Dining

What’s New With Walt Disney World Disney Vacation Packages for 2017

by on June 21, 2016

©Rikki Niblett

©Rikki Niblett

Are you ready to book your 2017 Walt Disney World vacation? Today is the day! And with this release, a few changes have occurred, mostly with the 2017 Disney Dining Plans. Let’s take a look at what’s changed.

First, let’s take a look at the 2017 Disney Dining Plans. For those who are looking to enjoy the Quick Service Dining or the Regular Dining Plan, Quick Service meals will no longer include a dessert for both packages. However, Disney has made the change where Guests on both dining packages can now have the ability to enjoy two snacks each day instead of just one. This means that you are no longer forced to enjoy the traditional chocolate cake just because it comes with your Counter Service meal, and now you can grab a Mickey Premium Bar and a popcorn whenever you want to enjoy them! (That is unless you want the cake…which will then be counted as one of your snack credits.)

For those on the Magic Your Way Package Plus Deluxe Dining, Quick Service Meals will also no longer include a dessert with lunch or dinner.

Here’s how the new Dining Plans shake out:

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Tiffins Dining Review

by on June 3, 2016

We’ve spent many months anxiously awaiting all of the new offerings at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and while many of my friends couldn’t wait to try out the new nighttime Kilimanjaro Safaris or see the Jungle Book: Alive With Magic show, I’ve been counting down the days to the opening of Tiffins (and neighboring Nomad Lounge). I dropped in for a dinner reservation this past weekend with several friends to see if Tiffins could meet the high standard set by other signature dining locations around Walt Disney World. You’ll find my thoughts on this epic meal below, along with those from a revisit a few days later (to see if the high-quality service and food was consistent).

When my party arrived, we were promptly greeted at the host stand and checked in, but also warned that they were running about ten to fifteen minutes behind in seating tables; we were told we could wait in the lobby, or next door in Nomad Lounge, and that we’d receive a text message once our table was ready. We didn’t much mind the wait, and a few of us took a chance to wander the indoor and outdoor seating areas of Nomad in the meantime (what an incredibly gorgeous space – this really set the tone for what to expect inside the restaurant). About ten minutes later, we were summoned to be seated, and led to our table – not a bad wait at all! Our server, Deandra, was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly – she gave us a quick introduction to the restaurant and then went through the menu with recommendations and commonly asked questions.

I was happy to hear her make solid suggestions, rather than just dance around which dishes were her personal favorites compared to what the house suggests. As we were a larger party, we chose to sample several appetizers and then each ordered an entrée for ourselves, both orders taken at once by Deandra. I have to admit – sometimes this approach by servers scares me; it definitely speeds up the meal by not waiting around to order after appetizers arrive, but it can sometimes throw off the pacing of a meal (like the dreaded “ending up with appetizer and entrée plates on the table at the same time” debacle that can put a halt to a good meal). As we discovered later, and you’ll see below, though, this fear was absolutely unfounded.

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Dining Review: More Disney Springs Quick Bites

by on May 27, 2016

Last week, we took a glance at a few of the newest dining additions to Disney Springs, and this week I visit two more new locations offering up quick service meals in the Landing and Marketplace sections. My first stop of the day was at B.B. Wolf’s Sausage Co. (cute name, right?) for a quick bite for lunch. The stand, located at the beginning of the new bridge just near T-Rex Café and the LEGO Store, opens at 11:00 AM (though on this day, they were a bit slow to open – it was nearly 11:15 AM by the time the windows opened for ordering). I was greeted by a friendly Cast Member who took my order for a Three Little Pigs (serious credit to the person in charge of all these puns – a cute themed nod without being ridiculously over the top). Just like at Daily Poutine, I was told to stand off to the side whilst waiting for my food, and that I’d be called as soon as it was ready.

After about ten minutes baking in the infernally hot summer sun (just like Daily Poutine – no shade around here), I received the most adorable cardboard tray of food ever. It was, admittedly, a little slow in service, but everything looked and smelled fantastic, so I wasn’t really upset by the wait. I opted to pass by the standing tables (like you see at Food & Wine) set up just across from B.B. Wolf’s and made a bee-line for the nearby shaded planters for some seating and a makeshift table; I later discovered this was a smoking area – it didn’t bother me, but something to keep in mind.

Unlike my cup of poutine, this wasn’t really eat-while-you-walk cuisine – the flimsy cardboard trays/plates make it difficult to transport this stuff very far, but after a few bites, I didn’t care about the transportability of my meal. The Three Little Pigs ($10.39) is a kind of sampler platter, with three smaller pork sausages wrapped in cut-down hot dog buns, each topped with a different set of accompaniments (though I found out from a Cast Member later in the day that you are welcome to request all three to be the same “flavor”, if you so choose). All three variations start with the same base sausage and bun, then differ only in the toppings. The sausage itself was mild in flavor, pork-based, not too fatty, and had a snappy casing – a perfect vehicle for nearly any savory accompaniment you could think of. The bun had been grilled to slightly crisp, and was decadently buttery and fluffy – definitely better than any standard Disney hot dog bun I’ve encountered.

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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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