Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days at my favourite place in the world, Walt Disney World, with my friend Erica, who writes the splendiferous Edinburgh food blog, Foodinburgh. Virgin Holidays whizzed us over in style, challenging us to ‘seize the holiday’ and we certainly did that! I’ll have loads and loads of new content coming up, including a look at gorgeous new Disney Springs and masses of new dining features, but I wanted to give you the heads up about a great, limited time offer: FREE dining at Walt Disney World Florida, that’s going to save you a fortune if you’re planning a Walt Disney World adventure next year.
Our lovely visit to Walt Disney World in Orlando seems such a long time ago now. I’m already pining for the sunshine, for Anna and Elsa, and, more importantly, all that amazing food.
Once upon a time (see what I did there?) I think most people thought that all you could probably eat while you were at Walt Disney World parks and resorts was junk food, or maybe Mickey-shaped ice creams. Now, people are starting to realise that Walt Disney World features some of the best dining in the world, whether you’re after a snack, quick-service, grab and go option, or proper fine dining with table service.
So what can you expect?
So this week I’ve been at Walt Disney World at the UK Culinary Showcase, discovering everything about the Disney Dining Plan (much more of this coming up shortly – including a special offer) and also whizzing around on a few rides and hugging a few Disney characters, as you do.
Regular readers will know that I adore a Walt Disney resort hotel (click here to see my top five) and there’s much excitement in Orlando at the moment as there’s a new hotel opening very shortly. This one’s a bit different as although it’s placed within the boundaries of Walt Disney World, it’s actually a Four Seasons. The Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort to give it its full title (bit of a mouthful, admittedly) is shaping up to be an absolute beauty.
So that’s it, then… my Week of Walt is nearly finished. I couldn’t end, though, without giving you a little whisper of some of the biggest Disney secrets going, snaffled during my week in Florida at the launch of New Fantasyland especially for you!
There are TONS of things in the pipeline at the moment for Disney Parks… with New Fantasyland now open, they’re concentrating on getting the last couple of bits ready (the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train that I mentioned as well as the Princess Fairytale Hall where you can meet all your favourite princesses). There’s also new Limited Time Magic – a new concept which will see exclusive themed surprises for every week of 2013 – whether they be special character meet and greets, exclusive Disney merchandise, or experiences (for example, Valentine’s week will see special romantic dinner menus and photoshoots with famous Disney couples).
Cars Land is now open at Disney California Adventure. The colossal 12 acre site brings good ol’ Radiator Springs to life, and includes the incredible Radiator Springs Racers – a high speed driving attraction where you can race each other through Radiator Springs! There’s also been a lot of refurbishment in Buena Vista Street (California’s answer to Main Street). My cousin Deb visited recently so I’ll be leaning on her hard to give us a review!
Disney’s beautiful Aulani Resort in Hawaii (very high on my bucket list) is also being improved and expanded. Next summer there’ll be a new grotto pool and a brand new splash zone.
Disney’s Cruise Line (do have a look in my travel section for reviews and information from my trip on the Disney Dream) have introduced new routes for 2013 – cruises now depart from Galveston, Texas and there are also a huge choice of Mediterranean cruises with destinations including Croatia’s Dalmation Coast, Venice and the Greek islands.
Adventures by Disney might not be as well known as either the parks or the cruises, but these incredible holidays take guests on amazing adventures, from China to America and from South Africa to Scotland, where you can relive Disney’s Brave by having your own Scottish adventure!
Lastly, but by no means leastly, the most exciting news of all is that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts are hard at work with none other than James Cameron in the designing and planning of a whole new land to go into Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There are no fixed dates as yet, but the rumour is that we could see the gates to the new Avatar Land open at about the same time as Avatar 2 hits the box office (2016?). I absolutely can’t wait to hear more news about this Avatar-themed adventure, and rest assured you’ll be the first to know if I hear any news!
I recently made a promise to myself that I would stop taking pictures of food in restaurants. My husband hates it (especially when I slap his hand away from his plate) and I’ve lost count of the times my friends have sighed as I snap away at their plates, trying to get the best angle by practically sitting in their laps. Annoying, much?
But it’s SO hard. I did, for example, break my rule for this AMAZING starter at one of my favourite Disney fine dining restaurants, the Flying Fish on Disney’s Boardwalk
So, as Roz would say in Frasier, I must attempt to ‘use my words’. So here goes – my all-time top ten Disney dining experiences (so far):
Disney do breakfast REALLY well. If you’re heading to Florida, make sure you book at least one character breakfast where you get to meet some of Disney’s stars up close and personal. My favourite character breakfast is at Tusker House at Disney’s Animal Kingdom resort. The setting is amazing – you can just imagine you’ve stopped for a quick break from your African safari – and the food is just fabulous. As well as all the usual breakfast choices – Mickey waffles (my personal favourite), bacon, eggs, etc, there are some traditional African choices to try (Bobotie for breakfast? Why not?) and don’t forget a yummy glass of Jungle Juice to wash it all down.
Another favourite of mine, both in terms of the resort itself and in particular The Wave restaurant, is Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The setting is great – a brief monorail ride straight into the parks – and, as the name suggests, the resort is modern and very classy. I’ve had both dinner and breakfast in the stunning Wave restaurant and can’t decide which I like best, but the delicious cheese and bacon grits and sweet potato pancakes both take some beating in the morning. They also serve a range of addictive smoothies too.
Onto lunch then, and this is often a case of grabbing something at one of the many quick service dining options. If you get the chance, though, do try and stop off at the iconic Hollywood Brown Derby based at the Hollywood Studios park. I know I’ve talked about the Brown Derby before, but its Cobb salad (it’s enormous – order one between the two of you) – a chopped salad made from avocado, blue cheese, turkey, tomatoes, bacon… you name it, is an absolute must, and the setting, based on the original Vine Street Brown Derby in Hollywood is proper old school glam. The waiting staff are amazing and although you can wander in dressed in your cut off shorts and t-shirt, half way round Hollywood Studios, you’re always made to feel really special.
If you’re grabbing lunch on the run at the Magic Kingdom, pop in to Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café in Frontierland and stuff your face with one of their scrummy barbecue pulled pork rolls. You add your own salad at the little salad bars, which I really like too.
Disney excel at fine dining. I’m finding it really hard to pick my favourites here, but Citricos at the utterly beautiful Grand Floridian resort has to be experienced to be believed. The service is absolutely faultless (the waiting staff know EVERYTHING about every dish and even change your white napkin for a black one if you’re wearing dark colours and don’t want to risk getting any white lint on your outfit), the cocktails are exquisite and the wine list is incredible. The panadas, a starter of delicately spiced beef in a filo pastry shell with a sweet/sour tamarind dip were crisp on the outside and rich and meaty in the middle. The braised short ribs entrée is one I’ve had a couple of times and is always meltingly tender. Their steaks are always amazing and cooked perfectly, and don’t you dare eat so much that you miss out on one of their intricately decorated decadent chocolate desserts.
My final choice (touch and go between this one and the equally fabulous Kouzzina (you can read a previous review here) also on the Boardwalk is The Flying Fish Café. I adore the Boardwalk – there’s nothing nicer than wandering along by the water, watching the sideshows, then after your delicious dinner, wandering back to your hotel under the stars, pausing to watch the fireworks at neighbouring Epcot. Every evening I’ve had here has been magical, and everything I’ve ever eaten has been incredible: crispy sesame calamari, crunchy coated Jonah crab cakes… sea bass, salmon… it’s all perfectly prepared and wonderfully presented. If you’re not massively into fish, don’t despair. They also do a ridiculously tender New York strip steak. Oh and before you waddle out? Force down a slice of the Florida Tequila key lime Margarita Pie. You’ll thank me.
If you’re about to travel to Walt Disney World Resort Florida, or need any help planning your journey, or need more recommendations for dining or park options I’m always happy to help. Drop me a line!
Florida is famous for beaches, sunshine and, of course, the theme parks. Children and adults alike will love the chance to be able to explore the world-renowned resorts of Disney, Universal, Epcot, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the others. All the theme parks are great at catering for families, especially those with young children who may be too small to ride on a lot of the rollercoasters.
Each of the Disney parks has several great attractions for young children. Head over to Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom to ride on Dumbo, the Flying Elephant. This gentle ride is a lovely experience and kids will love being able to control how high their Dumbo can fly. Also in the Magic Kingdom is The Barnstormer. This junior rollercoaster is a great ride for any little daredevils in your family as it has a few twists and turns!
If your child loved being able to fly on an elephant, you could try Cinderella’s Golden Carousel, a charming old fashioned merry-go-round where the children can sit on horses, and there is an option of a bench carriage if they prefer. Fans of Nemo can go and visit Epcot and search the seas to find him in a ‘clamobile’ . From there you can visit the seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion, home to one of the largest man-made ocean environments in the world.
Kids love seeing their favourite characters come to life, so why not head over to Hollywood Studios to see Playhouse Disney, an interactive live performance that combines awesome effects and puppetry and gives your children the chance to sing and dance along with Mickey!
If you want a slightly more relaxing break, there are plenty of beaches in Florida for kids to run around on, making sandcastles and splashing in the waves. Clearwater, Florida is home to some beautiful white beaches and is very family-friendly. Children of all ages will love the chance to be able to jump aboard a pirate ship on Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise. Or visit Destin on the Emerald Coast for a quieter and more relaxing family-orientated beach.
Where to begin?
Well, after champers in the V Room at London Gatwick and an easy flight into Orlando (I love Virgin Atlantic, I do) and the excitement of being picked up by Disney’s VIP service (woo!), we headed to our hotel for the night, the Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. The place is absolutely vast – 65 acres to be precise – and has an equestrian theme, based on a real place called Saratoga Springs which was famous in New York in the 1800s. The resort is made up of lots of different self-catering villas all set in lush landscapes around a huge lake. It’s just beautiful:
We headed out to Epcot at Walt Disney World to the Hacienda restaurant based in the Mexico part of the park. The food was amazeballs, as you can imagine. And check out the margaritas! The one on the left was mango, blueberry and basil, and mine was an avocado margarita (yes, really) with Tequila, melon liqueur, fresh avocado, agave nectar and fresh lime. It had an amazing Hibiscus salt rim as well. Yummers:
The next morning, after a really lush breakfast, we headed off to Port Canaveral to board the ship (don’t call it a boat, you just upset the crew!). This was our first glimpse:
It really is a huge beast. And by this time we were so excited there was quite a bit of squeaking coming from Liz and I. Through customs, we were welcomed into the foyer by no other than Minnie Mouse:
About the Disney Dream
- The ship itself takes about 4,500 passengers and weighs 128000 tons.
- It’s all-inclusive on board, apart from booze and some of the adults only fine dining experiences (oh, the food – I’ve got a lot to tell you about the food). There are 6 restaurants, plus 3 food court areas including a pizza restaurant, fast food joint and ice cream parlour open ALL DAY! So basically you can stuff yourself silly all day (which we did, of course).
- It’s home to the Aquaduck, the world’s first on-ship ‘water coaster’: a 765ft water ride, a section of which actually goes out over the side of the ship.
- There are 1,250 staterooms (that’s what you call the cabins, although I managed to show myself up by calling ours a ‘chalet’ on several occasions).
- There are three pools: an adults-only, two children’s pools – one Mickey-shaped one for tiddlers, plus a lovely splash area for tiddlers with little fountains and jets.
- There is an amazing adults-only entertainment area with nightclubs, lounges and bars.
- There are tons of kids clubs, from a nursery for teeny guests (3 months to 3 years), through the Oceaneer Club and Lab (3 to ten years), Edge (for ‘tweens’), right up to the amazing Vibe – an entire area for teenagers 14 – 17, including a club, a great outdoor area with pools, and dedicated entertainment staff. Once registered, teens get a special card which opens the teens-only door – no adults allowed!
- It’s a cash-free ship. Everything is charged to your ‘Key to the World’ room key, and settled up at the end of the cruise by cash or credit card (but watch out, the shops are fabulous).
The staterooms are certainly compact, but you don’t spend any time in them. There’s one of those beds in the ceiling too which is great fun to sleep in and has a starry ceiling!:
‘Sailing Away’ is absolutely phenomenal. There’s a huge party on deck with a show (and lots of characters, naturally) and loads of people line up on the shore to wave goodbye (including a police car with its lights flashing). As the ship glides out of Port Canaveral the ship’s horn parps the first few notes of ‘When you wish upon a star’. It’s just amazing (we were there with a film crew – this is Paddy the Producer’s ear):
So we were off! LOADS more to tell you, but in the meantime, if you want to see more photos from our Disney Dream trip – check out my Facebook page: facebook.com/englishmumdotcom
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