Posts Tagged ‘dining’

Eating at Universal on Just $20 a Day: Snacking Edition

by on October 12, 2013

IMG_6051

A Duff beer, Flaming Moe, and a Duff Lite. I need to crunch these numbers again…

Recently the TouringPlans blog has posted an interesting series of articles explaining how you, Dear Reader, can survive on eating inside the theme park world for just $20 a day. Click on these links to see the plans for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom. It’s only natural that this financial exercise be extended to the Universal family of parks, and who better to tackle this subject than a man who has eaten a three pound slice of cake at Universal, twice?

At first, this seemed like a no-brainer. Well, duh. A Chicken & Waffle sandwich ($10.99) from Cletus’ Chicken Shack and a Flaming Moe ($7.99) from Moe’s Tavern. My favorite theme park food item and a show, but after tax the total came out to $20.11. I quickly realized that I would have to get my thinking cap on for this one (plus I was informed from the Grand Poobah himself, Len Testa, that most guests would want more than that during an entire day at the park. I know what you’re thinking: Americans.)

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Universal Dining: Jake’s American Bar at Loews Royal Pacific Resort (Photo Review)

by on October 12, 2013

In early November I’ll be going to my first ever character breakfast on Universal property, and it will be at Jake’s American Bar at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort. After I made my reservation (through OpenTable), I realized I had never eaten at Jake’s. I consider the Royal Pacific my second home in Orlando but spend a lot of my eating time either poolside at the Bula Bar & Grille or in the lobby area at the Orchid Court Lounge. So on my most recent visit to the Universal Orlando Resort, I decided to hit Jake’s twice in one day to check it out.

Jake’s is located on the ground floor of the Royal Pacific and is right across from the Islands Dining Room.

Jakes_Front

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Disneyland Resort Begins Accepting Online Dining Reservations Starting October 3

by on September 25, 2013

Walt Disney World visitors have grown accustomed to booking their dining reservations online using an automated system, but Disneyland diners have been stuck using old-fashioned phone or email options. Yesterday it was announced that, as of October 3, 2013, all Disneyland Resort dining arrangements can be made through this new website.

This upgrade means that the dine@disneyland.com email reservation system will be discontinued, though phone bookings will still be accepted via 714-781-DINE. In addition, Disneyland will now begin requiring a credit card at the time of reservation; a $10 per person penalty will be charged if you miss your reservation without canceling or rescheduling (which can also be done online) a day in advance. This policy applies to all table service restaurants on property, both Disney-operated and franchises.

 

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Carthay Circle World of Color Dining Package Changes (and Annual Passholder Offer)

by on August 11, 2013

Disney California Adventure’s World of Color nighttime spectacular is one of the most popular productions at the Disneyland Resort, and having a meal a the park’s upscale Carthay Circle Restaurant has been the best way to secure “Center Stage” VIP viewing area tickets to the show. Recently, Disney has made a major change to the way World of Color Fastpasses are distributed to Carthay Circle diners.

Previously, anyone eating at Carthay Circle for lunch or dinner would receive a WoC ticket at no extra charge, as long each person ordered an entree along with an appetizer or dessert. Recently, a “fixed price” 3-course menu was introduced for WoC diners, and the original 2-course option has now been eliminated.

Currently, in order to receive WoC passes, Carthay Circle customers must order from a limited 3-course lunch menu ($39 adults, $22 children) or dinner menu ($59 adults, $24 children). You can see the available meal options by following the above links; notable, the popular duck wings and cheese biscuits are not offered on the WoC menus.

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Cars Land Food: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (Part 3)

by on August 16, 2012

All photos by Seth Kubersky

Welcome to the final chapter of our savory series examining the best, worst, and strangest new foods found at Disney California Adventure’s Cars Land. So far in this trilogy, we’ve enjoyed the citrus turkey salad at Flo’s V8 Cafe, and endured the indelibly inedible eggs served by the Cozy Cone Motel.

To complete the circle, today we’ll take a taste of two of the oddest, must unusual eating options in DCA’s new expansion area. These “Eli Wallach” items appear unappetizing, or even absurd, at first glance. But dig beneath the aesthetically challenged surface, may you find something unexpectedly interesting on the inside.

…and The Ugly

I originally hail from the Northeast, where we pride ourselves on our overpaid sports franchises, sprawling landfills, and convenience stores stocked with bizarre flavors of snack food. If you’ve ever road tripped around Southern Jersey or Philadelphia, you may have discovered the wonders of Wawa convenience stores, where you will find an unrivaled variety of surreal potato chips styles; not merely sour cream or BBQ, but tomato ketchup, steak & onion, and hot dog. For me, the pinnacle (or nadir) of potato chip perversity has always been “dill pickle” flavor, which is just as powerfully pungent and olfactoraly off-putting as it sounds.

Naturally, when I heard that Disney was attempting their own Dill-icious snack in Cars Land, I had to try it for myself. Each day the Cozy Cone counter service complex prepares 2 different flavors of popcorn, ranging from the everyday (salt & vinegar) to the eyebrow-raising (cheese & bacon). When I spotted the “dill pickle” sign outside of Cone #5 during my second afternoon inside the area, I knew I had to “take one for the team” and give it a taste.

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Cars Land Food: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (Part 2)

by on July 26, 2012

As we’ve said in the past, the new food offerings at Disney California Adventure have been almost as essential to that park’s popular relaunch as the rides. Nowhere is that more evident than inside Cars Land, the signature centerpiece of DCA’s expansion.

To start this series, I shared some thoughts on my favorite edible attraction in Cars Land, the citrus turkey salad prepared by Flo’s V8 Cafe. That appealing plate took first position in this taste trilogy. Sadly, my second contender isn’t nearly as savory. Grab your antacids and greet the Lee Van Cleef to the salad’s Clint Eastwood.

…The Bad…

On weekdays, I rarely ingest more than a cup of coffee before noon. But on weekends, I’m a strong advocate for a scrambled eggs with cheese and salsa for brunch. So on my first morning inside Cars Land, I was almost as excited to visit the Cozy Cone Motel as I was to ride Radiator Springs Racers. As one of the first customers of the day, I stepped up to cone #3 order a Verde Scramble Cone, billed as “Scrambled Eggs, Salsa Verde and Queso Fresco served in a Bread Cone.”

And then my pain began.

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First Review: Buena Vista Street Restaurants

by on June 15, 2012

Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Café (menu)

Tom Bricker says:

“The menu seems very similar to Jolly Holiday in Disneyland Park, with the addition of Starbucks. The breakfast was better here than at the Cozy Cone Motel in Cars Land.”

  • Quality: Good-Excellent
  • Value: B
  • Portion: Medium
Selections

Starbucks coffee, cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing, hot breakfast sandwiches, sandwiches (including roast beef and Cheddar, turkey reuben, and paneer and roasted vegetable), and soups (such as cream spinach, chicken tortilla, or meat stew)

Comments

This new quick-service eatery — named after both the Three Little Pigs and an imaginary songstress trio whose manufactured mementos hang inside — boasts a large open dining area in the Arts & Crafts style. You can get your morning jolt of Starbucks-brand joe (or a venti half-caff soy latte, if you prefer) and grab-and-go breakfast pastries here. Lunch and dinner selections spotlight soups and sandwiches.

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First Review: Cars Land Restaurants

by on June 15, 2012

Flo’s V8 Cafe (menu)

Tom Bricker says:

“Flo’s V8 Cafe serves comfort food. We really enjoyed the New York strip loin!”

  • Quality: Good-Excellent
  • Value: B+
  • Portion: Medium-Large
Selections

French toast, chicken tamales, pork loin, New York strip loin, vegetarian shepherd’s pie, and fruit pies

Comments

Cars Land’s largest eatery serves classic American diner food with a creative Southwestern flair. Breakfast selections feature chicken and egg tamales and caramel banana french toast. Signature lunch and dinner choices include a vegetarian Boca casserole, New York strip loin, and citrus turkey breast, with “ugly crust” apple-cheddar and cherry pies for desert. Memorabilia from proprietor Flo’s past as a famous Motown singer is featured in the décor.

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Character Meals: Vol 5 – Cape May

by on December 6, 2011

It’s pretty well established that I love a character meal since I’ve already written about Cinderella’s Royal Table, Chef Mickey’s, The Garden Grill, and Akershus. On my last trip to Walt Disney World, my family and I decided to try a character meal that we had never done before: the Cape May Café. After eating there, we may or may not be willing to do it again (what? I can’t give away the ending in the opening paragraph). Here are my thoughts and feelings, with a smattering of facts along the way.

Atmosphere

The Cape May Café is located just off of the main lobby of the Beach Club Resort. I am a huge fan of the Beach Club (mostly because of its proximity to Epcot’s World Showcase), but for this purpose it is not the best location. You see, while Cape May is open for breakfast and dinner, the characters only appear at breakfast. The problem arises when you schedule an early meal and are required to figure out transportation from your resort to the Beach Club.

The Beach Club Resort

If you do not have a rental car your choices for arrival at the Beach Club (assuming you are not staying at the Yacht Club, Swan, Dolphin, or Boardwalk, which you can walk from) are: 1) bus/monorail to Epcot and walk all the way through Future World and out the International Gateway, 2) bus to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and boat/walk to Beach Club, 3) bus to another park or Downtown Disney and then bus to Beach Club, or 4) take a taxi. You have undoubtedly noticed that none of these is ideal, especially with children (unless your children say “Yea! We’re getting up at 6am for an 8:25 breakfast!”).

Transportation griping aside, the actual restaurant is bright, airy, and beachy with sand castles and lots of pastel colors. Most of it is open and centered around the buffet, although we were seated in a smaller side room that had a low ceiling which helped increase the noise level. Our side room also featured a large party with many small children whose response to everything was to scream. I don’t need to tell you that Tylenol was also on the breakfast menu that day.

Characters

The lovable friends that came to visit us at Cape May were Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. The characters are always fun and accommodating, but I had some problems here; one that I blame on the character handlers and one that I blame on my own insanity.

The more serious of the two issues was that, for the first time ever, my family had to wait for a character to come to our table after we had finished eating. Wait…did I say ‘a character?’ I meant two…yes, two out of the three didn’t come to our table until we were done eating and ready to go (and we had 4 adults, a 2 year old, and a 2 month old. We were not eating quickly). I don’t know if that is indicative of the size of the restaurant versus the number of characters or if it was simply a bad day. What I do know is that if Cape May was my one and only character meal I would have been mighty peeved (as it was I was only significantly peeved).

My other minor issue is the costuming. As you can see in the pictures, the characters are dressed in their beachwear. Said beachwear consists of sea blues and greens, which makes perfect sense with the location. My problem with it? I think it’s kind of ugly, and by ‘kind of’ I mean ‘dreadfully.’

Food

Cape May’s breakfast cuisine is good, and there’s really not much I can add to that. It is a buffet so items can be dry and stale if they have been sitting or they can be fresh out of the kitchen. Nothing on the menu was mind blowing, nor was it insulting to my taste buds. There are eggs, bacon, sausage, Mickey waffles, French toast, assorted pastries, cereals…if this was $10,000 Pyramid you would have already yelled out “breakfast buffet in Disney World!”

If you’ll allow me one small rant; the toasters at all of the breakfast buffets in Walt Disney World are the slowest bread toasting contraptions I have ever seen. I’m pretty sure an Easy Bake Oven would work faster. Rant over, thanks for allowing that.

Donald was the last one we waited for. Even the kids lost interest by then.

Odds, Ends, and Details

As I mentioned above, Cape May Café is located in the Beach Club Resort near the International Gateway entrance of Epcot. Characters only appear at breakfast, which costs $28.75 for adults and $15.97 for children (prices courtesy of AllEars.net).

Final Thoughts

If I’m looking for a character breakfast buffet I would rather eat at Tusker House or Crystal Palace (both reviews coming soon!), and if I really want to meet Minnie, Goofy, and Donald I would rather Chef Mickey’s (where they appear with Mickey and Pluto…and better outfits). I’m not going to go as far as to recommend avoiding the Cape May Café because my character experience may have been a one-off. I do think, however, that you can find everything Cape May offers elsewhere with better characters, at least equal food, and in an easier to get to location.

Thanks again for reading and please let me know what you’re experiences were like at Cape May. Did you have character issues? Do you think those outfits are offensive to the eye? Am I becoming more of a grumpy old man by the word?

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Trip Planning 101: Budgeting for Your Trip to Walt Disney World

by on October 17, 2011

Let’s face it, a trip to Walt Disney World can be an expensive undertaking. The good news is that there are plenty ways to conserve funds and still have a magical vacation. I’m going to walk you through the process of creating a budget for your trip, and suggest some areas of potential savings. What you should know right off the bat is that planning an accurate and economical trip budget is going to involve some math, some research, and possibly some hard decisions. As a first step, download the TouringPlans Budget Planning Worksheet.

You’ll see that there are seven main areas in which you’ll spend money on your vacation:

  • Transportation
  • Lodging
  • Theme Park Tickets
  • Food
  • Activities
  • Souvenirs
  • Miscellaneous

Let’s go through these one by one to see where you can find information on obvious costs and hidden costs, as well as where you can find information on ways to save money.

TRANSPORTATION

The main options here are flying vs. driving. In some cases, the choice will be clear; if you’re coming from Tampa then you’re driving, if you’re coming from the UK then chances are you’re going to fly (or get very wet :)). However, for most of the rest of us, the decision may not be so easy.

Your ultimate choice must be based on real numbers – not only the cost of plane tickets vs. gas, but also factoring in all related expenses. For example, if you’re flying, you’ll need to get on the phone or search the airline website for hidden fees such as baggage or onboard snack charges (yep, AirTran recently charged me for crackers). Fliers should also consider the cost of parking or taking a taxi to the airport, tipping for baggage handlers, and other related expenses. Even if you are using frequent flier miles, many of these ancillary charges will apply. You may also want to consider the opportunity cost of using frequent flier miles. Would using your miles for this trip impede your ability to take a more expensive trip later on?

Drivers must consider not only the cost of gas, but also meals on the road, wear and tear on the car, and possibly more on-the-road entertainment. Longer drives may even include a night in a hotel along the way depending on the length of the drive and the number of drivers in your party. For a good rough estimate of gas cost on your trip, try consulting AAA’s Fuel Cost Calculator.

Additionally, your fly/drive decision will impact transportation charges once you’re in Orlando. For example, if you’re flying and staying at a Disney resort hotel, you have the option to use Disney’s free Magical Express bus service to get you to your hotel. If you’re flying and staying off-site, you’ll need to pay for a car service or rent a car to get to your hotel. If you’re driving and staying off-site, you will need to pay for parking at the theme parks (unless you are a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder) and possibly also at your hotel. If you need to work while on vacation, or just want to upload your digital photos at night, budget for in-room internet charges if your resort does not include them (usually around $10/day when there’s a charge). Be sure to factor all of these stealth charges into your budget.

When looking at the cost of flying, there are now dozens of online tools and apps that can help you locate the most cost effective flight. Popular choices include Kayak, Google Flight (new), Trip Advisor, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. These tools make it easy to experiment with your flights to find the best deal. Try playing with departure dates or number of connections. Sometimes a Saturday night stay or a brief stopover can save you hundreds of dollars.

If you decide to fly to Orlando, many of the sites above also offer discounted rental car opportunities. When renting a car, be sure to check your personal auto insurance policy and your credit card benefits. These often make the purchase of insurance on a rental car redundant. Declining insurance on the rental can also provide big savings.

LODGING

As a starting point, log on to disneyworld.com and get a price for your preferred hotel during your travel dates. This will tell you the standard “rack rate” for the room. A little sleuthing can often uncover discounted prices on the exact same room. Twice this year I have saved about $20 per night at the Pop Century simply by booking through Expedia rather than through Disney directly. I had no loss of Disney benefits, I still got Magical Express service, Extra Magic Hours, and the like, I just paid less for them.

If you’re looking for room discounts, try asking a travel agent or using one of the online services listed in the transportation section. Additional discounts might be available for Disney annual pass holders or AAA members. You may even want to tinker with the timing of your reservation as a cost variable.

Another rule-of-thumb is that if cost is your primary concern, then staying at an off-site hotel can be a big money saver. While this often the case, be aware that some off-site hotels tack on additional fees not represented in the room rate. For example, the non-Disney-owned Swan and Dolphin hotels add resort fees and charge guests to park at the hotel. These add-ons can add up fast. Before you settle on an off-site stay, pick up the phone and ask what additional fees you might expect.

THEME PARK TICKETS

The best place to start for park ticket pricing is the TouringPlans.com Ticket Calculator. The Ticket Calculator makes it easy play around with variables and see the real price differences between several choices. For example, a few clicks will show you that once you’re visiting for several days, the price of adding another park day has minimal impact on your admission ticket price.

While you’re figuring out how much park tickets will cost, don’t forget to consider the price of the popular evening parties at the Magic Kingdom if you’ll be traveling during the fall or winter. You’ll also want to consider the price of admission to other nearby attractions if you’ll be venturing off campus to see the Wizarding World at Universal Studios.

FOOD

Planning your food budget takes some serious number crunching. Some Disney guests swear by the Disney Dining Plan (available to guests staying at the Walt Disney World resort hotels), but by no means does the Dining Plan make sense for everyone. To see if the plan is right for you, take a few minutes to look at the detailed menus and pricing for Disney restaurants available at DisneyWorld.com or AllEars.net. Ask yourself some questions and map out a few days of sample eating for your family. Will we eat full breakfast or will a muffin and coffee do? Will we eat dessert with lunch and/or dinner? Can our children share a meal? Do we eat appetizers? … and so on. By really pricing out several days of eating, you can extrapolate your actual food budget needs.

Don’t forget to factor in the cost of snacks you bring from home or buy at a local grocery, as well as the price of tips and alcoholic beverages, which are not included on the Dining Plan. Be aware that many Disney restaurants tack on a surcharge during peak seasons such as the winter holidays.

On the cost savings side, many restaurants offer discounts to Disney Vacation Club members, Disney annual pass holders, Disney Visa holders, and other affiliations. I ALWAYS ask my server what discounts are available.

One cost savings measure might not be all it’s cracked up to be. I’m talking about “Free Dining,” a promotion that Disney has run each of the last several autumns. I’m going to leave it up to the extremely capable Tom Bricker, who explains the pros and cons of free dining HERE.

ACTIVITIES

While there is certainly plenty to do at Walt Disney World with just your theme park tickets, there are also many ways to enhance your experience with activities and entertainment. And, no surprise, many of these items cost money. For example, strolling through Downtown Disney is free. But then your child sees the oh-so-enticing-and-not-so-free Characters in Flight balloon and begs for a ride. For my family of five with older children, that 10-minute ride is $90 proposition.

Of course the best way to economize on these activity extras is to simply say “no,” but you may want to indulge a bit with that balloon ride, a visit to the spa, or a round of golf. Pricing for these items is readily available online or with a call to 407-W-DISNEY. Factor them into your budget if you’re planning to partake.

SOUVENIRS

The purchase of souvenirs is another area where saying “no” is your biggest budgeting tool. However, as I discussed in a previous post, coming home with absolutely no souvenirs is unrealistic. Use the advice in the post found HERE, to help create realistic souvenir expectations for your family.

While you’ll likely not get away without souvenirs for your kids, you can often skip souvenirs for friends at home. Does your dog walker really want a Mickey sweatshirt? Do you absolutely have to bring a mug back for your child’s teacher? You may be able to easily trim these items from your budget.

MISCELLANEOUS

This is where everything else settles: stroller rentals, PhotoPass purchases, shipping fees, kennels, and so on. Not all of them will apply to all guests. As with nearly everything else in your budget, it pays to shop around for these miscellaneous items. For example, there are several ways to save money over renting a stroller from the Disney parks. You can save money on airline baggage fees by doing some laundry while on vacation, but then you’ll need to factor the cost of washing into you budget. Again, play around with numbers to see what works for you.

So what’s your budgeting process? Where have you found ways to cut corners? What do you spend money on that I forgot to include? Let us know in the comments below.

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