May 28

Weekend Getaway to Disney and Sea World

Laura is a client and friend of mine.  She had the opportunity to go to Sea World on one of her recent trips in April and shared her experience with me.  She also has a few reviews of some new restaurants that they tried.  Her girls have several allergies so they watch for allergy friendly places.  See what she has to say.

We surprised the girls for their birthdays when we picked them up from school (early release day) and drove straight to the airport. They FREAKED! We had a great flight and headed straight downstairs to Magical Express. We thankfully were the first stop of the ride and had an easy time getting to the lodge. Our room was ready when we arrived and headed straight up there really looking forward to surprising the girls with a savanna view. Our room was a TREK to get to.

We were in a rush to Sea World in the morning so we couldn’t mess with the room situation and just decided to see what happened later on.

 

Sea World was amazing. We did the Dolphin’s Up Close tour which was 1 hour and it was absolutely worth every penny. It was pretty affordable at $25 for kids and $45 adults with all that we got to do. We got time with the trainers, learned a ton about the dolphins, got to learn hand signal behaviors which we did for the dolphins and we got to touch them a lot! They even “sang” happy birthday to the girls! The ONLY downsides: it was cold and we pretty chilly throughout most of the event. Water + cold is not too fun. Secondly, we had to put of all loose items to keep the dolphins safe–which included cell phones. They of course had several photographers snapping pics the entire time capturing every amazing thing but we would have spent a small fortune on those photos so we picked our favorite for $20. The girls (and I) LOVED every second of it. We are all big dolphin fans so it was really a special experience. I seriously almost cried it was so cool.

We did that as soon as we arrived so when we were done we headed to eat (just quick service so nothing special to brag on-only that we got allergy safe food in 3 mins vs 30….) but it was a hot dog and fries…. lol.

We did the Orca One Ocean show next and that was amazing as well. We did not pay for special seating which in my opinion would have been a waste. You can see perfect anywhere in that arena and if you wanted to sit in the splash zone (we did NOT) there was plenty of seating open. The premier seating you pay for is front and center away from splash zones and down lower in the upper set of seating. Not worth paying for.

The show was great and everyone was smiling and happy and in awe the whole time. It was pretty cool. Those animals are so beautiful!

We snagged a last min. reservation to Jiko at 7:20 pm.  We had an excellent server and a perfect table right against the window overlooking the water feature outside. Now for the review:

Jiko- The Cooking Place
The thing that will deter us from ever going back was the INSANE amount of time that dinner took! We didn’t get out of there until almost 10pm! It was not that busy in there at all but it was painfully slow. We were all starving and the girls were past done.

 

We had:

Adult Appetizer: Curried Butternut squash bisque. WOW. So good.
Adult Appetizer: Jiko Salad with EPCOT The Land greens. Very good as well. I could have eaten 3 plates of this.
Girls had GF allergy bread which was terrible.
Dinner: Oak-grilled Filet Mignon–amazing flavor and great meal. He was very pleased
Dinner: Durham Ranch Elk Loin. The elk was amazing but this is a very small portion and the veggies on the plate were basically raw. Very pricey for what you get. Good but would not get again.
Kids Macaroni and Cheese–didn’t like it. It was a weird sharp white cheese and it was under-seasoned and bland but kinda sour.
Kids Fish–loved every bite and cleaned her plate.

Dessert:
Malva Pudding which was outstanding
Some sort of cheesecake which had this weird freeze dried blueberry foam on top which was BAD. Not good.
Kids: Really fun white chocolate Mickey puzzle that they could paint with this weird jello. They hated it but had fun playing.

The price tag of that experience was insane for a painfully long dinner that was overpriced for what it was. We love Artist Point–our favorite signature restaurant on property so far and it just didn’t compare. Would we return? Only if we needed a last min dinner option while staying at AKL. We would skip wine (insanely overpriced and all directly from South Africa) and dessert and just hit up the Mara for Zebra Domes! 🙂 The allergy options for both girls (peanut, tree nut, sesame and shellfish) were great and we were very comfortable with eating here.

We also ate at:

Biergarten
We tried this for the first time in January and loved it so much we took the girls. The chef was great and turns out this is basically one of the safest places for them to eat on property. We comfortably fed them off the buffet right away and they LOVED it. The food was great and the entertainment was outstanding and so fun for everyone to watch. I would highly recommend this restaurant!

Cosmic Rays
Our MK go-to quick service for food allergies. To confirm there are no nuts, no sesame and no shellfish in the restaurant. It’s a perfect place to eat. It is INSANELY busy, however, even now that the 3 bays all serve the same food. We waited more than 30 mins each time we went.

The Mara
I was pretty nervous about this quick service at AKL given all of the ethnic foods and food allergies. The chefs were really great here and FAST! My girls ate safe breakfast and we had an amazing dinner there our last night–ribs and chicken and both plates were demolished. They liked it better than Jiko by a landslide and we spent a fraction of what we spent that night….oy. lol (And ZEBRA DOMES)
OH! and a HUGE shout-out to the Mara for carrying Erin McKenna cupcakes! The one safe allergy-friendly treat my girls beg for from Disney Springs! We were very surprised to find containers of 4 mini cupcakes from EM! They loved it!

 

May 26

Easy and Thorough Guide to Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Laurie shares her tips for touring Hollywood Studios.  Check them out, they may save you some time!

 

 

 

It takes lots of preparation for a trip to Hollywood Studios. There is the quirky weather that can turn into monsoons and high winds, plus blistering heat, that can ruin a vacation. The worst thing is the layout of the park. One can end up walking in circles and backtracking repeatedly so here are some key features and tips.

 

 

 

HUBS

1. The entrance hub has snacks, drinks, rentals, and guest services.
2. The central or main hub branches directly off to all other areas except Muppet Courtyard. From here there are Keystone Lane, the Echo Park paths, Commissary Lane, Animation Courtyard, Hollywood Boulevard, and Pixar Avenue.
3. Star Wars Hub has paths to Muppet Courtyard, Commissary Lane, and the Echo Lake paths.

PATHS

1. Hollywood Boulevard has restrooms next to Oscar’s service station. There is a snack kiosk, snacks in stores, and Starbucks for last minute drinks and snacks.
2. Keystone Lane and Echo Lake paths connect Hollywood Boulevard and the main hub to the Star Wars hub. This path has the Indiana Jones Stunt show, Star Tours, Jedi training, and the Frozen Sing-Along.
3. Muppets Courtyard has the Muppet show, shops, Mama Melrose and Rizzo’s Pizza. It is a building with a path around it. It is best to do Muppets then exit at the rear where you will take a path to the big Muppet store. Around this is restaurants and shops.
4. Commissary Lane has the ABC Commissary and the Red Carpet meet and greet. This path is best for avoiding the Echo Lake traffic. The meet and greet is right off the Star Wars hub, so this path is not important in your planning.
5. Pixar place has Toy Story Mania and two meet and greets with Green Army Men appearing at the end of the path for a third meet. The other place is One Man’s Dream which does previews and character meets, sometimes. The theater empties into the Animation Courtyard by the bathrooms. Exiting this building allows one to do Launch Bay and the bathroom before returning to the main hub.
6. Sunset Boulevard runs from the main hub to the Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Fantasmic, and the Beauty and the Beast show.
7. The Animation Courtyard has the Brown Derby, Playhouse Disney Junior show, character meets, Voyage of the Little Mermaid and the Launch Bay which is everything Star Wars.

BATHROOMS

1. Entrance on both sides of the gate.
2. Sunset Boulevard has ones in the middle in an Alley and by the Rock n Roller Coaster. Just as you are about to enter the Tower of Terror Courtyard, on the right, are bathrooms.
3. Pixar Avenue in the middle.
4. Main hub has one on the Frozen show building next to Commissary Lane.
5. At the Star Wars hub in a metal building.
6. Muppet Courtyard on the left as you enter.
7. In the Animation Courtyard in a far distant corner, next to the Launch Bay.
8. Fantastic amphitheater.

Some restaurants have bathrooms as well. The nurse’s station has a restroom. The baby center had toddler potties.

SHOWS

I include Star Tours and the Great Movie Ride as they have the same effect as shows, fireworks, and parades. One has to have a backup plan to deal with shows. Suddenly a herd of charging people burst onto the paths. They all seem to being headed for a bathroom, snack stand, attraction, exit, or show. The bathrooms in Muppet Courtyard and Pixar Avenue rarely see heavy traffic so I use those to avoid crowds. Don’t wait until the last minute to enter shows and rides. As soon as Playhouse Disney Junior empties there are people heading to the Little Mermaid. Also, when exiting, try to stay toward the side you plan to head toward, as this reduces the chance of getting stuck in the crowd. If one is leaving Frozen for Star Wars or Sunset Boulevard, then wait until you get to those areas for a potty break.  Show times are designed so guests can get a lot of shows seen.

NOW WHAT?

Each trip is unique because of the needs, wants, abilities, and limitations of each member of the group. A single parent with two toddlers will need a different plant than a group of adults. Knowing where things are can help one to reduce wasted time and energy. It helps to be able to find food that you want instead of settling for a cheeseburger or a ice cream bar. Be ready to head to an ice cream shop for a sundae or the Tune In Lounge for a meal.

I did Indiana Jones, Star Tours, Mama Melrose, Muppets, Muppet Courtyard, Frozen, and Toy Story Mania. All of this was on Echo Lake paths, and the Star Wars hub except Toy Story Mania. I had to retrace my steps but I got everything done. Some people suggest criss crossing the park many times. It is easier to do most things in one area than wasting time dashing around the park.

For most guests I recommend doing Rock n Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Beauty and the Beast at the same time. Do Frozen, Indiana Jones, Star Tours, and Muppets in one big loop. Toy Story is a block or two away from the main hub but not too far so one can do that then go to FP type rides. Little Mermaid, Playhouse Disney Junior and Launch Bay can be done in one loop.

Opening Rush

Stay to the far left if you want to do Star Tours and Jedi training. Stay far right for Sunset Boulevard then move far left for Rock n Roller Coaster. Stay in the middle until you are past Sunset Boulevard then go to the far right to go to the Animation Courtyard and Toy Story Mania. Toy Story Mania will veer left into Pixar Place. That is when you should be on the right side. The entrance is on the right side about 3 feet from the wall. Being right lets you form the line as people merge. Left ends up making a u-turn then follows the forming line back and back and back. This also happens at the Seven Dwarves mine ride. Knowing where lines start helps one to be in a forming line instead of being stuck outside.

I have major wifi issues in the parks. Before heading to the parks I take screenshots of my Fastpass times. When I travelled to Tampa and Lakeland there were screenshots of the map. Take pictures of everything you bring to the parks including kids and service dogs. You can show CMs what the lost stroller, mother, camera, or purse looked like. “Blue shirt” is not as good as showing the shirt in a photo. Take pictures of where you parked. Pictures can be deleted so I take a lot of “reminder” photos.
I recommend Mama Melrose, Green Army Men on Pixar Place, Brown Derby Lounge, Star Tours, Star Wars Spectacular, and Toy Story Mania. The Star Wars night time show is awesome close up but you can see more from farther away like by Indiana Jones. Have a magical day in Hollywood Studios.

 

May 06

Review of Disney Springs

She’s back! I’ve missed Laurie’s reviews…..

Disney Springs Dining reviews

One of my first reviews was of Portobello. With no notice they closed. They are the last remaining business on Pleasure Island except Fulton which was remodeled. For decades people flocked to Portobello for authentic Italian cuisine.

I had to try a gluten free cupcake and cookie at Sprinkles. The wait was well worth it. They are tucked in a corner next to the bridge that goes from Lime Garage to Morimoto and up the hill to Paradiso 37. They only have one flavor for me but I love red velvet cake so I was happy. Lots of dairy and sugar made for a delicious snack. I prefer Erin McKenna for a variety of gluten and vegan cupcakes, donuts, and cookies. I would choose Sprinkles because of the use of decadent ingredients like butter. I suggest getting a boxful and heading to one of the performance areas to hear awesome musicians play.

Erin McKenna has a sign stating their coconut oil based frosting melts at 75° which makes it hard to take one back to your room. The donuts lasted most of my trip until I spilled iced tea on the box. They have bagels, soy based ice cream, yummy donuts, loaf cakes, cinnamon rolls, and cupcakes. I will be back as the donuts are delicious. I only have two in the freezer left. This is an excellent spot to get a snack to enjoy during concerts by the water.

I skipped Poutine fries kiosk. They use the same fries as most WDW owned restaurants. They may have soybean oil. Save money and hit a topping bar to top your fries. Ganachery is another Disney owned and puffed up shop. This is not the fancy bean to bar chocolate that uses no soy and few ingredients. They mass produce on enrobers to the point that the reused chocolate is warm for a long time. They don’t make most of the chocolate.  Last spot that I won’t recommend is Earl of Sandwich because Subway, Quiznos and most sandwich shops cross contaminate. The hand touches bread then the ingredients. They don’t care if the tomato touched meat or bread. I have been there with friends and the sandwiches seem to be smaller. There are burgers, salads, and ribs waiting for you.

Polite Pig is located next to the Lime Garage exit in Town Center. This is very disabled friendly with bright red-trimmed white walls. The main feature is the bourbon bar with at least fifty bourbons in stock. This is a drinking man’s bar that serves pitchers of gin and tonic, beer, and old fashions. It is hard to choose as the menu is so awesome. There is a vegan salad that looked good. Appetizers include wedge salad (chicken and salmon optional on all salads), peel and eat shrimp, cracklins (pig skins), hop salt pretzel, and wings. They offer fried chicken, pulled pork, salmon BLT, and brisket sandwiches.

I tried the St. Louis ribs with corn. I want to try the brisket, salmon, chicken, and pork shoulder next. All entrees come with Texas Toast, choice of side, and slaw. I had the smoked lime butter corn on the cob without crumbs. The tender ribs were well seasoned and better than House of Blues. I loved the fresh corn. I could have had baked beans, broccoli, cauliflower, potato salad, watermelon salad, or Brussels sprouts. They give you a tracking device and you head to your seat. After that you get waited on. There is a self serve fountain machine, and a condiment bar with 7 barbecue sauces. I WILL BE BACK. Highly recommended to drinkers of hardy drinks like ale, whiskey, rye, and bourbon. The staff walked me through the menu and overall made me want to come back. I have eaten lots of ribs in my life so I can say these are very good. I like that they have vegetables to round out a meal. They try to meet dietary needs.
Raglan Road has a great band and great service. It gets a little rowdy after 9 PM. The place is too dark to read the menu. I had delicious gluten free onion rings and many iced tea refills.  I love this place and most of the food. I will be sharing with Tabitha pictures and videos. I will continue to recommend them except to noise sensitive guests. The waitress was spot on perfect.

 

I love the Coca Cola store. It can be hard for wheeled guests to get around. It can get packed right and a bit noisy. So wait for the elevator to the rooftop. For 50¢ more you get 5 refills on your soda pop fountain drink (1 hour time limit). They have 100+ choices on their Freestyle machine. Adults can choose a variety of alcoholic drinks. Beverly’s revenge has gin, blood orange liqueur, and Beverly (Alka Seltzer soda pop). The best option is the International, float, and combo trays that offer a wide variety of flavors. The view can be breathtaking and this is a good spot to crash in between meals. They also offer Monster, Zico, Mexican Coke with real sugar, floats, icees and smoothies. I am up to a Beverly float. This is one of the landmarks at DTD and located near buses, great food, and street performers.