Monday, May 31, 2010

Buffet Review--Tusker House

Does anyone else have to look carefully when you type the word "buffet"?  I am a Parrothead as well as a Disney fan and have to make sure I don't subconsciously start talking about Jimmy.  While I am sure he can set out a great spread, this story is about Tusker House. 

Tusker House is a buffet restaurant located in Africa in Disney's Animal Kingdom.  It has been renovated within the last couple of years.  In its former life, this was a quick service dining location.  To access the restaurant, you wind around to the left and back of the building.  Here you check in with the hostess and you'll be given a buzzer.  There is plenty of space to wait in the outdoor seating area.  Ridge wants me to be sure that I mention the Dawa Bar located within this outdoor area.  He recommends this little oasis.  There was an African drum group playing during our brief wait and somehow Tink slept through the band.  Once our buzzer went off, we returned to the hostess stand and were taken indoors to one of the restaurant's dining rooms.  Our server was very helpful and gave us a good idea of what we'd find at the buffet. 

This was our best group meal of the trip.  Everyone really enjoyed the food and it was similar to one of our favorites, Boma.  The menu is African cuisine and we especially liked the seafood stew, salmon, samosas, couscous, and the various breads.  Disney's Tusker House page gives additional details on the food.  What I really loved about this meal was that I got to relax a bit.  Character meals are great, but it was nice to have a calmer environment.  I can see that this could be a noisy restaurant if busy but we didn't have any problems.  There was just enough action to keep the little one entertained but not enough to distract her from the task at hand.  I love buffets for little ones for a couple of reasons.  First, under three years old is free.  Second, we can feed her quickly.  Tink is pretty well behaved in a restaurant, but a one year-old only has so much patience.  I was able to offer her a good variety of foods, including PB&J and corn dogs from the kids bar as well as veggies from the adult sections.  I was really impressed by how well she ate here.  They don't have straw cups for kids, but a disposable coffee cup with a lid worked about as well as a sippy cup for milk.

Tusker House isn't quite as good as Boma, but I would definitely return.  It's nice to have this cuisine at the park; it's much more convenient than the hike over to Animal Kingdom Lodge.  The food was very good and they only put out small quantities and replenish frequently so everything stays fresh.  I can't end a food post without talking about dessert.  A good variety of treats are offered, so get a big plate and try the spice cake.

Lunch at Tusker House is about $21 per adult.  Dinner can be up to $29.99 per adult.  Breakfast is a character meal featuring Donald Duck, Daisy, Mickey, and Goofy.

Have you eaten at Tusker House?  What did you think?

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Walk Around the World with Ridge--Oh, Canada…Off Kilter?

Off Kilter performing at the Canada pavilion at Epcot As a frequent visitor to Walt Disney World’s EPCOT, I am a lover of the music and performers of World Showcase. MoRockin’ in Morocco, Japan’s Matsuriza, the Taiko Drummers and Mariachi Cobre in Mexico and the list goes on. But one group in particular that captures my full attention is Canada’s Off Kilter. For those of you not in the loop, Off Kilter is a Celtic Progressive Rock Band. What does that mean exactly? They take old Celtic standards, i.e. Danny Boy, Fields of Athenry, Follow me up to Carlow, and make rock and roll out of them. I love these guys and am not afraid to tell you why.

I, being the person that I am, have some strange affinity for anything Celtic (Scottish, Irish and remember Patrick Stewart on SNL, “If it’s not Scottish, it’s CRAP!!!”). I even tried to talk my sister into letting me wear a kilt to her wedding (it was at Disney. You can see her posts and pictures about that) and I was told unequivocally NO! As a matter of fact I think I remember her saying it was her day and the only one in a dress would be her. That stung a little because it’s a KILT! However, my kilted exploits are of no concern here. I have been a fan of traditional Irish and Scottish standards for a long time since I was listening to my Edinburgh Military Tattoo tape (Yes I said tape. I got my first car in 1996 and it was an 1989 Jeep Cherokee.) Later I found out about other groups like the Rouges, the Pogues, Planxty, Dubliners, the Chieftains, Damian Dempsey, Luke Kelly, Paul Brady, The Murphys, the Drop Kick Murphys…and Off Kilter.

Now why does Off Kilter play in Canada? Canada is just as culturally diverse as the United States. Canada is also home to Nova Scotia. Since we all know Latin the answer is obvious. Oh, what’s that? We don’t speak Latin….OK then to GOOGLE….Nova Scotia means New Scotland in Latin. You should be able to find their flag for sale in the gift shop, the Trading Post and Northwest Mercantile. They have also some really good maple syrup; however, please resist the temptation to chug it….

The band performs in the Canada pavilion and is made up of an extremely talented group of musicians. The front man is Jamie Holton, the bagpiper and lead singer. He has been playing since he was 11 and is really amazing. You just rarely see anyone playing bagpipes, much less playing them in a rock band, unless you are into that sort of thing and then it is… still awesome. On guitar is Randy Holbrook, on bass is Mark Weldon, who hails from Cork Ireland, on the piano is Tony “Miracle Fingers” Escapa, who studied at the Burklee College of Music in Boston and on the skins is Scott Zymowski, who has been associated with some big names in rock. As I understand the story, Jamie pitched his idea of a high energy rock band with a Celtic influence. Disney went for it and the band was formed and look at the awesomeness that has followed. I want to say the first time I saw them was on a family trip in 1997. I was hooked after the first song. Since then I have seen them at least once every trip. During my travels for EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival (forever called F&W around our homes,) I think I have seen them at least 2 or 3 times a day. So I guess you can tell they are entertaining because I play “short attention span theatre” and they can keep me entertained.

Off Kilter has a level of energy you don’t always see in performers--Disney’s or otherwise. These guys have a good thing and they know it and most importantly are appreciative of it. They will pose for pictures, sign autographs, shake hands, kiss babies…. They put on a 30 minute concert several times a day, several days a week. Check the park guide when you get to EPCOT to see when they are playing. You definitely do not want to go to EPCOT and miss them. Even if the thought of bagpipes makes you cringe, put that aside for a moment and go watch them. I promise it will be like nothing else you have ever seen and will make you a fan of Off Kilter for life.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Photo Flashback! June 1991

This is Ridge in the parking lot at Port Orleans Resort. This was before it merged with its sister resort, Dixie Landings, to become Port Orleans French Quarter and Port Orleans Riverside. I just love this shot. I know his eyes are closed from the bright sun, but the rest of him shows a 9 year-old who had a wonderful first trip to Walt Disney World. Check out all the merchandise! New Chip and Dale plush, a Mickey Mouse Club t-shirt (remember when TV shows were shot at the Studios?!?!,) and Hard Rock Cafe hat (the old building shaped like a guitar was cool, but then Hard Rock used to be cooler too, before there were so many of them. Ok, back to topic...) Unfortunately, the photos from this time show us all wearing fanny packs. Ughh.
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Discount Disney--Visa

My husband asked me to share this tip.  We have the Disney Visa from Chase.  Mine has a castle on it and my husband's is very simple (read: no mouse.)  We use it for practically all of our purchases, including groceries and gas.  We earn 1% in rewards dollars for everything we spend.  Occasionally, Chase runs a special to offer even more rewards dollars and we always sign up.  We pay the card off in full each month so we don't pay any interest or fees.  On each month's statement, we get to watch our vacation fun money savings grow higher.  To use the rewards, you go to the Disney Visa site and request a card.  You can order the initial card with at least $20 on it and after that, you can add to it in $10 increments.  We just let it grow and do one big transfer before vacation.  The card is essentially a gift card, so don't lose it!  A responsible way to use these rewards dollars would be to put them toward tickets.  However, we consider it as fun money.  On our last vacation, the rewards card paid for dinner at Jiko.  It's a bit pricey but it stings much less from the rewards fund.  We have also used it to treat the group to a meal, buy goodies from the food and wine festival, etc.  We usually have no problem using all of our rewards dollars since they are accepted at all Disney-owned locations on property, but if you have some rewards dollars that will expire before your next vacation, the card is also accepted at the Disney Store and  There are additional perks that change from time to time.  Currently offered are a 10% discount on merchandise purchases of $50 or more at the parks or Disney Store or, 20% discount on selected WDW tours, and a special character meet and greet at Epcot with one free 5x7.  We find the card to be a painless way to save for vacation.

Update (June 2013):
Last year Chase offered an upgraded card with a $50 annual fee.  For the first quarter we received 5% rewards on certain categories of purchases and 1-2% on everything else.  Now it is 2% back on grocery stores, gas, restaurants and anything Disney.  My card is hot pink with a swirly carriage and it draws comments practically every time I use it.  We still use the reward dollars toward tickets or meals at Walt Disney World, but this card would also allow us to redeem points toward airline tickets purchased on the card.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tea Time!

Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Say Please Tea Set
While I was playing tea party (sorta anyway, she's only 13 months old) with my daughter this morning, I was thinking ahead to when Tink will be old enough to join my mom and me for afternoon tea at the Garden View Lounge at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.  And while it's not important to the story, her tea set is as cute as a button.

Afternoon tea has been on our must do list since at least 1997.  Usually it's just my mom and me.  Although we have allowed my dad, brother, mother-in law, and assorted friends to join us on occasion.  We always get the Buckingham Palace.  (This used to be known as Tea for Two but you could get it for any number of people.  I think that confused people hence the name change.)  With this, you get a choice of tea per person and the hot teas are served in lovely tea pots.  The first course is a plate of tea sandwiches, followed by a scone and jam tart, and for dessert, a choice of strawberries and cream or two (or is it 3?) items from their pastry selections.  I am a strawberries and cream girl and Mom always goes for the pastries so she can get a cream puff swan.  If you are looking for more or less food or less sweets, the menu can accommodate since it includes everything from ala carte Sally Lunn bread to the Gentleman's Tea platter which is mostly meat and cheese based.  The tea list offers 20+ selections and my personal favorite is the Garden View Blend.  If someone in your party isn't a fan of tea, a full range of non-alcoholic beverages is available as well as wine and beer.

We've seen countless little girls (and a few young gentlemen) enjoying tea time with Granny at the Garden View Lounge over the years.  Not too long after my mom found out her first grandchild was a girl, she exclaimed, "We can take her to tea!"  The Mrs. Potts Tea combination is just right for the littlest tea party guest serving chocolate milk, kid-friendly sandwiches, and two pastry selections.  I think we'll take Tink once she's about three years old.  Never one to miss an opportunity, Disney has begun offering the "My Disney Girl's Perfectly Princess Tea Party" in the last few years.  Princess Tea Party

Well before celebrating birthdays at Walt Disney World was a big promotion, my family went one April to celebrate my and my father's birthdays.  Of course, I wanted to go to tea.  That was the one and only time my brother has darkened the door.  Even after all the goodies I've mentioned above, they gave us cupcakes for our birthdays.  I've said it before, but never pass up cake from the bakery at the Grand Floridian.  Yum!

Most of the pictures in this post are from a tea party the day before my wedding.  I invited all the ladies who had travelled to join us for the big day.  Not quite everyone had made it into town yet, but we had a fantastic time.  I called it my Mad Hatter Tea Party.  (Yes, I think Disney does that too, but I couldn't afford the whole shebang.)  I asked all the ladies to wear a hat and a prize would be awarded to the best headdress.  My aunt won hands down with her crab cap covered in treasures from her home at the Gulf Coast and adorned with pictures of her granddaughters.  My mom looked regal in her pink tiara, which was the make your own hat of its day at the parks.

Afternoon tea at the Garden View Lounge is always a welcome respite from the chaos of the parks.  The men in the family don't generally join us for tea but are happy to eat elsewhere and then meet us in the lobby at the Grand Floridian.  Ridge has had more than his share of naps on the comfy chairs there. 

Garden View Lounge is located at the back of the ground floor of the Grand Floridian Lobby, overlooking the garden and pool.  Tea is served from 2:00 pm until 4:30 pm daily.  Reservations are available but rarely required.  (I always make an ADR just in case.)  The Buckingham Palace is around $20 per person plus tax and gratuity.  Mrs. Potts Tea is $10.50 plus plus.

Too Cute Not to Share!

Disney Parks Blog

A new baby elephant was born at Disney's Animal Kingdom.  Check out the link above for her story and some very cute photos.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Photo Flashback! Grand Floridian 2005

This is one of my favorite pictures from my Disney wedding. This is me and my brother, Chris (AKA Ridge.)  I am glad to be working with him on this blog.  I think he's the funniest person I know.
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Stroller Review--Maclaren Volo

A good stroller can make a day of travel, at Walt Disney World or otherwise, so much easier.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my Disney stroller!

My main stroller at home is a Bob Revolution.  It is a fantastic stroller for exercise and just being out and about.  However, it is rather large and kinda heavy.  I decided I needed a lightweight stroller for travel and to have a lighter option for the grandparents.  Thus began a huge Internet research project.  At the time, I could tell you the pros and cons of a couple dozen strollers.  The more I looked, the more I became convinced that Maclaren was the way to go.  Some other moms swore by reclining features but I just didn't think that was worth the premium of both dollars and added weight.  I decided on the Maclaren Volo and searched for the best available price. 

The Volo was perfect!  My husband and brother have both commented (unprompted!) recently on how great it was.  The Volo is lightweight but sturdy.  It's less than 9 pounds before accessories, folds easily and compactly, and has a shoulder strap which is great for getting on Disney buses.  The handles are at a really comfortable height and none of us kicked the wheels when pushing the stroller.  The seat on mine is mesh so Tink could get a breeze even when it was "Animal Kingdom hot."  I bought the accessory pack which included a warm seat cover that I used at home during the winter.  The basket underneath is pretty small, but I am a huge proponent of traveling light, so it was enough for our needs.  Adding the Maclaren organizer to the handles gave us a little more storage space and when you flip it over the canopy to fold the stroller, it keeps the canopy clean.  The Volo does not recline, but that didn't stop Tink from napping in it every day of our trip.  The canopy is about average and seemed to meet our needs but you can add an extra shade if you like.  Some models come with a fitted raincover that goes on fairly quickly and did a great job of keeping Tink dry in a downpour.  My accessory pack also included a travel bag to keep the stroller clean when we gate checked it. We used a couple of no throw straps to hold a cup and a toy.  Even if Tink droped her cup, it stayed off the ground and we didn't lose anything.

Yes, you can get a cheaper umbrella stroller or rent one from Disney but it doesn't take very long for rental fees to add up to the purchase price of a stroller, especially if you have time to shop around.  The construction of the Maclaren strollers was truly what sold me.  The Volo has an aluminum frame that allows it to be both strong and lightweight.  This stroller will hold a child up to 55 pounds.  I really like the fact that we can use this for years to come.  I have seen some people who buy a Maclaren, use it for one vacation, and then sell it on EBay. 

Feel free to disagree in the comments section below, but I prefer to have a stroller all along my journey rather than just renting one in the parks.  Tink napped in the her stroller during one layover on our way to WDW.  It kept her contained when she was just too tired while we were checking in at the Orlando airport.  We loved being able to push her in the stroller while walking to the buses or up to the Hospitality House.

I couldn't be happier with my Maclaren Volo and can't wait to take it back to the World.

What type of stroller do you use?  Do you like it or do you wish you could get something else?  Any other stroller tips and tricks to share?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Discount Disney--Share!

Another easy way to save some money at Walt Disney World is sharing meals. Servings at WDW are usually more than generous and great for sharing. Split an entree and that'll leave a little room in your belly and in the budget for dessert! Don't forget that this works at counter service restaurants as well. Sandwiches in particular are normally large. Also don't be afraid to ask for a child's meal if that meets your appetite and budget.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Discount Disney--Tables In Wonderland

Tables in Wonderland is a great way to save some money on your Disney vacations.  This plan was formerly known as the Disney Dining Experience and shouldn't be confused with the dining plans currently available.  Tables in Wonderland (TiW) is a discount program available to annual passholders and Florida residents.  The current prices are $75 per year for annual passholders and $100 for non-AP Florida residents.  The cardholder and up to 9 other people in the party will get a 20% discount on food and beverage, including alcohol, at participating table service restaurants at all meals.  An 18% gratuity is added to the check.  Free valet parking when visiting a resort for dining is another perk of the program.  TiW members are invited to special themed, limited availability events each month. 

TiW isn't for everyone, but if you make longer trips to Walt Disney World and eat most days at a table service restaurant, the card pays for itself quickly.  I bought Tables in Wonderland for my dad's birthday just prior to our April 2010 trip.  He is an annual passholder so my cost was $75.  We had five adults in our group, so essentially one person was free at each meal.  In less than 2 character breakfasts and one Tusker House lunch, the card was paid for and the rest was savings.  My parents had extended their stay and continued to save on their meals after the rest of us headed home.  On our fall trip, we'll have four adults and will realize more savings.

The list of restaurants participating in the program varies from year to year.  The official Disney website does not disclose the list, but here it is according to Tables in Wonderland Restaurants 2010

What has been your experience with Tables in Wonderland?  We found it to be a good value, easy to use, and available at all the places we wanted to dine anyway.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Ridge's Review--Carrot Cake Cookie, the heroin of the Studios

OK, so I have to give full credit to Lou Mongello for bringing this delectable morsel to my attention. If you don't know what this is, let me see if I can paint you a picture in words because the name doesn't do it justice. Scene: our hero sets off to the Studios at rope drop to go on a mission, OK 2, possibly 3 missions. 1: buy a special edition Jedi Mickey Mouse and Astromech droid with mouse ears for one of my best friend's soon to be step son, 2: ride Star Tours one last time before it goes down for rehab (and hallelujah for that, I am a fan and all but it has needed updating for at least 10 years, but I digress...) and 3: buy a carrot cake cookie. Mission 1 & 2 accomplished; on to 3. At 3.19 tax and all and the thing is the size of a Frisbee, it's worth making a visit to the Writer's Stop. The Writer's Stop is on the way to Star Tours just past the Sci-Fi Drive in. It is as one might guess by the punny name, a book store and what goes great with intellectuals and books? Coffee and incredible baked goods. Why Yes! Sounds fantastic. I'll have one of those and one of those. So to the cookie. Take two half inch thick, 6 to 8 inch in diameter disks of carrot cake and sandwich between them a decadent cream cheese icing. If I was guessing I would say the thing weighs in at a pound, a good 12 ounces at least. It was pure joy to all those who love some carrot cake. (And if you don't love some carrot cake and it's not because you have some kind of allergic reaction that would cause death...What is wrong with you? If your allergic reaction is not strong enough to cause death, this treat is really worth suffering through a little itchiness.) It fed five adults with one cookie; however, I bought four of them as well as one chocolate chip and one white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookie. What if I really liked it? I certainly wasn't going to get back on that bus and suffer the slings and arrows to go back, it's all about planning ahead. Anyway all that came in just under 20 bucks. I say that was the best deal I had gotten all day.

Photo Flashback!--Hey, you in the yellow poncho!

Quick random memory:
After high school graduation, my parents took me, 3 friends, my brother, and a dear family friend to WDW.  (Yea, Disney Vacation Club!)  To this day, my family still quotes from this trip.  Back in the day, when it rained, the parks became a sea of yellow ponchos with a big classic Mickey on the back.  As all teenagers do, especially seniors, we thought we were funny.  One afternoon, it rained and the ubiquitous rain gear came out.  My friend stepped out on the corner of what is now the Confectionery and yelled, "Hey, you in the yellow poncho."  The rest of us thought it was hysterical and we still use this line. 

Do you have any funny inside jokes to share?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Milk or Formula?

A Walt Disney World vacation requires a lot of planning. If you are traveling with a child around a year old, another couple of things you need to decide are whether to switch them from formula to cow’s milk and if you should wean them off a bottle to a cup. Here’s my experience and what I have learned from lots of other moms.

We planned a WDW vacation for Tink’s first birthday. I asked her pediatrician at the 9 month check-up and he approved her moving to milk around 11 months. My plan had been to have her use sippy cups and drink whole milk at WDW. She had other ideas. I tried all types of cups and she would use them all for water. However, if I tried to change to a cup and not give her a bottle, a battle ensued. It appeared that she would have no problem switching to cow’s milk, but she was not ready to give up her bottle. (BTW, Tink does not take a pacifier.) I decided it wasn’t worth the drama and to keep things as is until after vacation. After all, this was her first time on a plane and drinking from a bottle would help the pressure in her ears. On a selfish note, my husband and I had reservations at Jiko for our 5th anniversary and I thought it would be easier for my parents to put Tink to bed if she had her familiar bottle while being rocked.

I am thankful we went with formula and bottles on this trip. I got some of the single packets of formula and we kept a bottle of water in our bag. We’d make a bottle when we were taxi-ing and it worked great for all of the flights. At WDW, Tink got a bottle for meals and bedtime. It was nice to be able to start feeding her a little early if we had to wait to be seated at a table service restaurant. At buffets, I’d also order her a cup of milk and then she got in a little practice with a straw cup. We had a dishwasher at Old Key West, so we used our normal Dr. Brown’s bottles. They’re a pain to wash by hand, so if you want a simpler option, bottles with a drop-in liner reduce your cleaning and how much you have to carry around.  Don’t forget each park has a baby care center with some kitchen facilities.  For milk drinkers, a variety of types are available around property.  Some locations even have soy milk.

If you decide to make a change prior to a vacation, consider doing so with plenty of time for the child to adjust to the new plan. For children who do have problems with cow’s milk, the effects are rather unpleasant and you want everyone healthy and happy on your trip. Be sure you’re considering their comfort and not just your convenience. If all goes well with the weaning, great! Enjoy being bottle-free. Or if you decide to wait, a little more time with a bottle isn’t a big deal. Follow your child’s lead on this one and everyone will have a better experience.

We just took away Tink’s bottles this past weekend. She has been drinking half formula and half milk for a week or so. I’ll do that until our supply of formula runs out. Attempts at a gradual change months ago yielded tears, but the cold turkey approach just past the first birthday worked almost without any drama.

Do you have any tips to share? Please post them below.

Photo Flashback! 3:00 Parade, 1979

Magic Kingdom's afternoon parade in May 1979, starring Mickey, Minnie and Donald.
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