December 30, 2008

Disney Dining: The Best in Quick Service

Yesterday I posted on the best full-service dining in WDW (see below), and today I wanted to focus on the best quick service places the parks have to offer. Realistically, this is where most people eat the majority of their meals- especially if traveling with kids or a large party. The quick service prices are decent (overpriced by normal standards, on par with other theme parks), and the menus are simple - and shockingly, the food's not bad either.

Here are my top 3 places for a quick lunch/snack/light dinner:

Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe, Magic Kingdom: This makes the list largely due to its prime location. Situated between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, my family usually stops in for an early lunch after spending the morning riding Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, and the TTA (my favorite ride, seriously). It's a large restaurant too, so even during peak dining times, we've always been able to find a seat. Menu is your basic hamburgers/salads/chicken fare, but it's fast, easy, and the decor is, ahem, out of this world.

Cantina de San Angel, EPCOT - Mexico Pavillion: Who doesn't love tacos and cold beer for lunch? My best advice about the Mexico pavillion is this - do not eat at the San Angel Inn. It's overpriced, crowded, and gimmicky (more on this in an upcoming post). The Cantina outside serves basically the same food at less than half the price. And sitting by the lagoon sipping a beer and chomping a churro while watching little geckos run around ... doesn't get any better than that.

Sunshine Seasons, EPCOT - The Land: It's air-conditioned, big plus. The food goes beyond the basic chicken tenders basket and offers a wide variety of soups, salads, sandwiches, and things from the grill. This is a great place to chow down while you're waiting for your designated Fastpass time on Soarin' or Living with the Land.

Honorable mention goes to my favorite gem in EPCOT, which is not a quick service restaurant per se, but more like a godsend:

Club Cool, EPCOT: Located in Future World, close to Innoventions and Test Track, this Coca-Cola merchandise shop lets you sample sodas from all over the world. Free drinks + air conditioning = the perfect place to take a break from the heat. Just try and visit only once - I dare you.

December 29, 2008

Disney Dining: The Dinner Dilemma & The Best Full-Service Dining

I was having dinner with the family and the conversation turned to summer 2009's trip to WDW - where we should stay, how long we should go for, and most importantly, where we should eat. Like everyone else, we're cutting back on costs this year, so we've decided to limit ourselves to 3 "nice" dinners - meaning 3 visits to WDW's top tier dining experiences.

2 of those dinners are a given - our perennial favorite places to dine in WDW, bar none, hands down:

Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge): While relatively new, it's a diamond among a lot of cubic zirconias in WDW. The cuisine is African-inspired, without being too scary (the oak-grilled filet mignon with mac and cheese is heavenly). The wine list is insane, the ambience is lovely, and best of all, it's a grown-up place to eat - a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of the parks. Jiko is a great example of the key to great dining in WDW - don't be afraid to go off the beaten path. Even if you're not staying at the AKL, Jiko is worth the drive (or bus trip) out of your way.

Le Cellier Steakhouse (EPCOT, Canada Pavillion): Reservations for Le Cellier must be made months in advance, and its the hottest ticket in the World Showcase for a reason. The steak is always great, and it has a menu that even the pickiest of eaters can be happy with. Make sure you try the cheddar cheese soup with pretzel bread - it's divine. One word of caution: this is a big, hearty, heavy meal. Almost every time we eat there we end up slunking back to the hotel afterwards to nap off the food coma. It's best to visit at the very end of the day - otherwise you run of the risk of being sluggish when you should be enjoying the magic.

So that leaves us with one open slot. Here are my finalists, but if you have other suggestions, please give us a shout in the comments or email me here.

Artist Point (Wilderness Lodge): Every article I read seems to point me to this place as another often-overlooked gem. I'm not sure everyone in the family will be able to find something on the menu, but I'm willing to believe the hype.

Restaurant Marrakesh (EPCOT, Morocco Pavillion): Strangely, this is the only EPCOT restaurant we've never visited. I'd like to erase that distinction, but the menu also looks darn good.

Yak and Yeti (Animal Kingdom): It's new, I love the name, I like Thai food. That's really all the reasoning I need.

Fellow foodies and WDW fans, please send us your thoughts and don't forget to vote for the next WDW recipe we'll feature here!

Disney Dining Week!

We're going to be kicking off a series of posts related to dining in WDW - the good, the bad, and everything in between. So to get your appetites ready, I present the following:

December 26, 2008

News from the Mouse-o-Sphere: Happy Holidays Edition

Happy Day After Christmas! I'm writing from my childhood home in New Hampshire, a nice coat of white snow outside and a cup of coffee beside me. Ah, bliss. Before I head out to see if I can snag some after-Christmas sales, here's what happened in the Disneyverse while you were decking the halls:

And we've got a brand new poll as to what WDW recipe should be featured next on this site. Please vote!

December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you and your family a safe, healthy, happy, and magical Christmas.

December 20, 2008

News from the Mouse-o-Sphere: It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas Edition

At least it is in NYC anyway, after a snowstorm blanketed the Big Apple all day yesterday with big, fluffy snowflakes. Of course, today we're left with a lot of gray slushy mess, but it was nice while it lasted. I'll be heading back to New Hampshire next week for some holiday spirit (and I'll be making the Sam Adams/Guinness Chocolate Cream Stout Cake as our holiday dessert). Please be patient if next week we're a little light on the posting - I'll likely have had a little too much egg nog.

News of the week:

December 19, 2008

So Mad I Can't See Straight

That's mean, but I'm sure we'll hear far worse if the rumors about Stevie Wonder joining the 8th season of Dancing with the Stars turn out to be true. For a show that's already featured a deaf woman, an octogenarian, and a one-legged beast, obviously a blind person would be the next logical step. The show shall henceforth be known as Dancing with the Disabled, at which point it will likely move to FOX.

But seriously, has anyone at ABC even remotely thought this one out? What happens if/when poor Stevie trips on the stairs during the opening to his jive routine? What happens when he's assigned the quickstep? Will the judges remove points for not being able to spot his turns? And how can he support his partner when he can't even see her?

Which brings me to the next logical question of which poor girl would get assigned this season's charity case? Typically, the pros that make it to the finals get assigned the worst partners the following season to avoid any repeat wins - so I guess the honor would fall to Lacey? Or Kym?Would they torture either one so? I'm betting they'll stick Stevie with Cheryl, just a hunch.

While I understand and can sometimes applaud Dancing with the Stars for giving stars with disabilities a chance to compete for the Mirrorball Trophy, putting Stevie Wonder on the show seems like a blatant, unkind, insensitive publicity stunt. It's asking us, America, to revel in watching a blind man stumble his way around the floor as the judges patronize him by telling him he's an inspiration and who cares if you can't do a proper cha cha cha - and call this entertainment. I call it exploiting a legendary talent and turning him into a freakshow. Stevie deserves better. And so do we.

December 18, 2008

The Wonderful Continues ...

I don't know about you guys, but I always make that face when I ride Star Tours.

December 17, 2008

Daily Dose of Wonderful

This just made me so happy ...

December 15, 2008

WDW Recipe Challenge: Sam Adams Chocolate Cream Stout Cake

The winner of our latest WDW Recipe Challenge poll was the Sam Adams Chocolate Cream Stout Cake from the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival (2005), which was served in the UK pavillion. I never tasted the original, but I can tell you that my version came out pretty darn delicious. There was one snag, however - my grocery store didn't carry the Sam Adams Cream Stout the recipe calls for. I decided to take the authenticness of the cake one step further and substitute the Boston-based Sam Adams beer for some straight-up Irish Guinness Stout. And the cake still came out awesome (and Irish!).

4 TB butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup Samuel Adams Cream Stout
4 TB cocoa powder

Optional (but why wouldn't you?)
Whipped cream
Chocolate sauce

Let's get crackin!
1. Butter an 8-inch cake pan with 2 tablespoons of the butter and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Cream the remaining butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the egg and the egg yolk.

This looks disgusting, I know. It gets better - I promise.

3. Sift the flour, baking soda and baking powder into a separate bowl.

4. Stir the Samuel Adams Cream Stout (or Guinness) into the cocoa.

Some Guinness for the recipe, some for me ....

5. Alternately fold the flour and beer mixture into the butter and sugar mixture.

Note: This batter is awesome. Try not to eat it all before you get around to cooking it.

6. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake for approximately 30-35 minutes, or until firm to the touch.

7. Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning the cake onto a wire rack.


8. Leave the cake to completely cool before slicing.

December 14, 2008

News from the Mouse-o-Sphere: Golden Globes Epic Fail Edition

The holidays are almost here, and I'm finally getting my life under control. Christmas cards? Check. Christmas shopping? Almost check. Cleaning the apartment to prepare for guests? No comment. So instead of doing that, here's the news of the week:

Finally, the Sam Adams Chocolate Cream Stout Cake was the winner of our latest WDW Recipe Challenge, so be on the lookout for that post next week - should be yummy!

December 13, 2008

Hollywood Foreign Press Association: Suck-E

I recently posted my thoughts on why Wall-E should be nominated in the Best Picture categories this awards season. And sigh, when the Golden Globe nominees were announced on Thursday, I had to scroll all the way down the list to find Wall-E's nomination .... in the Best Animated Feature category.

I mean, this is an organization that once awarded Best Motion Picture - Comedy to BABE. Talking pigs? Okay. Chattering robots? Not so much. But if there was any awards ceremony where Wall-E should have been a shoo-in, it's the Golden Globes.

For starters, there are 10 Best Picture slots, since the HFPA divides them into Drama and Comedy/Musical categories. That means more chances for Wall-E to get recognized, especially since the nominees for Best Comedy/Musical are usually a stretch (last year, the critically panned and completely unfunny Charlie Wilson's War got a nod). And the HFPA has been friendly to Pixar films in the past - Finding Nemo and Toy Story 2 were both recognized in the Best Picture category.

Here's an insider tip: the HFPA is easily bribed. Basically, if a studio presents them with plenty of nice swag and lots of face time with their talent, then the HFPA showers that studio's film with nominations. I'm not sure if Disney even bothered trying to push Wall-E as a Best Picture contender (in favor of spending their awards budget courting the Academy), but either way, Wall-E doesn't have any A-list talent to schmooze with the HFPA at screening after-parties. Ah, the plight of the animated film in a corrupt live-action awards world.

Let's take a look at what these guys actually nominated for Best Motion Picture - Comedy (presumably this is where Wall-E would have qualified):

Burn After Reading: I have yet to meet anyone who likes this movie.
Happy-Go-Lucky: I haven't seen this one yet, nor do I know anyone who has. This is a Miramax movie - a studio known for it's awards schmoozing.
In Bruges: I saw this way back in February. It's pretty amazing, and damn funny. I'm okay with this being here.
Mamma Mia!: Ah, the requisite musical. Reviews were tepid at best for this, so clearly the studio had Meryl Streep working the room.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona: The HFPA has always loooved Woody Allen, so this was probably a given from the start.

Color me underwhelmed. The Golden Globes are usually a pretty good indicator of a film's Oscar chances, but none of these nominated films have a chance of making the Academy's cut. And it helps to keep in mind that last year's winner in this category, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, was almost completely shut out at the Oscars. I think as the top critics and other guilds start unveiling their awards and Top 10 lists, we'll get a better idea of where Wall-E stands. I'm staying positive (though annoyed) here, and keeping my fingers/toes crossed that the Academy has a better sense of what makes a quality film than the HFPA does.

December 10, 2008

Can Wall-E Really Win an Oscar?

It's not as crazy as it sounds. A few months ago, Wall-E seemed destined to be left behind in a year full of heavy-hitting Oscar contenders, including The Changeling, Milk, The Reader, Frost/Nixon, and about 19 others. But with all those awards-heavy dramas falling somewhat short, Wall-E's award buzz is steadingly gaining momentum, as evidenced by LA Critics Awards, which named it Best Picture of the Year.

Of course, an animated movie hasn't been nominated for Best Picture since Beauty and the Beast in 1992. But in my opinion, there have been a couple animated movies that definitely deserved that recognition since - especially Finding Nemo and Ratatouille, two of Pixar's most beautiful acheivements. As with those movies, Wall-E's Oscar chances are hindered by one big roadblock that Beauty in the Beast didn't have.

A Best Animated Feature category.

Full disclosure: I used to work in specialty film publicity, concentrating on the very same types of Oscar-mongering dramas that are underwhelming critics this year. And I can tell you that the sentiment around nominating Wall-E for Best Picture will be "Oh, it will win Best Animated Feature, so that's good enough for them." It's the same reason why you rarely see the winner of the Best Foreign Language Film category in the Best Picture race.

That logic is, in a word, ridiculous. Just because a film is animated shouldn't mean its quality is any less than live action films. Hell, Wall-E has more expression than Nicole Kidman does. And to not allow it to compete with the big boys in the Best Picture race showcases the kind of archaic, increasingly irrelevant approach to film that the Academy has showcased in recent years. With its serious message, complex use of irony, and almost complete lack of dialogue, Wall-E is more artistic, thoughtful, and groundbreaking than any of the studio-manufactured suck-the-fun-out-of-life dramas this year. And no, it is not a "kids film" either, although no one seemed to care when this label was applied to E.T. It infuriates me that this is Pixar's tenth film and the Academy has still not recognized them for their outstanding contributions to cinema with a Best Picture nod.

But there is hope. With the announcement of the National Board of Review, NY Film Critics, and Broadcast Film Critics awards, no clear frontrunner has emerged. Once bright stars like Doubt, The Reader, and Frost/Nixon are garnering tepid reviews, while Wall-E remains the best reviewed movie of the year. And Wall-E was a popular movie that did well at the box office. If you'll recall (or maybe not), last year's ceremony was a indie-laden lovefest that no one watched because most of America hadn't seen any of the nominated films. Putting Wall-E in the Best Picture race would change that, and give us something to actually root for.

Beyond that, Wall-E is good. Not just good, but groundbreaking. It's the kind of movie that forces you to reconsider what an animated movie can be - how it can make us laugh, cry, and think. With Wall-E, Pixar has subverted the genre it came to define, and in doing so, created the most original, thought-provoking, poignant movie of the year. And that, if nothing else, deserves an award.

December 7, 2008

Dear Disney Vacation Club: I Get It! We're Home!

The Disney Vacation Club is intended to make guests feel as though their Disney time-share is their home-away-from-home. Fine. This makes sense to me. What does not make sense are the following scenarios, compiled from past stays at Saratoga Springs and Disney's Vero Beach Resort:

Upon walking near the entrance to lobby:
Cast member: Welcome home!

Approaching the check-in desk:
Cast member: Welcome home, how may we help you?

Unlocking the room:
Doormat: Welcome Home.

Calling Guest Services:
Concierge: Welcome home?

Walking through the lobby to go to dinner:
Cast Member: Hi guys! Welcome home!

Entering the restaurant:
Hostess: Welcome home! How many in your party?

At dinner:
Waiter: Welcome home! What can I get you?

... and this goes on and on and on. I'm all for cheerful hospitality, but being welcomed has its limits.

December 5, 2008

News from the Mouse-o-Sphere: Beginnings of Holiday Madness Edition

Happy Friday, in what has been a TGIF-worthy week for me. And with 20 days until Christmas (eek), I have begun my annual aaa-omg-where-did-the-year-go-i-havent-bought-presents-for-anyone-yet panic attack. I tried doing some shopping after work today, but was too exhausted to fight the tourists. So instead of obsessing over some holiday list-making or writing out my Christmas cards, I instead present to you the news of the week:

And as a reminder to all, don't forget to vote for the next WDW recipe you want to see featured on this site!

December 3, 2008

Stupid Judy, Stupid Energy

I apologize for the lack of blogging these past few days - Thanksgiving re-entry has been tough, and without Dancing with the Stars to write about ... well, it took me some time to dust myself off and get back into the swing of things.

Over the weekend, the family and I stopped by the new climate change exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. If you haven't been, go. It's a great exhibit, well worth the exorbitant fee to get in, and best of all, it's really thorough. From the definition of greenhouse gases to the new waves of technology greening our future, the exhibit provides an in-depth look at where we are, how we got here, and what to do next ...

... Which reminded me a lot of the mission of EPCOT's Universe of Energy. In its current incarnation, Ellen's Energy Adventure, the attraction explores how energy is produced, the history of energy, and new energy resources. The trouble is, that ride was imagineered in 1996. And A LOT has changed since then - what we know, why we know, and how we're trying to change the status quo. After seeing the American Museum of Natural History's exhibit, with it's ripped-from-the-headlines feel, the Universe of Energy seems more dated than ever.
"The world uses 30 per cent more electric power than it did in 1997 and around 50 per cent of that new power has been fuelled by coal. There are some 100 million more cars on the world's roads - almost all still fuelled by oil." (Source: BP)
In addition to the fact that we're using more energy today than ever before, there has been an incredible shift in the way we think about energy and how it affects the environment and our world. First, we have acknowledged there is a problem, and second - and more important - we have realized that that problem is manageable, and our daily actions can help reduce the causes of global warming.

So where is this in the Universe of Energy? Nowhere, really. Don't get me wrong, I like Ellen's Energy Adventure - Bill Nye, Stupid Judy, and 40 minutes out of the hot sun - what's not to love? But wouldn't it be great to see an updated attraction, maybe with an interactive post-ride experience where visitors could learn more about conservation efforts and easy ways to go green?

As Disney continues to let the pavilion waste away, alone and forgotten in favor of E-ticket rides, the concept of "innovation" is slowly draining out of EPCOT. Even worse, the park isn't even the Experimental Prototype Community of Today, but of Yesterday. And who wants to visit EPCOY?