastPass+ to Dining

by on September 17, 2014

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Sign. Photo by Katie McNair

Photo by Katie McNair

Even with lots of research, some aspects of a Walt Disney World vacation are—let’s just say—resistant to planning. In fact, they can seem like downright mysteries to first-time vacationers and expert Disney World planners alike. A major challenge when planning a Disney World vacation is successfully reserving tough-to-get experiences that become available for booking at unpredictable times initially, book up extremely quickly, or both. Although there is no surefire way to snag these reservations, there are some ways to improve your chances.

First, though, it can be helpful for you to have a bit of background on the experiences that have given or are currently giving planners the most difficulty.

Hard-to-Get Reservations

Photo by Sarah Graffam

Photo by Sarah Graffam

Currently topping the list of difficult-to-get reservations are FastPass+ reservations for Meet Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairytale Hall and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom. In addition, obtaining reservations at Magic Kingdom’s Be Our Guest Restaurant can be a real challenge.

Experiences that have proven difficult for guests to book in the past and that can still present a challenge in some cases include FastPass+ for popular rides like Epcot’s Soarin’ and Test Track as well as Toy Story Mania at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, FastPass+ for parades and nighttime shows, FastPass+ for shows at special events such as Star Wars Weekends, reservations for the Frozen Summer Fun Premium Package, reservations at Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party, and, the original most-difficult-to-get reservation, dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table restaurant.

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