Monday, July 18, 2011

Review: La Cantina de San Angel

For those of you who aren't aware, I loooove Mexican food (also, I'm still alive! sorry for taking so long between posts!).  So naturally, I had to try the (then relatively) new Cantina de San Angel on my birthday back in January.  Full disclaimer: I had never been to the old Cantina, though I had been to the San Angel Inn.

We were on the dining plan, so James and I both were able to order one entree, one non-alcoholic beverage, and one dessert each.  We both ordered the Tacos de Carne and a soda, but James ordered the lemon Paleta for dessert.  I had the churros con cajeta, of course.  Claro que si.  (Okay, I'll try not to get all Espanol on you guys.)  We ate lunch around 11:30, and it wasn't too busy.  There was only one family in front of us on line, and soon we were ordered and scanned through and waiting for our food. 

I grabbed a table, while James waited for our food.  In a few minutes, we were reunited, and I went to get some utensils and salsa.  For those who haven't been, La Cantina has salsa dispensers like most restaurants have ketchup dispensers.  There were two types, and I took a little cup of both back to the table.  The Tacos de Carne weren't quite what I expected, but they were quite good!  I think I was expecting Chipotle or Taco Bell style steak chunks, but this was more of a shredded beef.  Plus the tortillas it came on were soft and delicious!  Add the pico de gallo and some of the salsa we got from the dispenser, and it was delicioso! 

Now as I said, James and I got different desserts, and I think we had different satisfaction levels.  James isn't big into churros, so he got the lemon paleta.  It was basically a lemon popsicle from Mexico, and he didn't think it was anything special.  I, on the other hand, loved my churros!  They came with cajeta, which is caramel sauce.  I love churros period, but add more sugary goodness, and I was in heaven!

Overall, I really liked La Cantina, and I would love to return.  But as far as I saw, all the seating was outdoors.  This was not a problem in January, but it may be one in August.  This is a favorable maybe for our upcoming trip!

Have you been to La Cantina since it was refurbished?  What did you think?  What did you order?  Let me know your thoughts on this restaurant in a comment, on Twitter (@amandaenchanted), or on Facebook! 
 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

All Star Music vs. Pop Century: Help Us Decide!

I feel like I need to preface this blog post with a very important fact:  I love All Star Music.  Love it.  LOVE it.  I've stayed there four times, and I even chose it over Port Orleans French Quarter.  So ponder that before you read on and give your opinion.

I love All Star Music, and everyone else loves Pop.  It has made me want to try Pop, so I tried to book Pop way back when there was a room only discount that had just come out.  Pop wasn't available, so we booked All Star Music.  Maybe that was a sign not to stay at Pop.  Anyway, fast forward a few weeks, and annual pass discounts are available for our August trip.  I am now reconsidering switching to Pop, if we do get annual passes.

Before you tell me which resort you think James and I should stay at, here's a list of things that worry me about Pop:

1. Buses.  Please don't tell me that the All Stars share buses.  We were on a shared bus maybe 10% of the time.  I'm concerned about the bus service at Pop because the resort is much bigger than All Star Music.  Which means more people.  Which means more crowded buses and longer lines.  The line for Pop always seems longer than the line for All Star Music.

2. Sound proofing.  Pop supposedly has the worst sound proofing of all the resorts.  All Star Music is very well soundproofed.  I'm nervous about being woken up by noisy kids in the middle of the night.

3. Unofficial Guide ratings.  The fact that I take every word written in the Unofficial Guide as un-debatable fact is one of the reasons I signed up to be a TouringPlans.com affiliate (see banner in sidebar).  That said, 100% of All Star Music visitors said they would return to that resort, but only 93% of the Pop Century visitors said the same.  If you don't think 7% seems like a lot, multiply that by the total number of people that stay at Pop every year.  (Also note that 80% of All Star Music visitors would recommend the resort to a friend, but only 70% of Pop Century visitors said the same.)

4. Fellow All Star Music lovers.  Pop lovers swear that I will like it, but many fellow All Star lovers say that they didn't like Pop as much as Music.  Some even said they couldn't wait to get back to Music.  Some cite the things I listed above, plus things like the scenery: Pop is all plastic, while the All Stars have a lot of trees and landscaping.

So that's that.  On one hand, I want to try something new.  On the other hand, All Star Music signifies Disney for me, and I kind of want to go there forever (until I can afford a deluxe).  So what's your opinion on the great debate?  Should I stay at All Star Music or Pop Century?  Let me know your thoughts in a comment, on Twitter (@amandaenchanted), or on Facebook!
 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Victoria Gardens

Friday, June 17, 2011

Studios Thrill Rides... For Wimps?

Photo from James
As I'm sure you all know, I'm a ride wimp.  I'm afraid of many of the rides that people adore at Walt Disney World.  The Studios (it's International Hollywood Studios Awareness week, remember?) has two of the scariest thrill rides of all, but my fellow ride wimps may not know that they can get a thrill ride experience while always being safely attached to the ground.  Have you ever heard of a chicken exit?

The lovely Cheryl loves the Studios, and back in January, she was very displeased with the fact that I had never seen the Tower of Terror queue.  We decided that we needed to change that, so we headed right over to the Hollywood Tower Hotel.  We took the Fastpass entrance, so I can't say anything about the standby queue.  Before we knew it, we were in the hotel, and we were watching the pre-show.  You see, at Tower of Terror, the chicken elevator separates from the ride elevators right when they're loading people into the ride.  That means that the chickens and the riders can see all the other parts of the queue and pre-show together before splitting up.  So after the queue and pre-show, we were in the final part of the queue.  I kept second guessing Cheryl, asking her if she's SURE we didn't pass the chicken exit yet.  Obviously I was terrified, but Cheryl wasn't tricking me.  When the cast member at the loading platform asked how many in our party, we said one rider (James) and two chickens (Cheryl and I).  Cheryl and I were directed to stand to the side while they loaded the ride elevator, and soon we were directed to a normal, safe, slow elevator.  I knew it was a real one because there were no seatbelts.  After a perfectly average ride down on an elevator, we found ourselves at the ride exit to wait for James.  A few minutes later, he arrived, and we walked through the gift shop on our way out.  It was like James, Cheryl, and I all had the same experience, except only James had the terror part.

A few days later, James' brother and his boyfriend came to hang out with us at Disney, and they decided they wanted to hit the Studios first.  We all headed over to Rock 'n Roller Coaster, even though I knew I wouldn't be riding.  When we asked how long the single rider line was, the CM told us he couldn't be sure.  Just a few minutes later, thanks to my birthday and James' brother's flirting skills, we had achieved four Fastpasses that were good immediately.  All I had to do was tell the CM I would ride.  And I did tell him that, knowing that I could chicken exit later if I wanted to.  At first, I felt brave.  I felt like I could do it.  Then as we waited, I started to chicken out, and I realized that I really did not want to ride this coaster.  Luckily for me, I could experience the queue without riding.  And so I did the same as Cheryl had taught us a few days earlier.  We walked through the queue, we saw the pre-show, and we entered the loading area.  When the cast member asked how many, I told him I would be exiting on foot, not via a scary death coaster (although not in so many words).  He directed me to a door on the side of the platform that took me directly to the unloading platform.  They're right next to each other, you see.  So I got to wait for the others in the gift shop, watching all the ride photos of the people who came off.  A few minutes later, we were reunited, and James told me it was a good thing I hadn't ridden.  I'm glad I know now that I didn't have to in order to get the full experience. 

Did you know that you could experience these queues without riding?  Have you ever taken a chicken exit?  Did you do it so you could experience the queue or pre-show?  On which attraction?  Let me know your ride wimp tips in a comment, on Twitter (@amandaenchanted), or on Facebook!
 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: #DHSAwareness Week

Monday, June 13, 2011

Underappreciated Studios Attractions

For those of you who are unaware, yet another International Hollywood Studios Awareness Week has arrived.  You may remember last year, when I wrote about The Great Movie Debate.  Well I'm here today to write about two less appreciated Studios attractions, at least by the general public.  (Disclaimer: There are not necessarily underappreciated by the Disney community, but they are by the average Disney guest.)

My rendition of Sheriff Woody!
First is the Magic of Disney Animation (all attraction links go to StudiosCentral.com because they have way more Studios information than I do).  The "bulk" of this attraction is a short movie, hosted by Mushu, about Disney animation.  Though in my opinion, that's my least favorite part of the attraction.  After the movie, you are essentially dumped into a big Disney animation advertisement.  But in a good way!  There's a ton of concept art for Disney's next movie, and you can see all kinds of cool stuff related to the movie.  After this, there is an area where you can meet various characters if you choose.  Find which characters will be there in your Times Guide.  And finally, after meeting (or skipping) the characters, you can choose to exit the attraction via a gift shop or go to the Animation Academy.  The Animation Academy is my favorite part of this attraction.  As you can see above, I drew Woody!  We were the only people in the Academy at the time that had never been, so we got to draw a character that was less common.  Even if you're not a good artist, this is a lot of fun.  Hands on entertainment in a Disney theme park.  Love it!  (PS, you have to exit through the gift shop after this too... sorry.  It's a cool one though!)

Me at One Man's Dream
Second, but certainly not second in my heart (or the hearts of many other Disney fans), is Walt Disney: One Man's Dream.  For those of you who haven't been here in a while, it has recently been refurbished, and it is definitely worth another visit.  For those who have never been, this is essentially a chronicle of Walt Disney's life, from birth to after his death.  It gives information about everything Walt achieved both for himself and his company, and there are quite a few "artifacts" that he actually used.  Ever wanted to see a real desk that Walt sat at?  Now you know where to find one!  The whole attraction can be skimmed very quickly, but I recommend taking at least 20 minutes to really look at everything.  For any diehard Disney fan, this is a must-see if you haven't.  At the end, you can choose to see a short film about Walt's life, which I recommend.  At the very least, it's a nice place to sit for a bit.  Overall, this attraction honors Walt in the best way.  It is fantastic.

Do you agree that these attractions should be more appreciated?  Have you seen both of them?  Which are your favorites?  Let me know your thoughts on these attractions in a comment,  on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook.  And if you're on Twitter, don't forget to hashtag #DHSAwareness!
 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Spaceship Japan

Monday, June 6, 2011

What's a Fish Extender?

If you've ever gone on the Disney Cruise Line forums of the DISboards, you may have seen people discussing fish extenders (FEs).  But what is a fish extender exactly?  To understand this, you have to know what the fish are.  You see, on Disney cruise ships, there is a mail holder outside of each door in the shape of a fish, starfish, or seahorse.  Somehow the Disney community came up with a thing called fish extenders, which is essentially fabric with pockets on it that you hang from your fish mail holder.

The fish extender I made for our upcoming cruise. It doesn't have the dowel or string on top yet.
You can either make a fish extender (either sew it, or, if you're not a sewer, there are no-sew directions on the DIS that I used) or buy one off eBay or Etsy.  Of course first you need to find a FE exchange.  Most are found on the DIS, but I know the BOGP forums is having one for their cruise (though signups are over, since their cruise is so soon!), and there are others on other message boards.  Since I'm participating in one through the DIS, I know their system best.  On there, simply find your cruise's thread and sign up.  Someone in the group will have to organize the exchange, and on our cruise, there are so many participants that we're split into two groups of over 25 families each!

Next you buy your gifts.  Some people do one gift for each cabin, others for each person in the cabins.  Some people hand make special gifts, some buy things from places like Oriental Trading or their local dollar store, some buy things that are specific to where they live, and others give candy.  Of course, these are just a few of the options for FE exchanges... the possibilities are as limitless as your budget and your imagination. 

Once you're on the cruise, you will be equipped with a list of everyone in your group's staterooms, provided to you by whomever is organizing your exchange.  In some cases, everyone's staterooms are listed on a specific page of a message board thread.  In others, someone puts together a spreadsheet with everyone's room.  Now the gift giving begins!  Hang your fish extender on your fish, and you'll be surprised with new gifts every time you return to your room!  And you also get to give other people gifts!  It's a lot of fun, and it can really make a Disney Cruise extra special.  So if you've ever wondered what fish extenders are, now you know!

What do you think of the fish extender idea?  Have you ever participated in a fish extender exchange?  What did you give, and what did you get?  Let me know in a comment, on Twitter (@amandaenchanted), or on Facebook!
 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Review: Earl of Sandwich

I have finally reached the last dining review of my August 2010 trip!  It only took me 10 months!  Well I know for most of you, I've saved the best for last because Earl of Sandwich is a big favorite in the Disney community.  Knowing how much people rave about it, it was a must-eat on our August trip.  We even walked through a terrible rain storm from D-Street just to eat there.

When we arrived, the line was long, but I didn't mind.  I needed time to survey my options on the menu.  For those of you who aren't aware, Earl of Sandwich is a counter service restaurant in Downtown Disney that sells, well, sandwiches!  James decided to order The Original 1762 (roast beef, cheddar cheese, and horseradish sauce), and I went with the Italian (salami, capicola, roasted ham, mortadella, mozzarella cheese, Roma tomato, and Italian dressing).  I looked for the brownie frosting sandwich that I had previously seen on the Disney Food Blog, but they didn't seem to have it.  Before we knew it, our sandwiches were ready, and we found a seat in the packed dining room. 

Have you ever had a pepperoni pinwheel?  It's basically dough, mozzarella cheese, and pepperoni formed in the shape of a cinnamon roll.  That's exactly what my Italian sandwich tasted like.  I was thrown for a loop a little bit because I was in the mood for a sandwich, not a pepperoni pinwheel.  Overall the sandwich was good, but I was less than enthused since it wasn't what I was looking for.  James, on the other hand, really liked his sandwich.  I would definitely return to Earl of Sandwich, but probably not for the Italian sandwich.  I've come to the realization that I'm not very into hot sandwiches in general, so I'd probably stick to an old classic: the BLT.  If you're not into sandwiches either, they also have soups ($2.99) and salads ($5.99).  The sandwiches are $5.99 also, though all of these prices are as of the time of this writing. 

What is your favorite thing at Earl of Sandwich?  Did you think the Italian tasted like a pepperoni pinwheel?  Do you make Earl of Sandwich a regular destination on your trips to Walt Disney World?  Let me know your thoughts on the restaurant in a comment, on Twitter (@amandaenchanted), or on Facebook!
 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: The American Adventure, Holiday Style

Monday, May 30, 2011

Inexpensive Table Service?

For those of you who haven't been, Beaches and Cream isn't only fabulous because of its food... it's fabulous because of its prices.  How many other table services restaurants have every entree under $15?  In fact, the only thing on the menu above $15 is the infamous Kitchen Sink. 

Since James and I aren't on free dining, we have to watch what we're spending as far as meals go.  Our only "big" meal is going to be La Hacienda de San Angel (and possibly Ohana), and the rest we'd like to watch what we're spending.  Our problem is that we're not quite sure which table service restaurants are similar to Beaches and Cream in price.  We hope to eat at Beaches and Cream once on our trip, and I know that the Plaza is similar as far as price goes.  What other table service restaurants are priced for college students?  Is it possible for people to eat table service once a day on a budget?  Are there enough restaurants?

I need your help!  Let me know about inexpensive table service restaurants in a comment, on Twitter (@amandaenchanted... note the new Twitter handle!), or on Facebook!  Thanks in advance for your help, everyone!
 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: ABC Commissary


Chicken bleu sandwich
Unfortunately, we did not start the dining on our January trip off with a bang.  We started it at ABC Commissary because James was really hungry, and it was the closest to where we were.  Nothing on the menu interested me in the least, so I went with the "Surf and Turf," which was essentially a cheeseburger with three fried shrimp on top.  James had what I believe was the chicken bleu sandwich.  I got a side of apple slices, and James got fries.  Since we were on the dining plan, our dessert choices were chocolate mousse or strawberry parfait.  Of course we went with the mousse.  After we ordered, I grabbed a table while James waited for the food.

Surf and turf burger
I did not have high expectations for my meal by any means, so I wasn't surprised that the burger was bland.  Obviously no Disney burger can hold a candle to the ones at Pecos Bill's or Beaches and Cream (I don't care what you say... those burgers are different!).  I don't eat seafood, so James ate the shrimp off my burger.  He loves shrimp, but he didn't like these at all.  He said the chicken bleu sandwich was okay.  I mostly just ate my apple slices and some of his fries.  On the bright side, the chocolate mousse dessert was really good!  And later that night, we went to the Magic Kingdom, and I had an ice cream soda for my real dinner!

Chocolate mousse - yum!
Unfortunately, ABC Commissary seemed like another Hollywood Studios counter service miss for us.  I wasn't into the menu, so I was stuck with the burger.  And James had a decent dinner, but it was nothing special.  I'm sure there are people who like ABC Commissary, and when it's hot, it's air conditioned, but I'm not sure we'll be returning any time soon.

What do you think of ABC Commissary?  Do you eat there often?  What do you usually order?  Let me know your thoughts in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook!
 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Walt Disney World vs. Disney Cruise Line: The 2012 Showdown

Walt Disney World
I have quite the Disney conundrum, and as with most of my Disney conundrums, I'm reaching out to all of my readers for your opinions.  But first, some back story.

As you may or may not know, James and I are graduating college in May of next year (which means the title and domain name of this blog may change eventually, but I certainly won't be deserting it).  Naturally, as big Disney fans, we want to take a celebratory graduation trip. When Disney Cruise Line came out and said that the Disney Magic would be sailing out of New York, and the maiden New York voyage would be May 25, 2012, I jumped at the chance.  I contacted my travel agent to book a cabin for me, and 24 hours later, I had an inside cabin on an 8-night cruise to the Bahamas.  Naturally, the deposit I put on the room is refundable until 90 days before the trip... which is a loooong time from now.

However, while planning our August trip (which will be a Disney Cruise/Walt Disney World extravaganza), I've found myself getting more and more obsessed with Walt Disney World.  I had temporarily switched into a Disney Cruise obsessed mode, but the WDW side is slowly getting me back.  That in addition to talking to Matt Hochberg on episode 14 of Generation Mouse about Star Wars Weekends has got me wanting to go to WDW in May of 2012 instead of doing the cruise.  So I need your help to decide what to do.  Here are some of my thoughts...

Disney Magic
On the Disney Magic...
 - The Disney Magic will be sailing out of New York, which is really convenient since we won't have to fly to get there.  It'll just be a short drive from our houses.
 - The cruise will be a nice, relaxing trip right after finals and right before (hopefully!) getting into the working world.
 - The cruise includes one day at Walt Disney World, with a park hopper.  This day would be crazy commando in order to be as productive as possible.
 - The cruise includes four sea days, which may become old after a while... we're not really relaxed people who enjoy sitting at the pool all day.  Also, I won't be able to drink, since I won't be 21, and supposedly that's a lot of the fun on cruises.
 - On the other hand, there's always a ton of stuff to do on cruises, especially on sea days, and in general, they're always really fun.  I love going on cruises.
 - I have already taken three Disney cruises, and James and I will be taking our first Disney cruise together in August.  We've also been on a bunch of other cruises in the past.

On Walt Disney World...
 - This trip would fall over Star Wars Weekends, which we have never been to.
 - Walt Disney World is really our biggest love, and if we don't do this trip, there will probably be at least a year and a half between WDW trips.
 - If we decide to definitely do this trip, we'll be getting annual passes this August... which may possibly lead to even more trips.  Also it's just awesome in general.
 - I've been to WDW ten times (it will be eleven in August), and James has been four times (five in August).

Most importantly of everything, both trips are roughly the same cost, although the WDW trip may possibly be less if we can get good AP discounts.  So what does everyone think?  Please let me know any and all thoughts in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook.  We're really undecided, so we're looking for as many opinions as we can get.
 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Disney Cruising 101

You're getting a little piece of history with this one.  I took this in 2004.
Some of you may know that I've had some Disney Cruise drama these past few months.  My family had booked a cruise, then decided to cancel it, then decided to keep it, then decided to cancel it, etc.  Well, I can finally say that our cruise is paid off!  I'm going on the Disney Dream in August!  Now some of you may never have cruised before, so I'm going to give you some Disney Cruising 101 to help you out if you're interested.

About the Ships: At the time I'm writing this blog post, Disney Cruise Line has three ships.  The Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder are the two older, "classic" ships.  They are essentially identical in layout.  During 2011, the Disney Wonder will be sailing to Alaska and the Pacific Coast in the summer and the Mexican Rivera in the winter; the Magic will be sailing in the Mediterranean in the summer and to the Caribbean in the winter.  In 2012, the Wonder will also do one sailing to Hawaii, while the Magic will be departing on cruises to Canada and the Bahamas from New York over the summer and to the Caribbean from Galveston, Texas in the fall.

The Disney Dream is Disney's newest ship in over ten years, and it is significantly more advanced in terms of guest technology.  Throughout 2011 and 2012, the Dream will be making 3, 4, and 5-night cruises to the Bahamas.  Additionally, in February 2012, the Disney Fantasy will be introduced.  This ship will be the Dream's "sister ship," so like the Magic and the Wonder, they will be very similar.  The Fantasy will sail 7-night itineraries to the Caribbean during 2012.

I'm used to Walt Disney World.  Will I be bored on the ship?  No way!  In fact, those who have been on Disney Cruises will likely tell you that they didn't have enough time to do everything they wanted!  As Disney does best, they have perfected the perfect balance of activities for kids, activities for adults, and activities for families.  Kids ages 3-17 have their own, age separated clubs that are open all day and night and free of charge.  Many families find that they have to make their kids leave!  Adults, on the other hand, have their own pool... no kids allowed.  They also have a fitness center, spa, and adults only restaurants and night clubs for their enjoyment.  Family time is cool too, as there are two pools families can enjoy, as well as a sports deck, family restaurants (with rotational dining... so cool!), family shows, etc.  Whether you want to leave your kid at the club and have some alone time or hang out together all day, there's something for everyone on the Disney ships.

When and how should I book a cruise?  The most important Disney Cruise booking tip I can give you is to book at least a year in advance to get the best price.  If you have to cancel later, that's fine, and you'll get your deposit back.  But you don't want to book three months out like it's Walt Disney World.  Your wallet will be hurting if you do.

If you don't have a travel agent, the easiest way to book a Disney Cruise is online at disneycruise.com.  If you click "Search for a Cruise" on top and go to "Find a Cruise," you can search for the perfect cruise by many different criteria.  My favorite part, when it takes you to the page that shows you how much the cruise costs, it also shows other cruises that fit that criteria in the left bar.  You can easily see if changing your cruise dates can save you (or cost you) a lot of money!  Now I don't always use a travel agent, but I do recommend always using one for a cruise.  Most will give you a complimentary onboard credit for using their services, and who doesn't love free money?  Plus they can take care of all the booking, so you don't have to worry about it.

Booking Cruise Activities: Almost everything on the ship is included in your cruise cost, so you don't have to worry about booking extra activities.  But if you want to, you can.  For example, all the Disney ships have the adults only restaurant Palo, and the Disney Dream and Fantasy will have an additional adults only restaurant called Remy.  You have to make reservations for these ahead of time, which you can either do online or on the ship, but they're on a first-come, first-served basis.  To book these online, you must be paid in full.  If you're a platinum Castaway Club member (you've taken more than 10 Disney cruises), you get to book 120 days in advance.  If you're gold (you've taken 5-9 cruises), you get to book 105 days in advance.  If you're silver (you've taken 1-4 cruises), you get to book 90 days in advance, and if you've never taken a Disney cruise, you get to book these cruise activities 75 days in advance.  It is at this date that you also get to do online check-in if you'd like.

Additional cruise activities that can be booked at the appropriate number of days in advance include spa treatments and shore excursions (or as Disney calls them, Port Adventures).  If you plan on booking a Cabana at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island, you can do that too.  And do you have a child under the age of 4 who isn't potty trained?  You can register them for time at the nursery on board (though unlike the other kids clubs, there is a nominal hourly fee for babies).


So sorry if this is super long, or if you're not into cruise stuff.  I just thought this would be a nice little intro for people who were interested but didn't know much about it.  I've been on three Disney cruises in the past, and I'm so excited to be able to go on the Dream in August!  Perhaps I'll do a few more posts on cruising before (and after) we go!

Do you have any cruise questions for me?  Ask me in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook, and I'll answer them in a future post!
 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Muppets

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: Backlot Express

I have been to Backlot Express twice in the past two years, one of which was with Matt Hochberg of Studios Central.  Both times I ordered a cheeseburger, but I don't know if that tells you more about the restaurant or about me...

Now I'm not sure how Matt feels about the restaurant, but I know for James and I, we eat there because it's convenient, not because we're in love with the food.  In fact, I've eaten at three counter service restaurants in the Studios, and I'm not in love with any of them, but that's a blog post for another time.  Notably important is that Backlot Express is, at least partially, indoors.  This is especially good to know when it's the middle of August, and you're deciding between here and Studio Catering Co (not indoors).

As I said, both times I've been here, I've ordered a cheeseburger.  I believe James has ordered the same both times.  When we went with Matt, he ordered the grilled veggie sandwich.  I said it was lame, but honestly, it looked good, sounds pretty good, and I'm pretty sure he thought it was good.  This may be the shining star on a menu that's less than creative.  The burger was your average burger.  It's fine, but it's nothing to write home about.  Honestly, I don't have much to say about it.  Although I hear it is now topped with avocado, which could make an average burger more interesting.

In August, James and I also got dessert with our meals, since we were on the dining plan.  We had a choice between marble cheesecake and strawberry parfait, and we both went with the parfait.  It had blueberries on top that looked dried out and not good.  The parfait itself was alright, nothing thrilling.  Then again, a good counter service dessert is hard to come by at Walt Disney World.

Overall, I think that Backlot Express is average.  It's interchangeable as far as the food goes.  You certainly don't need to avoid it, but I think you can find something better to eat in the Studios if you're willing to walk a little.  Perhaps to Starring Rolls for a big cupcake...

What do you think of Backlot Express?  Have you ever visited?  Do you visit often?  What have you ordered?  Let me know your thoughts on this counter service restaurant in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook!
 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Vinylmation: The Learner's Guide

One of my approximately 20 Vinyls.
You may remember approximately a year ago, when I said I didn't get Vinylmation.  And you may remember approximately eight months ago when I said I get it now.  Welllll since then I may or may not have accumulated approximately 18 more figures.  Approximately.  Yes, I am officially obsessed.  And since my lovely boyfriend owns over 50 and is the official Vinylmation expert of Generation Mouse, I feel semi-qualified to give you Vinylmation: The Learner's Guide.

What is Vinylmation?
Vinylmation stands for Vinyl, the material the figures are made out of, plus animation, the designs on the figures themselves.  All Vinyls are in the shape of Mickey Mouse, and they have various different designs.  There are hundreds of different figures, from park inspired to movie inspired to decorative and more.  They come in three sizes: 1 1/2 inch, 3 inch, and 9 inch.  I own only 3 inch figures, but James owns one 9 inch also.  1 1/2 inch figures (also called Vinylmation Jrs) cost $8.95, 3 inch figures range from $9.95 to $16.95, and 9 inch figures are usually around $39.95. Special edition figures can sometimes be more, and some come in combo packs with figures of more than one size.

But you can't tell what figure you're getting?
Nope, most series come in blind boxes, meaning you don't know what figure you have until you purchase it.  You know what series it's from, but you don't know the exact figure.  This is what turned me off to Vinylmation in the first place, until I learned about trading.  Once you've opened your figure, you can trade with Cast Members all around Walt Disney World until you find the perfect figure for you!  Or if you're lucky, you'll get the one you want right out of the box!

So what is a chaser?  And what's a variant?
This is best understood if you know how Vinyls are packaged.  Each series comes in a case of 24 figures.  There are 12 different figures in each series, so there are two of each in the case.  EXCEPT, there is three of one figure and only one of another.  (So there are two of ten figures, three of one, and one of one. 20+3+1=24)  The figure that there is only one of is the same in each case, so it is the rarest figure by approximately 2:1.  That figure is the chaser, and you can often find chasers on eBay for quite a bit more than retail.  As for a variant, some figures come in more than one version.  For example, I have a Pinocchio variant.  The "official" figure has donkey ears and a tail, but one figure in every few cases has blue ears and no tail.  That's the one I have, and it's rarer than the regular figure.  Disney never releases how MUCH rarer though.  A variant on a chaser is sometimes called a super chaser.  One of the most desired super chasers I've heard of was the Ghost of Obi Wan in the Star Wars series.  It was going for several hundred dollars on eBay at one point.

Why do people get so obsessed with collecting Vinyls?
The thrill of the hunt, and the "gotta collect them all" mentality.  You won't get it until you buy one.  Then you'll be hooked forever.

Where can I buy Vinylmation figures?
Some series are only available in the parks and resorts, some are available online at disneystore.com, and more still are available at your local Disney Store.  I'm actually amazed at how many different series my Disney Store has.  Definitely great when you need a Vinyl fix but don't live near Walt Disney World or Disneyland.  If you're looking for a specific figure and don't mind spending a little more than it's worth, eBay can be a great place to find them, especially if the series isn't in stores anymore.

What is the best figure to start with?
This is really up to your personal preferences.  You can see all the different series at Vinylmation.com, and you can decide that way!  My first figure was the owl from Cutesters, and my second was the carousel from Park 3.  Some other favorites I own are a special New York City one (available only at the Disney Store in Times Square), a Haunted Mansion one, my Pinocchio variant, and a giraffe with a special extendable neck from the Animal Kingdom series!

Do you have any more questions about Vinylmation?  If so, leave them in the comments, and if I get a few, I'll do another post answering YOUR questions!

What do you think about Vinylmation?  Do you own any figures?  How many?  If not, why haven't you gotten into it?  Let me know your thoughts on this relatively new collectible phenomenon in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook!  And don't forget to leave any questions for me to answer in a future post!
 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: La Cantina

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Hollywoodland

Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: Captain Cook's

Whee, bad cell phone pic
Being an avid listener of the Be Our Guest Podcast, when Rikki suggested Captain Cook's over and over (and over) for their famous adult grilled cheese, I knew that we had to go there back in August.  Captain Cook's is a counter service restaurant in the Polynesian Resort, and it's great when you're looking to get away from the crowds of the Magic Kingdom for a yummy lunch or dinner (or breakfast).  We went there for lunch on this particular day.

Captain Cook's has an interesting ordering system unlike any other I've seen at Walt Disney World.  Like Pecos Bill's, there are ordering kiosks, but unlike Pecos Bill's, you can't pay at them.  You order using the kiosks and then walk over to the cashiers to pay.  Since the cashiers aren't really near the kiosks, it's a little confusing, but we figured it out soon enough.  Upon seeing the menu, I swear it said that there was blue cheese on the adult grilled cheese, although Rikki swears there isn't.  Anyway, I don't like blue cheese, so the adult grilled cheese was no longer in the running.  Instead I decided to order the multi-grain turkey club (no mayo), and I believe James ordered the aloha pork sandwich.  And, of course, we both got Dole Whips for dessert.  Oh yeah, did I mention the best part about Captain Cook's?  It has a self serve Dole Whip machine!

Once we figured out how the ordering worked, we soon got our food, and we found a table pretty quickly.  The restaurant was by no means quiet, but it was certainly less chaotic than, say, Pecos Bill's likely was on that day.  I honestly don't remember much about my turkey club (probably should have written this review sooner than eight months after the fact), but seeing as I don't remember anything bad about it (like I do about the yucky turkey club at the Studio Catering Co), I'm sure it was good.  I'm pretty sure James liked his sandwich as well.  In fact, I'm pretty sure the only reason that we didn't go to Captain Cook's last time we were at Walt Disney World is only because we didn't get over to the Magic Kingdom resorts much.  I do remember that the multi-grain bread had an interesting, seedy texture, but it was really good.  And both our meals came with Captain Cook's Polynesian chips.  As for the Dole Whips, totally delicious, as usual.

I highly recommend Captain Cook's if you're in the Magic Kingdom area.  Not only is it a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the parks, but the menu choices are quite different from most things you'd see in a counter service restaurant.  Although we didn't order anything out of the ordinary, I'd like to go back (perhaps this August?) and try something a little different.

Have you ever eaten at Captain Cook's?  What did you order?  What did you think?  Is it a must-do for you, or do you only eat there occasionally?  Let me know your thoughts about this restaurant in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook!
   

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: The Palace

Monday, April 18, 2011

Early January at the World

Christmas decorations are still up in early January!
You may or may not remember way back in June when I wrote about why I liked visiting Walt Disney World in late August.  My most recent trip, however, was scheduled around our birthdays, so we visited in early January.  And I think we like this even more than late August.

First of all, the weather in January, at least for us, was beautiful.  Most of the time it was in the 60s or 70s, and we absolutely loved it.  I've heard of horror stories where it snowed (I'm looking at you, marathon weekend 2010), but for us, the weather was pretty much perfect.  Plus it doesn't rain as much in January as in August.  And I'd rather be a little chilly than melting in the summer sun.

Second of all, almost all the Christmas decorations are still up.  Really the only decorations that end in December are the castle icicle lights and the Christmas parties.  The Osborne lights and the gingerbread house in the Grand Floridian end on the 4th or 5th of January, but you can schedule your trip, so you can still see them.  Some of the restaurants even had their Christmas menus still, which was cool.  And the best part?  Early January (pretty much as soon as January 2nd or 3rd rolls around) is value season.  So you get all the beauty of Christmas at a fraction of the Christmas prices. 

And finally, the crowds are great in January.  Not only do you get all the beauty of Christmas at a fraction of the PRICE, you also get all the beauty at a fraction of the CROWDS.  It certainly isn't dead the week after New Year's, but the crowds are likely less than half of the crowds the previous week.  Arrive at rope drop and use a touring plan, and you'll get everything done before dinner time.

The only negative thing about early January, in my opinion, is the park hours.  They're much shorter than what we were used to in August.  Sometimes Epcot closed the latest at 9.  Interestingly, this didn't bother us very much.  We were tired from waking up early anyway, and we didn't mind going to bed at 10:30.  We even had time to go swimming after the parks, but we were just too tired.  I bet it wouldn't be too cold in those heated pools!

Have you ever visited Walt Disney World in early January?  What were your favorite and least favorite things about it?  Let me know your thoughts in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook! 
  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review: Yakitori House

I am an epic fail because I don't have any pictures of Yakitori House.  But let's ignore that, and we can focus on the food instead.  Let me preface this with the fact that I really love Japanese food, but I don't really eat sushi.  If I do eat it, I have to be VERY in the mood for it.  Usually, I stick to foods teriyaki style at Japanese restaurants.  James, on the other hand, loves sushi.  As a result of our combination of Japanese food love, one hot August day in Epcot, James and I decided to try the Yakitori House for lunch.

The Yakitori House has both indoor and outdoor seating.  It was raining when we went, so we sat inside, but the indoor area isn't very large.  We were probably lucky we were able to get a table.  I ordered the beef teriyaki.  It wasn't on the menu, but it was on a smaller sign next to the cashier.  James ordered some kind of sushi.  As soon as mine came out, I didn't think I'd like it.

Beef teriyaki, at least when I've eaten it, is essentially steak with teriyaki sauce on top.  The beef teriyaki at Yakitori House was more like semi-shredded beef, and it was extremely fatty.  It sort of reminded me of pulled pork, but it was beef.  The teriyaki sauce was good, but I wasn't into the texture.  That combined with the fattiness meant I mostly stuck to my rice for that meal.  James, on the other hand, had sushi, and I believe he liked it.  Sushi is sushi I guess, and if it's made correctly, it's good.  We also got dessert because we were on the dining plan, but considering I can't remember it at all, it must not have been very good.  I also clearly remember getting a kaki-gori afterwards, so I must have really not liked the dessert.

Overall, I think our meal at Yakitori House was average.  It wasn't anything great, and I probably wouldn't want to eat there again in the near future.  I think there are much better counter service options in Epcot, and if you're really looking for good Japanese food, spend the cash on Teppan Edo or Tokyo Dining.  If you're just looking for a sushi fix, however, this is a good place to grab some quick.

Have you ever eaten at Yakitori House?  What did you order, and what were your experiences there?  Let me know your thoughts in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook!
 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: City Hall

Sunday, April 10, 2011

To Rope Drop or Not to Rope Drop

What you would get to see at Animal Kingdom rope drop
Throughout my childhood, we weren't rope drop people.  We were the people who strolled into the Magic Kingdom at 11 am and waiting on line for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for 90 minutes in the Florida heat.  We were the people you pity if you're a rope drop person.  When my mom planned our August 2009 trip, however, I was ready to do my research.  And if you do your research for one moment on how to tour the Disney parks most efficiently, you will find that the number one tip is to arrive to the park before rope drop.  But how do you decide if you're going to wake up early and make that trek to the parks at an hour you don't want to see when you're on vacation?  Well maybe I can help.

Rope Drop Pros:
  • Each park has its own little rope drop show, unique to which park you're at.  Magic Kingdom's is most people's favorites (including mine), but I also really like the shows at Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.  Epcot's doesn't enthuse me.
  • If you want to ride the headliner of the park more than once without waiting more than 45 minutes, rope drop is a must.  Ride Soarin' (or Space Mountain or Toy Story Mania or Expedition Everest) immediately, and then get a Fastpass for later.  Most likely your Fastpass will be good in the very near future, so you're not stuck in the park all night like you may be if you wait until 11 or 12 to get a Fastpass.
  • You will get things done... fast.  On an average day at the Magic Kingdom (let's say crowd levels are around a 5), we have gotten every ride and show we wanted to see plus lunch done by 2 pm or earlier.  I'm talking 10-12 attractions in five hours or less.  When do the majority get done?  In the first hour that the park is open.
Rope Drop Cons:
  • You have to wake up early.  To be at the parks before 9, we usually wake up at 7.  Some people don't want to be up that early on vacation.  I value ride time more than relax time.  But for some people, waking up early is the big deal breaker.
  • You have to wake up really early.  Plan on taking Disney transportation?  To be sure you'll arrive in time for rope drop, especially to the Magic Kingdom, you should get on a bus before 8:30.  Ideally before 8:15.  Heck, once we got on a bus to Animal Kingdom at 8:00.  That means we were done with breakfast by 8.  So we were down at the food court by 7:30.
  • You have to wait on line at the turnstiles.  Unfortunately, even if you arrive to the park at 8, they won't let you in until 8:45 at the earliest.  Yes, that means 45 minutes waiting at the turnstiles, but unless you're visiting at an absolutely crazy time, that's pretty much all you'll be waiting all day.   Plus, the earlier you are, the more likely you are to be picked as Family of the Day, and the more likely you are to not be stuck behind someone who can't remember which finger they used to scan in the previous day.
Other important factors:
  • If you're visiting Walt Disney World at a busy time, you should highly consider getting to the park at rope drop.  That in combination with a touring plan is really the only way you're going to have a successful day.  Trust me, you'll get more done by noon than most families will get done in the entire day.
  • If you're visiting Walt Disney World at a very hot time of year, you should highly consider getting to the park at rope drop.  The early morning is much less hot and humid than mid-afternoon.  Get the bulk of your attractions done early, then go back to the hotel for a nap, go for a swim, or go for a nice, long, air conditioned lunch.  Come back to the park around 5 or 6.  It'll be less crowded than the mid-afternoon, and you can finish up any attractions you didn't get in the morning.  You'll get just as much or more done than if you arrived at 11 or 12, and you'll have missed the hottest (and most likely the rainiest) part of the day.
Okay yes, if you haven't realized yet, I'm biased against rope drop.  I know it's not for everyone, and especially if you've been to the parks many times, you may not feel the need to get there super early.  But if you don't get to the parks that often, and you want to maximize your touring time, rope drop is for you.  Even though James and I have been to Walt Disney World three times in the past two years, we will be arriving at rope drop during our upcoming August trip.  Why?  It's just too darn hot to be there during the afternoon!  It's worth being a little tired to not be melting in mid-afternoon heat.  Plus a nice afternoon nap perks us right up.

Do you arrive at the parks at rope drop?  What do you think about getting there bright and early?  Let me know in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook!
 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Review: Karamell Kuche

Chocolate caramel apple!
Back in January when we went to Walt Disney World, I was excited about a lot of dining opportunities, but one that I had completely forgotten to look forward to was Karamell Kuche.  Luckily, it was suddenly remembered when we walked past the Germany pavilion.  We were still quite full from our lunch at Via Napoli, but we stopped to go inside.  After browsing, we left, but we were hardly to the China pavilion when I knew we needed to go back and get something!

For those of you who don't know what Karamell Kuche is, you've been missing out!  It's a semi-new caramel store in the Germany pavilion in Epcot.  It's run by Werther's, and EVERYTHING is delicious!  In the relatively small area of the store, not only are all the delicious treats displayed, you can also see the cast members making caramel treats!  It's so cool to see the different things being dipped in caramel!  Also, there are prepackaged candies that you can buy.

I was able to have two different snacks at Karamell Kuche on two different days.  It is important to note that some of the items do change from day to day, so if you see something you want, buy it while it's there!  On our first trip to Karamell Kuche, we purchased a chocolate caramel apple (pictured above).  As with all coated apples in Walt Disney World, the cast members will slice it for you if you plan on eating it right away.  We had ours sliced, and it was absolutely delicious!  Definitely a good snack to share between two people!  Coated apples are one of my favorite treats at Walt Disney World.  On our second visit to the store, I got a chocolate covered strawberry with caramel drizzle.  Although this was more a chocolate treat than a caramel treat, it was absolutely delicious!  Other items sold at Karamell Kuche included cupcakes, fudge, cookies, and the famous caramel corn.  I don't really like caramel corn, so I didn't try it, but I haven't heard anything but rave reviews!

If you've never been to Karamell Kuche, it's a must try.  Even if you only get a $3 cupcake or bag of caramel corn, I know you won't be sorry.  If you have a tiny bit more money to spend, I highly recommend the apples (there are varieties other than just chocolate covered)!  You'll thank me once you try it!

Have you ever been to Karamell Kuche?  What are your favorite caramel covered treats?  Let me know your thoughts on this delicious store in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook!
 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Pink

Bonus points if you know from where this picture was taken!
 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Epcot's Mini Attractions, Volume 2

Do you remember my post a few weeks back highlighting a few of Epcot's mini-attractions?  If not, check it out!  When I wrote that one, I realized that Epcot had far too many fun things to do to put all in one post, so now I present the second portion!  Mini-attractions 1, 2, and 3 were the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure, The Great Piggy Bank Adventure, and the Seas pavilion, so for this post, we'll start at...

 4. Segway Trials
Last August, James and I took a Segway tour around World Showcase.  I highly recommend the tour, but many people don't know that you can actually try riding a Segway in Innoventions for free (at least last that I heard)!  Yes, you read that correctly.  If you go to Innoventions after 11am (I believe), you can actually try a Segway!  I'm pretty certain that there are age and possibly other restrictions to this, but it's still a really cool thing many people aren't aware of.  Maybe it'll convince you to try one of the awesome Segway tours that Disney offers, or maybe you'll just try it and go along with your day, but regardless... everyone wants to try a Segway, right?  To try one out, check out Segway Central in Innoventions West.  It's the same area where guests on Segway tours learn to use them!


5. Don't Waste It!
One of James' and my favorite mini-attractions in Epcot is also in Innoventions, this time in East.  Don't Waste It! is a fun little activity sponsored by Waste Management.  It's similar to the Great Piggy Bank Adventure that I mentioned in Volume 1, but this time you get a mini garbage truck instead of a little pig friend.  First you start at a station and answer some questions to determine approximately how much trash you use in a year.  Then you get your mini pushable garbage truck, and you are off to the next station.  You dock your truck at each station to play the game, the first of which is Sort It Out.  At this station, each member of your family (up to four) is in front of a screen, and you need to recycle some of your trash.  For example, if James is doing glass and I'm doing paper, we each have to put the appropriate trash in our bins.  Next you head to Fuel the Burn.  Here you have to fuel a waste-to-energy plant by fueling the fire with the appropriate amount of wet or dry trash.  And finally, at the Landfill Up station, you can choose to turn your trash landfill into a golf course, a ballpark, or a wildlife preserve, and you must properly layer your trash and landfill cover materials to produce your final product.  This mini-attraction is a lot of fun, and it's very educational for younger guests.  I would say it's at a similar caliber to the Great Piggy Bank Adventure, and almost everyone would like it!

James with a tiny Club Cool cup
6. Club Cool
This is an awesome mini-attraction at Epcot, suggested by reader Christine Hardenberger.  For anyone who has never been, Club Cool is essentially one big Coca Cola advertisement, but in a good way.  It has many soda flavors from around the world, and you can sample them in little cups.  Interestingly Club Cool is in Future World instead of World Showcase, but we'll ignore that.  Aside from the free soda samples, Club Cool doesn't offer much except a bunch of Coke merchandise, but honestly the free soda samples are enough to bring me in almost every time I visit Epcot.  Especially if it's hot!  One of my favorites is the Kinley Lemon soda from Israel, and if you haven't, try the Beverly... it's delicious! 

And that concludes my favorite of Epcot's mini-attractions.  Do you think I can do this for other parks?  Let me know what you think of my favorites, let me know your favorites in Epcot, and let me know if you have any suggestions of mini-attractions in the other parks!  If I decide to do a similar series for them, you will most definitely be shouted out!  You can leave suggestions and opinions in a comment, a tweet (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook!
 

Friday, April 1, 2011

First Birthday and the Year in Review

If only I could put these ears on the blog!
This is no April Fool's joke!  The Disney College Blog was actually started on April 1st, 2010.  In fact, if you're feeling really sentimental, you can read the very first post here.  Originally I started the blog for fellow college students, but it has grown to be a blog for any Disney fan, regardless of age!  In honor of the first birthday of the blog, I want to give a little "year in review" to show what has happened in the past 365 days...

Since the creation of the Disney College Blog:
  • There have been over 100 posts on this blog, including dining reviews, opinion pieces, and my newest segment, Wordless Wednesdays.
  • I created the @discollegeblog Twitter account and have over 900 followers.
  • I created the Disney College Blog Facebook account and over 100 people "liked" it.
  • I have taken two trips to Walt Disney World, during both of which I was much more knowledgeable than any previous trips.
  • I have met a bunch of amazing people, both in person and online, who I can really relate to and talk to about anything.
  • I started a new podcast with some great friends that I love talking to each week.
  • People actually read what I write each week, and they actually care!
For each person who has ever read this blog, commented on this blog, shown support to me in any way, or tweeted at me even once, I am thankful for you.  This blog, and my internet presence in general, couldn't exist without feedback from all of you.  I am glad to call you my friends, and I am glad that for 365 days, I have been able to keep this blog going.  Here's to 365 more!

In honor of the first birthday of this site, I'd like to get a conversation going in the comments.  What was your favorite post, thing about the site, moment you had with me on Twitter or in person or however in the past year?  I'd love to hear from you, either here or on Twitter!  Maybe we can use the hashtag #dcbturnsone.
 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Osborne

Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: Bistro de Paris

James having a pre-dinner beverage.
By the looks of his face, it's not Beverly.
This is the final table service dining review of my January trip!  For the foodies out there, not to worry, I still have a ton of quick service reviews (some even from August!), but I'm glad I'm finally finishing up the table service ones.  Don't mind the fact that it's taken me almost three months...

Bistro de Paris was James' birthday gift from me because he loves French food.  We were on the dining plan, but it isn't accepted here.  So I was paying cash.  In fact, when we checked in for our ADR, the first thing the hostess said to me was, "Are you on the dining plan?"  When I mindlessly replied yes, she immediately retorted, "We don't accept it here."  I realized my mistake and awkwardly replied, "I know" before she agreed to check us in.  It seemed a little rude, but as Colette says in Ratatouille, they are French.  (No offense to all the lovely French people out there.  For all I know, this hostess was having a terrible day.)

Bistro de Paris is located directly above Les Chefs de France, and you have to essentially go to the back of the building to enter the Bistro waiting area.  You wait downstairs, and someone comes down to get you when they are ready for your party.  There were quite a few stairs, which my knee wasn't fond of, but I'm sure there's an elevator for those who can't make it up there easily.  Once upstairs, the restaurant is pretty small, and it's very cute.  It definitely looks upscale, but I didn't feel like I needed to be wearing a gown or anything.  I mean, we were a little dressed up, but the table next to us had regular park clothes on.

Grilled beef tenderloin
Once we were seated, we first got bread, and soon we were ready to order.  James chose the escargot appetizer, and I skipped on having one.  For our entrees, we both ordered the grilled beef tenderloin.  When James' escargot came, I tried a piece, but I am definitely not adventurous enough an eater to enjoy it.  James' opinion: not even close to the best escargot he's had, but it was fine.  As you can see in the photo, the beef tenderloin was presented quite nicely.  It was again fine.  Nothing special.  Maybe it was the cut of beef that didn't thrill us, or maybe we should have ordered something more French, but we weren't enthused with our choices.  They were good, but not spectacular.

My dessert!
Dessert did have a special place in my heart, however.  James chose not to get a dessert, but since I was paying, I decided I wanted one.  I chose the creme brulee dessert that came with the creme brulee itself (in that tiny mug), caramelized rice pudding, upside down caramel cream, and creme brulee ice cream.  The creme brulee and the ice cream were my favorite parts, and I didnt really like the pudding (but I don't really like rice pudding).  The upside down cake was good too.  This dessert was $11, so take that as you may, but I thought it tasted good!  Although James didn't order a dessert, they did bring him out a special birthday surprise.  Instead of a cupcake, it was a plate with "Happy Birthday" on it in chocolate.  And there was a candle in some berries.  How cute!

James wouldn't use the flash while taking this picture.

Overall, I would say Bistro de Paris didn't wow us, and we probably won't be back for a while.  Compared to our meals at California Grill and Le Cellier, it didn't even come close.  It certainly wasn't a bad choice, and I would encourage anyone to try it once.  I've also heard great reviews about it, so maybe it was just what we ordered.  Just keep in mind that they don't accept the dining plan, and the dinner can get quite expensive.  If I remember correctly, the bill came to almost $150 after the tip.  And we didn't even get any alcohol!  It was a nice birthday present to James, though, and I certainly don't regret the visit there.

Have you ever been to Bistro de Paris?  What did you think?  What did you order?  If you haven't been, why haven't you tried it yet?  Let me know your thoughts in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook!
 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Let the Adventure Begin

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Canada

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Epcot's Mini-Attractions, Volume 1

There's no questioning that Epcot is an amazing park both for attractions and atmosphere.  Between E-tickets like Soarin' and Test Track and the culture of the World Showcase, this park has it all.  But sometimes the things that people skip over can also be some of the funnest memories later.  Thus I'd like to dedicate this post (and a future one, as I've thought of enough for at least two posts) to Epcot's "mini-attractions."

1. Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure
This is kind of a big one, but it's also one that I don't think people stop at enough.  For anyone who's unaware, Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure is an interactive game that takes place in, you guessed it, World Showcase.  To play, first stop at a recruitment station and get a "Fastpass."  This will tell you when and where to return to get your mission.  When your time arrives, simply go where the Fastpass tells you to, and you will be given a Kimmunicator for your group.  This Kimmunicator is essentially a cell phone on which Wade from Kim Possible talks to you.  He directs you to a specific country, and you must stop the villain who is trying to destroy the world!  The game is a lot of fun for both adults and children.  I've played the Germany, Japan, France, and United Kingdom missions, and the Japan one was my favorite.  It really is a blast, and the best part is, once you have your Kimmunicator, if the park isn't too busy, it will let you play another mission after you finish yours without getting another "Fastpass."  I think the attraction is too often overlooked, either because people aren't sure what it is or because it seems too childish.  I think it's a lot of fun, however, and there are some really cool interactive elements!

2. The Great Piggy Bank Adventure
Some people skip right over Innoventions while they're at Epcot, and I think that's a big mistake.  There are a lot of fun exhibits there, and one of my favorites is the Great Piggy Bank Adventure (presented by T. Rowe Price).  In this exhibit, you enter a little area to learn about money (mainly saving it).  First you are sent to a little kiosk where you virtually meet your pig friend.  You choose whether you want to save up for an ultimate vacation (obviously what we chose), a bedroom makeover, a college education, or retirement.  Once one is chosen, you get your own little piggy friend to carry around with you on your journey!  (See photos!)  You are directed to different kiosks throughout the experience to do things like save money for your goal, avoid inflation, and diversify your money.  At the end, you learn if you reached your goal or not.  Luckily we did, although I wish they really gave you the money you "saved" in the game!  The game actually does have a lot of important lessons, and I think it could be enjoyed by every age group.  The youngest of children might not understand the financial lessons completely, but they will enjoy the games and the piggy friend.  Older children will both understand the lessons and enjoy the games, and adults should already know the lessons (hopefully!) but will still have fun playing!


3. The Seas
Everyone knows about the two real attractions in the Seas pavilion: the Seas with Nemo and Friends ride and Turtle Talk with Crush, but if you stay in the pavilion once you're done with the attractions, you'll find many more mini-attractions.  Aside from the most obvious one (all the fish!), others include little trivia games on screens (these were fun, and you can email yourself a little certificate with your results) and looking at the especially cool manatee section of the aquarium.  There is also a special aquarium in one section with just fish that mimic the Finding Nemo characters.  Finally, one of the coolest mini-attractions in the Seas pavilion is the little dolphin show.  When the dolphins get fed a few times a day, the cast member that does the feeding also puts on a little show with the dolphins.  It's nothing like what you'd probably find at Sea World, but it's a cool little thing to add something extra awesome to your day.  Really the entire Seas pavilion in itself is a cool mini-attraction, and it should definitely be explored in its entirety!


What do you think of my first three mini-attractions from Epcot?  What are your favorites?  I had at least three more for a future post, but do you have any suggestions?  Or can you think of any mini-attractions in other parks?  Anyone who lists any that I don't already have on my list will most definitely be shouted out in the next mini-attraction post(s), so let me know your thoughts in a comment, a tweet (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook!
  

Friday, March 11, 2011

Review: Kona Cafe

I bet this picture alone will entice you to read on
I was very much looking forward to eating at Kona Cafe, since I had heard a lot about it from many people in the Disney community.  It is a generally revered restaurant, and I was interested to compare it in my mind to the dinner at 'Ohana we had in 2009.  We had an ADR around 7 pm, and we were seated almost immediately upon arrival.  Unfortunately, this is where dinner started to go downhill.

Our server took almost 15 minutes to come over to our table at all.  I mean, she didn't even stop by to tell us that she'd be over in a few minutes.  It was like we were the forgotten table, and James even mentioned that if we weren't at Disney, he would have left the restaurant.  Amazingly, our server finally came over, introduced herself, and told us a little bit about the menu.  Obviously we had already decided what we wanted at this point, so we ordered everything right away.  I was hoping to forget the little service snafu and have a good dinner, which we did.

I hate when James doesn't let me use flash in food pictures!
We started out with the sweet bread and butter.  Most people love this bread, so although I'm not a huge fan, I'm saying that's based on my personal taste.  I'm pretty sure James liked it.  Soon, our sticky wings for two came out, as pictured at the top of this post.  This was by far the highlight of our meal.  The wings were delicious as usual, and I'm pretty sure we ate almost all of them with no regard to our imminent entrees.  We paid for the sticky wings out of pocket even though we were on the dining plan, and it was so worth it.  I would even consider coming to Kona and just ordering the sticky wings. Yum!

My teriyaki steak
 I had the teriyaki steak as my entree, as I've heard so much about it, and I love anything in teriyaki sauce.  The steak was good, but I didn't think it was anything special.  I prefer the teriyaki steak at my local Japanese restaurant to it, and it definitely wasn't the best meal of the trip.  That said, it was a perfectly respectable steak, and I would recommend it to any steak eaters.  Plus I loved the broccolini, but I'm just weird like that.  James had the shrimp and scallops dinner, and he thought it was okay.  Based on my photo and memory, I don't think it was a ton of food, and he was still a little bothered by the service issue earlier in the night.  Other than the sticky wings, I don't think James was a huge fan of Kona.

James' shrimp and scallops
Yummy fondue!
After dinner, we had the incredibly difficult choice of what to get for dessert.  The chocolate creme brulee sounded good, but it also had bananas which I don't love.  I was basically down to the famous Kona Cone vs. the chocolate fondue, and I went with the fondue.  I honestly can not remember for the life of me what James ordered, so it must have not been very exciting.  We did, however, get birthday cupcakes!  These were exciting no matter how many times we got them.  And at Kona, they had "Happy Birthday" AND an image of Lilo and Stitch on the plates with this powdered chocolate stuff.  So cool!

Overall, I would recommend Kona to anyone who is looking for a dinner that's a little bit less known to the general public.  It would probably be easy to get an ADR here a few days before or even a walk up, and the dining choices are interesting.  Plus the sticky wings and desserts are delicious.  As for the entrees, they were meh.  I know some people rave about the steak, but I thought it was just okay.  Kona was a nice restaurant, but I don't think it measured up to my expectations.  Or maybe they were just too high.

Check out the menus for breakfastlunch, and dinner here.