Dining

Not-So-Fancy Dining: A Review of Diamond Horseshoe

by on March 22, 2016

For the next few months (March 13-May 30), Magic Kingdom guests have a chance to dine once again inside the beautiful Diamond Horseshoe restaurant located in Liberty Square, just adjacent to Liberty Tree Tavern. This restaurant has operated seasonally over the last few years as a quick service dining location, but has added a new table service menu available for lunch and dinner for late spring this year. Signage outside indicated I was in for all-you-care-to-enjoy “fancy dining”, and while I certainly didn’t leave hungry, I’m not sure the experience could be described as all that “fancy”. I was greeted by a gaggle of friendly Cast Members in a fairly empty restaurant (not terribly surprising, given it’s a new offering), and promptly taken to a table where I got a gander at the menu for this “fancy” feast. Prices are exactly the same as Liberty Tree Tavern’s next door ($33 for adults, $19 for children; Disney Dining Plan and Tables in Wonderland discounts accepted), but here you’ll receive salad, choice of an entrée (more on that in a second), and choice of a dessert, along with a non-alcoholic beverage.

In reading the menu through before arriving at Magic Kingdom, I expected family-style entrees, like Liberty Tree’s dinner service, but every entrée actually comes in individual portions – I was, however, allowed and encouraged by my server to order seconds or a new entrée at any point. First up, though, came Frontier Salad – tossed greens, tomatoes, onions, roasted corn, and corn bread croutons with house-made chipotle ranch dressing, served alongside a few pieces of corn bread and honey butter. The salad was exactly as explained on the menu – typical salad greens and fixings tossed in a slightly spicy, creamy dressing. Most diners will find this salad just fine – not too spicy, hits all the bases to make you feel like you’re checking off the “vegetable” box in the meal, and it’s not overly heavy, either. The cornbread on the side was very similar to what you’ll find at Trail’s End or Boatwright’s – sweet, dense, and very cakey, served with an even-sweeter honey butter. Overall, I found the side of bread a nice compliment to the spice in the salad dressing, but a little too sweet for my taste at the beginning of the meal.

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The SATURDAY SIX News Desk: A Look at Recent Stories From Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld

by on March 19, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX is undoubtedly a special one as we once again dust off the blue blazer and step behind the SATURDAY SIX News Desk. It has been a whirlwind of theme park related news lately. Our long national nightmare is over as purple MagicBands are available for your WDW resort stay, Disney started a new subscription service themed to the Haunted Mansion for the low low price of just $200 (oh, and it has already sold out), the Orlando Eye did its first baby reveal, and a worker at Art of Animation was caught on video using a dirty mop to clean a table. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

So – as usual – we took a page out of our old college playbook, chugged down a case of 5 Hour Energy, and pulled an all-nighter, cramming as much information as we could into our tiny brains so that we could report back to you, Dear Reader, with all the relevant facts (and before we forget it all tomorrow). So sit back, know that you are getting all the news that’s fit to print (and plenty more that’s not), and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6 – That sound you hear? KONG IS COMING.

As Donald Trump would say, it was a yuge week of King Kong news over at the Universal Orlando Resort. As theme park merchandise fanatics, we loved that a whole bunch of new merch arrived for the upcoming Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction. Then, Universal dropped a bombshell with their reveal of the incredible ride vehicles along with a couple other tasty tidbits: This would be Universal’s first trackless ride system, and the vehicles would be “driven” by one of five characters. While Universal hasn’t released an official opening of the attraction yet, we have a sneaking suspicion we may hear something around the time the Syfy show Face Off features an entire episode (the season finale no less) dedicated to creating characters for the attraction. Stay tuned Wednesday, March 30th at 9PM EST on Syfy.

NEWSDESK_kong

Universal’s Kong is almost here, but Disney has Avatar and Star Wars in the near future…. (photo by Matt Cleary)

# 5 – SeaWorld Admits to Ordering Employees to Spy on Animal Rights Groups

Readers of the SATURDAY SIX may remember one of  last year’s annual Turkeys of the Year awards went to a SeaWorld employee who was caught spying on the animal rights group PeTA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). At the time, SeaWorld management was shocked, SHOCKED at this behavior and put out the story that the employee had gone rogue. Fast forward to this month and during another disastrous investor’s conference, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby admitted that employees did go undercover in animal rights groups and, more importantly, did so per order of the company.

Believe it or not this was the most “wow” SeaWorld story of the week until the atomic bomb the company dropped Thursday morning announcing they were ending the breeding of Killer Whales and will also be ending all the theatrical shows featuring orcas (to be replaced by exhibits).

NEWSDESK_shamuplant

Disguised as famous YouTube personality Tim Tracker, Shamu himself was able to go completely unnoticed within the PeTA ranks. (photo by Michael Sheehy)

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The Basics: Dining at Walt Disney World

by on March 16, 2016

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

With four theme parks, a couple dozen resort hotels, and thousands upon thousands of guests on any given day, it should come as no surprise that there are a lot of places to eat at Walt Disney World. To a first time guest, when and where to eat is likely something that isn’t thought to be a big deal. You’re hungry, you see somewhere that looks good, and you go eat there. Unfortunately for most first time guests, getting a table at a restaurant at Walt Disney World is not as simple as going to your local Olive Garden on any given evening. Disney has a great many mouths to feed every day and only so many tables from which to feed them. Toss on top of that the great theming and Disney character presence at many restaurants coupled with “free dining” promotions driving guests to eat three-squares every day and what you have is a recipe for crowded and fully booked restaurants, seemingly year-round. So yes, like most things at Walt Disney World, where and when you are going to eat is a decision you need to make months in advance.

Disney’s restaurants all generally fall into one of a few categories. First are the carts and stands. These are vendors around the park selling everything from ice cream bars and popcorn to craft beer and eggrolls. Enjoying the offerings from these stands requires no advance planning and as such they are from whom you will be purchasing most of your meals if you pay no attention to the rest of this article. Even this comes with a caveat…during Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival in the fall (and to a lesser extent the Flower & Garden Festival in the spring) booths are set up throughout World Showcase featuring international cuisine and libations. They are equal parts a great option for people who don’t have advance dining reservations and something people need to plan to wait in line at, especially on weekends.

As far as actual restaurants, there are two basic styles: Quick Service (or “counter” service–think fast food) and Table Service (sit-down, with waitstaff) restaurants. Quick Service are the most casual and allow for no advance reservations (with one exception that I will mention below). They are located all around the theme parks, in the water parks, and at the resort hotels. Cuisine ranges from standard American theme park fare like hot dogs and pizza to gourmet macaroni & cheese and sushi.

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Where To Eat At Disney’s Animal Kingdom

by on March 14, 2016

Disney's Animal KingdomIf you’re like me, you’re probably really excited about all of the new offerings on the way at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (nighttime Kilimanjaro Safaris? Rivers of Light? Count me in.). We’ll finally get the chance to see this park come to life after dark every night, spending a whole day exploring new and old attractions alike. Along with that extra exploring, though, comes a few practical considerations – mainly, where to eat. I’ve certainly enjoyed some great meals in Animal Kingdom over the years, but now I, like many of you, am faced with deciding where to eat multiple meals in one longer touring day at this park. To help tackle this problem, I recently dined with a few friends at the big three quick service locations in the park – Pizzafari, Flame Tree Barbecue, and Restaurantosaurus. Here, you’ll find a quick overview and dining review of all three locations (including some of the recent menu changes), and then a look at how the three compare to each other and the park’s various dining offerings to help you best decide where to head on your next trip.

First, I’ll address the elephant in the room – why only these three restaurants? It’s pretty simple: they’re the most popular, centrally-located, and accessible (menu- and price-wise) eateries in the park. I love the current table service offerings at Animal Kingdom, and really enjoy snacking my way around the park. More than likely, though, you’re going to find yourself looking to grab a quick and relatively cheap meal before taking in the park’s upcoming nighttime entertainment. Dining at these three restaurants doesn’t require a lot of pre-planning and they cover a pretty wide variety of cuisines suitable for palates of all levels of adventurousness. I’m skipping Harambe Market in this review, as it’s been pretty widely covered recently, and is located a bit further back in the park. Same for Yak & Yeti Local Food Cafe – it’s pretty remote, featuring Asian cuisine not unlike what you’d find at Lotus Blossom Cafe at Epcot. That’s not to say either of these aren’t great options for you to consider, but if you’re looking for food in a pinch (as you arrive to the park for the evening, or running between attractions on a longer touring day), the three restaurants outlined here are your most likely options.

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Julia’s Best Week Ever, March 10, 2016: Springtime in Epcot

by on March 10, 2016

 

A topiary representation of me in spring.

A topiary representation of me in spring.

If you have seasonal allergies, you may have a love-hate relationship with spring. When I lived up north, I was thrilled to feel the warmer temperatures and know that snow shoveling season was ending. Of course that meant cars covered with yellow pollen, itchy and watery eyes, and sneezing, but it is a small price to pay for warmth again.

In Florida, where seasonal differences are more subtle, sometimes it is nice to have a reminder of the awesomeness that is spring. For me, the biggest reminder of spring is Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival. As soon as it opens, that’s where you’ll find me.

Opening weekend for Flower and Garden also was opening weekend for Epcot’s Easter Egg hunt. We had a blast doing it last year, so we knew we wanted to do it this year as well. It seems the word has gotten out about this fun event, as it took about 10 minutes in line to get our map.

2016-03-05 11.58.23

The map also comes with stickers that look like the giant eggs hidden around World Showcase. Simply walk to a country, find the hidden egg, put the correct sticker on the map, and take the completed map back to the redemption center for a souvenir character egg.

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Disney Dining Plan Rates Increasing

by on March 9, 2016

New Disney Dining Plan rates for Walt Disney World have been made available, and we hear they may go into effect as early as today, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. This is a 3% increase across the board with no apparent change in service inclusions. Here’s a breakdown of the changes (prices include tax):

Plan Inclusions (per night) Current Price
(per night)
NEW Price
(per night)
Quick Service Dining Plan 2 Quick Service Meals
1 Snack
1 Refillable Mug
Adult $42.84
Child $17.47
Adult $44.13
Child $19.04
Regular Dining Plan 1 Table Service Meal
1 Quick Service Meal
1 Snack
1 Refillable Mug
Adult $61.84
Child $20.96
Adult $63.70
Child $22.85
Deluxe Dining Plan 3 Table (or Quick) Service Meals
2 Snacks
1 Refillable Mug
Adult $111.73
Child $32.56
Adult $115.08
Child $35.49

 

If we notice anything else that has changed, we will let you know.

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Dining Review: Is It Fair to Throw Shade At Electric Umbrella?

by on March 8, 2016

Ordering stations at Electric Umbrella

Ordering stations at Electric Umbrella

We’ve all been there – rushing between FastPass+ reservations, suddenly realizing it’s been eight hours since your character breakfast and hunger starts taking over. If you happen to be in Epcot’s Future World, you may be drawn towards the bright, shining beacon of neon that is Electric Umbrella. Located just outside of Innoventions East, this quick service location offers variations on standard theme park fare in a central location (burgers, chicken nuggets, flatbread pizzas, etc.). Here, I take a look at a recent meal I “enjoyed” here to see if this restaurant is worth a stop to solve your next food emergency (spoiler alert: it’s not).

Menu board with photos

Menu board with photos

A friend and I dropped in pretty close to opening (11:00 AM) in order to beat the lunch rush and sometimes long waits common at popular Walt Disney World quick service restaurants. We were greeted by neon, so much neon, a set of helpful menu boards, and a cheerful Cast Member who directed us to an ordering station after only a few minutes in line. We decided to tackle the French Dip Burger and Vegetarian flatbread (who can go wrong with a burger and pizza, right?), and added on a chocolate cupcake for dessert. All told, with one soda and a cup of water, two entrees, and one dessert, our bill was a little over $30 – not a jaw-dropping total if you’re used to tourist prices, but definitely something to keep in mind when budgeting for a meal here or elsewhere at Walt Disney World.

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10 of the Best Desserts on a Disney Cruise

by on March 4, 2016

BlogMmmm. Dessert. I have dessert on the brain!  his summer I am headed on the 12 night (!) British Isles cruise and I am already excited about the food! Is that wrong? I think not. Dessert is a highlight of course, so let’s talk about dessert on a Disney cruise! There are wayyyyy too many options to list, so I’ll highlight some of my (plus some friends’) favorites.


1.
Chocolate Soufflé from Palo – Hands down, my favorite dessert onboard. Maybe on the planet Earth. The soufflé is served hot out of the oven with decadent chocolate and vanilla sauces, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. My advice (because it’s also the advice most Palo servers wisely offer) is to break open the top, fill it with chocolate AND vanilla, and then add the ice cream. It’s simply amazing. Everyone must try this dessert at some point. It’s a good thing I’ve never sailed in the Roy Disney Suite where guests can order it every night in their room. I would gain 30 lbs! Pretty sure I gain a pound just by looking at it. Totally worth it, by the way. And if you are gluten free, I have some wonderful news for you. The chocolate soufflé can be made gluten free. I said it. Gluten free. A friend with celiac I was travelling with may have broken down in tears when our server told her that. I didn’t judge.

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Savory Snack Credits at Animal Kingdom

by on March 3, 2016

2016-02-15-11.55.021-700x525A little more than a year ago, I reviewed ideas for savory snack credit “meals” available throughout Walt Disney World. For many people on the dining plan, snack credits become money that ends up being hastily spent or not spent at all. Although some snacks should be used one per person (for instance, Mickey bars), boxes of popcorn or pretzels are often shared, leaving many people with leftover snack credits. Some people use these snack credits to bring home cookies or candy, and I’ve even seen one woman use 20 snack credits to buy out all the oranges at Art of Animation to bring home “Florida” oranges for her housesitter. Thankfully, there are some lesser-known options that can be used as a light meal with just a dining plan snack credit. Many new and exciting options have come to Animal Kingdom. Here are some of the best.

 

Chicken Fried Rice at Yak and Yeti Local Food Cafesyak-and-yeti-fried-rice-700x465

This one appeared in my previous article, but I wanted to mention it again because I think it is the single best savory snack credit meal at Walt Disney World. For one snack credit, you get a container of chicken fried rice that is very suitable for a lunch. Although the quality is the same with any takeout Chinese restaurant, the value for this one stands out time and time again. There’s also a pork eggroll on the menu that is also a snack credit option.

 

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California Grill: A Review of Brunch At The Top

by on February 29, 2016

Recently, California Grill at the Contemporary Resort added “Brunch at the Top” to the restaurant’s signature dining slate, offered every Sunday from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. I booked a Dining Reservation for this meal on a whim one recent weekend to see if it was really worth the $80 price ($48 for kids ages 3-11, Tables in Wonderland discount accepted).

“Brunch At The Top” offers stunning daytime views of the restaurant and Walt Disney World Resort.

Right off the bat, there was an upscale note to the experience — when I mentioned my brunch reservation to the security guard at the resort’s gate, he told me that my meal included complimentary valet service (not something I’d normally use, but if you’re going for a fancy meal and it’s included, why not go all the way?). A valet escorted me to the check-in area just outside the main entrance of the resort, where a California Grill Cast Member cheerfully checked me in, took my phone number to notify me when my table was available, and led me to the escalators just inside the main entrance. As soon as I stepped off the escalator, I was greeted by both a text message that my table was ready and another Cast Member from California Grill, who whisked me off to the restaurant’s private elevator.

I was welcomed by name once I stepped inside the restaurant, handed a beautiful cocktail, and immediately shown to my table. As we walked to my table, we passed a live band playing smooth jazz (in what’s usually the restaurant’s lounge area during dinner) and the appetizer buffet (set atop the restaurant’s bar and sushi counter). The entire restaurant glowed with early-afternoon sunlight, bright and welcoming – a different sight than the one you get with a late-night dinner and fireworks viewing here. Start to finish, my arrival experience was probably the smoothest and fastest I’ve encountered at any Walt Disney World restaurant, save maybe Victoria & Albert’s, but it’s certainly close; this definitely impressed me already, even before I’d had a bite of food. 

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