27 June 2016

Contemporary Classics

A while back we took you on a tasting tour of the Crispy Bites available at the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge with the promise of more to come. Well, that day has come and we’re moving on to the main course! Today we’re sinking our teeth into the Derby Sliders. If the idea of miniature sandwiches seems like it wouldn’t be enough to satisfy your vacation appetite, think again. This is a pair of sliders that really know how to shine in Hollywood!

Let’s start out with the menu descriptions. The first slider is a Wagyu Beef with Cognac-Mustard Aioli, Smoked Gouda Cheese, Bacon, and Avocado. Meanwhile, the second slider serves up Duck Confit, Taleggio Cheese, Chipotle Vegetable Slaw, Sweet Onion-Orange Conserve, and crispy Leeks. Both come on freshly baked buns, and the pair are complimented by a handful of kettle-style chips. Also, for an additional fee, you can make both sliders Wagyu Beef.

Let’s start with the Duck Confit. If you want sweet and savory, this is your ticket. The duck is finely chopped and is not greasy, which was a concern of mine, and the chipotle slaw and leeks add texture and a smoky flavor to the proceedings. Meanwhile, the sweet onion-orange conserve hits all the right notes for a sweetness and tanginess that isn’t overpowering. However, the real star here is the taleggio cheese. These cheese offers some subtle fruity flavors, but again, isn’t overpowering. Typically it is shredded and placed on salads, but in this instance it is melted and utilized to hold the entire slider together. Overall, this is a tasty morsel!

The showstopper, on the other hand, is the Wagyu Beef. A nice hunk of well-prepared wagyu and a healthy slice of smoked gouda, you really can’t ask for much more than that, can you? Okay, how about some bacon, and we’re not talking your typical breakfast bacon either, and some serious mustard, would that do the trick? Typically, this would be topped off with a rich hunk of avocado, but on the day we visited a tomato slice was substituted. It’s a fine substitution, but it does make the slider’s layers a bit shaky. This is the type of sandwich that pops into your head when you think of the word ‘slider,’ and it does not disappoint.

With so much happening around Star Wars within eye and earshot of the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge you’ll forgive the parody, but these are the sliders you are looking for. They are a hearty, well-planned pair, even if I would probably pay the upcharge for a set of wagyu beef sliders. Share them with a friend or family member, or better yet each of you order your own set as a meal. You'll be glad you did!

23 June 2016

Good News from the Vacation Kingdom

There are a lot of publications, and a ton of history to sift through, when it comes to Walt Disney World. Everything from WD Eye and Imaginews, to EPCOT Center Construction Updates and Eyes & Ears, and the list goes on and on. Perhaps my favorite publication, however, is the guest facing paper known as The World News.

Forty years ago this week the Vacation Kingdom’s original water park, River Country, opened its gates to guests. In the July 1976 issue of The World News, guests were given a full, front page rundown of everything the Ol’ Swimmin’ Hole had to offer.

Check out the story for yourself and then let us know what was your favorite part of River Country?

21 June 2016

The Year-Round Playgrounds

The Polynesian Village has always been one of the most iconic resorts in Walt Disney World. Perhaps it’s the fact that it is has always been visible to guests, even in the earliest days, when they approach the Transportation and Ticket Center. It could also be the fact that is on the monorail loop and has the distinction of being one of the first resorts in the Vacation Kingdom. Whatever the reason, the resort has been seeing a resurgence in popularity, which has only been amplified by the pool and Great Ceremonial House refurbishments, not to mention the addition of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.

We have been known to talk about the great fare of the Polynesian Village’s quick service dining location, Capt. Cook’s, from time to time. In fact, I’m not sure we’ve had a negative thing to say about the restaurant yet! For all of our praise and all of the time we’ve spent there, we’ve never called attention to the artwork that adorns the dining room. True, most guests would rather sit out on the veranda, but we should take note of the artwork here.

The posters that line the walls inside Capt. Cook’s are the best kind of travel posters. No fancy photographs here, just vintage-style artwork and slogans singing the praises of the islands located in the South Pacific. Here’s the real trick though, while each poster represents an individual island, each one was created because that island name is also the designation of a resort building within the Polynesian Village. Sneaky, huh?

Rather than keep talking today, let’s just sit back and enjoy to gorgeous posters and dream of far off tropical destinations!

20 June 2016

Not the First to Pass This Way

Tomorrow we get our first official look at Frozen Ever After, the newly minted attraction in Norway. Its predecessor, Maelstrom, is gone but not forgotten. Already, we have seen a nod to the original Norway attraction in the Royal Sommerhus, with others expect to be present throughout the new Frozen Even After experience. However, even Norway’s neighbor have taken it upon themselves to remember the Vikings and trolls, the mystery and beauty, that Maelstrom brought us for year.

Deep inside the pyramid of Mexico, tucked away in a favorite watering hole, La Cava del Tequila, is a specialty margarita named especially for Maelstrom. The Maelstrom margarita features tequila blanco, mango puree, orange liqueur, agave nectar, habanero peppers, served with blueberries, basil, and a Tajin chili powder rim. If that sounds like a completely odd pairing, I’m inclined to agree with you. And yet, I couldn’t allow myself to order anything else on a recent visit.

It certainly is beautiful to look at, but the ingredient list is definitely a mystery. While there doesn’t seem to be anything distinctly Norwegian about this concoction, Norway is known for both blueberries and basil, the rest has been brought together purely by the incredible minds for tequila the staff at La Cava del Tequila have. None of this should work, none of this. It’s tropical, spicy, sweet, berry, heat, and tart all at the same time. Your mouth should be confused, instead it is refreshed! With all of the spicy flavors running around here, you would think that would be overwhelming, but it’s quite the opposite. If anything, it could be considered too sweet. For my tastes, it was great mixture that hit all of the right notes.

There are some very traditional margaritas, in addition to time-tested combinations, that are perfect to order at La Cava del Tequila. However, there are also a handful of unique beverages that will surprise if you give them half a chance. The Maelstrom margarita is certainly on that list. If you happen to be stopping by in the next week, be sure to order one and raise a glass to Maelstrom!

16 June 2016

Coats & Clark's

Sometimes a name tucked away on a shelf in Walt Disney World can pay respect to a wonderful artist, actor/actress, character, Imagineer, etc. Then there are times that a name is just a name. If you happen to be looking around the upper shelves of The Chapeau, Main Street, U.S.A.’s shop for all things hats, you would find stylish hats, oversized buttons, and a variety of thread and spools. Above one section is a line of spools all from the company of Coats & Clark’s.

A first pass through your memories and you may think that Coats certainly refers to the Disney Legend, Claude Coats. In this instance, however, there is a real life story of entrepreneurs. In fact, it refers the brothers, James and Patrick Clark, and the Coats family, the father James and his two sons James and Peter.

The Clark brothers were well-known weavers who could reproduce Kashmir shawls in Britain for substantially less cost. However, when supplies dried up due to war, the brothers began twisted yarn together to produce threads that we strong and could be used by fellow weavers. The pair would put their first thread on the market in 1812 and would open their first mill only five years later in 1817. It was not long afterwards that they figured out a process by which they could spool the thread onto wooden reels.

With the business of thread growing rapidly, James Coats began his own thread creation endeavor, focusing on sewing and crochet threads as their niche, in 1826. His sons would take over just a few short years later in 1830. Among their many accolades, cord from the Coats Company would inspire Edison during his 1979 experiments to perfect the lightbulb.

When the Industrial Revolution came to town, the impact on weaving and thread production was huge. The two companies found their way to American in the late 1860s. In 1896 the two companies would merge, but retain their respective company names. The name of Coats & Clark’s wouldn’t be fully integrated into the business until the early 1950s.

Back at The Chapeau, we find ourselves in a turn of the century hatters shop. With threads from Coats & Clark’s becoming popular in the late 1800s, it’s no wonder we would find several spools hanging about the shop. Sometimes there’s a tie to something Disney, and sometimes the Imagineers are merely setting an appropriate scene.

15 June 2016

Caravan Road

There is a lot of good food at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and new favorites are opening all the time. Today, however, I thought we would offer up some respite for those weary travelers that are migrating between Harambe and Anandapur. Along the way there are several kiosks to grab quick bites from, but we’re focusing on two of the dishes served up at Caravan Road.

Along the route between the two lands, Caravan Road can be found just down the way from the freestanding restrooms, looking out towards the Tree of Life. The menu at Caravan Road boats a whopping three dishes: Teriyaki Beef Slider (with pickled cucumber), Edamame, and Asian Noodle Salad. Of these three, we decided to sample the slider and salad. Each comes in a paperboard carry-out container, which makes them easy to grab on the go.

The Teriyaki Beef Slider is a single slider and has the exact flavor profile you would expect. The sauce that has been liberally applied to the shredded beef is sweet, salty, and sticky, with a great twinge of spice. In other words, it’s a nice representation of a teriyaki sauce. The pickled cucumber has been cut long ways, and is the perfect size to add atop your slider. It has a strong acidity to it, and some nice heat, which means it doesn’t get overrun by the teriyaki. The one drawback to the slider is that the beef is very wet and the bottom bun turns to mush almost instantly. I’m not saying don’t try the slider, but I am saying that you should make sure to grab a fork!

That fork will come in handy for the Asian Noodle Salad as well. I would typically expect the noodles in this salad to come off as a bit soggy, but they are perfectly chewy, or al dente as the missus was so kind as to point out. In addition to the noodles, the dish has a ton of fresh vegetables in it. Everything from bean and pea pods, to cabbage, carrots, and red peppers make an appearance in this dish, which means the salad looks and tastes very, very bright. The black sesame seeds add a nice contrast as well. The main flavor, however, is peanut. So if you have an allergy or simply aren’t a fan of the taste of peanut in your noodles, I recommend staying away. If the Asian Noodle Salad still sounds delicious, then you should be in good shape.

A word of caution, when it comes to Caravan Road, there are a few standing tables nearby and a seating area across the way, but these spaces are at a premium. It may be best to secure seating first and then grab your food. Otherwise you should plan to continue your journey to either Harambe or Anandapur in order to find a place to sit and eat.

No matter where your food journey through Disney’s Animal Kingdom takes you, one could do a lot worse than the hearty, appetite pleasing entrees of Caravan Road. Whether you’re looking for noodles or some beef, they’ve got you covered. It’s a place that is easy to overlook, but it will definitely get the job done if you give it the chance.

14 June 2016

Backside of Menu

A while back we spent a week reviewing various menu items at Skipper Canteen. One of the reasons we were able to frequent the mess hall several times was the fact that it was running a reservation system for only same-day reservation. We could get up that morning, make a reservation for lunch or dinner, and be able to find a time relatively close to what we were looking for. Word has spread through the jungles of Adventureland that Skipper Canteen has now slipped into the 180-day Advanced Dining Reservation system. We’ve also heard tale of the Plaza Restaurant slowly migrating to walk-up or a limited reservation process. With all of these tests and changes, we thought it was time to take a look at the reservation system and where we think it is aces and where it needs some refurbishment.

I loved being able to not fret about getting a table at the Skipper Canteen. The same-day ADR system worked wonderfully for us in the spring. We had not planned out the trip to the minute detail and it was fairly last-minute for us. Over the past couple of years, since we are lucky enough to be able to visit Walt Disney World fairly regularly, we’ve treated the trips more like locals. We pick and choose when and where we want to visit something, but don’t have too many set in stone plans. That has always made dining a bit of a hassle.

The same-day ADRs for Skipper Canteen, a new and hopefully long-time gem of the Walt Disney World dining scene, made it easy on us. I’m certain it also made getting into the new restaurant for locals who wanted to see what the skippers had cooked up. Skipper Canteen is definitely a place I want to revisit, but with the change in its reservation status, I’m concerned that it could be recognized for the wonder that it is and become increasingly difficult to book. I am a big fan of this system, it allows for guests who don’t have the ability to plan months out, like locals, or who have had their plans changed abruptly.

That said, I’m not asking that every restaurant in Walt Disney World go to this system. Some restaurants that are regularly filled may find it difficult to get the same number of guests into seats if there isn’t a driving force to make an advanced reservation. Additionally, guests will plan special meals further out, something like a birthday dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table or California Grill, and not being able to book those in advance could cause undue anxiety if guests had to wait until the day of to know if they had the reservation they hoped for or if they had to make alternative plans.

The test that is rumored to be coming to the Plaza Restaurant is intriguing in its own right. Reservations will be available in blocks for some off-peak hours, but at busy meal times it will be a first-come, first-serve venue. This plays nicely with both guests who want to be certain they get a table and with those who may be looking for a solid sit-down meal on that day. I’ll wait to reserve judgement on what I think of the system until a time when/if it is up and running, but for not I’ll be cautiously optimistic.

So, where have I left us? To use a theme park metaphor, we’re probably hungry, staring at a map, in the middle of a busy walkway, wondering where we can go for a meal, huh?

I’ve never thought that a six month window for dining reservations was all that guest friendly, and I’d personally love to see that window come down to something more suitable to the average vacation planner, say somewhere around 90 days out from the reservation. This gives guests time to plan for special occasions or meals and Walt Disney World time to plan accordingly for staffing needs.

But what about these alternative, same-day reservations that I’ve been speaking off for the past several paragraphs, you ask? While I would love to see the window come down to something that fits the average guest more, I’d also like to see a couple of restaurants that prioritize same day reservations. This isn’t a problem for most resort restaurants, save those marque dining experiences that I’d fully expect to stay with the established ADR window. When it comes to the parks, however, I think having two or three sit down restaurants that operate only on same-day or an alternative ADR system would be fantastic. This gives Walt Disney World an excellent mix of dining options that would allow everyone to enjoy what they are serving up.

What do you think about the current dining reservation system in Walt Disney World? Where do you think it hits the mark and where is there room for improvements? How off base am I from your experiences and those of the average guest?