In the Parks

Menu Monday: Best Counter Service Restaurants in Magic Kingdom

by on November 17, 2014

Be Our Guest RestaurantPicking your favorite Walt Disney World counter/quick service restaurant is like picking your favorite child, sure on some days you may like one more than the other (come on, we’ve all been there!), but overall, you just can’t choose a favorite! Dining in Walt Disney World has become a favorite past time among repeat guests. And now, more often than not, first time guests have their own “bucket list” of restaurants to eat at or snack to try. With this increase in demand and expectation, Disney has responded by adding more restaurants and expanding the menus of their current restaurants. These adjustments also come with price increases. As Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin from ABC’s Once Upon A Time always reminds us, “all magic comes with a price” even Disney’s pixie-dusted munchies. But fear not intrepid traveler and foodie, you can indulge your taste buds and save your budget with the counter/quick service restaurants available at every Disney Park and resort. But with literally, over a hundred to choose from (seriously, 102 – I counted!), I’m here to help you select the best of the best, park by park and even among the resorts. This article will focus on the counter service options of the Magic Kingdom. The focus will be on restaurants that offer a full meal option. Though there are many additional locations I could have included in this list, I narrowed it down to exclude those counter locations that really only sell snacks. After watching hours of Master Chef and Chopped, I’ve devised a ranking system that will incorporate four criteria into the ultimate calculation for the best counter service meals.  The criteria are:

  • Best value (portion/cost ratio) = 10 points
  • Flavor = 10 points
  • Originality = 5 points
  • Atmosphere = 5 points
  • Grand total = 30 possible points

Be Our Guest – New Fantasyland

This latest addition to the Magic Kingdom dining line-up has everyone crazed to make dinner reservations or snag the elusive lunch FastPass+ option. The menu is a bit pricier than other counter service option, and it’s only available as a counter service during the lunch hours (10:30am to 2:30pm). Starting at 4pm, Be Our Guest is considered a Table Service restaurant where prices increase and the menu changes a bit.

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My New Favorite Disney World Souvenir Finds

by on October 29, 2014

Little Mermaid Mouse Ears

Little Mermaid Mouse Ears

I don’t know about you, but souvenir shopping is a huge part of my Disney World Vacations. I always enjoy browsing through the stores at the parks and resorts for new merchandise; and during my past few trips to Disney World this year, I have discovered some magical, new items. So take a look at just a few of my new favorite Disney World souvenir finds!

Little Mermaid Mouse Ears – $19.00

As a huge Little Mermaid fan, I was thrilled when I came across these Little Mermaid Mouse Ears! I had seen the Belle and Cinderella themed Mouse Ears before, but this design is by far my favorite. I especially like the pearl accents! Surprisingly, I only found this twist on Disney’s classic headgear at Epcot’s Mouse Gear and Downtown Disney’s World of Disney Store during my most recent trip to Disney World, but hopefully that has changed. After all, who wouldn’t want to sport these ears around the parks, right?

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Disney World Itinerary : Making Epcot a 2-day park

by on October 29, 2014

Epcot.

Epcot.

I recently posted a guide for planning which parks to visit on your 4-1/2 day Disney World vacation, providing a “one-size-fits-most” itinerary for each age group. Epcot doesn’t make it in the preschool itinerary and is only a half day on the school age children itinerary, but it finally gets a full day on both the tween and teen itineraries (two days of Epcot are included on the adult itinerary). My family (with tweens) would tweek the tween itinerary a bit and plan two days at Epcot, because we feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface in a one day visit.

With the two distinct areas of Future World and World Showcase, Epcot is certainly large enough to warrant a two day visit. If you are a family who enjoys a more education focused theme park, two days at Epcot may be a winner. Here are ten benefits to spending two days at Epcot instead of one.

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The Chase Lounge at Food & Wine for 2014

by on October 20, 2014

signIn all the busy preparations for my Walt Disney World trip and the realities of daily life, I missed this little gem on TouringPlans.com that stated that Chase – a sponsor of Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival – would have a lounge for Chase cardholders in The American Adventure pavilion. Imagine my surprise when one of the cast members giving me my sweet pepper hash at the Farm Fresh booth mentioned that I could go to a lounge because of my credit card!

If you look at The American Adventure pavilion, to the right of the main entrance is a side door that leads into a stairwell. Some lovely cast members stand there, and you show them your Chase card. (On the main banner it states that the lounge is for Chase debit and credit cardholders, including Disney Visa members.) Then you follow the signs up to the third floor (there’s also an elevator) and a most wonderful sight beckons.

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Menu Monday: Snacks from the World Showcase: China!

by on October 20, 2014

Epcot's Iconic Spaceship Earth, on our snacks from China Quest

It’s a perfect day to search out snacks! © Disney

It’s Menu Monday! Today we are looking once again at packaged snacks that are available in Epcot’s World Showcase, and we have already visited JapanCanadaUnited Kingdom, France, and Germany. Only a few stops remain on our snacking tour, so let’s check out what’s available as we explore today’s stop, China!

Snack Rules

  • No snacks over $10; preferably less than $5
  • As unusual as possible
  • Something I personally would eat

Let’s see what we can find!

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Extra touches for Celebrations at Walt Disney World

by on October 16, 2014

Once Upon A Time there was a glorious celebration filled with love, laughter, and pixie dust. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to create such a memory for yourself or someone you love? Not every celebration can be fairy tale like, but when at Disney the sky is the limit. No matter what you are celebrating, they have options for you. Birthdays, Anniversaries, Weddings, Graduations, and everything in between can be reason for some extra pixie dust on your vacation.

Celebrations Buttons

Courtesy Disney

Courtesy Disney

You’ve probably seen other guests wearing these 3” buttons before. Not being a person who wants to draw attention to myself, I am always a little hesitant about announcing to the world it’s my birthday or anniversary, but it certainly has its perks. The buttons can be picked up at your resort upon check in, or at any vacation planning booth or guest services location within the four parks. These buttons are FREE for the asking and can be personalized. There are currently nine choices available: anniversary, … happily ever after, 1st visit, birthday, family reunion, I’m celebrating…, my magical triumph, just engaged, and just married.

You can receive and wear the buttons 6 months prior to an event, such as your birthday, and up to 6 months after. So, if traveling to WDW two months after your birthday, you can still get a button and proudly wear it around the parks as you have a late celebration of the event.

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Where to Find “Real” Sweet Tea at Disney World

by on October 13, 2014

Starbucks Shaken Sweet Tea

Starbucks Shaken Sweet Tea

If you’re from the South, you know that there’s a big difference between sweetened tea and “real” sweet tea; and if you have been to Disney World, you also know that it can be quite a challenge to find this Southern staple.

Now for those of you who don’t know, “real” sweet tea is Black Tea that is brewed with sugar while it’s still hot, as opposed to adding the sugar later. This process creates a smooth, blended sweet taste and consistency that can’t even compare to fruit flavored tea or the Gold Peak Tea found throughout the parks and resorts.

But if you’re like me, and sweet tea is your go-to refreshment after spending the day trekking through the parks, I have uncovered a few places at Disney World where you can enjoy a Southern-style Sweet Tea!

Starbucks – Starbucks locations have been opening up all throughout Disney World this past year, beginning with the Main Street Bakery at the Magic Kingdom, then Fountain View at Epcot, followed by two locations at Downtown Disney, and soon, a new location at Hollywood Studios. Now I know that Starbucks is all about coffee; but for me, it’s also a go-to for a sweet tea fix. Each Starbucks at Disney World now serves a Shaken Sweet Tea, which has all the flavor of real, Southern Sweet Tea. Plus, the variety of Starbucks locations means that I can grab a sweet tea almost anywhere at Disney World now with prices ranging from the smallest size at $1.99 to the largest at $3.29. Check out the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street Bakery’s menu here!

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Cast Member Chronicles: Chef Kevin Marshall

by on October 12, 2014

Photo Credit - Derek Burgan

Crystal Palace

I met Chef Kevin Marshall at a dinner party while visiting Orlando this past September. He is a friend of my Uncle Keith, and was gracious enough to share his culinary talents as our personal chef for the evening. As he prepared a scrumptious feast for us, I interviewed him about his diverse and fascinating career at Walt Disney World.

In June of 1989, he was a man fresh out of tech school. He applied at Walt Disney World, but soon learned there was a hiring freeze for positions he originally desired. Because he had previously managed a Wendy’s restaurant, he was offered a job in food and beverage at The Crystal Palace. As part of the culinary staff, he moved around to different positions, soon cooking alongside professional Disney chefs.

While working at the Crystal Palace, he and two other coworkers were asked to carve a 700 lb pumpkin for Halloween. They were told to carve and hand paint the ‘Blustery Day’ scene from Winnie the Pooh. It took two weeks of overtime and 90 man hours to complete this masterpiece. It was displayed outside the restaurant, surrounded by bales of hay to prevent guests from touching it. One day, a Cast Member saw a little boy ignoring the bales and and putting his hands on the carved image of Pooh. Originally thinking the boy was causing mischief, the Cast Member told the boy to refrain from touching the pumpkin. As it turns out, the little boy was blind. He never knew what Pooh and his friends looked like. From the carving, the boy was able to feel and learn the character shapes. It was his own personal braille pattern. Kevin said it made all his hard work truly worth it and is a memory that touches him to this day.

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Disney Parks Potential: Why The Incredibles Needs A Bigger Presence In Walt Disney World

by on October 3, 2014

Ever feel like some of your favorite Disney characters are underrepresented at Walt Disney World or Disneyland? Me, too! That’s why I’m starting a new series of articles here at TouringPlans Blog called “Disney Parks Potential,” where I’ll take a look at one Disney character or franchise that I feel isn’t being used to its Disney Parks potential (That’s where the name comes from!). From there, I’ll share my ideas on how I think Disney can best integrate these characters into one or more of the parks, which will then probably secure me a sweet job as a Walt Disney Imagineer if all goes according to plan. But enough about my unlikely career goals. Let’s get into my first Disney Parks Potential selection, which is The Incredibles.

IncrediblesOutside of merchandise, character meet and greets and a dance party in Tomorrowland, The Incredibles really don’t have much of a presence in Walt Disney World. For a Pixar film that many would argue is the best of the bunch, this seems like a huge missed opportunity. The need for more of The Incredibles in Disney World is even greater considering that Disney isn’t allowed to utilize Marvel superheroes within the park due to the previous licensing agreement with Universal before Disney acquired Marvel in 2009. Hopefully we’ll get new attractions sooner rather than later now that a much requested sequel to the original film has been announced, but for now my ideas will have to suffice.

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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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