Dining

Trail’s End Weekend Brunch Review

by on May 24, 2016

2016-05-21 11.33.33Long-time fans of Trail’s End may remember when it offered both a breakfast and lunch buffet. The trick was to get a dining reservation near the end of breakfast so that your first plate or two was breakfast food and the rest was lunch. Eventually, Disney decided to move Trail’s End to a la carte dining for lunch, and the world was suddenly a darker place for many. Time to come out of that dark place, because Trail’s End now offers a weekend brunch buffet from 7:30 AM to 2 PM daily. (And for those who love some of the unique offerings on the lunch menu, it will still be offered on weekdays.)

Part of the challenge with dining at Trail’s End, located at the Settlement part of Fort Wilderness (next to the Hoop De Doo Revue) is getting there. If you are driving, you have to park at the Outpost and take a Fort Wilderness internal bus to get to the Settlement. This means that you’ll want to arrive at Fort Wilderness at least a half hour before your dining reservation (and 45 minutes to an hour is ideal). From the Magic Kingdom, you can take a boat directly to the Settlement. From any other theme park, you’ll be dropped off at the Outpost and then still need to take an internal bus. But enough about logistics–let’s talk food.

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SATURDAY SIX Looks at TOWN CENTER in Disney Springs: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

by on May 21, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Town Center in Disney Springs. The great Jim Hill often says about Disney Cruise Line, “You start building a new ship in one economy, and you finish it in a completely different economy.” The same can be said about building things at Walt Disney World except for one thing, it takes even longer. Years ago Downtown Disney was – to be kind – a mess. The parking situation was the absolute worst in Orlando. The two main areas (West Side and The Marketplace) were bookends to a ghost town once Pleasure Island closed in 2008. Finally, in 2013 Disney bit the bullet and announced the area would be completely refurbished and rebranded as Disney Springs.

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Welcome to Disney Springs. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Disney Springs had some growing pains during the first couple years, but it finally turned the corner in 2015 when the first of two parking garages opened along with The Landing (which includes The BOATHOUSE, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, and Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC among other venues.) On May 15, 2016 the final phase of Disney Springs began to open with the launch of Town Center. Many guests gave up going to Downtown Disney during the construction and they will not recognize the place once they come back. In the words of Tony Stark in the recent smash hit Civil War, “You’re in dire need of an upgrade, systemic, top to bottom, 100 point restoration” and that’s exactly what Disney fans got. Today we’re going to look at our favorite parts of Town Center, along with some things that could be a bit better. Let’s start our countdown with…

# 6 – The Area Looks Beautiful at Night

Downtown Disney was many things over the years, but you’re probably not going to find too many people who thought that it was “pretty.” With the opening of Town Center, Disney Springs is now aesthetically pleasing to the eye, both during the day and night. The water features and lighting package of Town Center make it a wonderful place to spend time in as the actual springs are gorgeous.

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Morimoto Asia as seen from The Town Center. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Town Center at night. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Dining Review: Disney Springs Quick Bites

by on May 17, 2016

If you’ve spent any time wandering around Disney Springs in recent months (or have followed along with all the coverage here on TouringPlans), you’ve probably noticed just how many new restaurants were on the way in the newly-revamped Landing and entirely new Town Center sections. This past Sunday, several of those options opened to the public and of course, I had to give a few of these new locations a shot to offer some opening day first impressions. I couldn’t make it everywhere, but rest assured, we’ll cover them in the coming weeks and months to see if they are worth some time on your upcoming Walt Disney World vacation.

My first stop of the day was what’s sure to be one of the more popular additions to Disney Springs – D-Luxe Burger, located just across the springs behind Morimoto Asia, in the Town Center section. As with most dining locations on opening day, there was quite a line, but I was impressed at the efficiency of it all – I arrived in line around 11:30 AM and made it to a register in about 20 minutes. The menu here is pretty simple – your choice of six specialty burgers, a la carte sides of fries, various dipping sauces, and then a large beverage menu, including gelato shakes, floats, and several alcoholic options. All of the beef patty burgers are made with a signature blend of angus chuck, short rib, and brisket in-house (none of those frozen patties you see at Electric Umbrella here), and the fries are fresh-cut and take several days to prepare, start to finish. I was warned whilst in line that burgers are cooked “perfectly pink” per the chef’s recommendation by default, but you can request a more well-done patty if you so choose. I would caution those who prefer well-done burgers to be proactive here – I was fine with medium, but unlike other restaurants, I was not asked what temperature I wanted my burger when I ordered it; I would’ve had to have offered that information up myself.

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SATURDAY SIX: 6 Drinks You Must Try At Disney Springs

by on May 14, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at 6 Drinks You Must Try At Disney Springs. Tomorrow, May 15th, is a gigantic day in the evolution of Disney Springs. The Town Center will officially be opening with a whole bunch of new restaurants and retail stores. The Lime parking garage will also start accepting guests, joining the Orange garage, dedicated ramps from I-4, and multiple pedestrian bridges that have been built over the last several years. Disney Springs, which was once the absolute worst place to get to on Disney property (and there wasn’t even a close second) has now become the easiest. We here at the SATURDAY SIX want to make a toast to this momentous occasion, and to do so we’re going to take a look at some drinks you need to try next time you go to Disney Springs. So sit back, remember to always use a coaster, and let’s start our countdown with…

# 6 –  P37 Swirl (Sangria Margarita) at Paradiso 37

The 37 in Paradiso 37‘s name references the 37 countries that make up North, Central, and South America. During the last couple years that Disney Springs has expanded, Paradiso 37 has also increased in size with a large amount of indoor and outdoor seating. You’re going to find a very large drink menu to choose from, but the restaurant’s specialties are tequila, sangrias, and the “coldest beer in the world.” One of their signature drinks is the P37 Swirl, which combines a frozen margarita mixed with frozen sangria. Very tasty, with neither drink overpowering the other, making it a solid choice while dealing with the Florida summer.

Our frozen P37 Margarita swirled with our famous Red Sangria. $10

P37 Swirl at Paradiso 37 in Disney Springs

P37 Swirl. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Now, longtime SATURDAY SIX readers know we certainly weren’t going to pass up the opportunity to try a unique beer. Pardiso 37 has the P37 Lager, which is served at 29 degrees Farenheit (for our non-American readers, that’s like minus 100 degrees Celsius, give or take.) It’s actually a great tasting beer. Not sure how much the temperature adds to it, but it’s a neat gimmick.

P37 Lager in Disney Springs.

P37 Lager, the coldest beer in Orlando. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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P37 Lager, the official beer of Mr. Freeze, (photo by Brandon Glover)

While watching us act like lunatics taking pictures of beer (only the best for you, Dear Reader) a manager showed up with a trio of drinks to try. These included the Prickly Pear Margarita (Don Julio silver tequila, prickly pear syrup, fresh lime juice, and sour mix,) Red Sangria (Premium red wine and brandy combined with pomegranate, guava, and cranberry juice) and White Sangria (Sauvignon Blanc wine, Club Caribe pineapple rum combine with mango and orange). Because of how many tequilas and sangrias that Paradiso 37 has, it’s your go to place at WDW for either.

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Margarita and sangrias (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Dining Review: Big River Grille

by on May 6, 2016

If you’ve ever spent any time strolling along Disney’s BoardWalk or Crescent Lake area, you’ve probably seen my next dining location along the way. Located on the Atlantic Dance Hall end of the BoardWalk, just adjacent to the resort’s merchandise locations, Big River Grille & Brewing Works offers standard family restaurant fare (think: burgers, steaks, salads) with a view of Crescent Lake and the surrounding resorts. I dropped in recently for a quick lunch and then returned a few days later for dinner to see if this restaurant was worth adding to my regular Disney dining rotation.

Big River Grille's Hickory Bacon Burger

Big River Grille’s Hickory Bacon Burger

Both of my visits to Big River Grille were on a whim – I didn’t make a reservation prior to arriving, either on OpenTable or the My Disney Experience app, but it didn’t matter. I was quick to be seated inside both times (choosing the comfort of air conditioning inside over the humidity on the outdoor patio), and my first impression of the restaurant was definitely that of substance over style – inside here, there’s very little theming or space, with tables pretty close together and almost no decoration. If the weather allows, I’d certainly request outdoor seating – far less cramped, less noisy at peak dining times, and with a really fantastic view for lake- and people-watching. Servers were all very prompt in greeting me and offering a few recommendations from the extensive beer and bar menu – one of their biggest draws for diners – and their food menu. It’s also worth noting here that Big River Grille itself is a chain restaurant popular outside of Walt Disney World, which servers said helps to draw in repeat visitors due to familiarity.

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Dining Review: Liberty Tree Tavern Lunch

by on April 27, 2016

A mainstay of dining in Magic Kingdom, Liberty Tree Tavern has always been a favorite for my family and friends for a filling mid-day meal. Recently, the kitchen underwent a few improvements in connection to the construction of nearby Skipper Canteen, so I thought it was about time to head back to the Tavern to see if this spot was still worthy of a stop. The lunch menu features slightly elevated versions of American classics like burgers and sandwiches, pot roast, and an individual portion of the popular Pilgrim’s Feast (Thanksgiving turkey dinner) offered as an all-you-care-to-enjoy dinner here. After a little investigating, I realized the pot roast entrée on the lunch menu is pretty much the same as what I sampled a few weeks ago at Diamond Horseshoe next door (the two share many similar menu items, so if it sounds the same, it probably is). I knew that a few items looked new to me, and after talking with my very friendly server, I decided I’d give the three newest dishes on the menu a shot: sweet corn fritters for my appetizer, the updated Liberty Boys Sandwich for my entree, and the Boston Cream Pie for dessert.

First to arrive were the sweet corn fritters ($7), five fritters served alongside a pepper jelly made in-house and atop a schmear of creamed corn (a nice plating touch, but altogether unnecessary – I appreciated the effort, though!). The fritters had a crispy fried coating sprinkled with a bit of salt, and a creamy and sweet corn flavor inside. Some of the fritters were more like hushpuppies in texture, with one or two a bit softer (I got the sense these weren’t quite cooked long enough, and the cornbread/hushpuppy texture was meant to be the real deal). Overall, I found these fritters sweet and savory, with a touch of warmth from the jalapenos inside the batter. The sweet and slightly spicy pepper jelly served on the side cut through the dense flavors of the fritters, but was a bit tough to use as a dip, practically speaking. I should also note that spicy-food-averse people shouldn’t necessarily write this dish off altogether, as the flavors from the fritters overall are relatively innocuous. I’d probably suggest these to anyone on the deluxe dining plan in search of a different kind of appetizer compared to other restaurants, but unless you’re absolutely starving, I’d probably skip appetizers altogether here and save room for dessert (you’ll see why shortly).

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Dining Review: Il Mulino New York Trattoria

by on April 15, 2016

If you’ve ever had a craving for Italian food at Walt Disney World, you know there certainly isn’t a lack of choices, particularly in the Crescent Lake Resorts/Epcot corner of the World. Recently, I took a trip to the Swan resort’s Il Mulino signature Italian eatery to see what it had to offer and how it compares to its neighbors.

I’d never been to Il Mulino before (but had always heard rave reviews), so I brought along a friend who had – as it turns out, this was an excellent decision, otherwise I never would’ve found the restaurant! The Swan hotel has two “lobbies” of sorts, so you have to walk through the main hotel lobby to the other central lobby to get to the restaurant. Once you’ve found it, you have to walk through the bar to get to the hostess stand (though I have occasionally seen a hostess outside the restaurant helping direct guests inside). After a few minutes of confusion about where to seat us in the bustling restaurant, we headed to a table in the main dining room. My first impression was that of an upscale modern eatery in a big city – a loud dining room with bare bones décor, filled to the brim with large parties of conventioneers and only a smattering of families. Our server was very quick to greet us (and introduce his serving partner), but then took a bit of time to come back to take our order. We were pretty overwhelmed by all the options on the menu; it’s probably twice as large as most signature dining options, with appetizers, salads, soups, pizzas, pastas, seafood, and meat entrees along with the family style dining section (available for parties with four or more people). Our server didn’t offer up any recommendations at first, but I had no idea what to order – so many options, many of which sounded fantastic. After a little prodding, he recommended a few of the pasta dishes and the steak entrees. We went against the grain and ordered a few items from several sections to try to get a representative sampling of the large menu.

Our drinks arrived in due time – I tried the “Piano Piano” ($13), basically an aviation cocktail you’d find at many other restaurants. After sampling this lightly-poured drink, I’d hazard a guess that most of the cocktails here follow suit – meant for conventioneers and tourists who rarely drink, so think light on the liquor, heavy on the sweet fillers. Sangria was recommended by one of our servers, as was the extensive wine list, but at convention prices (think: slightly higher than most Disney signature restaurant wine list), I was reluctant to order selections I’ve seen all around property for a few dollars cheaper per glass. I eventually caved and tried the red sangria, but it was, rather predictably, cloyingly sweet and lacking in any nuance. Along with our drinks, we received the restaurant’s bread service – several slices of crusty Italian bread, a few pieces of tomato herb focaccia, and a plate on the side with a few slices of salami and a healthy portion of eggplant caponata (a pretty standard mix of eggplant, garlic, tomatoes, with a few olive slices here and there). The salami was odd – very little flavor, no spice, no savory twang; but the caponata was excellent – not overly salty, and it brought out the sweetness of the tomato flavor in the focaccia.

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SATURDAY SIX: The Six Best Bars and Lounges at the WDW Resorts

by on April 9, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at the Six Best Bars and Lounges at the WDW Resorts. When we here at the SATURDAY SIX headquarters set out to do an article on the best bars and lounges at Walt Disney World, we didn’t want you – Dear Reader – to just take our word for it. So we conducted our patented top secret, double blind, exhaustively comprehensive scientific poll by reaching out to some of the biggest names in the blogging industry. A veritable theme park Who’s Who responded, and today we are here with the results.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!  For this article we contacted a bonafide theme park drinking expert in Drunk@Disney to give his thoughts on each bar and lounge. You will find Drunky’s thoughts at the end of each write-up. You will also hear from Rhiannon, Drunky’s better half and co-author on an upcoming book about drinking at WDW. So sit back, stir that swizzle stick, and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6 – Territory Lounge (Wilderness Lodge)

Inspired by the national park lodges of the early 20th century, Wilderness Lodge is the type of resort that is distinctly Disney. Designed by Peter Dominick, who was also behind Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Grand Californian, Wilderness Lodge has a certain warmth and coziness to it that you just can’t find in than any other hotel in Orlando. It also happens to contain three underrated gems in the area of WDW dining: Whispering Canyon Cafe, Artist Point, and Territory Lounge.

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Northwest Exposure. Vodka, Kahlua, half and half, Amaretto, splash of Coke. (photo by Brandon Glover)

With a good amount of seating and an appetizer/dessert menu filled with unique options, Territory Lounge is going to be a spot you will fall in love with. There is even a fireplace to sit by! At SATURDAY SIX HQ two things go over like gangbusters when it comes to bars and lounges, themed napkins and swizzle sticks, so you can imagine our heart was a flutter seeing the Wilderness Lodge swizzle.

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How bout that swizzle stick?!!!  It makes even a Vodka cranberry look magical. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Oregon Pinot Gris Fondue. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Tusker House Dining Review

by on April 8, 2016

As we continue to wait patiently for all of the new nighttime offerings at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we also carry on in our look at dining options at the park. I recently reviewed many of the park’s popular quick service options, and today, we continue our dining adventure at Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s popular character meal at Tusker House Restaurant. I dropped in for late solo dinner a few days ago to see how the food compares to other dining options around the park and Walt Disney World, and was pleasantly surprised with the meal from start to finish.

First step: getting to the restaurant. If you’ve never been to Tusker House, it’s not super intuitive – the check-in desk is hidden just behind the covered seating area next to Dawa Bar, adjacent to the walkway to Festival of the Lion King, and just across from Tamu Tamu Refreshments in the Africa section of the park. Luckily, Disney has placed a few signs along the path to help guide you to the desk, where a cast member will greet and check you in, then give you a buzzer or take your phone number to text you once your table is ready. At that point, I was led to the outdoor waiting area just behind the desk, full of chairs and benches (and complimentary water to help cool you off on a hot day!). After a short wait, my phone alerted me that my table was ready, and I was led from the second check-in desk to the inside of the restaurant, where the seater acquainted me with the sprawling (and gorgeous) buffet area and led me to my table in a neighboring room. Both the Cast Member who seated me and my server helpfully explained from which direction the characters (Mickey, Daisy, Donald, and Goofy) would come and how they’d move around the room to reach my table, which was really great to know – I could better plan when it was safe to leave the table to grab a plate of food without missing anything.

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Julia’s Best Week Ever, April 7, 2016: All Good Things

by on April 7, 2016

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In a perfect world, all days in Florida would be rainbows and sunshine, right?

First and foremost, a huge Xiè xie (thank you) to the people of Shanghai and especially the Command Center team at The Walt Disney Company (Shanghai) and on-site park personnel at The Shanghai Disney Resort for being such awesome hosts to my husband for his month over there. Special thanks for letting him have a once-in-a-lifetime experience there that he’ll be telling his grandkids and great grandkids about in years to come.

All good things must come to an end seems to have been the general vibe in the Disney universe, whether you’re talking about the massive changes at the Studios, the shakeup in Disney brass, or Mickey finally waking up from his decade-long dream. For me, my spring break trip to the mid-Atlantic had come to an end, and I was ready to hit the parks once again. Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t agree.

 

 

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Apparently spring break this year was a pretty wet one. One benefit of living here is that when the weather is bad, we’re able to stay home and do the parks another day. The only place I went out during that rainy Saturday was to hit Tijuana Flats for lunch. Technically, Tijuana Flats is a chain, but it is a local one, and every place has its own unique personality. This is in the one on “Restaurant Row” in Doctor Phillips (near I-Drive and between Disney and Universal).

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