Garden Grill – a Rotating Experience…

First I want to say that this dining experience was HANDS-DOWN my favorite this past trip…based solely on the fact that I was stuffed FULL…even the thought of unbuttoning my pants came to mind.

My family might not entirely agree…but that’s opinions for you…but me – I still dream of that meal.

I must point out that due to my family’s eating restrictions and food allergies…we aren’t the easiest group to please, feed and sometimes see completely full.  We are a happy, thankful bunch…but we do require some thought and preparation.  Between my kids and I…there are at least 8 food allergies and several avoidances…and to make matters more fun…I am vegan.  The husband is an eat everything kind of guy and pretty much left every meal full and happy…but even he has his favorites (stay-tuned).

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So…the Garden Grill is a table service restaurant at Epcot…located in the Land Pavilion…and it rotates.  Yep…it’s a rotating diner…and for those with motion sickness (join the club)…it’s very, very slow…but we managed to rotate completely around at least 1 time during our meal.  And to make it even cooler…it’s a character experience…bring on Harvest Chip & Dale and pals.  We ate with Chip & Dale (of course), Pluto and Mickey.  It is a dinner only location and is family style…meaning the wait staff brings the table an assortment of eats and you just dig in.  My husband who ate the traditional meal everyone enjoys found it to be OK…not his particular favorite, but he ate it all.  What was wrong with his meal you ask…nothing…he just likes to order from a menu.

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So before I get to my eats…I want to point out that as you eat, dine and chat…the Characters walk around and stop at every table for a few minutes…just enough time to get an autograph and snap a few pictures.  Since we had special food accommodations…we sat a little longer than others and saw all the characters twice – major bonus.

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Since we have 3 different people, all with different allergies…I often contact the restaurant before dining…I send an email and anxiously await a phone call.  I was lucky as Chef Javier called me, while I was at home about 10 days before my trip started, and we discussed meals.  We talked about the traditional menu that is offered and tried to find solutions for my family.  Most of the usual options available were perfect for us (sweet potato fries, mashed potatoes, veggies, gluten-free rolls and so on…but I couldn’t help but to ask for a few changes…first due to the abundance of chicken at Disney I asked about a hamburger patty for my daughter and also a special dessert.  As the restaurant doesn’t make burgers the chef was kind enough to order beef and make my kid a few special patties just for her.  And for me…I wasn’t fond of the traditional veggie dish on the menu…”stuff peppers” and sides.  I requested vegan meat (not typical for that location)…and he delivered.

So…fast forward to that night…we arrived 10 minutes before our scheduled dining reservation…we waited for the restaurant to open and we were seated promptly.  I was prepared to have to wait several minutes for the Chef…nope not Chef Javier…he had been cooking for my family already…waiting for us actually.  He already had ALL our food in the oven (no grilling or frying due to cross-contamination) and was waiting for us to finish our salads.  He warned me that his goal…”was to have us ROLL out of here”, lol.  I did for sure.  To my surprise he was able to deliver ALL my requests and they were delicious.  The vegan dish he “made-up” with the vegan beef was amazing and with all the sides…I was stuffed.  My son (dairy, eggs, and peanuts) was able to share my dish and was shoving it in.  My daughter (dairy, GF, peanuts, legumes, corn, and red dye) was able to cut her giant burger patties in half and eat with her GF buns…to make a quick burger.

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Dessert wasn’t as grand…but still had enough sweetness to finish the meal.  He was able to simplify the traditional dessert by using “Enjoy Life” cookies and fresh fruit filling, no whip and created a crumb-like fruit dish.

Major shout-out for Chef Javier that night and many thanks.  I enjoyed my meal SO much…I asked to speak to a manager and shared my happiness…apparently the Chef was gonna get some company shout-outs after dinner thanks to his awesomeness.

I also want to point out that getting a call from the chef before your trip is not typical…they are busy, busy bees and usually can accommodate your special food requests “the night of”…but due to our various allergies…I usually get a call and thus can request special items.  This is also something I can help you with as your Travel Agent…all services I provide for free when booking your Disney trip with me.  When it comes to food allergies, eating “out” is often a stressful event…but being prepared helps and when your family leaves the table safe and full…well that’s a huge success in my book.  Disney does an excellent job at accommodating food allergies and does it on a daily basis…so let me help you relieve the stress and help you enjoy food time for a change…you deserve it.

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Quick Service…Say What?

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What is a Quick Service (QS)?  Where are Quick Services?  What Quick Services are on the meal plan?  How many Quick Services do I get on the meal plan?  What are your favorite quick services, what’s most popular?  And the questions go on and on.  I get questions about QS almost daily…and yet…even after my explanation, things still seem fuzzy, lol.  So here you go…the ins/out of quick service meals.

Quick Service restaurants are basically fast food restaurants…you don’t need a reservation, you don’t have a waitress and you don’t leave a tip.  At Disney…quick services places are, IMO, a major step up from fast food with quality food…but that’s the best way to describe them.  You order your food from a menu on the wall above the cashier, you wait for your food, you take it to a table, you eat and then you walk away (cleaning up is preferable).  Simple and Easy.

Most quick services places at Disney are set-up more like Cafeterias…multiple ordering windows, some with windows that only offer a certain types of food; salads here, burgers here, sandwiches here, dessert here…that kind of thing.  The larger ones can be a bit overwhelming…but any cast member is willing to help explain things to you.  If you are a little nervous…try going at a non-popular dining time; 11am instead of noon, 4:30 instead of 5-6:00pm.

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My kids loved this..how to get your plastic-ware – Sanitary

Where are Quick Services located; umm…they are everywhere.  All Disney resorts have them, all Disney parks including the waterparks have them and even Downtown Disney has them.  They are located in almost every land within a park and pretty much all of them are on the Disney Dining plan…which means you can dine at them all using your meal credits.  So can I dine at one at a different resort from where I am staying? – YES.  Can I eat at the parks even though I am on the plan? – YES.  Can I eat at more than 1 per day? – YES.  You can dine at a quick service as often as you want…just be careful because if you are on the plan…you are only allotted so many…so if you power through all of them…you will need to pay out of pocket for the rest.

Meal credit on the Disney dining plan depend on 1: what plan you’re on and 2: how many nights you are staying.  So if you are staying 8 days, 7 nights…you get 7 on the regular “plus” dining plan…but don’t forget  to count your table service meals too (a different post).  If you are on the Quick service plan…you’d get 14 total QS meals.

My Favs…Oh this is tough.  I like different QS for different reasons; some for the atmosphere, some for the selection and some for just one particular dish, lol.  But here is a quick, quick service list:

  • Tortuga Tavern (MK, near Pirates…) – LOVE the burrito and the unlimited toppings bar (open 11-3pm) so plan ahead.
  • Pinocchio Village Haus – (MK) – eat and watch fellow guests on “Small World” with flatbread pizza/pasta.
  • Sunshine Seasons – (Epcot) – So many options, so little time. Lots of treats for Food Allergy peeps too.
  • Flame Tree BBQ – (AK) – a favorite amongst my clients – Apparently killer BBQ
  • Pizza Planet Arcade (HS) – Need I say more, lol. Yummy fun Pizza – Kids paradise.
  • Earl of Sandwich (Downtown Disney) – Sandwich, after giant mouthwatering sandwich

As far as most popular…one of the perks of booking with me…is right before your travel date I send you a tip card with all the yummy QS listed…that way when you’re in Tomorrowland and hunger strikes…you can easily look up the best QS in the area.  And don’t worry Food Allergy and Special Diet peeps…I have a special card for you too.

Disney is my home away from home and I LOVE to eat and try new dining experiences…I also have 2 kids with food allergies so I am more than familiar with my way around Disney dining and special accommodations for my family.  Contact me today and let me show you how magical your vacation can really be…the smart and prepared way.  Nina@goTMCtravel.com or 734-890-2350 – FREE Disney Vacation Planning (I promise).

A “Napper” at Disney…

So…as a Mother of two little ones I have vast experience with this…not to mention it’s a very popular question amongst my clients.  Now…this post isn’t about the importance of napping, quiet time or resting…it’s about the “how to”.  And PS – Napping is highly RECOMMENDED; especially for younger ones and families doing an “All Day” experience.

In my opinion there is really only 3 ways to “nap” at Disney; in room, in stroller or my new favorite…on Mamma (or Dadda).

  • Napping in room, aka your resort room is the obvious choice…but is it the best?  First you have to leave the park, take a bus (or hop the monorail) then quiet down the fam, close the curtains, turn off the lights and hope & pray the kid(s) nap.  Now…this option is awesome when everyone wants to nap and will nap.  It’s perfect for families who travel often and are use to sleeping in one room or families that co-sleep.  It’s also great when a young family only has one kid.  The family with one kid can put the baby (tot) to nap while mom and dad sit out on the patio and discuss the day.

We did this one vacation and I can honestly say it worked out great.  Did I want to leave the park, NO…Did I like missing out on a few hours of potential play time, NO…but did it ruin my vacation, NO…my then 2 year old slept everyday like a champ and was then ready to tackle the evening for a few more short hours (we are early sleepers).  Now what saved us was not sitting and waiting around for 2-3 hours (everyday)…I packed her pack n’play tent (see pic), her baby monitor and we were able to walk the grounds a bit, grab a snack and return to the patio knowing she was safe.  Many people saw us and wondered where the baby was, asked if we had “grandma” with us…I mentioned the monitor and everyone was in awe.  So that’s my secret…enjoy.

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Pack N’ Play (provided by resort) – Tent I packed…Keeps kid safe.

Of course some could nap, some could play (swim)…but unless that napper is really, really tired…they might not want to miss out on any fun…so beware of that.

  • Napping in the stroller; I must confess that I have never done this but after several trips to Disney and watching other parents…I kinda have an insight.  First the perk is…you stay in the park, you don’t have to leave thus you can enjoy more rides and more park fun…however…if you have a napper in the stroller someone either needs to wait with the napper while others play or you wake the grumpy napper.  In my opinion this option doesn’t seem totally convenient, but if you have grandma with you who really doesn’t want to ride the rides or the parents switch off – it can be done.  But beware…hot sweaty kid in hot stroller might equal some unpleasant results…so remember sunscreen, get a shade and hydrate when awake.

Of course you could take that time to shop the air-conditioned stores and get your spending on…but do you want to do that everyday – just something to think about.

  • Napping on Mom, aka baby wearing; this is my new favorite way to nap at Disney…why?  One major reason…you can still ride the rides, that’s right…if the kid can ride it awake, you can ride it when “wearing” them.  This was basically our only option this past trip…the older kid didn’t want to leave (neither did I) and the napper was never going to nap in the room anyways (not a napper at home)…so I brought the baby carrier and hoped for the best.  He napped everyday for 2-3 hours…on me.  It was hard to use the restroom and getting in/out of the rides reminded me of pregnancy, lol – but it was awesome.  We still enjoyed ourselves and he had an awesome nap.  For the record he is 2.5 and about 32lbs.  I wasn’t in pain, my shoulders didn’t hurt and no…I did not trip.  I was able to ride Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise and other similar rides, no rollercoasters obviously.  In fact I joke because he fell asleep in Mexico and woke up in Canada…he slept through the entire World Showcase, lol.
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Napping in front of Beasts Castle

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A Mermaid Experience…

Guess who just came back from “the Happiest place in the World”…Me, Me, Me!!  So I have LOTS to blog about, but I thought I’d start off with a post about the inspiration for this blog…My Favorite Princess.  Are YOU thinking about one of the Frozen Sisters?…nope guess again, lol

Ah…you got it…Ariel.

Thanks to the creation of NEW Fantasyland…Ariel has a proper place in Magic Kingdom.  Amongst Eric’s Castle you will find a clam shell ride (Under the Sea – The Journey of the Little Mermaid) featuring many of Ariel’s friends and one majestic Ursula.  Ursula totally steals the show; in my opinion…she was amazing.  I found the rest of the attraction to be a little quick and had wished Ariel had as much animation as Ursula did…but still the ride is a must and I wish I could have experienced it again and again.

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As you exit “Under the Sea…” you are just a few steps away from meeting Ariel herself.  Now this is Ariel the Little Mermaid, not Ariel with “human legs”…but Mermaid Ariel has always been my favorite so I was just as excited or perhaps more than my 5 year old.  We entered “Ariel’s Grotto” hoping for as much theming and amazement as the rest of the area (which is very cool)…but sadly I found inside her grotto to be a little lax in decor.  I had wished for more fish, seashells, seaweed, treasures a trove, something…but I digress.

We waited an amazing 20 minutes to meet the wonderful mermaid.  My DD, of course, beamed from ear to ear with excitement but still thinking my smile was bigger.  Ariel and I had the most in-depth discussion regarding our favorite accessory.  We both agreed that no mermaid should be without her “dinglehopper” and suggested that I always keep one with me at all times…for which I showed her mine, lol.  She also gave me strict directions to an under the sea store where I can purchase her favorite Jellyfish gel, apparently this product is the reason her hair is so fluffy and doesn’t deflate in the Florida sun.  So…as soon as I get my mermaid fins…I’m there.

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Meeting Ariel was beyond Magical for me and my 5 year old.  Out of all the characters I (we) met this trip, she was the most talkative.  Anna was a close second (stay tuned).  I could have spent more time chatting but this land mermaid had fastpasses to get too.  But as Arial said…”Us redheads need to stick together”, so my new bestie and I will hang again soon.

And for those that want to know…we had fastpasses for “Under the Sea” at around 10am…directly after the ride we entered the grotto and as I said only waited 20 minutes.  I am not sure how long the wait usually is, but we had to walk through a few lines of chains before hitting the end of the line.  I found New Fantasyland to be rather crowded as the day progressed…so I would suggest hitting it first.  As a mom…I had planned out this experience (knowing to go early), but kept it underwraps as I didn’t want to disappoint the kids if Ariel was overly-popular that moment…so to my DD this was a total surprise, she had no idea what we were even doing until we saw the amazing mermaid…so my advice…go with the flow (but with a plan) and if the moment is right…strike and enjoy the memories.  Nothing is worse than a mini-mermaid melt down, lol.

Walt Disney World is an amazing place and truly magical…but the smarter you go, the better time you will have – saves time and money too.  Check out my “about Nina” section to contact me.