Saturday, July 31, 2010

At Your House After The Mouse--Round Steak

Between WDW vacations and visiting out-of-state family, it feels like we travel alot.  A few years back, I found a method of cooking that helps put a good meal on the table when you're short on time.  This is really handy when you're just back from vacation and having a hard time dealing with the real world again.  I am referring to "freeze ahead" or "large batch" cooking.  No matter what you call it, it's great.  I love it when my freezer is full of items I can use to quickly and easily feed my family.

While this is a little off topic for a Disney blog, we're all busy all the time, so why not make life a little easier between trips?

round steak recipe, crockpot round steakLet's start with a very simple recipe for round steak.  One of the great things about cooking and freezing large batches is that it allows you to take advantage of good prices on food items.  The next time round steak is on sale at your local market, buy a couple of packs and try this recipe.  I am fortunate that my inlaws raise cattle and give us beef, but I never quite know what to do with the round steak.  Now we enjoy this ridiculously easy meal.

Per Batch:
1 pound (give or take) round steak
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 pack dry onion soup mix
1/4 cup water
Sour cream to taste

Slice the round steak into strips.  I like to cut mine while it's still slightly frozen so it slices more easily.  Place into your crock pot.  Top with remaining ingredients and stir well.  Cook on low for 5-6 hours.  Stir a little sour cream into the portion of the mixture that you'll be eating immediately.  Leave the sour cream out of the portion that will be frozen.  I serve it over rice, but potatoes or egg noodles would be good too.

freezer recipes, crockpot round steak, crockpot recipe,

Freeze the leftovers in quart-sized freezer zipper bags, pressing out as much air as possible.  The amount you'll put in each bag will depend on how many people you need to feed.  These were set up for two adults.  Be sure to label and date the bags.  Lay the bags flat in a cake pan and freeze until solid.  The frozen bags stack really nicely in your freezer.  This trick works great for all sorts of recipes: soups, sauces, taco meat, etc.

When you are ready to serve, open the bag a little to vent and microwave it for about a minute.  Once it's thawed enough to break apart with your hands, transfer the mixture into a saucepan and heat thoroughly.  Before serving, stir in a little sour cream. 

round steak recipe, crockpot recipe, crockpot round steak

In the picture, I've served this with what I call Italian green beans and Granny's carrots.  Both are also freezer-friendly.  I'll cover them in a future post if this one goes over well. 

Freeze ahead cooking requires a little planning but it pays great dividends.  It's wonderful to know you can have a homecooked dinner on the table in the time it takes to cook rice.  And since you've done all the real prep and cooking on another day, the clean-up is minimal as well.  Just what you need as you're readjusting to the real world. 

Please check out our other recipes and home ideas.
Pumpkin Crisp
Cheesecake Cookies
Carrot Cake Cookies
L.A. (lower Alabama) Caviar 
Nutella Brownies
Beat the Heat Tacos
Ribbon Window Valance
Christmas Card Display

Friday, July 30, 2010

Walk Around The World With Ridge--F&W it's almost here!

Are you looking forward to the 15th Annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival? I know I am. As a veteran of six EIF&WF trips and an amateur foodie, I know this is a fantastic opportunity to try many new things, all possible because of Disney.

The tapas sized portions of food available at the festival are just right. Sometimes you will wish they are larger but remember there are lots of things to try. As I have said in a previous post, one thing that is a must-have is the fisherman's pie at the Ireland booth. It really is one of the most flavorful items I have ever tried. In fact when I went last year with my cousin, he and I each ate a fisherman’s pie and then looked at each other and got in line to buy another. The makeup of a fisherman's pie is scallops, shrimp and lobster in a creamy red stew that is topped with mashed potatoes not unlike a shepherd's pie. Another favorite is the Kerrygold cheese selection. Unique to Ireland is the Bunratty Meade which is a honey wine and something you just don't see every day.

With Ireland out of the way, a little info that I am sure has and will be covered, mentioned, alluded to, and possibly driven in to the ground, is there will be 27 individual booths representing countries and cuisines from around the world. However I do have a personal disappointment to report. There will be no seminar or tasting by Sam Adams this year. They are still bringing in nine selections including the 15th anniversary brew only available at the festival. *sigh* Can’t stay the same forever I guess.

One of the greatest aspects of the food & wine festival is the fact that it gives adventurous eaters access to foods that might not normally be available to them, at least not without some difficulty. One example: ceviche. Ceviche is a seafood dish prepared without heat. The seafood used is usually some combination of shrimp, scallops, and fish. Then added are some fresh seasonal vegetables and everything is left to marinate. The citrus juice used chemically cooks the seafood. I can't even begin to describe how good it actually is. Another item I wouldn't have normally tried is Escargots Persillade en Brioche. Butter and garlic roasted escargot served up on a piece of French bread. MMMM. Yeah, these are good too.

While the food is great, don’t forget there are also some great wine and beer pairings for the menu items. Or you can always just enjoy a new beverage by itself. Sam Adams is bringing the 15th Anniversary Festival Beer Coastal Wheat Light, which is only sold in EPCOT during the festival. They also have Boston Lager, Octoberfest, Cherry Wheat (my favorite with a crab cake,) Cream Stout, Blackberry Witbier and Latitude 48 IPA. In other countries the wine selections take center stage. The Ice Wines of Canada and Rieslings of Germany are perfect dessert wines. Japan has warm and cold sake and new this year is Korea bringing Soju. Needless to say there is a plethora of gastronomic goodies out there this year.

What are you looking forward to most-- an old favorite or a new taste sensation? Let us know.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Celebrating 15 Years - EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival

2010 EPCOT Food and Wine Map
(click on map for larger view)

We started going to the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival many years ago when our Daughter was in the College Program at WDW. She was working during the F&WF and told us about it. I don’t remember if we came that year or not, but once we started going it has become an annual family event. With both Amy and Ridge attending with us (this year her husband has to stay behind and work) it is fun to vacation at WDW with our adult children and now with our granddaughter. We have been to the F&WF so many times that it was almost strange to walk around the World Showcase this past April without the food booths being there. I told my son as we walked past where the Canadian booth normally sits that “I’m supposed to be able to get Cheddar Cheese Soup right there.” Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup is one of my favorite “don’t miss” food items at F&WF. (See our Team post on this years favorites here.)

While the F&WF offers so much in the way of dining events throughout the Festival, my favorite is the International Market places we call “food booths”. A stroll around the World Showcase takes you literally around the world in food. A salad course in Greece, a soup course in Canada, a cheese course in Ireland and dessert in Belgium with entrees thrown in from around the world and you have eaten your way around the world. It costs about $3 to $8 for each selection, but it is well worth it. After all, how much would it cost to fly to Greece for a salad and then to Canada for soup?

Each of the booths also has wine and beer representative of the county. I don’t know much about beer or wine, but I usually try the Sam Adam’s beer they create for the F&WF. This year it is called 15th Anniversary Festival Beer Coastal Wheat Light. Canada usually has an icewine. This year it is Vidal Icewine and of course they have Moosehead Beer. Ireland has Guinness and Meade.

Watch for posts from the F&WF from Amy & Ridge as we do research for the blog in October. Let us know if you are planning to attend this year and what is your favorite part of the F&WF.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Repost from Ridge—Lobster Rolls and Crab Cakes, Oh My!

The EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival always holds excitement in gastronomic pleasures. One combination I can never pass up is a lobster roll, crab cake and (in this picture) a 14th Anniversary Sam Adams. Sam Adams has been part of the EIF&WF since the beginning and every year brews a special mix just for EPCOT and it is the only place it is available. The food tastes every bit as good as it looks. On one trip my cousin and I bought one of each a piece on our first trip through the line then finished those and got right back in line. When my friend from college Ben (pictured here) and I went, it was one of his favorite things we did that day and you can see the look of joy on his face.

Originally posted on Growing Up Disney on May 21, 2010.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Team Post--2010 Food & Wine Festival Excitement

DisneyDad:  “This is GREAT!  Every few feet you can get a snack and a beer!”  These are words my wife, who loves to “people watch,” overheard a man tell his wife as they walked past several years ago while we were at the EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival.  For the F&WF it is true.  This year there are 27 International Marketplaces for you to get a “snack and a beer.”  We have our favorite marketplaces we never miss and this year there are also 3 new locations.

South Korea, Belgium and Charcuterie & Cheese join the international selections of food, wine and beer.  South Korea’s menu will be Lettuce Wraps with Roast Pork and Kimchi Slaw along with Barbecue Short Ribs with Steamed Rice and Cucumber Kimchi.  Belgium will have Steamed Mussels with Roasted Garlic Cream and Freshly Baked Waffles with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream. Charcuterie & Cheese will have Cheese Fondue with Croutons and Roasted Potatoes along with Applewood Smoked Beef, Duck and Ham.  (I had to look up “Charcuterie”. Epicurious defines charcuterie as “taken from the term cuiseur de chair, meaning "cooker of meat," charcuterie has been considered a French culinary art at least since the 15th century. It refers to the products, particularly (but not limited to) pork specialties such as PÂTÉS, RILLETTES, GALANTINES, CRÉPINETTES, etc., which are made and sold in a delicatessen-style shop, also called a charcuterie.")  Along with their specialty foods, each booth will have drinks representing their county.

Some of the items on my “don’t miss” list this year are:

  • Canada: Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup

  • Ireland: Kerrygold Cheese Selection

  • Hops and Barley" Boston-style Crab Cake with Cabbage Slaw and Remoulade; New England Lobster Roll; Pecan Bread Pudding

  • Brazil: Shrimp Stew with Coconut and Lime

  • Poland: Kielbasa and Potato Pierogies with Caramelized Onions and Sour Cream

  • United States: Bison Chili with Wild Mushrooms, Cabernet and Pepper Jack Cheese

And I’m sure I’ll find more to add to my “don’t miss” list as I walk around the World Showcase.

Of course there are selections of beer and wine throughout. Sam Adams does a beer every year just for the F&WF. This year it is 15th Anniversary Festival Beer Costal Wheat. And for dessert, Canada offers Vidal Icewine.

Me & Stella.  Long story.
I'm sure Mom is horrified I published this.

Amy:  What am I most excited about in this year's festival?  Taking Tink!  She's a pretty good eater, well, other than meat.  I'm curious to see what she'll like.  For myself, two of the new marketplaces sound interesting, South Korea and Belgium.  South Korea-Lettuce Wraps with Roast Pork and Kimchi Slaw.  I've heard of kimchi but never tried it.  I'm an adventurous eater and have yet to find anything truly challenging at the festival.  Everything at the Belgium marketplace sounds good: Steamed Mussels with Roasted Garlic Cream; Freshly Baked Waffles with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream; Stella Artois; Godiva Chocolate Iced Coffee.  The Disney Vacation Club is sponsoring Marketplace Discovery Passports, available at the Festival Welcome Center and the DVC informational booths in Epcot.  This is new this year.  The Festival Guide says you can have it stamped with a unique design at each marketplace.  I am curious to see what this is all about.  Dad and I went to the Food and Wine Pairing at Morocco a few years ago.  It was delicious and fun but I don't think we're going to do any of the special events this time around.  I'm sure we'll catch a few demonstrations.  A couple of decent bands will be a part of the Eat to the Beat! Concert Series during our visit.  While I really enjoyed Sister Hazel in 2008, if I don't catch the acts performing this time, I am ok with that.  With a toddler, I have to keep my expectations low and my plans flexible.

Ridge:  There is a learning adventure of gastronomic proportions on the horizon.  The 15th Annual International Food and Wine Festival will soon be upon us and some old favorites are back as well as a few new entries.  What am I excited about?  Some old favorites.  Chile and the Shrimp Ceviche.  France and Escargots Persillade en Brioche.  Australia with Grilled Lamb Chop with Roasted Potato Salad and Red Wine reduction.  The Hops and Barley booth in America with the Crab Cake, Lobster Roll and Sam Adams Beers.  Also exciting is the Sam Adams seminar and tasting.  One fantastic item that is going to be back is the scallop and lobster fisherman's pie from Ireland.  Pair this up with a pint of Guinness and you have something special.  These are just a few of the classic dishes I am looking forward to.  New on the menu are South Korean roast pork and kimchi slaw and United States bison chili with cabernet and pepper jack cheese.  Belgium has steamed mussels with roasted garlic cream, which sounds outstanding to me.

What are you most excited about in this year's festival?  Are all your old favorites still on the menu?  Are you attending any of the special events associated with the festival?

Monday, July 26, 2010

At Your House After The Mouse--Improv Cooking, Roasted Tomato Sauce

Since it's Food & Wine week here on the blog, I thought I'd share the pasta sauce I made for dinner.  It's delicious and looks more impressive than it is difficult.  It's an improvisational recipe, so if you need measurements, this isn't for you.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place about a pint of small tomatoes in one layer in a large baking dish.  For cherry tomatoes, I leave them whole.  I had some romas that were an impulse buy at the farmer's market and cut them each into eight pieces.  Top with a few good gulgs of EVOO.  Add in whatever you have that sounds good.  Tonight I added some bell pepper cut into small pieces and some whole black olives.  Add a good sprinkling of salt and fresh ground pepper and then pop it into the oven until the tomatoes are well cooked.  Stir it occasionally during the cooking process.  My tomatoes needed about 45 minutes tonight.  I had some fresh garlic on hand but that was being roasted, so I added a little jarred chopped garlic to my sauce with about 10 minutes to go.  Those tiny pieces will burn if they cook the whole time.  Once it's all cooked, you can adjust the salt and pepper to taste and add any other seasonings you like.  Fresh basil is good but I'm not growing it this year so I used a little dried basil.  I serve this over angel hair pasta.

Not the fanciest meal (or blog post) but it's really good.

Let me know if this inspires you to try something new in the kitchen.

2010 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Overview

The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is one of the best events hosted by Walt Disney World.  The 2010 festival is appropriately titled, "Celebrating 15 Years of Delicious Discoveries."  The 2010 event begins on October 1 and ends on November 14.  The Growing Up Disney team adores this festival and we're dedicating this whole week to tips, stories, and photos of past festivals.  Be sure to check out the Food & Wine Festival page on this blog.  I'm compiling information on the festival for you so check back often.

For those of you who have not yet enjoyed Food & Wine, it is held each fall at Epcot.  The majority of the food marketplaces and demonstrations are found around World Showcase Lagoon.  This year there will be 27 International Marketplaces selling beverages of all types and small plates of all sorts of food.  Click here for the Festival Map which includes menus.  There is not a separate admission fee for the festival; it is included with your Epcot park admission.  There are some seminars and demonstrations for free and others at an additional cost.  There are a phenomenal number of events held during the 7 week festival.  I encourage you to browse through the Festival Guide to see what is offered during your visit.  The Special Culinary & Beverage Programs are already taking reservations so if you are interested in any of those call very soon as most of those fill quite quickly.  However, there is plenty to enjoy in the main festival and if this is your first visit, just enjoy strolling the promenade and trying some new foods.  It's a wonderful opportunity to sample a cuisine that may not be readily available to you at home.

My husband enjoying the Ireland Marketplace
New to the festival this year are Belgium and South Korea.  Returning favorite dishes include the crab cakes at the Hops & Barley Marketplace, the cheese plate at Ireland, and the cheddar cheese soup at the Canada Marketplace.  Click here for Ridge's review of the Hops & Barley Marketplace.  I vow to never again be fooled by the chocolate creme brulee in France or the salmon in Canada.  I don't see the delicious chorizo quesadilla on the menu for Mexico this year, but I thank the chefs for providing us with new taste treats.

The wine portion of the festival allows you to try wines, beers, and specialty drinks that have been expertly paired with the food.  You might find a new favorite, but if not, at least you aren't out the cost of a whole bottle.  And don't worry if you don't drink alcohol, some of the booths offer teas.  My last visit to F&W was while I was pregnant with Tink and my mom doesn't drink at all and we both had a great time.

TIP: If you can, try to go during the week.  This event is very popular and the locals will be there in larger numbers on the weekend.

The Jammin' Chefs
In addition to great food, the festival features the Eat to the Beat! Concert Series.  This year's schedule includes artists such as Rick Springfield, Sugar Ray, Sister Hazel, Air Supply and Boyz II Men.  The musical acts perform three shows nightly at the American Gardens Theatre.  The Jammitors become the Jammin' Chefs during the festival.  Check the daily guide for exact times but don't miss their lively percussion act.  Everyone's favorite Celtic rock band, Off Kilter, is playing their normal schedule during the festival.

The Festival Welcome Center is located in the former Wonders of Life Pavilion in Future World, which sits between Universe of Energy and Mission Space.  The welcome center is home to book and bottle signings and both free and paid seminars.  Oh, and of course, there is shopping and a cafe.

Off Kilter
On their site, Disney is pushing the use of a Disney gift card at the festival.  I do have to admit this is a handy option.  We used one a couple of years ago that was a gift from my parents and it was easier than getting out the whole wallet over and over.  I bought Ridge a gift card for his college graduation at the Festival Welcome Center.  They sell cards themed to the festival that are smaller and attached to a stretchy bracelet.  Super convenient!  Check the Festival Map for the gift card location nearest you within Epcot.  If you are a Disney Visa cardholder, this is a fun way to spend your rewards dollars.

TIP: If you are on the Disney Dining Plan, you are able to use your snack credits for most of the food items at the festival.  Just look for the DDP logo on the menu board.  Be sure to check the one in the booth and not the one on the sidewalk.  For some reason, they don't normally put the logo on the sidewalk signs.

I feel like I could talk about the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival for hours, but I'll keep this to a brief overview.  In the coming months, I'll share more favorites, tips and photos related to the festival.

Please let me know if you have any questions.  Thanks!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Celebrating Blogging for One Quarter of a Year (or Lessons Learned So Far)

Tomorrow Growing Up Disney will be three months old.  Hooray!  We've posted nearly 70 articles and still have many more waiting to be written. 
Here are a few of the things I've learned so far as a blogger.  This process has made me a much better consumer of social media.

1. Blogging is hard work.  If you read blogs on any topic, please know that author has a true passion for that topic and spends hours writing, designing, and promoting. 

2. Blogging gives you the chance to meet some great people.  Through the process of spreading the word about the blog, I have come in contact with some great Disney fans in multiple countries.  How cool is it that I can chat with another Disney fan in England who also calls her daughter Tink?

3. Bloggers love feedback.  I get excited when someone shares their own story in the comments section of the blog, or on Facebook or Twitter.  Now I make an effort to provide feedback and/or share things I've read.

4. Bloggers need to be organized.  Trying to publish 5 days a week and promote those articles has required some real organization.  My hat is off to the big sites with tons of content.  Wow, you must be busy!

5. Readers of blogs need to be thanked regularly.  I once learned in a journalism class that the easiest thing to do is just stop reading.  Thank you to the readers of our blog that you've stuck with us and are making this a better place all the time. 

6. Those who support such a project need to be thanked regularly.  My husband has been very understanding of the time it takes to keep this blog going.  Thanks Andy!  I'd like to thank my brother Chris AKA Ridge and my father AKA DisneyDad for coming along with me on this project. They love to talk Disney as much as I do, so it didn't take much arm twisting.  I've also met some people who have been very supportive and willing to suggest the blog to others or pass along a specific article.  Thank you so much for helping to spread the word.  You are vital to our success.  I hope I can also help others get more readers as we must lift up others to move forward ourselves.

I just wanted to let you know that I am working hard for you but am enjoying every minute.  THANKS!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Food & Wine Festival Research Center

I have added a new page to the blog.  Here I will provide a starting point for your 2010 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival research or the beginnings of some delicious daydreams. 

I've started the page with links to Disney's official site for the festival.  I'll be combing the web and reaching out to other bloggers to compile a one-stop shop for your EIF&WF information needs.

This page will be available throughout the festival, so check back regularly for the addition of new articles and, once the festival begins in October, reviews and photos from this year's event.

If you are a blogger writing about the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, I'd love to hear from you.  Email me at to have a link to your article included in the festival research center.  Thanks!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Photo Flashback! Disney's Wedding Pavilion

Recently, Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings and Honeymoons celebrated their crystal anniversary.  I am proud to be half of one of the couples married at Walt Disney World during the past 15 years.  Today I am spotlighting Disney's Wedding Pavilion, a beautiful Victorian-inspired chapel on its own island in the Seven Seas Lagoon. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Team Favorites - Epcot Counter Service Meals & Snacks

We all know the great food at Walt Disney World is one of the major things that keeps us all coming back over and over (and over and over....)  Today the Growing Up Disney team discusses our favorite options for a quick meal or snack at Epcot.

(By the way, we don't discuss these topics before we write, nor do we see each other's answers before we write our own.  We just usually eat together.)

DisneyDad: FOOD! Let's eat! There are so many good quick service restaurants in EPCOT. My favorite place for a quick meal is Sunshine Season Food Fair at The Land pavilion. They have an almost unlimited selection of different foods. From sandwiches to sushi, tabouli to tuna, soups to salads, they have just about anything you may want. It can be busy and a little noisy so you may need to get one person to get the food another to find a table.

My favorite place for a meal (have I said that already?) is Yorkshire County Fish Shop at the United Kingdom pavilion. They serve fish and chips or fish and chips but the food has always been hot and fresh and quick (this is a quick service restaurant after all). The fish and chips are the same as served in the Rose and Crown so they are good. Tables are to the right of the restaurant and overlook the World Showcase Lagoon.

My favorite place for quick service dessert is Kringla Bakeri og Cafe in the Norway pavilion. Their Sweet Pretzel with Almonds one of my favorites and is large and enough to share for a snack (or to save room to share a School Bread, a Cloudberry Horn, a tart, or Danish too!)

Ridge: I think my favorite counter service spot is the Tangierine Cafe in Morocco. The rustic old world styling, the sights and smells from Morocco are unlike that of any other pavilion. The menu is Mediterranean, serving lamb, chicken and falafel. I enjoy the shawarma platter with lamb.  Each platter comes with hummus, tabouleh and tangerine couscous and fresh Moroccan bread.  The wraps also come with the same sides. If you want a combo you can get the Mediterranean sliders combo that has three pita pockets with lamb, chicken and falafel. For the non-adventurous kids, burgers and chicken tenders are available. The seating area is outside and shaded and has a nice view of the lagoon. Its a nice place to stop and people watch for a while. If you are looking for just a quick sweet treat, I think my family would all agree with going over to Norway to the Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe. Everything is good here but the Kringla Sweet Pretzel is supreme. Then for something sweet with a little bite there is always the caramel ginger ice cream in China at Lotus Blossom Cafe.      

Amy:  My favorite place for a quick lunch is Sunshine Seasons, located in The Land pavilion.  This food court has hot options ranging from soup and sandwich to Asian fare.  I tend to prefer the cold grab and go selections, such as sushi, fruit and cheese, and yummy specialty salads.  We usually get a few items and share them.  The downside of this restaurant: it's a little loud, almost always busy, and strollers are not allowed.  I guess that last item is a plus for some.  

A new favorite is Tangierine Cafe at the Morocco Pavilion.  On our trip in April, Ridge and my husband and I had dinner here one evening.  We ordered a Shawarma Platter, a Mediterranean Sliders Combo, and a Vegetable Platter to share.  They were all essentially the same items presented in different ways: lamb/chicken, falafel, tabouleh, couscous, hummus, lentils and bread.  We all enjoyed them thoroughly and left stuffed.  It's a little more expensive for counter service here.  The plates we had were in the $10-$15 range.

Of course, you can't beat the fish and chips available in the Yorkshire County Fish Shop in the United Kingdom Pavilion.  Pop into the tea store for some great treats.  I love Digestive Biscuits and Penguins.  With apologies to my British friends, the names of some of your items don't translate well to American English, but oh, they are so delicious!

Many years ago, I used to like to get pastries in the France Pavilion.  Not a fan of the long lines, I discovered Norway's delicacies and won't turn back.  Just go in and pick out several things that look delightful and rest with friends in the cool, if cramped, outdoor seating area.


What is your favorite place to grab a meal or snack in Epcot?  Defend your favorite!

Monday, July 19, 2010

ADRs Made!

I love the new online dining reservations system.  While you do miss out on some of the fun of telling someone about your trip, it's so much more convenient than calling WDW-DINE.  The confirmation emails are really nice.  I guess I should do a full post on this sometime and go into the details.

The Growing Up Disney team is going to Walt Disney World this October and we'll be blogging throughout the trip.  We love the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.  I made some ADRs (advance dining reservations) today for lunches.  We'll be dining at Kona Cafe, Yak & Yeti, and Sci-Fi.  I'm keeping the plan simple this time to allow for flexibility with Tink and to allow for lots of eating at the festival.

FASTPASS and Rider Swap

Ever wished you could walk right onto your favorite attractions without waiting in line?   With FASTPASS, you can come close to making that dream come true.

FASTPASS allows you to save a place in line while you go enjoy something else.  When you come back at your "return time," you'll have little to no wait.  The more popular attractions and some shows offer FASTPASS.  It is a service offered at Walt Disney World for all park guests and is complementary with your park admission.  Check the guidemap at the park you are visiting to see where they are being distributed and for which attractions.  According to Disney's web site, this is the current list:

Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park:
Primeval Whirl
Kilimanjaro Safaris
Kali River Rapids
Expedition Everest

Disney's Hollywood Studios Theme Park:
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
Toy Story Mania!
Star Tours
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Magic Kingdom Theme Park:
Space Mountain
Splash Mountain
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
Jungle Cruise
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Peter Pan's Flight

Epcot Theme Park:
Mission: SPACE Pavilion
Test Track
"Honey, I Shrunk the Audience"

How do I get a FASTPASS?  When you approach the FASTPASS distribution area, look up and you'll see what return time is currently available.  The one-hour time period showing is what will print on your ticket and is when you should come back to this attraction and enter the FASTPASS queue.  If this time works for you, choose a FASTPASS machine and enter your park ticket.  A FASTPASS will be generated and your park ticket will be returned to you.  NOTE:  The official policy on FASTPASS is that you have to return during the one hour window on the ticket.  Unofficially, many attractions will honor them later as long as you don't try to come back before the FASTPASS time.  You're taking your chances on that one, so if you're late, they technically can refuse to honor the FASTPASS, although it is unlikely.  (UPDATE MARCH 2012: Disney is now enforcing the time printed on the pass within a few minutes either way.)

Can I have more than one FASTPASS at a time?  Once you obtain your FASTPASS, take a look at the bottom of the ticket.  It will tell you at what time you'll be eligible for another FASTPASS.  The time period you need to wait varies based on the crowd levels on that day.  Once that time arrives, you are free to go to another FASTPASS distribution area and get an additional FASTPASS. 

FASTPASSes are only valid on the day they are issued, so please don't buy them on EBay.  There are only so many given out at each attraction per day.  Once they are gone, your only option for that attraction is to wait in the stand-by queue.  Be sure to spend some of your wait time checking out the details the Imagineers put into those areas.

TIP: You can send one member of your party ahead to get FASTPASSes for the rest of the group once everyone is in the park.  Just make sure that person has everyone's ticket.  This is especially important at rope drop for very popular attractions.  In October 2008, I was the designated FASTPASS person at park opening for Toy Story Mania.  Me, 4 months pregnant, running ahead with 3 able bodied young men (hubby, brother, cousin) lagging behind. =)   Since thrill rides were not an option for me, I kept their tickets and later on got them FASTPASSes for Tower of Terror while they were riding Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.

FASTPASS is a great service that can really help you maximize how much you can see and do in a day at the parks since you spend your wait time somewhere other than in line.


RIDER SWAP  If both parents want to experience an attraction for which the kids are too small, you also have the option of Rider Swap.  This allows for one of you to ride and then swap with the other adult without waiting in line twice.  The procedure varies from attraction to attraction, but essentially, if it has a height restriction, they will offer Rider Swap.  Check with the Cast Member at the entrance of the attraction for details.  Sometimes you are given a FASTPASS-like ticket and other times you'll be asked to wait in a certain area.  If you already have FASTPASSes for an attraction, Rider Swap is unnecessary; you'll just take turns entering through the FASTPASS line.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Walk Around The World With Ridge--Magic Kingdom Lunch Time Part Duce

So I have told of Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn and Cafe, now on to my other favorite luncheon spot in the Magic Kingdom, Columbia Harbour House. There have been a few changes to the menu in the last couple of years but it is still worth a stop by for a bit to eat and a moment of peace in the cool (both for the surroundings and the ambient temperature.)

Columbia Harbour House (CHH) is located in Liberty Square, which as previously discussed in the Hall of Presidents post, is arguably one of my favorite locations in the park. CHH is situated right on the edge of Liberty Square before the transition to Fantasyland across from Haunted Mansion. The outside of the building matches up with the other architecture in that land and has the feeling of walking into a tavern from the 1790s, or Disney's approximation. It is much cleaner, better lighting, air conditioning and has an industrial kitchen behind it. All that aside, use your imagination and you'll know what I mean.

Inside dark woods abound, sailing implements adorn the walls and right in the middle of the main room is the order station. Now when my sister and I first really started enjoying this spot was when I had just started college and we took our first trip down without our parents. We both had annual passes and a four day weekend so we made some last minute reservations at All Star Music and went to play like the big kids we are. This is also when we found out that even though I am a big guy the Captain's Plate was big enough to share and we did so on every trip after.

If you haven't been to Columbia Harbour House in a while, I do have a little disappointing news, the chicken fingers are gone and in their place are chicken nuggets. I guess this was an attempt to both cut cost and appeal more to the kids. Also as I said before the menu has changed a little, the Captains Special which consisted of two pieces of fish and two chicken strips and fries is now two pieces of fish, chicken nuggets and fries and isn't called the Captain's Special any longer; now it is just simply "chicken breast nuggets and fish.” In an attempt to be a healthier option you can now get apple slices instead of fries. We were hit with this change back in 2007 so it has been long enough to get over it, but we'll always remember the good times. The food here is on par with everything else in the park at a quick service location. We tend to stick with the same menu items here, but I have heard good things about the rest of the offerings. For a look at an updated menu check out Or for you folks with iPhones, the WDW Dining app is awesome; I will be reviewing iPhone apps soon.

Now for my tip on CHH, the upstairs seating area is almost never as crowded as it is downstairs. Caveat: Everywhere is crowded if it is a really busy time of the year, which we try to avoid these days. Even then we will alter our lunch time to miss some of the standard middle of the day screaming kids (and adults.) My sis and I have made a ritual of getting the same table upstairs near a window that looks out over Haunted Mansion. The second floor is almost always quiet and there are condiment stations so you don't have to load up on all of that downstairs and juggle malt vinegar on a slippery tray. There are also a set of restrooms upstairs which are also usually not busy.

We love Columbia Harbour House and are partial to the fish and chicken basket. What is your favorite menu item here? Do you also use CHH as a brief escape from the heat and the crowds? Please leave your comments below.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Photo Flashback - Discovery Island

Discovery Island was home to 140 species of animals and 250 species of tropical plants until Disney's Animal Kingdom opened. It was accessable only by boat so many guest bypassed it. An area of AK is named in honor of it. Here is Ridge in 1991 with some "OLD" friends on Discovery Island.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Team Favorites - Character Meals

Character dining is one of the truly unique experiences offered at Walt Disney World.  Yes, lots of places offer a good breakfast but no one other than Disney lets you combine that meal with the magic of some one-on-one time with your favorite characters.

Today our team discusses our favorite character meals at Walt Disney World. 

Amy:  For breakfast, my favorites are Chef Mickey's and The Crystal Palace.  We took Tink to Chef Mickey's breakfast for her first birthday.  It was a good meal, a fun atmosphere, and I like the chef costumes for the characters.  You can't beat a ride on the monorail to start the day.  For my full review, click here. 

I worked at The Crystal Palace during College Program, so it's a sentimental favorite.  The food is really good here and the team replenishes it often.  The characters are Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet.  You'll see them lead a parade with the kids once or twice during your meal.  I love this building with all its windows, curlicued decor, and Magic Kingdom location.  I think dinner is the best meal here but come hungry because it's not cheap.  It's now $32.99 per adult for dinner.  Kids 3-9 are $15.99. 

My other dinner pick is The Garden Grill.  This restaurant is in The Land pavilion at Epcot.  It rotates very slowly so the view changes throughout your meal and sometimes you overlook scenes from "Living with the Land."  Mickey, Pluto, Chip and Dale are the characters you'll meet.  The Garden Grill is only open for dinner now.  The meal is served family-style with steak and turkey for the adults and chicken and mac and cheese for the kids.  Some of the produce is grown in the greenhouses at The Land pavilion.  This location is a few dollars cheaper per person than The Crystal Palace.

DisneyDadI have to admit I enjoy the character meals as much as any kid.  Over the years we have been to many different character meals and I have enjoyed them all.  Most recently we had the Breakfast Buffet at Chef Mickey's at The Contemporary.  The first time we went to Chef Mickey's it was a restaurant at Downtown Disney complete with...who else... Chef Mickey!

Of the character dining experiences WDW currently offers my two favorite are Chef Mickey's and The Crystal Palace.  Chef Mickey's is in the Grand Concourse at Disney's Contemporary Resort. Depending on where you are seated you can watch the monorail run though.  The restaurant brings Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald and Goofy to your table as you bring all you can eat from the buffet to the table.  We recently had breakfast there and the food was as good as any breakfast buffet I have been to anywhere.  All the food was fresh, the hot food was hot and the cold food was cold and it all was delicious.  My favorite for breakfast is always the Mickey Waffles and theirs were fresh and warm.  (Did I say I enjoyed this as much as the kids?)

My other favorite, The Crystal Palace, is just off Main Street, USA at the Magic Kingdom.  The restaurant looks like a Victorian conservatory complete with palm trees growing under the glass dome.  The food here is buffet style also.  (My daughter worked here in the College Program.  On one trip here only one side of the buffet was open while they were getting the second side setup.  We actually had the buffet opened for us by one of the chefs so we could be first in line.)  (Amy's note: one of my cast member friends thought this would be a special treat for my parents.  Looks like he did make some magic.  My parents are still happy about this and it was in 1997.)  Pooh and Friends come visit your table at The Crystal Palace.  The last meal I had here was breakfast and it was excellent.  It is a great way to start the day at the Magic Kingdom.

RidgeI have to say that character meals aren't really my thing at this point in my life.  As far as the characters are concerned, The Crystal Palace would have to be a favorite of mine since I am being asked to choose. T-i-double G-er has to be one of my favorite characters, right after Mickey Mouse, of course.  At The Crystal Palace we have always had good luck with having the right amount of time and getting the pictures we wanted. It also doesn't hurt anything that the food here is also really good.  But if you want to see the HC (Head Cheese) himself, you really can't beat Chef Mickey's. It was a real cavalcade of characters and only took about 45 minutes in the rotation to see them all. Here's a tip, if you are in a spot where the characters rotate off stage, because they only stay on the floor for about 15 minutes before "rotating," keep an eye out for their handlers. We were seated right at the point where our Chefs were rotating and it is easy to get overlooked because the replacement might confuse where his/her counterpart left off. If you accidentally get missed, just ask one of the handlers and they'll steer the character back your way.

It looks like our team has similar opinions again.  Other character meals we've had over the years that didn't make our favorites include 1900 Park Fare breakfast, Liberty Tree Tavern dinner (discontinued), Olivia's breakfast at Old Key West (discontinued), and Donald's Breakfastasaurus (now similar meal at Tusker House).  

Cinderella's Royal Table (formerly King Stefan's Banquet Hall) used to be a family favorite, however, the restaurant started changing in the early 2000s.  Our last visit there was in 2005.  We might go back someday if Tink insists, but in my opinion the elegance of the place is gone now that it is a character dining location.  It's also very pricey and VERY hard to get a reservation.  I realize I am in the small minority here and if you have never had a meal in the castle, then this is a treat.   

I would like to try the character breakfast at Tusker House.  Our lunch there was wonderful.  For my full review, click here.

Cape May is not on my to-do list.  We ate dinner once when we stayed at Beach Club and I wasn't impressed.  Since we usually stay at Old Key West, this restaurant would not inspire me to make the journey over there.

Akershus Banquet Hall is a must-do once Tink gets a little older.  Most of the princesses will greet you at this character meal.  The breakfast was so popular that it's now a character location all day, so if you don't want to get up early for breakfast, you can still meet Belle at lunch or dinner.  Breakfast is traditional breakfast fare while lunch and dinner feature a Norwegian menu with hot entrees and a cold salad/herring bar.  Chris and I had lunch here once and enjoyed the food. 

For me, the jury is still out on 'Ohana.  I love breakfast at Kona Cafe, but 'Ohana just seems chaotic to me.  Lilo and Stitch are here in the morning.  Maybe someday I'll brave this one.

What are your favorite places to dine with the characters?  Do you have a character meal that you just must have each trip?  Any that you don't want to repeat?  Please leave your comments below. 

(Check back because I just might scan some pics of me in the oh-so-lovely Crystal Palace costume...)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

New Address!

We are now!  Thanks for joining us!  Have a magical day!

"Best Of" Week: It all started with a Mouse… And a Preview Center

Actually it started in the late 50's and early 60's when I was a child watching The Mickey Mouse Club. I loved watching The Mickey Mouse Club, Spin and Marty, and The Hardy Boys. (For you younger folks, "Spin and Marty" and "The Hardy Boys" were serials that were shown as part of the original Mickey Mouse Club.) And on Sunday evenings we watched Walt Disney introduce The Wonderful World of Disney. We never went to the movies much but I still remember sitting in the balcony with my parents at the Alabama Theater to watch the Disney movie "Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with a Circus" staring Kevin Corcoran who played "Moochie" in the Spin and Marty series.
My sister and brother-in-law lived in central Florida and on one of our trips in 1970 they took us on a long drive down Interstate 4. There was absolutely nothing around except orange groves as we drove into the middle of nowhere. We finally turned off the interstate and soon found ourselves on a beautifully manicured four-lane road with large oak trees hanging with Spanish moss that lead to a modern looking steel and glass building. The trees stood out as they did not match the orange groves surrounding our trip down the interstate and I found out these were part of the Disney "magic" transplanted into the landscape.

The building was the Walt Disney World Preview Center. Here we were able to see what Mickey and Walt had planned for the Florida Project. The Preview Center featured a video that had aired on The Wonderful World of Disney with Walt Disney telling us his plans for this wonderful vacation world in central Florida. It also included clips of the construction of the Magic Kingdom attractions. There was also a large miniature display of the entire Magic Kingdom. Lights would spotlight different places in the Magic Kingdom as a hostess described the attractions awaiting us once the park opened October 1, 1971.

When we would visit my sister we would spend the day at the Magic Kingdom. When I married the love of my live in December 1973 we came to the Magic Kingdom on our honeymoon. Over the last 36 years we've watched the World grow as our family had grown. And now our children are the creators and main contributors to this blog. When my daughter asked me to be a guest contributor she reminded me that I can be credited "with starting the WDW obsession." She is now passing "Growing Up Disney" along to her daughter.

A few years ago, it finally dawned on me that the ubiquitous Preview Center building still existed among the hotels leading from the Crossroads Shopping Center to Downtown Disney. It is now occupied by the offices of the Amateur Athletic Union. Every time I drive past there I still remember my first trip down that four-lane road to preview what "Uncle Walt" was building in Florida.

The Walt Disney World Preview Center was the first attraction open to the public at Walt Disney World. It was open from January 1970 through September 1971.

Did you visit the Preview center? Or have any questions? Let us hear your story.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Best Of" Week--Photo Flashback! - Rope Drop

Rope Drop at the Magic Kingdom - 12/24/1973.
Can you imagine being at the Magic Kingdom for the park opening on Christmas Eve now (or any other day for that matter) and not seeing anyone other than cast memebers on Main Street? 1973 was a little different!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"Best Of" Week--Birthday Greetings

I wanted to have a special souvenir from Tink’s first birthday trip to Walt Disney World. Something fun she could look back on later since she wouldn’t remember anything about this trip. I decided birthday cards would do the trick. They were easy to obtain, inexpensive, lightweight to carry, can be saved in her baby book, and won’t clutter anything or need to be dusted.

I bought three first birthday cards: one Minnie, one Pooh, and one bunny, a soft plastic folder, and an oversized pen. All this fit easily in the diaper backpack. The cards and folder came from my local superstore and cost less than $10. The pens are available at most shops on Walt Disney World property. It’s much easier for the characters to hold the jumbo pens. I use this pen now for my grocery list. The giant pink pen with a tiara on top makes the chore a bit more fun.

At character meals or meet and greets, I asked the characters to sign Tink’s birthday card. Everyone was happy to do so, except for the Mad Hatter. He was signing a Pooh card and true to his character, he picked at the baby over a line in the card about her being as sweet as honey. Then he went into bears eating honey and did we want her to be eaten by Pooh. I know Tink didn’t understand what was going on but this led to our one and only character meltdown. I am sure the Mad Hatter is a riot with older kids or teens but he was a bit abrasive for the baby. On a positive note, Tink has two birthday cards signed by Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, Pooh, Tigger, Mary Poppins, Alice, the Mad Hatter, Jiminy Cricket, Rafiki, and Pocahontas.

The third card was reserved for my favorite park, Epcot. My brother Chris, aka Ridge, took the lead on this project. In each country in World Showcase, we asked a cast member to sign the birthday card in their native language. If they weren’t busy, he usually asked the person working the Kidcot station and they would also use the Mickey stamp from their country. This was great fun and provided for some good cast member interaction; everyone lit up when we asked them to sign the card. This card has beautiful wishes in many languages and I hope Tink likes it as much as we enjoyed having it signed for her.

What sort of special and creative souvenirs have you brought home from Walt Disney World?  I’d love to hear your stories.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"Best Of" Week--What to Pack in your Disney Diaper Bag

I am a rather organized person.  I like lists and spreadsheets and doing my research on a given topic.  This even extends to what to carry in my Disney diaper bag.  For months prior to our April 2010 trip, I searched the internet for ideas on what I should and shouldn't carry.  So now the work is done for you.  This list was for a 12 month old child who was still using formula and bottles and ate mostly table food. 

packing your Disney diaper bag
First we should start with the bag itself.  If you look back at my review on my Maclaren Volo stroller, you'll see that I didn't have much storage space available there.  We wanted to travel light anyway.  We've all been guilty of overpacking from time to time, but it pays to put a little extra thought into the Disney diaper bag and pare things down a bit.  I found a good diaper backpack ($10) at a local resale event.  It was a navy blue Eddie Bauer bag with nothing that screamed diaper bag.  This was key because my husband would be carrying this bag most of the time at the parks and it has been designated as his bag when he takes the girl out on Sunday afternoons to give me a break.  It has various sections of good sizes that let us separate different categories of supplies.  For Christmas, I got a backpack for the digital SLR camera on indefinite loan from my father.  I carried that bag with the cameras and my personal items.  I really like it and will review it at some point in the future.  Lowepro Fastpack 100 (Red)

Here are the supplies I packed in the diaper bag and some notes on what did and didn't work.

  • antibacterial wipes--I like the regular sized travel packs.  I had gotten some oversized wipes but those didn't fit in my bag and seem like overkill 
  • applesauce cup--maybe used one that week
  • bandaids
  • bibs--disposable bibs are great at WDW!  I had Pampers bibs.
  • birthday cards for characters etc to sign (separate post coming)
  • bottles--2
  • burp cloth--multi-purpose
  • change of clothes--never needed this.  Next trip she'll be 18 months, so I'll carry a onesie for an emergency.  If something crazy happens, then I have a great excuse to go shopping.  If we were visiting in the warmer months, I'd take a change of clothes to allow for playtime in the fountains.
  • changing pad
  • clothes pins--carried these with the intention of pinning a thin blanket to the stroller to make a shade when Tink was sleeping but never needed them
  • diaper garbage bags--I always have the version of this without the duck in our diaper bags.  (Thanks Keri!) 
  • diapers--I packed about 8 but didn't need nearly that many.
  • extra tote bag--One of the reusable shopping bags that folds into a very small pouch.  This came in handy several times.
  • formula--Tink was having formula at meals and at bedtime, so I carried two of the single packs that make 4 oz each.
  • pen for characters
  • poncho--I carried one of the tiny emergency style ones this time.
  • rain cover--My stroller came with its own rain cover.  I kept it in the organizer bag on the stroller.
  • sippy cup and leash--I put 'no throw' straps on either side of the stroller to hold a sippy cup and a toy.  If Tink dropped her drink or toy, we didn't lose them.
  • small blanket--Receiving blankets have lots of uses.
  • small book and toy
  • snack container--I have a formula dispenser that I like better as a snack holder.  Its three compartments are great for holding cheerios, yogurt drops, etc.  Or the divider comes out and you can carry a large amount of one snack.
  • snacks--These little apple snacks are fabulous!  I got Mickey and Princess packs.  They have lots of other fruits but we've only tried the apples.  The Gerber yogurt drops were fantastic on the bus.
  • spoons--the take and toss kind
  • sunblock
  • sunhat
  • sweatshirt--I carried a lightweight hoodie jacket but we never used it.  Some places at WDW are really chilly, so I'd carry it again, just in case.
  • table covers--The disposable table covers were really handy.
  • tissues
  • veggie cup (peas)--Don't think I ever needed this.  Tink ate well everywhere we went.
  • water
  • wipes
  • ziplocs--Two large and two medium. One of each to hold items in the diaper bag and then another to hold dirty items. This helped me know what needed to be washed each night.
What else do you carry with you to the parks or just on a long day out at home?  Thanks for sharing your ideas!

Update: October 2013  Please check out my article on my Disney diaper bag now that I travel with my preschooler and toddler.  

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"Best Of" Week

Growing Up Disney will be taking a blog vacation the week of July 5.  We'll be back on July 12 with all new material.  During this week, we'll be reposting some of our favorites.  Hope you enjoy this chance to catch up on some things you may have missed. 

Happy Independence Day!

"It's called a tribute to all nations, but mostly America.  It's a glorious three-hour finale!" --Sam the Eagle

On behalf of the Growing Up Disney team, I wish you a happy and safe Independence Day!  I am thankful for this great country and all the brave men and women (and their families!) who have protected her all these years.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Walk Around The World With Ridge--Magic Kingdom Lunch Time

If I am going to make plans for a counter service lunch in the Magic Kingdom, I have two choices. Sure there are lots of places in the Kingdom with copious amounts of good things to masticate. But I will tell you my two favorite and usually really quick and easy places to eat. The first is Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe and the second is Columbia Harbor House.

Frontierland is where you will find Big Thunder Mountain, Tom Sawyer's Island, a little something called Splash Mountain and of course Pecos Bill's. Now who among us except the very young don't know who Pecos Bill was? Well for you youngsters, Pecos Bill is a legend of the Old West; he was raised by wolves and could lasso a tornado and ride it in to the sunset. So head in and take a load off while I load up a story for you. Step on to the porch, stroll through the swinging double doors of an old west saloon and make your way over to the counter to order. Here you can find a good burger, a decent barbeque sandwich and a chicken wrap that is pretty standard for Disney counter service. The item that sets me off is the taco salad. It’s delicious and a great value. For the burgers and taco salad, you have at your disposal a fixin’s bar, with lettuce and tomato, salsa, cheese, pickles for your burgers, peppers, salad dressings, onions (raw and sautéed), mushrooms and still more tasty toppings.

The front of the restaurant looks how you would imagine a saloon from the days when the cowboys were taming the wild frontier. Inside are hardwood floors that seem old and dusty and creak under your feet. The transition to the dining area becomes tile floor and the exterior is in a Spanish style that would have been popular from Texas to California. The two story stucco façade includes a balcony that protrudes over the outside seating and looks towards Splash Mountain. Other noticeable construction cues are the wooden fence that surrounds the outside seating and the lamp posts that use lanterns at the top. As with everything that the Disney does, theme of the area is to the extreme so take a moment and scope out the area before throwing away your trash and running off to the next ride.

Next week I will talk about my other favorite Magic Kingdom counter service restaurant, Columbia Harbor House.