Aug 22

Should I go to Universal Studios or Walt Disney World Now?

What are the parks like right now?

I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you about my two (2) trips to Florida recently.  A few weeks after Universal opened I went with a few other agents to see how things were going at Universal so I would have firsthand knowledge for my clients.  I did the same thing a few weeks ago when Disney World opened as well.  I was there for passholder preview and then for the opening of Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. 

So what did I experience?  I experienced two places that are doing everything they can to make sure guests feel safe in returning to their happy place and have a great time.  Both parks are constantly cleaning.  I saw cast members at both Universal and Disney World along with the resorts cleaning many surfaces.  I believe the parks are cleaner now than they have been in years.  I felt very comfortable being there.  Universal has cast members that give everyone hand sanitizer before getting on the rides.  They also have hand sanitizer available when you get off as well.  Disney has hand sanitizer available at the entrance and exits of the rides and periodically they will shut the ride down and clean the vehicles and then start them back up.  The queues have markings on the floors so you know where to stand to help with social distancing.  They have barriers up in the lines as well if the queue is a little more compact.  For the shows they are seating every other row and they have at least 3 chairs between parties.  The restaurants have spaced tables so they are socially distanced as well.  Ride vehicles they are spacing you as well.  Both places will take your temperature before you head through security.

So what is it like to wear a mask?  I was at Universal mid June and at Disney World about a month later.  Universal did allow the use of gaiters which I found those to be pretty comfortable.  They have since changed their policy to follow along the lines of Disney and said that you must wear a mask.  July in Florida is pretty hot even without a mask.  So keep in mind that even without the mask, it is HOT.  I had a few days that I did better than others with a mask on even in the heat.  Animal Kingdom is a pretty hot park.  So if you plan on going to that park, go early and take a break and come back later.  I also wore a fan around my neck.  It worked better than I thought it would.  Yes it blew warm air but just having some air stirred up around my face was actually pretty nice and then when I would hit the air conditioner from the rides or the stores, it was super cool air circulating which cooled me off quicker.   Also know that I have hot flashes so that made things worse for me as well.  My 15 year old actually fared pretty well with his mask and no fan (his choice not to have his fan going).  I would suggest that you hit the rides going in a logical order in the parks and not walk from one side of the park to the other to hit up something with a low wait time.  This makes things a little more bearable if you are hitting ride after ride and then even walking into some of the stores to look around and cool off before going to the next ride. 

Both parks have relaxation zones where you can sit and take your mask off as well.  They are throughout the parks – they have a few in each one.  You can take your mask off to eat or drink but you are not allowed to be walking around eating and drinking without your mask on.  So be sure you have stopped when you eat and drink.

Disney World does have a small parade every 20 minutes or so.  It is usually one float with a few cast members that are dancing/cheering/singing.  They do the quick parades because it won’t draw a big crowd and you can still social distance and see your favorite characters.  They have these in all of the parks – princesses and characters come through at different times.  Universal actually has meet and greets still – they do them at a distance but they will talk to you and take pictures with you.  Universal even allows you to take your mask off to take pictures – at least they did when I was there in June.   So you will still be able to see the characters and take pictures.  Disney World does have 2 character meals – Garden Grill in Epcot and Topolinos at Riviera Resort.  We did the breakfast at Topolinos and it was really good!  Food was excellent and the characters were great.  They socially distanced but everyone of them made their way around the restaurant several times.  They would even stop so you could get a distanced selfie/picture with them as well.  I would HIGHLY recommend asking if you can sit by the windows there – that way you are on the outskirts of the restaurant and will get better pictures with the characters.  Garden Grill is set up really well for them to walk around and every table would have a great view. 

Both places require you to do mobile ordering for the quick service locations.  There might be a few that do not have mobile ordering but a good majority do.  Even the resorts at Disney want you to do the mobile ordering.  They have it ready for you and packaged up at the resorts for you to take to a table and eat in if you would like.  You can do the mobile ordering through the app.  In the parks at Universal they have you sit down and they bring the food to you.  At Disney the mobile app tells you your food is ready and they will allow you into the restaurant then to go pick up your food.

Transportation at both places encourage you to social distance.  Disney will assign you seats – they ask you how many in your party and tell you where to sit on the bus.  Neither park packs the buses so they have several buses going to pick up guests. 

Disney World is allowing guests into the parks about 30 minutes early to avoid crowds at park opening.  They do start the buses picking up guests at about 30 minutes prior to opening.  So they don’t run an hour early like they did in the past.  If you are on the monorail you might be riding the monorail around a few times if they think that Magic Kingdom is getting crowded at the gate before they let you off.  We did have that happen.  For the most part they are getting in the groove of things and tweaking things as they need to. 

If you are heading to Universal, be sure to get that virtual queue ride for Hagrids before you even enter the park.  Login to the app while you are in your room and grab your ride time.  Keep refreshing if you don’t get it right away.  You do not have to be in the parks to get one. 

For Rise of the Resistance in Hollywood Studios, you do have to be in the park to get the virtual queue for that ride. 

How are the crowds?  The crowds at Universal are a little more because it has been open a little longer but both parks are WELL BELOW normal capacity and both are being limited.  The crowds at Disney World when we were there were the lowest I have ever seen them.  If you have been to an After Hours party or a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party from YEARS AGO, it is even lower than that.  I am talking wait times of 30 min or less for most every ride.  And the later you do in the day, the less the crowds seem to be too.  So take that break in the middle of the day when the heat starts to really increase and chill at the pool and head back later in the evening.  Would I go again?  Absolutely!  My all time favorite time to go to Disney is when the crowds are low.  I will be back again in late October myself.  Do I recommend you going?  Well that is going to have to be your decision.  I just hope that this gives you a little more information on how to make a well informed decision for your own family.  You have to be the one that is comfortable with going.  I, myself, was very comfortable and we have stayed healthy.  I am a germaphobe anyway so this was just natural for me, keeping my hands clean and being cautious as always.   If you want to chat with me about anything, please feel free to give me a call.  I would love to give you even more info on our trips. Contact me at

Aug 24

8 Travel Essentials to Bring in Your Carry On

By guest writer – Stephanie James, freelance writer

Traveling is one of life’s great pleasures. Exploring the world – or even simply roaming around your home state – is a pastime that has long been enjoyed by people all over the globe. With that said, traveling isn’t always the easiest experience to have. It’s important to carefully consider your destination as well as the length of your air travel when packing your back.

Let’s take a look at eight travel essentials to bring in your carry on regardless of where you decide to go.

  1. Vitamins
    Traveling can take a toll on your body and your mind. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep your carry on packed with the essentials you need to feel great. If you take vitamins for any reason, for example, you’ll want to keep them in your carry on for easy access if you end up away from your checked baggage.
  2. Wet Wipes
    There are a few different reasons to keep wet wipes on hand. First of all, you never really know when the tray at your seat or your spot in the airport has last been cleaned. Disinfecting wipes are great for keeping your person and your space as sanitary as possible. This is even more important if you’re traveling with animals or children, as they tend to have accidents of some sort and might require a quick cleanup.
  3. Travel Pillow
    Airplanes have been upgraded over the years to include various forms of in-flight entertainment designed to keep your attention, but many people still prefer to sleep through the experience. Make sure you pack a travel pillow to help support your neck and avoid headaches or muscle cramps while sleeping and ensure your rest is as comfortable as possible.
  4. Emergency Kit
    It can be easy to assume that airports or hotels will have the first aid items you need, but it’s important to assume they won’t. Packing a small first aid kit won’t take up much room in your carry on at all and will help make sure that if you end up in an accident of some sort, you have the bandages and first aid cream at hand to clean up the mess and continue on your way.
  5. Portable Charger
    Electronics never seem to last quite as long as we’d expect. This is somehow especially true when we run into unexpected delays. Keep a portable charger in your carry on to guarantee that your electronics are charged when you need them most. Most airports and planes have multiple charging stations to make use of the charger, too.
  6. Sturdy Phone Case
    Even if you’re planning on spending a leisurely trip on the beach, make sure you pack a rugged phone case in your carry on. Whether you accidentally wear your phone into the waves (don’t laugh – it happens) or drop it on the hard concrete at the airport, you’ll be grateful for the protection a sturdy, waterproof case offers.
  7. Extra Clothes
    Unfortunately, our luggage doesn’t always arrive as planned. In fact, sometimes we end up without our checked baggage altogether, be it for an evening or much longer. That’s why it’s a good idea to carry a change of clothes with you in your carry on. Even if your luggage isn’t lost, you might spill something mid-flight or on your way to the hotel and find yourself in need of clean clothes. You’ll be grateful for the spare.
  8. Medication
    Finally, make sure that you pack any and all medication you need in your carry on. It can be tempting to stuff it into your checked baggage and forget about it but remember that your luggage might not make it at the same time you do. Should you find yourself without your bags,
    you’ll want to have the medication you need on hand.

Are you ready to hit the road and explore? Pack your carry on thoughtfully with our eight must haves and your trip is sure to be an easy one!

Nov 30

Can You Really Have a Peaceful Holiday?

Henry is the co-creator of FitWellTraveler. The site blends two of his favorite subjects (travel and health) to provide readers with information about how to get the most out of both.


How to have a peaceful family gathering during the holidays (really!)


Image courtesy of Pixabay

Family get togethers can cause a lot of stress.  If gathering at grandma’s seems to bring out the worst in some of your kin, here are tips to help you keep the peace.

Keep a good frame of mind.  By having a healthy frame of mind going into your family events, you can keep the peace and even enjoy yourself.  

  • Be realistic.  According to some experts, the first mistake we make going into these events is setting the bar too high.  Expecting your family members to act differently from how they typically do, especially better than usual, sets you up for disappointment.  Plan to be okay with how they normally act for a healthier outlook.
  • Set firm boundaries.  Before your visit, think through what you can really tolerate.  If some people are easier to handle in a group than one-on-one, try setting the stage for the best scenario.  Establishing a time limit for your visit may help you feel better about it, too.  If you know you max out after three hours, leave before then.   
  • Let go.  If you make a habit of allowing others’ behavior to control you, let it go.  The comments from mom about your outfit, a cousin’s political commentary, your brother’s imposing religious views, are all out of your control.  You can only control your response.  Hold to your personal truths but free yourself from the weight of those jabbing, annoying, maddening conversations by not engaging them.

Participant observation.  Try stepping back from your normal role and view interactions objectively.  Observe everyone’s behavior as if you plan to write a scientific report on them later.  By becoming a neutral but interested party you can disengage your emotional response.  Here are some scenarios to try:

  • Arrange ahead of time to meet friends for lunch after the holidays.  Plan to compare notes for whose event was most challenging and buy that person lunch.  
  • Glean funny stories from your family event.  Everyone loves comedy, and you can turn your family’s insanity into entertainment for friends.
  • Talk with an understanding friend or family member after the event to compare notes and decompress.  

Don’t do it.  Some behaviors and patterns can make your family gatherings more stressful.  Here are suggestions from experts of what not to do at family events.  

  • Don’t hesitate to take a walk.  A quick tour of the neighborhood will get your blood pumping and relieve stress.  A few minutes of deep breathing and meditation can also get you back on track.
  • Don’t divulge.  If someone is prying you with personal questions, don’t hesitate to protect your privacy.  If you don’t want to discuss why a job ended or a relationship went bad, tell your nosy family member you aren’t talking about it.
  • Don’t indulge.  Alcohol lowers inhibitions, so families and bottles can lead to major drama.  Experts at Stanford University note that drug and alcohol abuse often rises during the holidays, ironically in part to cope with family members.  For those with a history of addiction it’s a prime time for relapse.  Putting aside the bottle can keep drama and stumbling blocks at bay.

Seasonally Affective Disorder.  With major holidays falling during the darkest part of the year, it’s possible some of your family members – or even you – suffer with the “winter blues.”  According to Psychology Today, some people tend to battle depression during the fall and winter months and come out of it in the spring.  The condition is thought to correlate with the amount of daylight received, and can create feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, irritability, and feelings of social rejection.  Some studies show connections with alcoholism and substance abuse.  When you’re enduring your family through the holidays, remember that someone may be fighting a battle with this disorder.

Your peaceful family party.  By going into the holidays with the right frame of mind you can help keep the peace.  Set aside your personal feelings and don’t engage in behaviors that increase stress.  Remember some people may be fighting the “winter blues.”  By keeping this advice in mind you can have a peaceful and pleasant family gathering.


Oct 13

Travel Tips to Reduce Stress

Travel tips to reduce stress and make the most of your getaway

Taking a vacation is supposed to be about relaxation and getting away, but for many people vacationing creates stress.  If you can’t seem to recharge during your time off there is help.  Here is how to reduce the stress of your vacation and make the most of your getaway.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Make plans.  Reader’s Digest advises making plans well in advance of your vacation.  You will be more organized and can avoid disappointments.  Research what is available at your destination and make reservations for events you don’t want to miss.  It may surprise you to learn that the peak excitement of your vacation is in planning anyway.  According to experts at Frommers, “…reading guidebooks, books of history, books about the culture…brings your vacation into your regular life.”  

Reduce stress with these great planning tips:

  • Pack lightly.  List what you really need with you and stick to your list.  By not over packing, exchanges at airports and hotels go more smoothly.  
  • Don’t overbook.  Allow some downtime in your itinerary.  Planning every moment of your getaway can lead to feeling rushed, and you might miss some of the details of your destination.  According to the professionals at CNN, “Trying to squeeze too many activities into one trip with ‘no built-in time to chill’ can be exhausting, especially when your trip lasts a week or less.”  
  • Communicate.  If you are traveling with others be sure to discuss expectations.  Itineraries need to mesh well enough for everyone to have a good time.  Is the whole family going along?  Some experts recommend trying these tips:
  1. Once you select a destination, ask everyone what their top priority event is, and do each one.
  2. Enjoy the kiddos.  Make time for just you and them, and savor it.  Play miniature golf or get ice cream.
  3. Plan alone time.  Make sure everyone gets a respite every day, whether it’s taking a nap or reading a book.
  4. Split costs.  If you are taking a trip with multiple adult family members, make sure that money is discussed up front.
  5. Get a group photo to remember the event.
  • Disconnect.  Don’t focus on your electronic devices throughout your vacation.  Try setting aside a distinct amount of time for checking social media or to retrieve email, and stick to it.
  • Allow buffers.  By scheduling time before and after vacation to regroup you can get into a proper mindset for making the most of what’s next, whether it’s getting away from work or getting ready to return.  

Safe and secure.  You may be concerned that while traveling your home could be burglarized.  Fortunately there are ways to leave your home vacant but secure.  Here are tips from professionals:

  • Ensure doors and windows are locked.  Use one-inch deadbolts with reinforced strike plates on doors.
  • Secure sliding glass doors with a metal rod or a wooden bar in the track.
  • Assess your home from a streetside view.  If valuables are visible move them to more discreet places.
  • Disconnect power from garage door openers.
  • Make it appear you are home by using timers on your television and lights.  
  • Have your lawn maintained if you are traveling for an extended period.
  • Consider adding a home security system.  
  • Don’t set up your voice mailbox message or email inbox to say you are traveling, and don’t announce your trip on social media.

While you don’t want to make it public that you are traveling, some experts say to consider telling a good friend or trusted neighbor you will be away.  You can lend that person a key as well.  That way someone is collecting mail and watering plants in your absence.  You also can make the police aware of your travel plans.  Oftentimes they will add your house to routine patrols.

Make your getaway.  When it’s time to go on vacation be sure it’s as stress-free as possible.  With careful planning you can make the most of your time away.  Have peace of mind leaving your home vacant by taking some simple steps.  Putting these great tips into practice will mean you can relax and enjoy your trip.

Henry is the co-creator of FitWellTraveler. The site blends two of his favorite subjects (travel and health) to provide readers with information about how to get the most out of both.
Aug 09

Frontera Cocina – Best Restaurant in Disney Springs

Laurie went to visit Frontera Cocina a few times.  Her review makes me want to get over there and try this out.  Have you been?  What are your thoughts?  What makes this the best restaurant in Disney Springs?  Find out.

I am not concerned about prices and bang for the buck, I prefer comfort and good food. This restaurant is well lit so you can see the food, menu, bill, and loved ones face. They have booths and armless seats with moveable tables for us who have a hard time standing up. There is no carpet, so I am very happy. I love the decor and artifacts on the walls. Most of the place has ample space so that one doesn’t have to hear about the lives of others.

The menu has changed so my report is a tad bit late. I went for the iced tea with hints of mango. The shocking part of the restaurant is their bar menu and the main dinner menu. Instead of mixes from cans they use fresh ingredients like agave nectar and lime juice. Their Latin bar menu features tequila, sotol, mescal, and Mexican beer. They feature margaritas such as the Watermelon Pink Flamingo with tequila, watermelon juice, lime, and orange liqueur.

The kitchen uses free range cattle and all meat comes from farms that they will tell you about. No agar, preservatives, artificial stuff, and soy oil is used. The only items with gluten are flour tortillas, desserts, and an onion topping. The menu mentions seeds and allergens. Their recipes make it easy to substitute or hold an item. This is why I love Rick Bayless and this restaurant.

This report is from several visits. I started off with guacamole and chips which are meant for sharing but I wasn’t sharing because it was so good. They offer atomic, bacon, and verde styles. Another time it was a fresh shrimp cocktail with jicama (mild crunchy root), mango, avocado, and cilantro. It is a symphony of flavors from sweet to spicy and textures of crunchy jicama, soft avocado, and succulent shrimp. Someday I will try the Caesar salad or the cheese fondue.

I had to have the carnitas, beans, and rice with pickled onions. Tender juicy pork with herbs and garlic that rivals the Los Angeles carnitas I grew up eating. I grabbed a corn tortilla and piled it high with rice, salsa, beans, and pork for the ultimate taco. Another time I tried the delicious carne asada with beans, rice, and plantains. Calabacitas is another delicious side dish. I was a kid again at home eating steak tacos that I made myself. They offer a mushroom torts, shrimp, chicken, and enchiladas. They do offer mashed potatoes besides rice and beans. Chihuahua cheese was first made by Menonites who came from Germany to the USA then to Latin America.

The grand finale was boxes because I ate too much. I had a vanilla ice cream sundae topped with in house made cajeta (caramel), fried plantains, and pecans. The plantains had the feel of apples baked in a pie. The rich caramel sauce had strong notes of dairy. This is the best sundae I have had in years. Sheer decadence that needs to be shared because the sundae is huge. They offer tres leches and a pecan pie bar dessert that my friends love.

I went home full and happy. I had no food reactions beyond gluttony. I felt comfortable with the staff and believe they cared about me. I never needed more tea and the servers knew why their food was special. I feel safe in recommending Frontera Cocina to people with dietary limitations. It can seat large groups as well as a cozy table for two. I watched a little girl be treated like she mattered. They were patient with me as I slowly waddled to my seat.

Jul 28

Best Restaurants in Disney Springs

Find out which restaurant won in Laurie’s book for dietary requests, menu, disabled guests and more.

One man’s treasure is another man’s junk. I chose 5 table restaurants as my top not because I love them but based on my criteria for a near perfect dining experience.

• Top priority is requests. It hurts when staff ignores requests, act like the request is too much bother, or make a guest feel like they are not wanted. When a guest is celebrating a first tooth then celebrate with them. Someone wants a bench seat because of her back which makes her comfortable when they work to accommodate her. Dining out should be worry free while offering a comfortable, stress free meal. At Homecomin’ they gladly gave me a two top with a bench seat. Bongos gladly met my dietary requests.

• Kitchen and menu are next on my criteria list. Parents can’t force a kid to vary from its limited diet. There are kids who only eat one brand of a food and only a dozen items. Vegans and religious people choose their diet but please don’t expect us to eat just a baked potato. Those of us with pharmaceutical, medical, and food reactions also don’t want just a plain piece of fish, carrots, and white rice. Staff should try hard and not make guests feel like they are unwanted or a burden because of their diet. Chefs should train the kitchen how to meet dietary requests before the requests come in. They should immediately know how to prepare vegan dishes. Chefs should have dishes for that oddball who goes with friends to a restaurant even if they don’t like the menu. At a seafood restaurant have a meat and taters dish for the oddball while the rest of the group eats lobster.

• Disabled guests can have their dining experience ruined when they are forced to walk to their seat, are squished into a booth, or can’t see what they are eating. Visually impaired guests need good lighting to see the menu and food. Anxious people or people with PTSD may prefer a quiet corner. I hate carpets as they slow down my scooter and collect germs. I need a bench seat due to damaged knees and large midsection. Please don’t squish me into a seat with arms or narrow booth. I like tables that move because it is hard for me to stand. Access and comfort is one of my top priorities because I can’t enjoy the perfect meal if I am in pain, can’t see the meal, or am overwhelmed by the noise.

• Decor, theme, staff, management and many other things are also on my list. Sitting next to an aquarium is awesome until the tenth guest has leaned in to see the fish. Please, don’t cram into a room, so many tables that guests have no privacy and waiters have their rump in your face. I was at a defunct DLR Latin restaurant, where the whole meal was the waiter scooting past me to get to other diners.


Chef Robert Irvine and myself are renown for hating dust collections. The hanging baskets full of dust, shelves that never are dusted, and memorabilia glued to shelves. I have watched the chef rip out carpets that are filthy. When was the last time someone cleaned out the banquet seats? I hate when a busser does not completely clean a table and seats. Management should act on complaints and check the guest to see how they are doing. I love the gorilla animatronic until it goes off for the umpteenth time. There are so many factors but time for my top five Disney Springs restaurants.


• The winner is Frontera Cocina with a perfect score. They use free range beef and can tell you where the meat comes from. No soy, agar gum, and other chemical are present. Food is made the old fashioned way with fresh ingredients, no artificial stuff, and lots of knowledgeable cooking. I was soaked in a rainstorm so they brought me guacamole and chips plus a stack of cloth napkins. They are eager to please and they are disabled friendly. I wish my boss could pay me as I’d ask for carnitas, rice, beans, and a caramel and plantain sundae as pay. They are gluten free except flour tortillas, tortas, and desserts.

• The four runners up have issues though minor. I couldn’t choose one.

•. Bongos has all my requirements. Their take out window could not do my diet and sent me into a crowded restaurant. Overall I would go back anytime. Real Latin cuisine, disabled friendly, and great staff who works around any menu limitations. Could they please make a GF Cuban sandwich, please?

Homecomin’ had the most awesome Chef Art Smith. They meet all my criteria except food. Good lighting, a patio, a bar, staff who works hard to please guests and the best burger in Disney Springs. They use a shared fryer so no fried foods for me. Chicken is brined in buttermilk but they can make one that isn’t brined. Then it is fried with oil used for regular chicken. They did an awesome job when I was there but I wish they had gluten free fries and hush puppies.

Paddlefish is a very old building designed like a steamboat. She has been stripped down and turned into a classy coastal cruise ship. They try hard to make guests feel welcome. The would have won first place but they do seafood boils. The air is filled with seafood, potatoes, celery, old bay seasoning, and corn. I loved their shrimp cocktail and was very happy there. They can do vegan and special diets with ease.

• Last and not least is BOATHOUSE. I chose 4 restaurants and couldn’t decide who was best as each has limits and all have made me happy. Boathouse has some special diet limitations and needs gluten free bread. The area I was in was a little too close to other guests. I loved the swordfish. Perfect, nearly, and eager to make every diner a satisfied guest.

Raglan Road was my favorite restaurant. The place is packed tight, after 9 pm drinks rule, loud at times, and it was too dark to see a menu or the food. I have had to send back raw scallops and over breaded onion rings. The staff is awesome, as is the entertainers. I recommend them because they usually do awesome with special diets and offer a great experience. Splitsville fails on attitude toward special diets and the fajitas were NOT fajitas. They can be very loud. Service was on point. I won’t go back probably, but will recommend them with the diets and noise warning.

• AMC has full service in the lobby. I had a cheeseburger on corn tortilla twice. I think they are needing more attention. Great service in tall tables and lounge seating. I haven’t tried the rest of the menu so still waiting to see how they do.

Jul 20

WDW Water Parks and other Water Parks – Tips and Advice

Laurie gives us advice and tips for visiting the water parks – at Disney and beyond.

You are in charge of this trip. Explain to your group what is allowed, what can’t be done, rules, itinerary, and what to bring. You don’t want Uncle Harry grumbling because the slides don’t allow rivets on clothes. Don’t dash the hopes of kids who are too short at the park. Talk about limits, as I did 2 laps too many recently.


Rules can be government mandated, insurance mandated, or be made by staff. Some rules are firm while others are not enforced. It is up to you to make sure that your family knows the rules and the park rules are obeyed.

Casts, amputees, medical devices, and weight are covered at many parks. All parks will remove a rider who can’t use their feet to balance, can’t hold on, or can’t sit up. Whether written or unwritten, most Water Parks prohibit horseplay, diving, and interfering with the safety of others. Water Country bans hookahs. Smokers at Disney parks have designated areas.

Aquatica prohibits cotton board shorts. Baby swim diapers are required. Do not wear jewelry, scarves, or anything that could be caught on slides and rides. No plastic or metal rivets, buckles, studs, or decorated clothes that could harm slides. Appropriate attire is required.

•Food and Beverages

WDW is very lenient about bringing in coolers stocked with food. Most parks prohibit glass and food that needs heating. Most, if not all parks, prohibit bringing in alcoholic beverages. Florida weather makes picnics risky due to the heat. It is best to save up shelf stable packets of mayonnaise and salad dressing. You can bring unopened small jars of mayonnaise and salad dressing then trash them when done. Spam, cashew butter, tuna, bread, and canned corned beef are some shelf items you might want to bring. You can buy food from your hotel to bring, but again, remember that Florida is hot and food spoils easily. Plan on having a designated person to watch your stuff if you camp out. The lockers are not big enough for a family picnic.

WDW water parks have one main kitchen that does allergies. TOUGH! That is the attitude I received when I tried to get something gluten and soy free. Another issue is getting from where you are camped out to food. Last time I packed in ice, soda pop, salad, cooked hot dogs, buns, and snacks. Read the menus as some folks will find it hard to find something they like.


Most amusement and water parks will close outdoor activities when lightning is nearby. I recently visited Blizzard Beach. I drove my van while wearing wet clothes. At the parking garage’s bathroom I changed clothes. 10 minutes in the rain and I was wetter than at the water park. Chills can set in when the high winds kick in. Air conditioned buses will feel like a deep freezer. When Disney closes the lazy rivers they don’t let you wait to get to your camp or the front. You might have to walk halfway around the park. Tampa storms are eastbound and extreme. If a storm is coming out of the west (Tampa) GET OUT! Sometimes waiting an hour will change things. Storms out of the east (Miami) are lightweight, usually, and tend to do little damage.

•Fun, entertainment, and tips

Having read the rules, told the group the rules, and packed for a week trek, should make this a fun outing. Check the schedule as there are events during the year such as the Olympics themed bash. There is usually one character per park with limited hours and they don’t come out during storms.
There are many things to do at Disney water parks. The short kids can start off in a safe play area with splashing features, slides, activities, lifeguards, and shallow entry kiddie pools. Disabled guests might be able to get a water wheelchair that requires someone to push them. There are bump steps at the creeks and the main pool is shallow entry. There is a gondola on the ski lift for wheelchairs and disabled guest who can’t use the ski lift. There are single and double tubes as well as toddler tubes with a solid bottom.


There are private umbrellas with a couple of towels, umbrella and chairs for at least $40. Save your money!

Cabanas are expensive and worth the cost if you can afford it. They include private locker, towels, table and chairs, waiter who fetches drinks and food (you pay for items), cooler full of ice, and bottled water. This may have changed. 6 people who don’t have to worry about protecting their space and personal belongings.

Jun 11

Menu Changes at Many Disney World Locations

Walt Disney World – FOOD

Mobile Order – available at Satu’li Canteen, Pizzafari, Tomorrowland Terrace Restaurant, Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, Pinocchio Village Haus, Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe, and Columbia Harbour House.
One must have a My Disney Experience account, credit card attached to My Disney Experience, and notifications on. Expect many more locations to come. Most places will not offer special diets or customizing meals. It is for folks who order right off the menu.


Animal Kingdom

•Smiling Crocodile is offering open face sandwiches that start with a BLT and adds salmon, turkey, or pimento cheese.

Magic Kingdom

•The Cheshire Cafe sits across from the Tea Cups. The menu was stripped down to drinks and a Cheshire Tail which is a Danish twist (pastry) filled with chocolate and topped with blue and pink icing.
•Prince Eric’s Market went from turkey legs to a ham and cheese pretzel. Cookies were added and some items were removed. They have an Under the Sea treat (cupcake).
•Gaston’s Tavern also offers a ham and cheese pretzel as well as offering trios of macarons as a special. Choose from either Pistachio, Raspberry, and Lemon; or Chocolate, Vanilla, and Coffee.
•Tortuga Tavern has a special offering of chocolate almond cake topped a red dome on a blue whipped cream sea.
•Cool Ship has gone from chips and Mickey pretzels to pizza frusta. The proper term is “frusta” which is pizza dough with the sides fold up and around to make like a Hot Pocket. They offer sausage and pepperoni or cheese and tomato.
•Tomorrowland cart sells snow cones.
•The Plaza offers seasonal soup and a honey baked brisket macaroni and cheese entree.


•With the Frozen lines calming down it is time to open up the margarita stand. Chosa Tequila will sponsor the stand and also offer tequila, emañadas, and guacamole.
•Taste Track has expanded their dessert menu. Apple pie sundae has caramel popcorn, ice cream, apple pie, and caramel sauce. Berry explosion is ice cream topped with berries, pound cake, cotton candy, and strawberry pearls (molecular science project). The chocolaty churro is a hot fudge sundae with chocolate curls and a churro. Adults can have adult orange soda and root beer soda and these are used in floats. They still have soft serve and ice cream sandwiches.
•Akershus has added a creamy 4 cheese and vegetables pasta called the Fylt Pasta.
•Coral Reef needs a major makeover. She now offers citrus bread pudding, an Asian style tuna bowl, pork chop with braised greens and potatoes, charbroiled octopus appetizer, and a lump crab and watercress salad.

Hollywood Studios

•Sci-Fi diner is tweaking it menu and adds the Drive-In burger and the falafel burger.
•Hollywood and Vine is going into a Summer theme for the Minnie’s Summertime Dine.

All Stars Resorts

The three food courts will now sell alcoholic beverages. Velvet Ropes and Strawberry Fields are two names for a strawberry shake with Frangelica. There is a chocolate shake with candied bacon and bourbon.

Caribbean Beach Resort

Martinique has a well stocked market in a converted hotel room. A buffet and food truck is in the pool area.


The Wave is offering unlimited mimosas for $16.

Grand Floridian

Narcoossee’s now offers lobster tail and steak as its surf and turf entree.

Yacht Club

Fittings & Fairings gift shop is closed until July. Half of the shop is now open as the Market at Ale & Compass. They offer egg white wrap, sticky bun, feta and egg pastry, and a turkey and egg sandwich for breakfast. The rest of the day they offer paninis, ham and cheese sandwich, veggie sandwich, and spinach feta pastry. They have a grab-and-go area with oatmeal, sandwiches, salads, and pastries. They have Larabars, cereal bowls, fresh fruit, ice cream and many items to make lunch with.

Disney Springs

•Wolfgang Puck will vacate his current location in the Westend. This will make room for Paleo. Closing date is August 1, 2017 and all employees have a job waiting for them in the Levy chain of restaurants.
•Splitsville has an enclosed second floor that just opened.
•The Daily Poutine has added a cheeseburger Poutine but continue to use frozen fries.

As we wait for Edison and Wine Bar George we now have more to watch forward to in 2018. Portobello will become Tony Mantuano’s restaurant. Wolfgang Puck bar and grill as well as Jaleo by José Andés add to the list of new chef owned restaurants.


Can gourmet cotton become a new trend? Disneyland California Adventure has a dole whip flavored cotton candy. Always check menus and the news for changes. We are going into Summer so expect some menu changes. Disney cruise line changed menus the end of last year. Sometimes a restaurant will get an item on stock and add it to the menu for a while. Some menu sites are very outdated so look for discontinued restaurants and obvious errors.

Jun 10

Downtown Disney History and Paddlefish

I always enjoy Laurie’s reviews on restaurants.  This one doesn’t disappoint!  Check out what she has to say about the newly opened Paddlefish.

On October 1, 1971, Walt Disney World officially opened with just two hotels and the Magic Kingdom. The Palm and Magnolia golf courses had been open a few weeks. Fort Wilderness would open in a few months. There were plans for residences at WDW. That November saw the opening of the Electric Pageant on Bay Lake.

1972, around December, we saw the Disney Vacation Villas open their first phase. Hotel Plaza opened up as an off-site Disney partner area that included Dutch Inn, Hotel Royal Plaza, Howard Johnson’s, and Travelodge. In 1973, Hoop Dee Doo Revue was the only non-hotel entertainment. The Golf Resort opened at the end of that year. It is now known as Shades of Green.

In 1971, Walt Disney World WAS Disneyland’s big baby sister. Disney planned for on site permanent residence in the form of manufactured homes. At the end of 1974, Lake Buena Vista Golf Course opened with tennis courts, a pool, snack bar, and the Pompano Grill. This complex became part of the Disney Institute and now is part of Saratoga Springs. 1975, guests found the entertainment, dining, and shopping were limited to Fort Wilderness, three golf courses, the clubhouse, and the resorts. Finally, Disney realized they could make money by giving guests a place to shop and dine outside the resorts. Lake Buena Vista Village opened on March 22, 1975. In 1976, there were shops offering candles, souvenirs, pottery, toys, art, antiques, tobacco, sundries, and tobacco. There was a pet shop, post office, deli, market, and a quick service shop. The highlight there was Captain Jack’s restaurant which offered views of the untamed WDW lands

Off in the distance a paddle wheel steamship opened on May 1, 1977. Lillian Disney christened her the Empress Lilly. It was a three story building built on a submerged foundation. Her name was in a red sign above the red paddle wheel. She remained that way until she closed in 1995 and reopened as Fulton’s. A neon replaced the ornate red sign and gone were the paddle wheel and smokestacks. Recently the empress was stripped down to the bones and became a Florida Coastal Cruiser, Paddlefish is her name.

I walked the gangway into a lobby with a hostess desk decorated with metal fish scales. The walls have dark wood panels and the stairs also have dark wood. There are imitation black tufted leather benches that make the short more bearable. The aroma of a New England seafood boil hits you as you enter the lobby. Potatoes, corn, seafood, and old bay seasoning hits your nose and makes you so hungry. They led me through a narrow hallway, so it seemed as it fits a mobility scooter. The entire ship had large windows to let the sun shine in and guests look at the view. I used the elevator to the second floor. Again, beautiful views of Saratoga Springs and Disney Springs.

The place has a posh feeling with comfortable seating, bright lighting, tablecloths, and fishy art. The chef came out and walked me through the menu. My wallet and my stomach are to small for what I wanted. They have a huge menu for lunch and dinner plus a late night appetizer menu and a brunch dinner.

Among the appetizers are crab cakes, chorizo stuffed clams, charred octopus with cannellini beans, conch soup, crab meat topped French fries, calamari, salads, clam chowder, and ahi poke. I went for the shrimp cocktail with ketchup and horseradish sauce. The waiter brought a bucket for the shells. I stared in awe at a bed of seaweed held a pile of U8 or U12 shrimp. These were huge. Each shrimp was deveined, perfectly cooked and delicious. I could sit there all day eating 5 orders of their fresh shrimp. Who needs fried green tomatoes and lobster corn dogs when there is a bountiful plate of perfect shrimp.

The lunch menu features lunch items like crab cake BLT, burger, Floridian chicken salad, soup and salad entree, and fried clam roll. The dinner menu offers sides like Brussels sprouts, Maque Choux, green beans, sweet tater fries, crab mashed potatoes, and succotash. Guest may top their steak or seafood with uni butter, bearnaise sauce, blue cheese, Demi-glacé sauce, and Oscar sauce. Entrees include fish and chips, jambalaya, branzino, opah, lobster risotto, scallops, catfish, steaks, korobuta pork, chicken, lamb, hamburger, and a vegan dish.

I have heard of black cod en papillote so I had to try this French dish. The term means “in parchment” as one places meat, vegetables, herbs, spices, and/or liquids to a parchment paper pouch. The pouch is sealed shut which causes the contents to be steamed. Since the pouch is not opened until table side there is no guarantee that anything cooked properly. In a fish stew the chef can pick out bits that are done or add more herbs and salt. A server stood next to my table and with great flare opened the bag and set the plate in front of me. Steam filled the area with the smell of cod, butter, and vegetables. The flaky black cod was enhanced by uni (sea urchin) butter, squash, and mushrooms to the point that I wish I had some bread for sopping up the butter. Sadly, proper ladies don’t lick the parchment but I am not too proper, lol.

The one thing I wanted to try was the New England boil. Every entree has Jalepeño cornbread, boiled new potatoes, and boiled Plant City corn on the cob. The least expensive is the snow crab, boudin sausage, and gulf shrimp. One can make a custom boil by choosing (per item) from crawfish, shrimp, king crab, queen crab, blue crab, clams & mussels, and lobster. For $10, they have yummy sounding desserts like a brownie milkshake with caramel corn and chocolate ganache. They have southern favorite like key lime pie, carrot cake, and strawberry shortcake. The restaurant had a fully stocked bar with cordials, cognac, brandy, bourbon, scotch, wine, and draft beer. Cocktails include a Bloody Mary with crab, bacon, and shrimp; the Gold Rush with ginger beer, whiskey, and lime; and the Mad About Saffron Martini that has elderberry liqueur, vodka, and saffron.

ALLERGEN WARNING: The air is permeated with shellfish such as lobsters, clams, mussels, shrimp, and crawfish. Also in the air are sausages, corn and potatoes. Old Bay seasoning contains black and red pepper, spices, celery seed, and paprika. Anyone allergic to black pepper, spices, celery, potatoes, corn, or shellfish should not come near Paddlefish.

Paddlefish works well with allergies. I hate such a warning when a restaurant works so hard to feed guests on a limited diet. I enjoyed my meal and had no reactions. Very family friendly while having the bar for adults. The decor, theme, views, and staff are why I will be back. I highly recommend Paddlefish and feel they are my top three table service meals.

Jun 05

Pandora – Survival Guide for Ecotourists

Laurie was at Animal Kingdom for the opening of Pandora.  She has a lot of info to share with us.

HISTORY – Animal Kingdom

In 1998, Animal Kingdom opened with a river ride and a land called Camp Minnie and Mickey. The boat ride quickly closed and was left unused until the Rivers of Light theater and show was built. Camp Minnie and Mickey became a place to see a show and leave. The last show, Festival of the Lion King, was removed along with character greets, a few snack stands, and a small education spot.

We can now see what guests saw on the boat ride. The scary rocks that the boat navigated and the lush foliage. As the boat entered Africa there were no Lion King theater or bathrooms. The boat approached a service bridge that was disguised as a 15th century Portuguese fort with gun slots. The bridge is only 20 years old but retains that rustic look. In place of the boats is a wooden walkway over the water that connects Africa with what is now Pandora.

Pandora aka Avatarland, has a backstory that many guests do not have the time to find out or is hidden. RDA was a mining company that almost destroyed the planet to get what they wanted. RDA ran away and left their base behind. The locals, Na’vi, had no use for the base so they left it to nature to heal the land. A few RDA employees remained in their new home and were expatriates (expats). This story follows colonialism in India, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and even the USA almost verbatim. The story is based in a time like 19th London where there was nothing but drudgery and few jobs back home. Who would want to leave paradise to work in factories and other menial jobs when they can be healthy and happy.

A former RDA employee built Pongu Pongu for his expatriate coworkers. It was a healing place of beauty that ended up with the owner of Pongu Pongu helping ACE ecotourism to be developed on Pandora. Over the past 50 years people came and never left. The RDA Commissary was stripped of almost everything RDA and became a place to show off Na’vi artifacts as well as RDA artifacts. It was named Satu’li Canteen and features home cooking of Earth and Pandora. Next came Windtraders shop that displays Na’vi artwork. Windtraders is an old RDA building that was stripped and turned into a place for souvenirs as well as merchandise celebrating Pandora. The Na’vi have their wares for sell in the shop. The RDA base was recycled for parts for current buildings and the rest left to nature.


The Na’vi oral tradition includes stories of a paralyzed veteran who became a Na’vi. Pandora has many paths that are disabled friendly. Sadly ACE did not listen to the Na’vi and made two rides that the disabled can’t ride. The calm river ride does not have a wheelchair boat like the Jungle Cruise. Many people want to see the labs and ride a banshee but are turned away. ACE forgot how a paraplegic soared on a banshee and fought for the Na’vi.  Hopefully this will be changed. The Canteen staff are very kind to the disabled travelers. They carry trays, pick up utensils and drinks, and help bus their table. Except for soy, the chefs have included special diets. Sadly there are no gluten free desserts. Breakfast is hearty hash of chorizo, pork, potatoes, and peppers. Hopefully there will be soy free dishes beyond the 2 dishes at lunch.

DAS can be used to get a return time. All persons must be linked to the DAS before a return time can be received for the group. This is a great benefit as it is hard to get a mobility device out of the standby line if a person needs to leave. Rider Switch Pass is also available for those with small kids.


On opening day I used a Pride Gogo mobility scooter. I came home with multiple dents and bruises besides severe reaction to the heat. I was backpacked repeatedly. People would kick and hit my scooter. Worst was people standing inches from my face as if I enjoyed looking at their shorts and backpacks. Cutting in line was too common. One had to protect their space while waiting in line because people would slither through crowds to be first into Pandora. Some parents were too busy and their kids ran amok, darted into crowds, hit and kicked people, or hit mobility devices. I watched people plow through crowds without yielding to disabled guests, strollers, and cast members.


Now for what Pandora really is about. I shared my table twice at my meals and I saw others share tables. Cast Members carried my tray, brought me my drink and utensils, and took the tray away. Later they bussed my table while other staff were helping guests find seats. There were guests helping other guests on Pandora like when a man dropped a bag from his stroller and someone chased him down. The children danced with the drummers and the crowd was ecstatic over the drummers. There was the sound of music and nature as people relaxed in the shade. Amongst the war and chaos, was humanity, in a distant land. Most of the people were there to learn and be entertained while patiently waiting. Sometimes a person would invite others in line to join them in a shade spot. This humanity and serenity within a garden akin to paradise calls me back. Maybe I can be an expatriate on Pandora.


The main entrance is on the left as you enter Discovery Island, just before Pizzafari. If you have a FP or DAS return time then you arrive 15-60 minutes before the return time. The Rider Switch Pass should be shown at the Fastpass line. The entrance to Pandora is down to an hour or two. The second entrance is from the area near the bathrooms near the Lion King theater along the river. Currently that path is only an exit. It is of utmost importance that one gets in the correct line. There is one for each of these: Extra Magic Hours, fastpasses, and all others.

The main landmarks are the river, the canteen, and the floating rocks. Facing the canteen one can find the exits and the river ride line. Straight ahead is the bathroom and behind you along the river is the main entrance, bathrooms, and face painting. To your left is Pongu Pongu and Windtraders. Continuing down the path on the left and behind you is the Flights ride. With your back to the canteen you will see the floating rocks with the far right one having Flights. In front of you are the drums and a body of water.
It is easy to get lost. Look for a large body of water that is between the river and the floating rocks. This will help you orient yourself. Rocks on the left and river on the right will align you with the map. The river on your right will also align you to the map. The river ride, face painters, and bathroom are at the bottom of the map. Practice at home so you understand how to use landmarks and how to turn your body so the map faces the right way. Hold the map and find a landmark. Turn in a circle until you are facing those things at the top of the map like the Canteen. Find your target and head for it. This is a lot easier than reading an upside down map.


Pandora is most beautiful at night. Get your fastpass then exit. Don’t waste time for anything but the drummers. Breakfast is great, but all other meals I recommend Tusker House and Flame Tree. During the heat of the day and get fastpass and important things done. Come back when your fastpass time is ready. Don’t waste time in Pandora as you will be in a lot of sun. There are so many things you can do.  There is free ice, cold water, and hot water available. Bring snacks like Lara bars, chips, and things to nibble on. Bring zipper bags for storing snacks and popcorn. SUNSCREEN!! Wear a hat, wicking cotton clothes, and short sleeves. Stay hydrated by getting cups of ice and adding your drinks or their tap water. Sharing is caring so share food with your family so everyone experiences the food. Teach kids to stay near you and have them labeled in some way such as clothing tags. Teach kids who to go to when lost like the restaurant and shops. Kids, as soon as possible, should know your name. MARK MONTGOMERY shouted in a crowd gets more attention because people respond to their name. Have pictures of your group and everything you bring into the park. It is easier for EMTs, police, security, and cast members to find the lost person or item. Marking items with a return address helps. My cell phone is locked but has an emergency number which could be used to contact a friend. Have a designated meeting place such as the Dawa Bar. Don’t be vague like “I am outside the Lion King” as that covers everything from the bathrooms to Tusker House. Better to say, “I am along the river directly across from the Lion King entrance”.  Some places have two entrance like World of Disney which leads to confusion. I have been part of a hunt for the correct entrance too many times. Buy a Mophie charger and keep it with cables in a bag so you can grab it and go. Study My Disney Experience and other apps as they can tell you where bathrooms, churros, and first aid. My Disney Experience allows users to get a map with step by step instructions.

Mom and I were evacuated from New Orleans Square in Disneyland because of an alarm. We were sent to the Haunted Mansion. Emergencies happen and you have to be prepared. Our evacuation was just an alarm going off. What if your bus breaks down? During mass movement, such as parade crossings, a group can split up. Always be over prepared. Bring to Pandora lots of batteries for cameras and electronic devices as the beauty should be shared. Zipper bags make good gloves as well as trash and leftovers. Bring your imagination and take time to study how succulent plants are turned into magnificent aliens plants. Imagine a living planet that glows with life at nighttime. Unlike the real Pandora, you can come and go as you please. Try a morning trip with breakfast at the canteen then head to Asia and Africa for the big ticket attractions. In the evening finish with one more ride and a nighttime show given by Pandora. Watch for other guests who are staring at the details of something as they may have found something interesting. I am in awe how imagineers made rusting bridges and equipment along side decaying buildings.

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.

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:

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.





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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Feb 15

Latest News in Dining Around Disney World

She’s back! Laurie gives us the latest update on several dining locations and more.
SAD NEWS!! Starring Rolls on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood Studios has closed. There is no word on what will become of the location. 💔 Saddest news is that the 2005, yes it is that old, Club Penguin will be DELETED and replaced with Club Penguin Island. BOOO!!! Also say farewell to the Muppet balloon at Hollywood Studios.
GOOD NEWS! The margarita stand in Mexico pavilion in Epcot is being replaced with a Choza tequila sponsored bar that will also serve empañadas, tacos, and guacamole. Magic Kingdom has added alcoholic beverages to the menus at Tony’s Town Square, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Skipper Canteen, and Liberty Tree Tavern.
HALLELUJAH!!!!!!! Cosmic Ray’s has discontinued the bays. No more having to wait in one line for a sandwich and one for a burger when there is a central kitchen. The menu remains about the same. One line for all your dining!
COMING SOON!!! The Polite Pig will be coming to Disney Springs this year. They offer wood fired grill fare. The Edison and possibly other spots will open someday maybe this year. The third addition to Disney Springs is Master Sommelier George Miolotes and his Wine Bar George that will be a wine connoisseur’s heaven.
Jiko has added perch from Lake Victoria, Durham Ranch elk loin, lamb tagine, and buttery-sweet scallops that are paired with Berkshire pork belly chutney. A new appetizer is the Manti Dumplings that are filled with boar, bison and elk and accompanied by spicy tomato sauce and saffron yogurt. The new (6 months) Chef Daniel Sicilian is offering seasonal side dishes as well as offering menu items based on what is available in the market. Another new Chef is Michael Craig who will be offering a Tanzanian chocolate mousse, pistachio financier (a type of cake), pink peppercorn meringue, cacao nib crunch and pineapple dessert. An interesting and tasty sounding dish is the sweet potato cheesecake with sweet apple chutney.
Finally, after nearly two years of construction, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge has added the Geyser Point Bar & Grill. Cedar beams and natural stonework make for a comfortable place along the water to rest after a long day in the parks. Adults will find themed drinks and items from Pacific Northwest breweries, vintners, and distilleries. This will be a “small plates” type of menu that features crispy fried oysters with miso tartar sauce; cheesy barbecue brisket with house-made chips; “Shrimp on a Wire” with miso-lime vinaigrette, togarashi spices, shishito peppers and chili-aioli; and a handcrafted charcuterie. They will have a walk up window. They are open for all meals. Breakfast includes scrambled eggs with sausage and bacon, crab cakes Benedict, and maple-cinnamon pancakes.
The quick-service lunch and dinner menu, available at the walk-up window includes:
Bison burger with Tillamook Cheddar, sweet onion straws and marionberry barbecue sauce
Classic bacon burger with Tillamook Cheddar
House-smoked turkey sandwich with cranberry mayonnaise
Lump crab cake sandwich with house-made Canadian bacon and spicy cabbage-carrot slaw
Grilled salmon BLT with lemon-caper mayonnaise
Salad with grilled Portobello, zucchini, roasted red peppers, tomato and multi-grain salad with goat cheese dressing
Grilled chicken or salmon with arugula and romaine, apples, seasonal berries, hazelnuts and red wine vinaigrette
Seasonal fruit plate with lavender honey yogurt.
For dessert there’s seasonal pie and a chocolate brownie mousse with caramel popcorn and toasted meringue.
Kids’ all-day menu:
Grilled chicken strips with dipping sauces, apple or veggie sticks
Finger Food Sampler with sliced smoked turkey, Tillamook Cheddar, spiced apple jam, grape tomatoes and sourdough crisps.
The Lily is back as Paddlefish with awesome seafood as well as steak. They are out of the Levy chain so expect special diet friendly dining. They are the only place serving en papillote style fish. They offer mussels, shrimp, oysters, clams, and lobsters in an array of presentations. The boils are red potatoes, corn and choice of seafood boiled up like in New England.
Guy Fierri has join Planet Hollywood in the menu designing part of the grand reopening. The Stargazer Lounge will feature Florida breweries and will offer signature drinks. There will be outdoor seating with views of Disney Springs. Look for old favorites and new Fierri inspired dishes. A night at the observatory has taken on a new meaning.
Trattoria Al Forno will be offering a character breakfast this Spring. There are no details other than Tangled and Ariel characters in a “Bon voyage” theme.
Hollywood & Vine will continue to offer a Playhouse Disney Character breakfast from 8 am to 10:20 am. On May 14th the Minnie’s Seasonal Dine will start at 11:20 am. Watch as the theme will change to Spring. ABC Commissary has guests order food, sit down, and they deliver the food to the table. The menu is very tight so check to see if like what is served.
Magic Kingdom has new breakfast options. Casey’s Corner will be serving muffins, bagels and a croissant donut. Plaza Ice Cream Parlor will serve Mickey waffles, Kelloggs cereal and donuts. Kids will love the donut sundae, a donut topped with ice cream, hot fudge, apple, whipped cream, peanut butter chips, chocolate chips and a cherry. Sleepy Hollow has the new egg, ham and tomato waffle sandwich as well as the fruit and chocolate-hazelnut waffle sandwich. Golden Oak has dropped the waffle fries and only offers regular fries and chicken nuggets.
Keep an eye open for holiday dining as Cape May will do a Mother’s Day and an Easter Brunch. Maple flavored popcorn can be found in Frontierland. Casey’s Corner will have monthly specialty hot dogs such as the barbecue slaw dog. Captains Grille at the Yacht Club will be at Ariel’s in the same building from May, 2017 until Autumn, 2017. Last December Sanaa added typical breakfast fare with an African flare. The Contemporary and Yacht Club will offer guests a quick meal for breakfast menu placed with the menu inside the room service info. This is a test for now.
Pandora will be the newest land in Animal Kingdom. What is know is the names are Satu’li Canteen (restaurant) and Pongu Pongu (adult drinks). Kiosks, quick service, lounge, or table service is not known. Rivers of Life show packages are a great deal and allow guest to try Tiffins and other restaurants. The night time is very limited in hours so it is best to do the package to save time.
Gasparilla Grille at the Grand Floridian now offers stations (bays). The sandwich bar offers sandwiches, such as roast beef, ham, and turkey. They are made fresh like at Subway but not subs. There is a salad bar as well. In the mornings there is a station that will serve yogurt with a variety of toppings available. The hot sandwich and pizza station features in-house pizza dough. There will be gourmet burgers, mahi mahi Reuben sandwich, and a chicken and Brie sandwich. There will be a station offering baked goods such as coconut pot de crème, almond fruit tart, and in-house yummy treats. Also they will offer typical coffeehouse drinks.

Aug 04

Blaze Pizza in Disney Springs – Allergy Friendly?

Not safe for allergies

I spoke to an expert who confirmed the following:

1. The ovens contain wheat dust.
2. The pans are not dedicated to gluten free.
3. The press for GF is next to wheat pizzas.
4. They clean a regular press, sometimes, instead of a gluten free press.
5. Pizza dust is all over employees.
6. Employees touch the regular dough then put their hands in the bins of toppings.

Vegans and allergies
The employees take a topping from one bin then reach into other bins with that same hand. Much like Subway restaurants there is cross contamination. Meat residue gets on the “vegan” veggies. A person who is allergic to pork, tomatoes, onions, or dairy might find microscopic traces of allergens. The pizza sits on the counter edge so that toppings fall into the bins.

To make a truly allergy free or vegan pizza they would have to start with new bins of toppings and sauces. They are working on removing many bad things in their food like HFCS and artificial dyes. However, I would hate to wait for them to change gloves, wipe down counters, and bring out new bins. I have watched videos so that I know this to be true. The salads are premise and sit in bins which means no substitutes. They could make a salad from fresh. The convenience is gone if you are celiac, special diets, or Vegan.

They are a good value, good food, and good service from what I hear. I will not review them as I cannot eat there safely. I will not recommend them for the same reason. Homecoming and Bongos are safe and work with guests.