M is for Must Do at the Magic Kingdom – a-to-z blog challenge

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M A2Z-BADGE-0002014-small_zps8300775cI get asked, a lot, about vacationing at Walt Disney World.  Go figure.  Most people are pretty familiar with the Magic Kingdom, and many have a good idea of the things they want to do and see when they arrive.  But I have my own list of the things that make the Magic Kingdom just that much more magical to me!

Rope Drop – Arrive about 15 minutes before the scheduled opening time.  You’ll be treated to your first taste of old fashioned Disney.  Singing, dancing, and a train full of characters will greet you, as the Mayor of Main Street opens the theme park to welcome guests.  This is where the fun begins!

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Dapper Dans – I’m a sucker for a Barbershop Quartet.  My dad, believe it or not, used to make us go see Barbershop Quartet concerts, but they weren’t nearly as fun as standing on Main Street, USA listening to the Dapper Dans.  It’s a must do for me!

Haunted Mansion – Check out some of the really cool features OUTSIDE this awesome attraction.  Take the short detour to get a full tour of the cemetery just prior to going inside.  Don’t be afraid to touch – nothing will come out and grab you 😉  Also, look for the wedding ring embedded in the ground – tossed from the window by Master Gracey’s betrothed.  Don’t forget to pay your respects at the pet cemetery as you leave.

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Kiss Goodnight – Who doesn’t like the warm fuzzy feeling of being tucked in at the end of a wonderful day, and getting that last kiss goodnight?  As the Magic Kingdom closes, take one last glance back at Cinderella Castle on your way out of the park.  The castle will be lit with lights and changing colors – a soft, warm kiss goodnight as you head back to your resort room to snuggle down to a good night’s sleep.

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The Best Things I’ve Ever Eaten – Disney World Version

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I periodically pour over the Disney World restaurant menus, always searching for new things I’d like to try, but I always have a list of my favorite things.  I’m sure you have a list of things you love, like Lou Mongello’s carrot cake cookie obsession from the Writer’s Stop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (I really try to love it, Lou, but it hurts my teeth to even think about it’s sweetness!) – and I want you to share it with me!  Here are some of my favorite things to eat at Walt Disney World:

Smokey Portobello Soup – Artist Point
Artist Point mushroom soup

At Christmas time last year, our waiter accidentally brought a bowl of this smokey, rich, delicious soup to my mother-in-law, who doesn’t eat it.  The waiter offered to leave it on the table, but  my MIL told him to take it back, as we all already had our appetizers (most of which were the soup).  I thought my middle child would burst into tears, as she watched the creamy bowl of mushroom goodness being walked back to the kitchen.  It embodies the taste of a rustic home in the heart of winter, and the flavor will keep you warm your whole trip.

Bobotie – Boma

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Minced meat, spices, flavors of sweet and savory, all baked into an egg mixture – oh my goodness.  This very traditional South African dish is an explosion of flavors that leaves my mouth very happy.  It’s comfort food at its finest.

Kakigori – EPCOT

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It’s August.  In Florida.  Where there is only one way to describe the heat.  Hell-like.  I’ve always thought I could survive the depths of Hades, having done the “EPCOT death march” at the peak of summer.  The big difference?  There is no Kakigori in hell.  This absolutely heavenly refresher is shaved ice, with your choice of a variety of sweet syrup, much like a traditional snow cone.  There are two big differences between the Kakigori and the snow cone you might get at your local fair or carnival.  The ice in Kakigori is shaved so finely, you don’t get any of the big, chunky, brain freeze pieces you always get in a snow cone, and it doesn’t glue itself all together as it melts, as a snow cone sometimes does.  The other difference is the syrups.  These seem not as cloyingly sweet as some you might find for a snow cone, and the flavors are brighter – tangerine, melon, and strawberry – much closer to fresh fruit than the snow cone flavors.  I like to taste the rainbow – and dream of cooler days!

Braised Pork – Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom

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Let me tell you, my little Mouseketeers, this is one of the best bargains on Disney property.  Served only during lunch, the pork is cooked like a Coq Au Vin, which is a traditionally French dish made with chicken and red wine, simmered in a pot until tender and delicious.  This dish hits the tender and delicious part spot on, and the serving is a full and generous portion – especially since this is lunch!  You’ll get the wonderfully flavored pork, a healthy portion of mashed potatoes, a gravy filled with carrots, onions and mushrooms, and another side dish of green beans.  Easily a $30 entree at a sit down restaurant with fancy napkins and French waiters, go for a late lunch (no reservations required!!) and make this your dinner.  You’ll have room for a late night Dole Whip snack!

So what are some of your Disney favorites?

 

 

Magic Bands, FastPass+, ADRs, OH MY!

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Remember, back in the day, when you could just show up at Walt Disney World, ride the rides, eat nice meals, have a great time, and go home?  Yeah, me neither.

For as long as I’ve been planning Walt Disney World vacations (approximately 7, 459 years), I’ve had to get up at the crack of dawn at some distant light year from the actual vacation to book a dining reservation at a restaurant for which I personally have no fondness, but I have deemed it an experience my children MUST have to prevent them from ending up in years of therapy for the mental cruelty they suffered at the hands of a negligent mother.

But as if that fun and excitement wasn’t enough to give you hives, there’s more!

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You have, no doubt, heard of the latest technology rolled out at the Disney theme parks.  The aptly named “Magic Bands” have debuted, and boy oh boy are they fun!  They come in pretty colors, you can add little charms to them, a cutie patootie frame around your Mickey head – what’s not to love?  They even have your name on them!  Adorable!

But the responsibility that comes as a Magic Band owner! While planning for a recent vacation, I spent the better part of my days trying to make sure everything for our upcoming vacation is going to be magical for my family.  I spent hours on the phone with Disney IT, when somethings weren’t working out right, and I went back into My Disney Experience dozens upon dozens of times, trying to make sure I wasn’t overlooking things.

And as the vacation date loomed, I didn’t feel ready.  For the first time, I was afraid our ability to navigate the park without stress was going to be impeded.  I worried that the FastPass+ selections I made were not really the ones my kids want.  I feared the kid who could easily ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster a half dozen times would be disappointed when I had to drag her away after one ride, not having the ability to snag FastPasses throughout the day.  It’s like the old fashioned ticket books!

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Well, I can say that the vacation wasn’t a total disaster, but it was super stressful.  My husband declared it “not fun” to have my head buried in my cell phone as we tried to make adjustments to our FastPass+ selections, made 60 days in advance, to accommodate our schedule.  My kids were disappointed I couldn’t snag extra FastPasses to come back to things like Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or Toy Story.  And we did race through a meal or two in order to make sure we were able to run to our FastPass+ attractions before our time was up.

I am confident that in time, this will be an awesome system.  I loved, for example, not carrying a bag with me, because I didn’t have to store keys or passes or FastPasses.  I breezed right through the “No Bags” line like I’d done it a hundred times before.

But I did need a vacation from that vacation.  The stress of making sure we were where we needed to be so we could enjoy things killed some of the enjoyment.

Or maybe I’m not so good with the winds of change?

D is For Disney – Duh!

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DAs if there was a way to get to the letter D in the A to Z Blog Challenge and not have me mention Disney.  In honor of the letter D, I present with fond memories and intense longing my favorite Disney “D List”.

Dole Whip – Well, yeah. Virtually impossible to find anywhere outside of Disney, this creamy, soft servey, pineappley deliciousness makes me smile and drool – not a pretty sight, if it’s a big, open mouthed smile, because then the drool spills all over the computer keyboard. Not that I speak from experience.

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Donald Duck – Love to see his big, beaky (or is it a bill because he’s a Duck?) smile as we enter one of the best buffet meals not only at Walt Disney World, but anywhere – Tusker House.  So unexpected for a theme park meal, and so many unusual, off the beaten path things to try!

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Disney Dollars – Unlike Itchy and Scratchy Dollars, which they don’t take anywhere, including Itchy and Scratchy Land, Disney Dollars can be used for just about everything during your Disney vacation.  And thanks to my friend Kay, another Mom on the Disney Parks Moms Panel, I’ve learned a fun game with the Disney Dollars that gives the kids a bit of their own spending money with each meal.  Buy your Disney Dollars ahead of time, and put them in plain white envelopes.  Everyone at the table chooses an envelope, which could contain $1 to $5, and the person with the biggest amount of money in their envelope throws the trash away!  The kids get a kick out of it, and they love to save their dollars until the last meal to get the best souvenir their winnings can buy!

Double Flying Dumbos – Oh yes, I love them. But not for the reason you probably think.  I cannot ride the Flying Dumbos because going around in a circle like that makes me so nauseous and dizzy, I’d have to browse the rest of the park with my head in a bucket.  But this is that quintessential first ride – the one even the youngest kids can go on without fear or worry.  I’ve gotten some of my most favorite pictures of my tiny beauty girls as they spin around on their own flying elephant.  Priceless.

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What are some of your favorite Disney “D”s?

 

50s Prime Time Cafe – Restaurant Review

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Back in the day when Brighid was little, 50s Prime Time Cafe was the place to go for really delicious, homestyle comfort foods.  But more than that, it was the place to go for an experience like no other – where you became part of the “family” dining at Mom’s table – complete with Mom yelling at you and making you stand in the corner if you talked back.  Or didn’t eat your veggies.  Or you put your elbows on the table.  And if you did manage to make it through your vegetables, Mom – or a cousin – would hand you a ViewMaster dessert menu, taking you right back to your childhood (or your mother’s childhood) while you perused options for your sweet reward for suffering through the green beans.

On our recent visit, we were pleased to see the menu with which we have become so familiar.  Mom’s pot roast – a table favorite – it perfectly tender, shredded into delicious gravy covered bites, and served with garlic mashed potatoes and veggies you totally don’t mind eating, because they are so perfectly cooked and flavorful.

Cousin Ann’s meatloaf, although flavorful and delicious, was a bit on the dry side.  Nothing a few squirts of ketchup didn’t cure, but the ketchup then overpowered the yummy glaze.  Served on a bed of the garlic mashed potatoes, it’s about as close to Mom made as you’ll find.

Prime Time Meatloaf

Aunt Liz’s Golden Fried Chicken won tremendous praise at our table.  Golden and crisp, the chicken had the perfect crunch without an abundance of grease (take that, Colonel Sanders).  There were those garlic mashed potatoes again, and sweet corn, adding a comfort-ful side dish to an already homey plate.

Prime Time Fried ChickenThe one health conscious person at our table ordered the chicken Caesar salad, and claimed it delicious.  And really, in these days of diets and fad food trends, is there anything more classic than the chicken Caesar?  It has become almost as comforting as pot roast and meatloaf.

What our experience lacked was the fun factor.  I’ve heard before that they no longer use the ViewMasters for dessert due to health concerns, with the toys being so close to so many eyes.  I guess I get that.  But even the interaction with the servers has been greatly curtailed over the years.  Our waiter, Cousin Richard, was nothing more than a sarcastic, bitter, hating his job type of guy who couldn’t wait to be done taking our order and moving on.  And while Richard was one of the worst we’ve had in a while, there is no more real home atmosphere, where mom is yelling at you for something and someone is getting in trouble.  I was told by one server that people didn’t like being told to stand in a corner, so they scaled back that type of interaction, but it was a huge part of the fun of the experience.

Would I recommend this restaurant?  Highly.  It’s still great fun to see and be transported to the 1950s.  The food is still very good overall.  The peanut butter and jelly milkshake is still one of the best milkshakes – anywhere.  But I would tell folks who were there a long time ago to curb their expectations.  What used to be good food and great fun is now great food and good fun.  It’s still a must do for my family.

Wilderness Lodge and Artist Point – the Perfect Christmas Combination

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Who doesn’t want to go home to their cabin in the woods at Christmas time?  Gather your family around the fire, with a giant pine tree standing in the center of the room, rock in your rocking chair, and enjoy a cocktail and a dinner of freshly caught salmon.  It sounds idyllic to me.

That may be why we try to spend every Christmas dinner dining at this rustic Christmas paradise.

Day 6 5The decorations are not over the top, gaudy, bedazzled and blinged out.  They are earthy and rustic, with a nod to the Pacific Northwest roots from where the resort was conceived.  The feeling of homey warmth consumes you, and it’s cozy despite the grand, vaulted ceilings.

When you combine the beauty of this amazing resort with the amazing food served at Artist Point, you have one of the most perfect Christmas combinations you could imagine.  While the menu may vary when you visit, a staple is the delicious salmon.  The type of salmon varies by season, but the cedar plank preparation imparts a wonderful flavor to the perfectly prepared fish.  Combined with the smokey portobello mushroom soup, hearty and full bodied for a cold (or perceived cold!) winter’s day, this is one of my favorite meals at Walt Disney World.

You have just over 11 months to plan your Christmas season visit to Walt Disney World, and I cannot recommend enough the combination of this amazing resort and fabulous restaurant.  It’s the best of both worlds – a homey, rustic, holiday feeling in the middle of warm, sunny Florida.

Artist Point mushroom soup

How Not to Starve on Two Meals a Day – The Disney Dining Plan

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Friends and family alike are always asking me questions about the Disney Dining Plan.  Is it a good value?  Can I eat anywhere I want?  Can I eat anything I want?  But the question that keeps coming up again and again is the question about how much people need to budget for the third meal that is not included in the quick service or regular Disney Dining Plan.

And my answer to that really should be – you aren’t going to starve.

In addition to credits to cover you for two meals, you also get a snack credit for each night of your package on either of those plans.  When I tell them “snack”, most people think an ice cream bar or a box of popcorn, but when I tell you what your other snack options are, you’ll understand the not starving thing.

If you’d like to save your meal credits for lunch or dinner, check out some of the amazing breakfast options that count as a snack.  You’ll find muffins, pastries, scones and coffee cake on the list of snacks you can use to enjoy breakfast.  You might also opt for a mixed fruit cup, a whole piece of fruit, a hefty cinnamon roll (you could share this between two people!), or a yogurt.

Maybe breakfast has to be your biggest meal of the day, so you’d like to use one of your meal credits to get yourself a nice platter of breakfast foods somewhere.  Save those snack credits for lunch instead – or even a light dinner.  If you’ve eaten a big breakfast, you might be satisfied with an egg roll or some sushi, both options you can use snack credits for.  If you’d like something a bit more filling, you’ll find one snack credit buys you a good sized serving of chili cheese fries.  Be Our Guest has delicious and filling crocks of potato leek or French onion soup as snack offerings.

You might split your snack credits with friends, and make a meal out of the lobster bisque and a whole baguette – each one snack credit – available at the recently opened Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie at EPCOT’s France pavilion.  A nice breakfast is half an oatmeal and half of a yogurt and fruit parfait – a whole one of each is available at Animal Kingdom for one snack credit each, and can be shared with a friend.

You’ll find carrots and celery with dip, trail mix, and nachos and cheese – all of which are offered in pretty generous serving sizes that will tide you over until your next meal.  I haven’t met many people who regret sacrificing snack credits for food that is more like a meal.

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And don’t forget – you can grab a dessert with your meal that can be boxed up and eaten later – as a snack!

It’s Too Hot to go to Walt Disney World!

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Bite your tongue!  Some people – including those of us with school aged children – are bound by school schedules, sports schedules, and even work schedules (says the teacher-to-be), and a vacation to Walt Disney World has to be done during the hot summer.  When it’s hot.  And humid. And did I mention hot?

Summer, though, is the best time to have your cake and eat it too!  You will want to arrange your day to beat the heat, but that will give you a chance to maybe do some of the Disney things you never have time to do!

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My best theme park tip for the dog days of summer is to hit it early and hit it hard.  Be at the park at rope drop, and if you can take advantage of morning extra magic hours, DO IT!  As soon as you arrive, snag a FastPass for your absolutely must do attraction, then get in line for your second must do.  Chances are, you’ll have both of those attractions done pretty quickly, and can move on to your next FastPass and your next attraction.

If you are doing FastPass+, schedule your attraction choices for early in the day or later in the evening.  This will not only help you avoid the hottest part of the day, but it also might help you miss the typical afternoon thunderstorm Central Florida is known for.

By lunch time, you’ve probably melted to a puddle bodily fluids.  You’re ready for something cool, comfortable, and away from the theme parks – something you might not think about if you were there when it was cooler.

Now is the time to take advantage of the OTHER side of Walt Disney World!  Check out Downtown Disney for some shopping and a nice lunch.  Head to the AMC 24 at Pleasure Island, where you can do a Fork and Screen movie/lunch show, enjoying the hottest first run movies in cool comfort.  How about the so hot it’s cool Splitsville for a game of bowling and one of the best burgers at Walt Disney World?

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Have you ever done DisneyQuest?  A hot afternoon is the perfect time to visit this gaming mecca, with virtual reality, arcade, and video games galore.  You can grab a quick bite to eat here – and save room for some of the great desserts!

Take the afternoon off to take a dip in the pool.  Pop on the monorail for some resort hopping afternoon shopping.  Or enjoy the heat of the afternoon in a spa getting your nails done!

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A hot afternoon is a great time to enjoy some of the Walt Disney World attractions you may typically overlook, so when the heat index is rising, split your theme park day in half.  With an attraction packed morning and an afternoon cool down, you’ll be ready and refreshed to shut the parks down at the end of the day!

 

Every Once in a While…

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…you just have to have a taste of Disney World.

But you can’t always get there.

So what do you do?

I have, over the years, built up quite a collection of recipes for some of my Disney favorites, and one that I’m surprised I have (but use most often) is the Boma recipe for Frunch.  I am not a juice drinker.  I don’t love juice, never drink orange juice or apple juice, and would rather have a cold glass of water if it came down to a real thirst quencher.

But I LOVE Frunch.  The combination of juices is just the right amount of sweet and tart, and this refreshing punch is easy to make and perfect for a brunch or summer lunch.

In case you’re craving a little bit of Disney World – here’s the recipe for West African Frunch from Boma.  Because it’s so hard to find mango juice, I’ve skipped the pineapple juice concentrate and used pineapple mango juice – it works just fine that way, too.

1 1/2 cups of mango juice

1/2 cup pineapple juice concentrate, thawed

1/2 cup lemonade concentrate, thawed

2 cups fresh orange juice

3 cups of water

4 Tablespoons of grenadine

Mix all ingredients together, serve over ice in a tall glass.

30 Days of Thanks – Day 20 – Thankful for Disney

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So, you had to know this was coming.  I wouldn’t be able to get through 30 days without being thankful for the Mouse and all it’s meant to me.

My first real vacation with Jim was to Walt Disney World, and my honeymoon was to Walt Disney World.  That made the earliest happy memories, the foundation of my life with my husband, of Walt Disney World and how much fun we had together.

When we moved to Orlando in 1993, the first thing we did – without jobs to pay for them – was buy annual passes.  We were thousands of miles away from family and friends, and having a fun, familiar place to go while people at home were enjoying turkey dinner on Thanksgiving or celebrating a family birthday we couldn’t be home for took some of the sting of homesickness away.

EPCOT is where Eilis took her first steps unassisted, and it’s where Granuaile had her first popsicle – and Itzakadoozie pop that gave her baby brain freeze.  We’ve got wonderful memories of Brighid dancing in a parade, Eilis hugging Donald Duck, Granuaile window kissing Goofy.

Then, in November of 2008, when I was selected to be on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, I acquired a whole family of amazing people who have become my lifelong friends.  Along with them, I’ve been introduced to others in the Disney community who have taken up residence in my heart, and I can’t imagine what life would be like without them (I’m talking to you, Jackie P  and my bonus children, Amy and Anthony!!).

Today, with all of y’all’s eye rolling and fake gagging when I mention my beloved Walt Disney World, I’m so thankful for Disney.  And I’m so thankful for the people it’s brought to my life, enhancing it in ways I’d never imagined possible.