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Category: Restaurant Reviews (page 1 of 3)

Skipper Canteen Review

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The Jungle Cruise is a funny thing:  you either love it or hate it. The same can be said for the Skipper Canteen, the Magic Kingdom’s newest table service offering. Themed after the Jungle Cruise, the restaurant, which is located in Adventureland across from the Swiss Family Treehouse, echoes the theming of the long lost Adventurers Club in the former Downtown Disney.  If for that reason only, it’s bound to be a fan favorite among a small, niche group of Disney fans, but what about the menu? That’s the tricky part.  Let’s take a look.

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The Year in Disney Food: How Did 2012 Stack Up?

Asian-inspired wings and dumplings at Ohana.

If you read here, follow me on Facebook, or listen to the podcast, you know that I consider food an integral part of the Disney experience, whether it’s at the parks, hotels, or on the ships. Fortunately, most Disney food is good and some of it, dare I say it, is great. We’re lucky as Disney fans that the food one finds in Disney parks is better than most food you’d find at similar venues, but that doesn’t mean we don’t hit the occasional bump. This got me thinking: What’s been going on with food this year? What was good, what’s changed, and what’ just plain overrated? Here are a few thoughts:


Most Improved:

Ohana in the Polynesian Resort.  For the longest time I’ve thought Ohana delivered fun over substance as each successive experience has yielded questionable service and just so-so food. A trip in March only confirmed this feeling, but two visits since then have completely changed my way of thinking.  When the service is good, and by that I mean when you are actually being served what’s on the menu instead of just one or two meat offerings and a lot of salad, it’s a great deal. Add to that an atmosphere that’s always festive and you have a real winner, especially for one table-service credit on the dining plan. Make sure you make reservations far in advance as this restaurant is one of the most popular on property.

Pepperoni pizza at Via Napoli.

Biggest Decline:

Via Napoli in Epcot’s Italy Pavilion:  I eat at Via Napoli every time I go to Disney World and I’ve been one of their biggest fans. Sadly, it’s gotten increasingly worse each visit this year:  Watery pizzas, burnt crust, spotty service. While I understand that a certain amout of charring on a wood-fired pizza crust is to be expected, even desired, being served a pizza which is entirely charred on the underside is inexcusable. Likewise, fresh mozzarella has a high water content, but you shouldn’t have pools of water on top of your pizza.  Finally, while the servers at Via Napoli have always been charming, compliments and witty banter don’t make up for the fact that the service has been extremely slow lately.  This restaurant started out really strong and kept it going for several years, but they’ve clearly hit a slump.  On a positive note, I had lunch there last week and it was fantastic–let’s hope this is a good sign for 2013.

Dessert cart at Be Our Guest.

Best Quick-Service Lunch:

Be Our Guest Restaurant in the new Fantasyland Expansion.  Hands down, the best lunch on property. Nice selections, great service, a beautiful setting, and decent prices all make up for what this restaurant lacks at dinner. 

Worst Quick Service Lunch:

Pinocchio Village Haus. Walk, don’t run, from this travesty of a quick-service location located in the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland. The only thing this place has going for it is a large window that overlooks It’s a Small World. That’s right. That’s all I could come up with.

Wolfgang Puck Express in Downtown Disney.

 
 Best Quick-Service Dinner:

Wolfgang Puck Express in Downtown  Disney. This is one of my favorite places to eat at Walt Disney World, with fresh food and an atmosphere that doesn’t feel like “fast food.” One caveat:  It’s very expensive if you’re not on the dining plan with prices approaching or exceeding the average cost of a sit-down restaurant in the parks. Skip it if you’re on a budget.

Best Table-Service Meal, Non-Signature:

Rose and Crown Pub in Epcot. This is a tough one because a lot of people, especially parents, are going to be put off by the word “pub” in the name, but Rose and Crown is only a pub in the Disney sense of the word. Go for the fish and chips, although those who avoid seafood will find plenty on the menu to enjoy, including the delicious sticky toffee pudding.  In nice weather, get an outside table if you can and enjoy a leisurely meal. This restaurant is super kid-friendly but lively enough after 8;30 or so that 20-somethings can go in and get a little loud. 

Honorable mention: While I’ve had mixed experiences, Ohana is still going strong as the most popular restaurant on property.

Steak at Be Our Guest at dinner.

Most Overrated Table-Service Dinner, Non-Signature:

Be Our Guest Restaurant in the new Fantasyland expansion.  Here’s the thing: It’s still the best table-service restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, but they could do so much more with it. I’ve been hearing good things about BOG lately and I’m hoping this continues. I’ll definitely give it a second (and a third) chance this year.

Dessert at Yachtsman Steakhouse.

Best Signature Restaurant:

I’m going to cheat here and not pick one because I think most Disney signature restaurants are good.  Want a great meal in a beautiful setting in what’s otherwise a pretty barren landscape when it comes to food? Try the Brown Derby in Hollywood Studios.  Looking for a “big night” kind of place? California Grill (currently scheduled for refurbishment the first six months of 2013) fits the bill perfectly with a gorgeous view of the Magic Kingdom at night.  And if fine dining is more your style, don’t miss Citricos in the Grand Floridian, one of the best restaurants in the area.  I wish more guests would try Disney’s signatures–it really is an entirely different dining experience.

Best Character Meal:

Breakfast at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom.  The best character meal is in a park you might not visit on your next trip: Animal Kingdom.  Often overlooked as a “half-day park” or as “just another zoo,” Animal Kingdom benefits from fewer guests and so will you.  It’s pretty hard to mess up breakfast, but Donald’s Safari Breakfast in Tusker House manages to take your typical breakfast buffet to another level, offering a wide variety of fresh food. The excellent character interaction is almost second to the food, but fortunately, it’s some of the best on property. Next time you want to mingle with Donald, Mickey, Daisy, Minnie, and Goofy, give Tusker House a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Akershus in Epcot’s Norway Pavilion.

Best Princess Character Meal.

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.  You’ll meet most of the same princesses here as you would at Cinderella’s Royal Table for about half the price (or, if you’re on the dining plan, one table-service credit instead of two). The food is your standard Disney buffet food with a few Scandinavian specialties thrown in for good measure (Read: Fish), but it’s always fresh and there’s plenty of it.  The princesses change all the time, but you’ll usually see four or five and they’re very good about giving each table plenty of opportunities for pictures. A photograph with one of the princesses is included in the price of your meal, making this a great bargain.

Most  Overrated Character Meal:

Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary Resort.  Go for breakfast if you really want to meet the  Fab Five at the Contemporary; dinner at this location is a letdown. Sure, you’re going here for the character interaction, which is good, but you want a good meal too, right?

Best Snack:

The Citrus Swirl. Combining both tart and sweet, the citrus swirl gives you the best of both worlds. Watch out, Dole Whip.

Kids’ Runner-up: Mickey Bar.

Disneyland: We bow to your churro greatness.

Battle of the Churros:

In the battle of the churros, Disneyland is the clear winner: Crispy, sweet with a touch of cinnamon, these churros make Disney World’s seem like poor cousins. 

Delicious fish entree from Club 33.

Best Personal Dining Experience of 2013.

Disneyland’s Club 33:  I was fortunate to be able to eat here in August. While there were hits and misses with the service, the food was spectacular and the setting was incredible. It’s every Disney fan’s dream to eat here–thanks to my boss for always looking out for Mouse Chat and making it happen.

Ribeye at Le Cellier.

Worst Personal  Dining Experience of 2013:

Le Cellier in Epcot’s Canada Pavilion:  Don’t call yourself a signature restaurant and then serve food that isn’t any better than an Outback–and that’s being generous. This is definitely one over-hyped reservation I won’t be fighting for in the future.

The Big Dining Question for 2013:

Will the dining plan still be worth it and have we seen the end of free dining?  As a travel agent, I’d like you to buy the dining plan. As a consumer, I’d like you to think twice about it, especially as prices continue to climb.  We didn’t see free dining offered for the January to March time period, making all of us wondering if it will be offered in the fall. I think it will be, but that remains to be seen.

Of course, all of this is just my opinion and is not meant to offend. I hope you have a great 2013 filled with lots of happiness and wonderful Disney food.

Epcot’s Le Cellier: Worth the Hype?

Le Cellier, located in the Canadian pavilion of Epcot’s World Showcase, is easily the most popular restaurant on Disney World property, but is it worth the hype? In a word, no. Perhaps a caveat is in order here:  It depends on when you go.  While Le Cellier is a delicious bargain for lunch, it feels like letdown at dinner, where the quality of the food doesn’t match the prices.

Earlier this year, Disney made some interesting changes to Le Cellier, which goes from being a standard table-service restaurant at lunch to a signature restaurant at  dinner.  If you’re on the dining plan, that means you’ll pay one table-service credit for lunch and two for dinner. Plenty of restaurants have a less expensive menus for lunch, but the change from a standard restaurant to signature dining is more than just the price. When you eat at a Disney signature restaurant, you expect a more high-end experience comparable to one you’d find at a better restaurant in a larger city, so I was curious to see how this translated with Le Cellier. Did dinner live up to the change in name?

Atmosphere:

Le Cellier, which means “the cellar” in French, is designed to look like a wine cellar in an old French Canadian town. After all the hype you’ve probably heard about this restaurant, the entrance at the back of the Canadian pavilion is a bit of a letdown, especially compared to the elaborate, themed settings you’ll find in most Disney restaurants. Inside, the restaurant is small and cozy, with low ceilings, dark lighting and touches of red and dark wood and while the pictures may scream “Canadian Mounty Lunch Room” it’s actually a very pretty restaurant.  The only drawback is that the tables are close together and you may find yourself wishing for a little bit of elbow room. 

You may miss some of the usual touches that you see at Disney signature restaurants. Little things like tablecloths don’t make an appearance, but that’s a minor thing and I’ll give them a pass on that one. Does it “feel” like a signature restaurant at dinner? No, but it’s still unique enough that it works for a date night or a special occasion meal.

Le Cellier is more quiet than a lot of Disney restaurants, but I wouldn’t hesitate to bring younger children here.  The atmosphere is informal and your overall dining experience is relatively quick. This isn’t to say you’ll be rushed out:  Feel free to enjoy a more leisurely meal. But if you’re visiting with children who have difficulty staying still for more than an hour, you’ll do fine here.

Food:

You’ll start your meal with a delicious bread basket full of pretzel, sourdough, and multi-grain rolls served with salted butter. Disney uses a European-style butter in most of its restaurants; this has a higher fat content, so you’ll notice a more pronounced taste of cream than you do in regular butter. It’s addictive and spread over the warm rolls, you’ll be in carb-heaven.  In fact, I could have been happy with a basket of these rolls and nothing more!

Since I was reviewing this for the site, I wanted to start with the quintessential Le Cellier appetizer: The Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup. Made with Moosehead beer and bacon, this soup is thick, creamy, and a little bland. I was disappointed in the flavor, which had very little actual cheddar taste and was dominated by the bacon and beer. Don’t get me wrong: I love bacon. But this soup has the word “cheddar” in its name so I was hoping for . . . a little cheese, perhaps?

Despite the rather boring soup, which in fairness my table mates loved, Le Cellier shines when it comes to appetizers, in particular its seasonal offerings such as the Heirloom Tomato salad with macerated red Onions, Minus “8” Vinegar, and smoky blue cheese. This healthy combo of sweet, vine ripe tomatoes contrasted with tangy blue cheese and a touch of balsamic vinegar is big enough to share and a bargain at only $12.

Other standouts include seared scallops and the “deconstructed” steakhouse Caesar salad. The scallops are always on the menu but the presentation changes seasonally. This time they were offered with an apple slaw, but the winter months bring heartier adaptations.  Always perfectly cooked, the portion is just right to wet your appetite for the star of the show: Your steak.

Le  Cellier’s Mushroom Filet.

Sadly, the steaks are where our meal fell apart for us. Everyone at our table ordered either the filet with the mushroom risotto or the ribeye with a maple and pink peppercorn butter and herb-parmesan potato wedges.  Now, it should be mentioned that both steaks were delicious. They were evenly seasoned with a nice salt and pepper rub that didn’t mask the flavor of the meat. The sides were also good, particularly the creamy, earthy mushroom risotto that could convince even the most ardent mushroom hater to give it a try.

The thicker of the two ribeyes, pefectly cooked and delicious.

The problem was with the quality of the meat. If you’re going to call yourself a steakhouse and sell a $43 steak, you should be selling good quality meat.  Sure, Le Cellier is in the middle of a theme park. But Disney has never “dumbed down” their food just because of the location and some Disney restaurants are the best of their kind in Central Florida. Not so with Le Cellier.  Two of us ordered the ribeye and as I mentioned, it tasted fantastic. The problem was that both steaks were thin, which makes it difficult to cook, resulting in some chewy, overdone areas. The parts that were good were very good, but you shouldn’t have to describe a steak that way.  One steak in particular was under under an inch thick, little more than a thin strip of beef with a thin line in the center that could be called “medium rare.”  If I’d wanted a schnitzel, I would have gone to Biergarten over in the German pavilion! 

The poor cut and quality of this steak was something that the kitchen should have noticed and not sent out to a customer.  To give you something to compare it to, the quality of the meat wasn’t as good as you would find at an Outback Steakhouse, which is sort of a middle-of-the road steakhouse chain that you might be familiar with. In fact, I would actually put the quality of the steaks at Le Cellier somewhere around a Texas Roadhouse or a Logan’s, both side-of the-highway, inexpensive steakhouse chains where you can get a decent meal for around $16.

Service:

Like most Disney restaurants, Le Cellier has excellent service, but it was a far cry from the usual signature dining experience you’d normally find at restaurants like Citricos and Yachtsman, both of which are known for their exemplary wait staff with decades of experience.  The problem possibly lies in the fact that Le Cellier moves from being a regular restaurant at lunch to a signature restaurant at dinner. Something is lost in the translation, that little extra touch that separates the two types of restaurants. It’s not that the service wasn’t good. It was. It was that it was lacking that extra care you expect at better restaurants.  It was the little things that hurt, like the fact that they simply forgot we were there, causing us to wait nearly an hour to be seated, or the fact that when were were finally given our table, it was a table for four. Once seated, it was obvious that we were not going to be able to eat at such a small table, so we asked for a larger table. Our server, who was great, did find us one. But at these prices, we shouldn’t have had to ask.

Getting a Reservation:

Le Cellier is famously impossible to get a into, which only adds to the allure of the place. If you’re trying to make a lunch reservation, you’ll want to make it the morning that reservations open up at the 180-day mark. Even waiting until that afternoon will make it difficult to get a reservation, so be up at 6:00 a.m. eastern and make your reservation online. If you have difficulty with the system, call 407-WDW-DINE when it opens up at 7:00 a.m. eastern.  Like most signature dining, reservations for dinner at Le Cellier are easier to get due to the price, but you’ll want to book that as early as possible as well just in case.

I probably spend way too much time thinking about Disney food and during my meal, I had a real epiphany about eating on property.  Quite often, my best meals are at one table-service credit restaurants, not because the food is better than at the signature restaurants, but because I never leave feeling like I paid too much. My meal at Le Cellier was good, it just wasn’t worth the money. If I had paid less for this meal, it would have been hands down one of the best bargains on property. But paying what I did? Not even close. And maybe not everyone cares about that on vacation, but I think for most of us, we don’t want to feel like we’ve been overcharged.

Part of the problem with Le Cellier is that I want it to live up to the hype. If it was just another World Showcase restaurant, I’d let it slide a little, but when your expectations are set so high, and when you’re paying signature dining prices, it’s hard not to be disappointed by a meal that’s just so-so.  Ultimately, if you’re looking for a great steak, there are far better available on Disney property: Yachtsman Steakhouse, Artist Point, and California Grill, just to name a few. Next time I’ll try Le Cellier for lunch, but when I want a steak for dinner on Disney property, you’ll find me at Yachtsman Steakhouse.

Ohana for Dinner.

Located on the second floor of the Polynesian Resort, just steps from the monorail, Ohana is a large, family-style restaurant serving grilled meats with pan-Asian flavors that borrow from the cuisines of China, Hawaii, and Japan.  Think soy sauce-based sauces with hints of sugar, coriander, and garlic. The effect can range from delicious to cloyingly sweet, but there’s plenty of it, all in a festive, family-friendly atmosphere.
Food:
As soon as you’re seated your server will bring you bread and butter. The bread is a sweet, Hawaiian-style bread and that’s warm and fresh, but try not to eat too much of it: There’s a lot more to come.
A simple tossed salad of romaine, radicchio, and spinach comes drizzled with a light, honey-lime dressing.  The crisp, fresh taste of the dressing makes this salad one of my favorite parts of the meal.

 After the salad your server will bring you chicken wings with a honey coriander sauce and pork dumplings

The wings are meaty and tender with perfectly crisp skin, however the pork dumplings don’t fare quite as well. On every visit, I’ve found the dumplings to be overcooked to the point where the wonton is hard and crunchy, which is a shame given that  the spicy filling has a pleasant, gingery kick.  I’d love to see these dumplings gently steamed and then given a quick sear in the pan.  Lo mein noodles round out the appetizer portion of your meal. They come with steamed broccoli florets which, if my observations are correct, are largely ignored.

The lo mein noodles are so addictive you might find yourself reaching for multiple portions, although by now you’ve probably noticed that just about everything on the menu, including the noodles, is sweet. I love sweet and salty foods but if you don’t, you might want to pass on this restaurant.  Fortunately, you can cut what starts to seem like an unrelenting parade of sugar with the sauces that are brought to your table.

After the appetizers, you’re ready for the meat portion of the meal, which your server brings out on a large skewer, using a knife and pushing your serving into a bowl (which serves to anchor the skewer as well as holding your food) at the base of the skewer.  There’s no order in which meat is brought to you table; it’s based on when they come off the grill, although shrimp seems to arrive last. On our last visit we started with the oak grilled chicken. It’s not easy to keep chicken breast juicy but they’ve managed it here with this marinated grilled chicken.  It’s the least sweet of all the meats, with the deep, nuanced flavor of a soy sauce and sesame oil marinade.

Of all the meat, the pork fares the least well. On each visit it was slightly dry and too sweet. I enjoyed the beef, but the majority of my table mates thought it was too sweet.  At this point, I may have stopped  noticing since at that point, everything had started to taste the same.  The shrimp was a welcome change, as it was still juicy from being cooked with the shell on and was not overly sauced or spiced; you could actually taste the flavor of the shrimp itself. It’s wildly popular judging from the piles of shells on some guests’ plates, so if you want to indulge, you’ll need to  ask your server to bring more.

Everyone enjoyed dessert, which was a bread pudding with caramel sauce (most often with sliced bananas) topped with scoops of ice cream. I’m a huge fan of caramel and this sauce, which was a simple brown sugar sauce with cream, butter and vanilla, was delicious. I could eat this every day and not get tired of it. The pudding is very sweet (shocking, I know), so you may want to ask for extra ice cream to cut the sweetness a bit.

Ohana means “family,” but my husband and I always joke that it actually means “meat.”  Obviously, this can be an issue for some guests. Fortunately, the kitchen is very accommodating.  Kids who are picky eaters will do fine here as chicken nuggets, fries and macaroni and cheese are also available.  They can even get a separate dessert. Vegetarians or those with dietary restrictions should consult with the chef for a separate entree.  Regardless of your preferences, you won’t leave Ohana hungry.

Service and Atmosphere:

Ohana is loud and fun, making it ideal for an end-of-trip celebration dinner when you’re feeling just a bit sad about leaving Disney World. The room is dark, with small, very bright, overhead lights punctuating the darkness and creating an unpleasant spotlight effect on some of the guests. Almost all of the tables have views of the pool and the Magic Kingdom and Cinderella Castle beyond through a large bank of windows.  If you’re dining later at night, ask for a table near the windows so you can see the fireworks, but even tables in the middle of the room have a great view.

Service is both enthusiastic and haphazard. We recently waited 45-minutes for a glass of wine and drinks were never refilled, but the steady stream of food was unrelenting, at least until we got to the “meat” portion of the meal.  Your server will bring out skewers of chicken, beef, pork and shrimp to your table throughout that portion of the meal, but there can be very long waits between servings. This is particularly true if you have a large table. On a recent visit there were eleven of us, all adults. Our server ran out of meat halfway through each visit to our table, so one side of the table was always watching the other eat. 

After dinner, consider going down to the beach to watch the Electrical Water Pageant or the fireworks. This resort comes to life at night, with gorgeous lighting illuminating the exotic landscaping.  There are plenty of places to sit and have a quiet drink from the bar or for a romantic stroll. 

This photo is the property of Tom Bricker.
You can see more of his work at

Getting a Reservation at Ohana:


Guests love a good bargain and at one table-serice credit on the Disney Dining Plan, Ohana is fits the bill. This is part of the problem. When Le Cellier, easily the most popular restuarant on Disney property, went to two table-service credits for dinner, Ohana took its place as the number one table-service dinner location.  Make sure you get your reservation as close to the 180-day mark as possible. If you’re planning late, don’t give up hope. You can still opt for a late seating (say, after 9:30) or keep calling close to travel in the hopes that there will be cancellations. Finally, Ohana requires a credit card guarantee to reserve a spot. Your card won’t be charged but there is a $10 per person fee for no-shows so make sure you cancel one-day prior to your reservation.

Ohana is a restaurant with some occasional bumps, but like a lot of guests, the pluses outweigh the minuses for us, making it a must-do every trip. It’s the kind of place that feels special enough for date night, but still casual enough that you won’t have to worry about rambunctious kids–your own or someone else’s. The fun atmosphere could easily easily bring anyone out of the end-of-trip blues, at least temporarily.  And while it’s true that I would love some savory additions to the menu, I still love the food.  In fact, I’m wishing I had some of that bread pudding right now!

Trail’s End Lunch and Dinner Buffet

Sometimes a dining experience at Walt Disney World is more about the journey and the experience than the food. For years, the Trail’s End at Fort Wilderness was a hidden gem known only by the campers and Magic Kingdom visitors that ventured beyond the theme park to eat. Reasonable food was offered at very reasonable prices. Unfortunately, the prices have risen and the food has become increasingly homogenized.

Still, it is a fun trip to get to Fort Wilderness from the Magic Kingdom, Wilderness Lodge or the Contemporary. You can drive to the campground, but you will have to take a Fort Wilderness bus to get from the parking lot to the restaurant. By far, taking one of the boat launches is the most enjoyable way to get to the eatery. The boat will take about 20 minutes from the Magic Kingdom and the Contemporary to get to the Fort Wilderness Marina.

I’ve circled Pioneer Hall, where Trail’s End, the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue and Crocket’s Tavern are located. 

I’m Bringing Nerdy Back
Fort Wilderness opened on November 19, 1971, almost two months after the grand opening of Walt Disney World. Trail’s End Buffeteria opened in 1974. Some time in the late 1980s the Buffeteria name was dropped.

About the Restaurant

Located in Pioneer Hall, Trail’s End is next to Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. This can cause a bit of congestion when people are lined up for the show since the checkin line for Hoop-Dee can stretch in front of the Trail’s End. You might want to inquire about show times if you are making an ADR in the evening. If there is a wait for your table, spend a few minutes relaxing on the rocking chairs on the porch.

The restaurant is rather plain, but not without its charms. As you enter, you will see a photograph of Fess Parker as Davy Crockett. For the most part, the decorations follow suit with items that you would expect that a settler would use: wagon wheels, pots, lanterns, etc.

Breakfast

A traditional Disney buffet is served for breakfast. Adults can expect to pay $17.00 to $19.00, based on the season, while kids will pay $10.00 – $12.00. The fare is pretty standard and includes: Mickey Waffles, eggs, breakfast pizzas, bacon, sausage, fruit oatmeal and hot cinnamon spiced apples (a treat).

The breakfast is enjoyable but not worth the trip due to the crowds and travel time. There are similar buffets that are located closer to the theme parks. It is a great place for breakfast if you are staying at Fort Wilderness, though.

Lunch

Lunch at Trail’s End has changed over the past year. Instead of being a buffet, they are offering a normal menu. Surprisingly, there are some great choices for lunch, including: fried chicken and waffles, Angus chuck bacon cheeseburger (very good) and a fresh berry salad with chicken. The price is pretty standard; expect to pay $12.00 to $15.00 for an entree.

The kid’s menu is as uninspired as most restaurants at Disney. Macaroni and Cheese, a cheeseburger and chicken strips are the primary offerings.

Dinner

This is where the Trail’s End shines.You will pay around $25.00 for an adult and $14.00 per child.

There are the standard buffet options, but there are two standouts: the macaroni and cheese and the chili.

The chili is hearty with the right mixture of beef and beans. Once I discovered it, I had to pace myself. Much to my chagrin, I am a macaroni and cheese aficionado. I spent my time between the chili and the mac and cheese. I found the mac and cheese to be very heavy, which is good and it had just the right amount of cheesy tang. It was the most food that my finicky eight year-old ate all week.

Trail’s End is a great choice for a late lunch or for the buffet if you want to add something different to your vacation. It is a lot of fun getting to Fort Wilderness and exploring the environs. Time it right and you could take part in the campfire program (7pm or 8pm, depending on the season) which is free to all Walt Disney World guests. You can roast marshmallows, take part in a sing-a-long, get some great character time and watch a Disney film under the stars.

Disney Fantasy: Enchanted Garden

The fountain is the centerpiece of this beautiful restaurant.

 Located on board both the Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy you’ll find Enchanted Garden restaurant, one of the three restaurants featured in rotational dining that guests will experience during the course of their cruise. For those that may not know, rotational dining is Disney Cruise Line’s  way of ensuring guests get to try each of the main restaurants. When you board, you are given your “Key to the World” card which will have your dining schedule printed on the bottom. Every night, you experience a different main dining room (on the Fantasy, this includes Enchanted Garden, Royal Court and Animator’s Palate), but unlike other cruise lines, aboard a Disney ship, your table mates and your servers rotate with you. This ensures you see a familiar face every night and that your servers quickly learn your preferences.

The flower light fixtures change color….

and bloom during your meal. Don’t forget to look up!

Enchanted Garden is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day, and serves a varied menu featuring flavors from around the world. Yet it is not the food, but like so much with Disney, the theming that will find most enjoyable. Inspired by the gardens of Versailles, Enchanted Garden features painted frescoes, hanging vegetation, custom glass flower light fixtures, and the centerpiece of the restaurant, a 7 foot tall fountain featuring a cherub Mickey Mouse. If you aren’t drawn in by all the details everywhere, the sky overhead changes during your meal, turning from  the bright blue sky of daylight into a reddish orange sunset, and finally, a twinkling, starry night. If you’re engrossed in conversation, you may even be a little taken by the transformation – I was surprised to see that even the light fixtures “bloom” and change color as the meal progressed.

The frescoes on the walls are so vivid.

We ate dinner here the first night of our preview cruise. One of the nice things about a cruise is that you can try foods you may never have before, and order anything you want off the menu. So, if you want to try  the soup, salad, appetizer, and entree, you can have all of them! There’s no need to pick and choose. You can even order multiple appetizers or multiple entrees, for example. 
 

Romaine wedge, Romano dressing.

 The menu was quite varied, featuring appetizers such as Ahi tuna served on an avocado tower with crisp noodles and a wasabi dressing, and North Atlantic lobster ravioli, served with garlic in a light tomato cream sauce. I skipped the appetizers, which I still regret, because one of the other agents sitting at the table did in fact try the ravioli and said it was quite delicious (it looked it, too). Instead, I skipped ahead to the salads, and went with the “safe” choice of a romaine wedge (way to take my own advice), which was exactly as described – a crisp romaine wedge served with a creamy and flavorful Romano dressing and crunchy croutons. Other soup and salad choices available that evening included a baby spinach salad tossed with pears and pine nuts and  Gorgonzola crumbles, and a curried carrot and apple soup, garnished with a yogurt drizzle and carrot curls. 

Fresh Ahi tuna served on an avocado tower.


Craving meat for dinner, I was happy to see one of my choices was a roasted pork tenderloin seasoned with sea salt. Honestly, however, it left me a little disappointed. Though the meat was nicely cooked, tender and seasoned, it just fell flat and rather ordinary.  Even the presentation was lacking, consisting of a slab of meat on a plate. The menu description said it was served with citrus flavored polenta cakes and oven roasted carrots, parsnips and caramelized Granny Smith apples. I didn’t taste any type of citrus flavor, however, so I’m not sure what happened there.  In my opinion, the best looking dish that evening, and what I would order if you see it on the menu, is the pan seared sea bass with saffron and fennel risotto with a sweet chili glaze. This looked very fresh, and the person at our table who ate it actually even said they weren’t the type to eat fish, and thoroughly enjoyed it. 

See how good this sea bass looks? This is what I SHOULD have ordered.


If dinner let me down though, dessert picked me back up. Of course there are numerous choices, and though I was tempted to say “bring me one of everything”, I decided on the Sacher chocolate torte, a fluffy, creamy, and rich dessert served with apricot sauce, which provided just the right amount of tartness and bite to prevent the torte from being too sweet on the taste buds. I debated licking the plate, but our efficient servers took the plate away before I could decide.



Layers of chocolate and whipped cream. Nice.

Overall, I really liked the Enchanted Garden. The theming is incredible and really makes you feel you’re eating someplace special, and the extensive and varied menu means there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Quick Bites: Roasted Chicken Breast at Citricos

As wonderful to eat as it is to look at. 






   




Located within Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort you’ll find Citricos, a signature restaurant featuring the cuisine of Southern Europe. 

As this is a favorite dining destination for my wife and I, I’ve had the opportunity to try a variety of dishes, such as the roasted chicken breast ($29.00).

This dish consists of a free-range chicken served with saffron and green pea risotto, mojo picon and garnished with micro cilantro. There are a number of ways to ruin chicken, but I am happy to say that this was expertly prepared. The skin was left on during roasting, which preserved the moisture, leaving the meat juicy and succulent (there’s nothing worse than a dried out piece of chicken); it also gave the skin a hint of crispiness. 

The mojo picon (a type of garlic sauce cooked with paprica, cumin seed and dried chilies) lent a hint of spice to the dish without being overpowering, while the saffron and green pea risotto complimented the chicken perfectly, the peas adding a subtle, summer flavor. 


Like everything served here, the presentation was elegant, even if the course itself was simple. The contrast of color on the plate and the simple garnish for an added touch left no doubt that I was eating somewhere special. 

Citricos is two table service credits on the Disney Dining Plan; they also gladly accept the Tables in Wonderland card. Advanced dining reservations are strongly recommended.

Authors note: The menu changes frequently at Citricos, typically with each season, so some dishes may not be available year round.

Quick Bites: The Anchors Aweigh Tuna Sandwich At Columbia Harbour House

The sandwich is a good size and really fills you up!

Tucked away between Fantasyland and Liberty Square you’ll find Columbia Harbour House, a busy counter-service restaurant that is a lot bigger than it looks from the outside. 

On a recent visit, I decided to stop in and try their tuna fish sandwich, aptly named the Anchors Aweigh ($8.99), considering they serve almost all fish dishes. Unfortunately, the sandwich left me walking away disappointed. 

It’s is described on the menu as “white tuna with lettuce and tomato served on a toasted multi-grain bread. Served with chips.” I loved that the lettuce and tomato were both crisp and fresh and that the sandwich is a very good size that easily fills you up. But the bread was over toasted, making it dry on top of an already dry tuna which needed extra mayonnaise. It also appeared to not have been seasoned at all and just tasted “flat” on my tongue. I suppose if you’re used to a more bland tuna sandwich you would enjoy this, but most people would do better choosing something else from the extensive menu.

Despite my disappointing experience with the Anchors Aweigh, I like this location for a quick bite and would return again.


Columbia Harbour House is one quick service credit on the Disney dining plan. 

Donald’s Safari Breakfast at Tusker House.

There’s plenty of time to interact with Donald.

Donald’s Safari Breakfast, located in Tusker House in the Africa section of Animal Kingdom, is my hands down favorite breakfast buffet in all of Walt Disney World. Fresh food, great character interaction and service, all in a beautifully themed location, make it a win every time. 

Atmosphere:

Like most everything in Animal Kingdom, Tusker House has been perfectly themed to reflect its surroundings, in this case, a small outpost town in Africa. Walls are designed to have the look of aging plaster, with spots missing and old paint showing through here and there.  Fixtures and hinges on the doors are shabby and rustic, as if they’ve been neglected for years. Noticing these small details, you’ll see the extensive work and great care that goes into theming this park. 

Despite my youngest child’s sad face, my boys enjoyed Goofy the most.

The buffet is located in the center of the restaurant in an area designed to look like an outdoor market.  You’ll come out of one of the dining areas into the buffet area. Unless you’re in the far back of the restaurant, it’s not that far of a walk, but if you’re there alone with a young child, you may want to ask to be seated closer so that you can bring food to the table more easily.

Tip: Making your dining reservations close to your travel dates?  It’s often easier to get reservations for this character meal than others, such as Chef Mickey’s. 

Food:

Almost all breakfast buffets at Disney World are good, but Tusker House is a step above the average buffet.  You’ll find a section full of fruit and yogurt, cereals, bread and bagels for toasting, pastries, and a hot bar with eggs, fried potatoes, ham and cheese frittata, mealie pap (a type of porridge), oatmeal, bacon, sausage, biscuits, and gravy.

A selection of bagels, fruit, cereal and yogurt. Note the
plates under the buffet tables.

There’s also normally a ham being carved.  Go head–it’s a big park and you’ll need all that protein for energy.

Ham with a spicy African-inspired sauce.

The buffets are kept clean and free of messes and the food is always fresh. As soon as a dish gets close to being empty, a new one replaces it, so you’ll never find yourself scraping the bottom of the bowl for eggs.  Fruit selections include strawberries, grapes, bananas, raspberries, and melon.  In the middle of the buffet area, there’s a separate station for pastries, which includes small chocolate and plain croissants, which are surprisingly good but bear very little resemblance to a real croissant, as well as fruit turnovers and donuts. Yes, I said doughnuts.  Unlimited, delicious, fresh doughnuts.  Again, go ahead. You’re fueling up for later, right?

The pastry portion of the buffet is huge!

When you arrive, your server will take your drink order, but she’ll also bring you Jungle Juice, Tusker House’s signature beverage. It’s a mixture of equal parts guava, passion fruit, and orange juices.  Refills on beverages are free of charge.  As soon as you place your order, you can take hungry kids up to the buffet.  Plates are available at the buffet and when you’re finished with one, your server will take it away, leaving you free to get a fresh plate.

I’m not a big fan of buffets, but in my experience, the food at Tusker House is always excellent. It’s hard to keep a big plate of scrambled eggs from tasting dried out, but these were delicious and fresh, like they’d just come off the stove. The biscuits are large and fresh tasting as well, although the gravy that’s served alongside of them is bland and barely hints at any meat; Southerners who are used to covering their biscuits with white gravy full of sausage may want to pass on this one.  The spicy corn beef hash was a nice addition to my meal, something that I normally wouldn’t order.  The bacon was too thin, a common complaint, but the sausages were excellent, nicely flavored and not overcooked.

Service and Character Interaction:

Africa is in the back of the park, so give yourself a full thirty minutes to walk through security to Tusker House, as you’ll want to have time to look around on your way. If you’re arriving before the park opens, this is a great opportunity to take pictures in a nearly empty park.  Tusker House is right over a bridge on the left as you walk into Africa.  You’ll give your name to the cast member at the outdoor podium near the front of the restaurant and be given a pager. After a short wait, you’ll be shown back–and face a rather daunting line of your fellow guests waiting to meet Donald.

Whether or not the line moves quickly is largely dependent on how quickly parents shuffle their children through, as I’ve never seen cast members here rush anyone–a nice touch unless you’re really hungry.

After you meet Donald, you’ll be brought into the restaurant by a cast member and shown to your table, where you’ll have an opportunity to meet the rest of the Fab Five dressed in Safari clothes as you eat your meal. Characters will come over to your table and pose for pictures. I didn’t find the character interaction to be rushed as I sometimes do at other locations, which was very welcome. You’ll have ample time for pictures and autographs.
You won’t see Donald inside but you can meet Daisy.

Hourly, kids are invited to come up and join the characters as they form a parade around the room. They’ll be given shakers and other African instruments, so it’s loud! In fact, if you have kids who have sensory issues, consider not sitting underneath the speakers, which are turned up very high during the parade. You can see the speakers on the wall in the photograph below. 

Service here, as in most Disney restaurants, is efficient and friendly. Don’t forget that your tip isn’t included on the Disney dining plan!

If you have an early breakfast reservation, you can leave Tusker House right as the park opens. Head over to the Kilimanjaro Safari, which is just a few steps away, or have one of the faster people in your group run over to Expedition Everest to get fastpasses for everyone who wants to ride.

Tusker House is one table-service credit on the Disney Dining Plan.

Kona Cafe: A Breakfast Review

It’s a new favorite for me.

I have a confession to make. I don’t do breakfast. And I don’t do breakfast at Disney. While on vacation in Disney World, I prefer waking up at noon to eating waffles in the shape of Mickey Mouse at 7 a.m., no matter how good they may be. In fact, prior to eating at Kona Cafe recently, it had probably been 5 years since I ate breakfast in a Disney restaurant. How then did I manage to pull together this review? Well, as regular readers of the blog know, I recently attended “One More Disney Day”, and after stumbling out of the park around 6:30 a.m. or so, I needed something to eat, and a good, strong cup of coffee. Luckily, Kona Cafe didn’t disappoint on either count.

Located within Disney’s Polynesian Resort on the second floor of the Grand Ceremonial House (main building), Kona Cafe is very open, bright, and lively. Disney describes it as “infusing a bit of Asian zest” into traditional American fare. Personally, I think the resort itself, with its greenery, blooming flowers and inside water features is what helps make Kona so inviting. There’s a lot to look at inside, from the carpet with its tropical flower pattern to the walls adorned with island artifacts (well, they’re probably replicas of artifacts, but they’re still cool!). There’s even a small statue of Lilo and Stich inside.

Not to be funny, but I love the “Contemporary” look of this place.

Check-in for our ADR was a breeze, and since we had the earliest seating time for breakfast (7:30 a.m.) we were escorted promptly to our table. Our server, David, was awesome. A veteran cast member, he seemed to anticipate our every need before we could even ask. He was also familiar with the menu and able to describe the offerings in great detail. 


If you like a good, hearty breakfast, you’ll LOVE Kona. Portions here are huge. I was glad to be going home after eating, because there was no way I could see myself getting on rides on such a full stomach. From the Big Kahuna ($11.99), which is served with french toast, pancakes, eggs your way, ham, home-fried potatoes, bacon and sausage (I think my cholesterol jumped 10 points just reading that) to the Macadamia Pineapple Pancakes ($9.99), served with Macadamia nut butter, pineapple sauce, and your choice of ham, sausage or bacon, you’ll get plenty of food at a very good price. 

The Tonga Toast. And no, the size has not been enlarged to show texture.

The specialty of the house, however, which is what I ordered, is the Tonga Toast ($10.99), a delicious banana-stuffed sourdough bread, rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with your choice of ham, bacon or sausage. It also comes with sides of butter, syrup, and a fresh strawberry compote, though personally, I found that the toast was sweet enough on its own with just the butter, and the syrup and strawberry compote were a bit much. Now, mere words cannot describe how good Tonga Toast actually is. There are a few foods on Disney property that have achieved legendary status – the “Kitchen Sink” at Beaches and Cream, the “Filet Sicilian” at Citricos, and yes, even the “turkey” legs at snack carts across the Disney parks. Tonga Toast is lengendary, and not just because you can only find it at the Polynesian (you can also get it at Captain Cook’s, the counter service restaurant located on the first floor of the Great Ceremonial House). It’s legendary because it is awesome, and you must try it. 

A very blurry picture of the inside of Tonga Toast.
Note to self: Do not attempt to take photos while exhausted.

For those looking for something a little different, you might like what my wife, Donna had, The Samoan ($9.99), poached eggs with Hollandaise served over pulled pork hash, and topped with watercress. This was absolutely delicious, the pulled pork was juicy and tender and the poached eggs added silkiness, and the potato hash tied it all together as a complete breakfast drizzled in a creamy Hollandaise sauce. I only had a couple of bites of this, but I definitely want to order it my next trip to Kona.

There’s a lot of delicious hiding under that watercress.

Of course, with any good breakfast, you have to have a good cup of coffee. While your standard coffee is available, you’ll want to spend a little extra and get the French Press Pot of Kona coffee ($7.99) made from Kona coffee beans. At about 3-3 1/2 cups, it’s meant for two people. Since Donna doesn’t drink coffee though, I helped myself to the pot! A lot of people will say Kona coffee is bitter or too strong, but that’s not really a fair assessment. Just as grapes grown in different regions will result in different flavors in wine, so too is the case with coffee beans. I would describe Kona coffee as being much more bold than what the average consumer is used to, and boy, will it wake you up, and keep you up. By the way, if you’re just looking for a cup of coffee, right outside Kona Cafe is the “Kona Cart” selling the same great coffee and pastries.  If coffee is not your thing – trust me kids, it will stunt your growth – that’s okay too, because you can get a variety of other hot coffee drinks, teas, smoothies, juices or even a cocktail. 

The best coffee you’ll find anywhere on Disney property.

With everything that Kona has to offer, I may have a reason to drag myself out of bed at 7:00 a.m. while on vacation again. 

Kona Cafe is one table service credit on the Disney dining plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and well worth it. They also accept the Tables in Wonderland card. Advanced dining reservations are recommended. 

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