Why Disney Construction Shouldn’t Ruin Your Vacation

This is a big season for Disney and with so much change going on there are “preserving the magic” barriers everywhere. So please pardon our pixie dust as we continue imagining along.

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Many of our parks are receiving their biggest changes, and no I’m not here to spill company secrets so don’t ask but what I can tell you about are some of the changes already known to the public. Some of the biggest changes taking place are those in Animal Kingdom, Downtown Disney, and parts of California Adventure and Disneyland.

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Let me start by saying I know how frustrating it is to deal with construction on your current Disney vacation. The traffic is bad, some places are crowded because walkways are cut off, and the biggest problem is not getting that iconic shot in front of the castle. As someone who tries to angle that ugly crane out of her shot believe me I understand. If I could make it all disappear like magic believe me I would. As Cast Members, we do not like the construction anymore than you do, it makes us late for work, and we miss seeing our beautiful castles too when they are covered up.

The bright side is, none of this is permanent. Just as the walls went up they will soon go down. More and more stores and restaurants are opening where the walls were blocking off. You better believe you should be excited about that! In Animal Kingdom we will have the beautiful world of Avatar, in Downtown Disney we will have more entertainment options and more dining options, one of which is Morimoto Asia from Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto! They are also building Amphibicars! Cars you can drive on the water!

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Trust me, I understand your frustrations. They are ones I have to deal with everyday, much like every Cast Member. While the traffic may hinder your week’s vacation it hinders our everyday life. While you might be sad you cannot see some of your favorite park icons, we share in your sadness (nothing hurts worse than a disappointed prince or princess!). We honestly want you to have the best time here; as such we keep looking toward the future, growing the company and making your dreams come to life!

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So again I ask, please pardon our pixie dust while we continue imagining. I for one cannot wait to see our dreams unfold and the new things that are brought to life. Remember every dream starts somewhere, and ours all started with a mouse. So I hope to see you all real soon, and try not to let the construction bring you down, unless it’s bringing you down to Downtown Disney! In which case stop in and see me!

– Leslie

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Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue Review

The Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue is an all-you-can-eat table service restaurant located on the edge of Disneyland’s Frontierland.  There is also live entertainment that plays on a stage as you sit and eat.  I had lunch here on my latest visit to Disneyland and will review that meal in this post.  This restaurant serves barbecue food (as the title implies) and is a family style restaurant where everyone shares what is brought to the table.  There is no set menu to order from, as every table gets the same food choices brought to them.

BTRBBQ Flower pink rose

 

BTRBBQ Dinner sign

One of the things Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue has going for it is it’s location.  Because of the amount of attractions fit in Disneyland, there aren’t a ton of quiet places throughout the park.  This restaurant does find one of the quieter places though.  Located on the back street that connects Frontierland to Fantasyland, this is one place that doesn’t get a ton of foot traffic in the park.  This area is filled with gorgeous flowers and all different kinds of beautiful colors.  On the opposite side of the restaurants entrance is the backside of Thunder Mountain Railroad (the 9th wonder of the World?).

BTRBBQ Check-in

Entering the restaurant doesn’t provide much change from what guests encounter passing by.  Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue is all open-air and outdoors.  Most of the area is shaded and filled with even more flowers.  We visited on a pretty hot day but I remember thinking that the area was ever too hot.  The shade kept it cool, as well as the lack of crowds inside the restaurant.

BTRBBQ seating

We checked in at the entrance which is all made of wood covered in, you guessed it, flowers.  It was almost like a little stand.  We had made a reservation in advance (although I don’t think reservations are necessary unless you are going during a busy time of year) so, after waiting for about 5 minutes, they seated us and took our drink orders.  Like all table service restaurants in Disney Parks, there were unlimited refills on soft drinks.  A few people ordered lemonade there which appeared to be fresh.  I enjoyed the taste that I had of it.

BTRBBQ lemonade

As I stated, Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue also provides live entertainment during your dining.  We were seated towards the back and not close to the stage.  The performers played country music, mostly old-time country songs and seemed geared towards families with younger children.  They were pleasant enough and their performances were good.  If you go to this place strictly for the entertainment, I think you may be let down.  With that being said, it was a nice little bonus for us as it gave some fun background noise to the meal.  If you are interested in the entertainment just request a table towards the stage at check-in.  If not, request a table at the back because it gave some fun views of Frontierland.

BTRBBQ Welcome Friends

 

BTRBBQ stage

The ambiance of the area really fit in with the rest of Frontierland.  As I mentioned, there were flowers everywhere.  The food came in buckets and the drinks came in mason jars.  It all fit the theme of a friendly midwest barbecue really well.  It was a very welcoming space with a good amount of charm.

BTRBBQ flowers

We went to Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue for lunch.  The lunch meal includes barbecue chicken and ribs, coleslaw, ranch beans, and cornbread.  All of those are offered for dinner along with smoked sausage and corn on the cob.  Our waitress took the time to let us know that we could have as much as we wanted of these items.  Before long, our food was out.

The chicken and ribs were both juicy and pretty flavorful.  They came in the same bucket so they shared the same barbecue sauce.  The barbecue sauce was good but nothing special.  That was the same way I felt about the meat, good but nothing special.  It wasn’t a whole lot better than what you could find at a local barbecue joint but it was still tasty.  I liked the ribs better than the chicken but that is mostly just my preference.  We did ask for several refills on it, so that helped the value of the restaurant.

BTRBBQ Meat

The side dishes were about the same, in my opinion.  The cole slaw had a little bit of a spice to it which made it fairly interesting but it didn’t do a whole lot else for me.  There was almost like a mild salsa on the cole slaw.  It had a real southwest flavor to it.  To be fair, I’m not exactly a cole slaw connoisseur, preferring KFC’s cole slaw to most other places.  The beans were better than your average baked beans.  They had good flavor but, again, nothing to write home about.  They were enough to write a review about though, since you are reading this.

BTRBBQ Beans

 

BTRBBQ Cole Slaw

The corn bread was the real winner of the meal.  It was moist and had lots of flavor.  This corn bread was easily some of the best that I’ve ever tried.  I think our waitress got a good workout bringing us refills on the corn bread.

BTRBBQ corn bread

We finished our meal but what’s a meal without dessert?  To finish off with something sweet, we ordered the S’mores Bake.  There were five of us at the meal and this served all of us easily.  The base of the dish was chocolate brownies and they were topped with roasted marshmallows, graham crackers and hot fudge.  If you like S’mores you’ll love this.  I thought the dish was a little too sweet but it was delicious nonetheless.

BTRBBQ S'mores

Overall, our meal was pretty good but nothing special.  If you love barbecue food, you’ll probably enjoy this place quite a bit.  The entertainment was fun but not a huge selling point.   The ambiance was enjoyable, especially if you are a fan of midwest charm.  The real selling point here is the way you can make this place worth the money.  Being all-that-you-can-eat helps the value.  Where as all Disney restaurants can be overpriced, not all of them can fill up every member of your family.  This one can and at a relatively cheap price of $23.99.  Yes, I know that this is expensive but compared to other restaurants and seeing how this is all-you-can-eat this is one of the better values for a sit-down restaurant at Disneyland.  You can also get 10% off of that price if you have a Disney Credit Card.  Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue is a fun place to try although it’s not somewhere that I think I’ll come back to very often.

Restaurant Rating – 7/10

– Andrew

Question of the Week & Round-Up (3/28/15)

Every week all of our writers get together and answer a Disney related question. Here’s this week’s question and responses:

Question of the Week: A very basic question this week. When is your next trip to a Disney Park? What are planning to do on that trip or what could be special about it?

Melissa L – Our next Disney trip is planned for September! We definitely can’t wait! Obviously we plan to do both parks and spend lots of time at each, but most importantly Andrew and I are running the Disneyland 10k while we are there!

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Melissa H. – My next trip to a Disney Park is coming in October 2015. I will be returning to Disneyland for a 4 day stay at the parks. Originally this trip started out sort of as a joke between my boyfriend and I while I was in Disneyland this past February and now, as we look at airfare and begin to put money aside, it is starting to become a reality.

There are a few things that I am really excited about for this upcoming trip. The first is that on our trip we will be joined by some great family friends. We have gone on several trips to Disneyland Resort together, the first when I was just 2, and now will be going again – so fun! Another piece that I am excited about is getting to go with Tyler who is, thankfully, just as in love with Disney as I am. We are already talking about what we want to do first and all of the places we want to take cheesy pictures so it should be a blast! Another big thing is that Grizzly Peak and Airfield, formerly Condor Flats, will be completely open again (fingers crossed) during this trip. My last two trips Grizzly River Run was closed down and drained of water, so I have been dying to go on that ride! As we go about trip planning, I am also considering paying the money to go on one of the tours that Disney offers. I haven’t decided upon this yet, so I am not sure, but it could be a fun and new way to experience the parks.

I guess I could have just made this much simpler and said the truth – I am excited for EVERYTHING!

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Leslie – I actually just had my last Disney trip while my mom was here.  That being said my next Disney trip is Wednesday. I’m headed to Epcot with one of my roommates. I’m going to go on Soarin’, meet some characters and, of course, go on Spaceship Earth. I will probably spend the day eating wonderful food and at character meet and greets. My Disney trips however are usually not planned since I have so much time here.

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Kelsee – We are planning a trip to Disney World next summer. It will be a special trip because my daughter will be old enough to go to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, she will be 3 1/2 which is a wonderful time to experience the magic through her eyes. The last time we took her to Disney World she was only 7 months so I’m excited to be able to do more things with her this time around.

Also, we are hoping to see some of the new additions/refurbishments Disney World has in motion and hopefully the renovations will be complete or almost complete by next summer!

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Andrew – As Melissa L. said, we are going to Disneyland in September to take part in our first RunDisney event! I’m very excited for that and to see what one of these races is like. What I’m most excited for though is to see the new additions they will have made for the 60th anniversary. All of the shows and ride refurbishments have me very excited. I’m also excited to add more photos to my collection and plan on this being a very big part of our trip (which Melissa probably isn’t as excited about as I am). September can’t come soon enough!

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When is your next Disney trip?  Let us know in the comments!

A recap of the week after the jump.   Continue reading

A Quick Review of Smart Phone Apps for Disney Travelers

These days, almost every group of people has at least one person with a smart phone and more often than not, these phones go wherever their users go – including a Disney trip.

Many of us use our phones more than we would like to admit and I have heard more than one family in line having an argument about putting the phone away and just being there with everyone else. While it is true that phones can isolate members of your party during your Disney experience, they can also help you to have a more convenient way to plan your day. Instead of you going through all the apps available on your phone and trying to decide, as I did, which sounded like it would be “the best” I figured I would take a little bit of the work out and give you a quick review of the different apps that I have tried over my past couple of trips.

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Before I begin reviewing, please note that I own an iPhone 5S and that some of the apps I am reviewing may function differently or not be available on other devices.

Disneyland MouseWait Social Wait Times Free

What I like: By far the most useful feature of this app is the wait time listings for different rides throughout the park. As far as apps go, MouseWait generally has one of the most accurate current wait times listed (probably due to the popularity of the app itself) and will let you know what time of day each ride’s information was last updated. For example, if I was looking at waits at 11:30 it might say “Peter Pan’s Flight, 30 min wait as of 10:57 am”. This helps me to gauge how accurate the listed wait time might be. hey also list wait times for popular eateries in the park like Dole Whips, because if you’ve learned nothing else about me from this blog, you need to know Dole Whips are very important to my trip. Another useful feature, especially for anyone going on a longer trip or with an annual pass, is that it also lists which rides are closed for refurbishment along with the park hours AND crowd index for each park. Astonishingly – the crowd index (which is basically a percentage of how full the park will be) is pretty accurate. Their “lounge” area is also very up-to-date on big events in the park because it constantly has users, who are Disney geeks, chatting and updating. You can be sure you are always up on the latest events happening at Disney!

What I don’t like: Aside from the features listed above, I don’t particularly find any of the other information available to be well-organized or easy to find. Surely, some probably like the layout, but for me it doesn’t really scream “user friendly”. In my opinion, this is one of the less convenient apps in regards to where to find things within the park. And, even though this is one of the more accurate apps for wait times, relies on its users to keep it updated. This might mean that a ride goes several hours without an updated wait time, or that information could be a little misleading if someone inputs an incorrect time.

Princess and the frog float

Disneyland Explorer

What I like: This is the only app that is created by Disney that I have found that actually has something to do with the parks. You can tell it is a Disney product from how clean and put together it is. And it’s cute? If you are looking to plan a vacation and have never been, are trying to entertain your children and give them a vacation like experience, or are missing the park this is a cute app. You can play some games relating to certain areas, listen to cute background music, and look at pictures of different rides and attractions. Probably the best for littles or extreme Disney nerds!

What I don’t like: Literally all you do is look at pictures. I understand why the app is popular and it can definitely help curb my Disney withdrawals, but I find it to be kind of a silly use of the space on my phone.

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Walkee iGuide

What I like: This is probably my favorite of the apps because it definitely has the most information and one of the best presentations of that information. If you allow it to connect your location it will plop a big arrow wherever you are in the park – definitely great for a newbie. You can also customize what pops up on your park map by choosing from the categories: shops, rides, dining, did it, and itinerary. You can choose up to 4 of these categories to appear on your map at one time. Then, when your map appears you can click on any location and get more information. If you choose to display rides, the current wait time will pop up right there. It makes finding information pretty easy. One of my favorite aspects of this app is when you click on a ride to get more information. The app will give you general ride information, a back story about the ride, height requirement info, what an average wait time for the ride might be, information about whether or not it is a “tummy twister” and so much more. Seriously, it is so cool! You can also create an itinerary in the app and then check off what you have done! You can also get all of this information in a simple list form if the map idea is just too much. One last feature that I really like is that the app has a built-in timer for wait times, so you don’t have to worry about guessing. In addition, this app has a calendar feature giving you important information for your stay, a direct link to buying tickets for other SoCal attractions, and so much more.

What I don’t like: This app can freeze or run slowly occasionally, especially if you decide to open a lot. And, like other apps, it relies on users to update wait times which can lead to incorrect times being posted. In addition, it may take a little playing around with to really see what all you can do with the app, but I was always amazed (in a good way) the more I played around.

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Disney Magic Guide

What I like: You can literally search for food items and it will tell you where you can find that food in the park. Maybe that’s just the fat kid inside of me coming out, but it is pretty amazing. No more having to go from place to place searching for a corn dog. Like the Walkee iGuide app, this lets you look at wait times and attractions on a park map so you can get a better idea of where you are going. While you are in the map, you can click on attractions to get a photograph of what the building looks like to make sure you are actually in the right spot, and can turn the map to orient yourself in the park. This app gives you up to 2 months of calendar events, which can help with your planning before you even go on your trip. Also, I LOVE that the creators of this app have free apps which can give you just one feature of this all-inclusive app. For example, there is just an app for wait times from them if that is all you are interested in and it is free. Pretty great to me!

What I don’t like: During my usage this app has crashed more frequently than any other and I don’t know why. This can be frustrating if you are trying to use it in the park. In addition features like the calendar and food portions of the app are wonderful, but aren’t updated frequently enough to always be up-to-date with information and events. This is not really something users can do anything about, so you are kind of left waiting around for those who run the app to update. Lastly, like the other apps, it relies on users to update wait times leading to some inaccurate information.

Wheel in TSI

In conclusion, all of these apps have their pros and cons. You have to decide what is the most important feature for your trip before deciding on which app works for you. For more frequent visitors it might be something simpler, like just downloading the free “Wait Times” app, while for others it may be just taking some time to explore those maps. Whatever the case, there is something that works for each and every Disney fan. Also, I just really wish that Disney would take the time to come out with a Wait Time app that is ran by park employees so that wait times are pretty much guaranteed to be as accurate as possible… Hopefully that is coming in the future!

Happy travels and have a magical day!

– Melissa H.

Top-Ten Attractions with the Best Views

There isn’t a lack of things to look at when at a Disney Theme Park.  Architecture and Disney geeks can bond over the admiration of work done by imagineers in the parks.  There are castles, mountains and rivers to see.  Don’t forget the beautiful plants, gardens and trees, as well.  While all of these things (and more) can be enjoyed when they are right in front of your face, sometimes it’s a different view that makes them special.  Luckily for us (and the sake of this blog post), Disney attractions give us no shortage of great views.  Today, I’m going to count down my top-10 views in Disney Parks.

Now, my choices may not always follow the standard definition of great views.  While the majority of the picks will have fun and unique views of the parks, some may be a ‘go with me here’ answer, to borrow a phrase from WDW Radio’s Top Ten Shows.  I feel like this is also a good time to say that I’ve never been on Mickey’s Fun Wheel in California Adventure.  I never will go on it either.  With that being said, here’s a few honorable mentions!

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Spaceship Earth (Epcot) – I always love the part of the ride when you get to the big reveal and see Earth in the center as you float in the darkened space.  This narrowly misses the list because it’s a relatively short scene and in the end isn’t as great or unique of a view as others.

Splash Mountain (Disneyland & Magic Kingdom) – This ride momentarily gives us one of the best views of the whole park but then we drop to our apparent doom.  Before the drop though guests have a beautiful view of the castle and the rest of Magic Kingdom.  The view doesn’t last quite long enough for this list though.

Tower of Terror (California Adventure & Hollywood Studios) – Same story different ride.  The view here is tremendous but doesn’t last long enough.  I also don’t have my eyes open most of the time because of the terror.

Soarin’ (California Adventure & Epcot) – This is the first of the ‘go with me here’ choices.  All of these views are on a screen but they are unique as you are flying over all of the sights.  It’s a beautiful ride that just narrowly misses the list.

The Matterhorn (Disneyland) – One more ride filed under the ‘great view, but too quick’ category.  The Matterhorn really does offer some unique views of the park, especially at nighttime, but they go by quickly.  You also get a view of a monster who doesn’t appear to be welcoming you to the Himalayas.

On to the actual list!

10. Dumbo the Flying Elephant (Magic Kingdom) – Dumbo is as classic of a ride as one can get.  It is a very simple attraction but floats high above other landmarks to give you good views of the castle.  With its location on the very edge of the park, guests can get a bit of a view of the entire Magic Kingdom.  Dumbo also circles around enough so that you can continually get interesting views of the park.  Astro Orbiter could take this place on the list, as well.

dumbo

9.  Impressions de France (Epcot) – Another ‘go with me here’ this attraction is simply too beautiful to live off.  Located in Epcot’s France Pavilion, Impressions de France gives guests beautiful views of the real France.  There’s beautiful cinematography paired with a wonderful soundtrack for this short film.  I also included Impressions de France in my favorite overlooked attractions.

8.  Tarzan’s Treehouse/Swiss Family Treehouse (Magic Kingdom/Disneyland) – These attractions make the list because of their height.  Once you trek your way to the top of these treehouse’s, you get a good view of the castle and other parts of Adventureland.  There are also some unique views of the waters that flow down into the Jungle Cruise.

Tarzan's Treehouse

7. Peter Pan’s Flight (Magic Kingdom/Disneyland) – Another choice that doesn’t give a great view of the park but instead gives you a unique view of London and then Neverland.  It’s not everyday that guests get to fly over a beautiful city and then a mythical, magical land.  The view as you fly over Big Ben is one of my favorite scenes in any Disney attraction.  The attraction is iconic and the views are essentially what make the whole ride what it is.

6.  Kilimanjaro Safaris (Animal Kingdom) – Another choice with extremely unique views.  Flying over Big Ben is unique but is it as unique as a safari?  I guess that depends on who you are asking but to me Kilimanjaro Safaris offers just a few more unique views.  Some of my favorite views are of the rocks where the lions reside and of the upside-down tree.  Those are views that you can’t get anywhere else.

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5.  The Riverboats (Disneyland/Magic Kingdom) – Both of these riverboats are fantastic attractions.  They offer excellent views of Liberty Square, New Orleans Square, Frontierland, and Critter Country.  They also go to parts of the park that guests couldn’t see without riding this attractions.  The Riverboats go slow enough that it’s no trouble to soak in all of the different views.  Sitting on the water makes the attraction seem cooler, as well.

Disneyland Barnwood

4.  Storybook Land Canal Boats (Disneyland) – Storybook Land presents some beautiful models of different mythical lands.  You float by them while in the canals of Fantasyland.  In a weird way, this is almost like going through different movie sets.  The sets are tastefully done and beautiful.

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3.  Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover (Magic Kingdom) – The PeopleMover would also be considered as one of the most relaxing attractions anywhere.  This attraction offers up great views of Tomorrowland and even the Castle.  Riding this attraction at night is wonderful, as well.  Maybe the best view the attraction gives is of Walt Disney’s prototype EPCOT city.  With EPCOT and the views of the park, this attraction is unique as well as beautiful.

2.  Expedition Everest (Animal Kingdom) – Now, I knocked some roller coasters earlier in the post.  They moved too fast to make the list and had to settle for honorable mention.  So, why does this one make the list?  First of all, it’s higher than any of those already mentioned thrill rides.  Expedition Everest literally gives you a view of the entire Disney World resort.  Second of all, the climb is longer and where the view is.  Expedition Everest can almost be separated into two rides.  The first segment of this attraction is a slow-paced coaster with a climb that offers views unlike any other you’ll see at Disney World.  After that, it turns into a thrill ride.

Everest:discovery

1.  Disney’s Monorails – While this may not have been the obvious choice, the more I thought about the more it made sense to me.  The Monorails have been around since the early days of Disneyland and have always been unique.  Whether it’s showing the inside of a park, like Disneyland, California Adventure, or Epcot, or showing you the inside of a resort like the Contemporary, nothing shows you more than the monorails.  The monorails are also very unique in that they are high above everything so it’s easy to spot different views.  I’m not sure if I have a favorite monorail out of the three in (or around Disney parks).  Going through the Magic Kingdom Resorts offers beautiful views of Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon, as well as the Resorts.  The monorail that winds through Epcot from Magic Kingdom is spectacular and a lot of fun.  Last of all, the Disneyland monorail is the oldest and winds through both Disneyland and California Adventure.  They are all great and quintessential Disney.

JHBM

Which ones did I leave out?  Let us know in the comments.  Thank you for reading!

– Andrew

Question of the Week (3/22/15)

Every Sunday all of our writers get together and answer a Disney related question. Here’s this week’s question and responses:

Question of the Week:  Question of the Week: Besides the castles, what is your favorite park icon (or landmark) and why? The choices would be the Tree of Life (Animal Kingdom), Spaceship Earth (Epcot), Chinese Theater (Disney’s Hollywood Studios), and Carthay Circle (Disney’s California Adventure).

Leslie – So torn so torn. I’d have to go with Spaceship Earth. I love the ride and the icon. Also the colors at night are fantastic. The “golf ball” as many people refer to it is also one of few to house a ride inside. (Chinese Theater you are my close second).

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Andrew – There’s not a bad choice here. It’s also a pretty exciting sign of the times that two of these icons (Chinese Theater and Carthay Circle) have just become their parks icons in the last 5 years. While I love both of those and think Spaceship Earth is fantastic, I have to go with the Tree of Life. It’s beautifully done and breathtaking. The amount of detail that went into the carving is so incredible. The size of it combined with the detail is incredibly impressive. I also love the view of it from all angles (including directly below it). While they are all incredible, I think the Tree of Life is the one that you could explore for hours and still not begin to find every detail.

Melissa L. – I’d also have to go with the tree of life! It is just such an impressive center piece. Not that the others aren’t, but look at that tree! It’s carved with so many animals and contains so many stories. It is the true embodiment of what that park is all about and every time you look at it, you see something different.

Catharay at night

Kelsee – I have to agree, the tree of life is amazing! Out of all of the other iconic centerpieces of the parks, this one has the most detail. There are few man-made things you can marvel over and this is one of them. They did a fantastic job and it symbolizes the beauty of the animal kingdom in one center object.

Melissa H. – I feel like I am just jumping on the bandwagon here – but my choice would be the Tree of Life in Animal Kingdom. There is an incredible amount of detail in this tree and as it comes it into view it just takes your breath away!

Tree of life open AK

 

What is your favorite non-castle icon?  Let us know in the comments!

No weekly recap this week, as I’ve been out-of-town and didn’t have time to put it together.  So, just scroll up to check out this week’s posts!  Also, please subscribe to the blog and check out our Facebook page.  You can do both of those things on the right side of this screen.

Have a great week everyone!

Pacific Wharf Cafe Review

Part of what is so great about California Adventure is that you get to experience the highlights of the beautiful state in one park. I have taken many road trips down the California coast and one of my favorite stops is San Francisco.

There are many reasons I love the Bay Area, but one of the main reasons is their clam chowder sourdough bread bowls. These delectable bowls of goodness are featured at The Pacific Wharf Cafe which is located right before the entrance of Paradise Pier.

Pacific Wharf bridge

The Pacific Wharf Cafe is a quick service restaurant with seating out on the dock, just as they have it at many Bay Area restaurants.

This cafe is actually operated by San Francisco’s oldest business, Boudin Bakery which opened in 1849, so it’s the real deal folks! The bread is legendary, and luckily it’s at your convenience at the happiest place on earth!

Pacific Wharf Canning Co.

Pacific Wharf Cafe is always a stop on our Disneyland Resort trip, especially for a quick and delicious lunch. There are other soup, salad, and other various food options to go in your bread bowl, but my favorite will always be the good old clam chowder. They also have many delicious treats for deserts including cinnamon rolls, so make sure to save room for those! Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are available so stop by anytime and see what they have to offer with their bread bowl magic recipe!

As a parent tip, this is also a great area to make a stop because the baby center is just a couple of steps away from the dining area. Therefore, you can take care of your babies’ needs and make an eating stop in one trip!

Pacific Wharf Kelsee

As far as a quick service restaurant goes, I give this cafe a 8/10. The food is delicious and very authentic to it’s roots in San Francisco. The only downfall is, I wish the seating was a bit more organized. There are many other quick service restaurants in the same area so it gets a little jumbled.

– Kelsee

Disneyland Cinnamon Roll Copycat Recipe

How do you bring Disney magic home with you?

This is a question I find myself asking and, in turn, trying to answer every time I come home from a trip. Sure, I will never be able to truly create the magic, but I have found many different ways to bring little bits and pieces of Disney fun home with me. Whether I bring the magic home through pictures, ride soundtracks, watching videos, and (more recently) trying out some copycat recipes for some of my favorite Disney foods. And now, I want to share some of that magic with you – a recipe for the tasty Cinnamon Rolls that can be found at your favorite Disney Park.

Melissa H cinnamon roll

If you kept up with my trip updates, you will know that my family makes it a priority to eat a cinnamon roll for breakfast once during every trip. We used to be able to find these tasty breakfast treats at the Blue Ribbon Bakery on Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland, California and had a panic attack when the Blue Ribbon was closed down during a more recent renovation of Main Street. Now, these rolls can be found at the Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical Café on Buena Vista Street in California Adventure or the Jolly Holiday Bakery Café on Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland. You can also occasionally find them at other counter service restaurants, but they are not served warm as they are at the two locations I listed above.

However, it is important to note that with the move to a new location, the cinnamon roll recipe seems to have been changed a bit We aren’t quite as fond of the minor changes, but it is still one of our favorite treats at Disney! Because we tend to crave these rolls at home, I decided to find a copy-cat recipe and try them for myself…. And they were a HIT!

I thought I would share this wonderful recipe with you so you can create some of the magic in your own kitchen. So, without further ado, here is the Disneyland Cinnamon Roll Copycat Recipe!

Disneyland Cinnamon Roll Copycat Recipe
Yields about 16 large cinnamon rolls

Before you get started you should know this is a time-consuming recipe. You will want to dedicate several hours to the baking of this delicious pastries.

Cinnamon Roll Dough Ingredients
• ½ cup of warm water
• 2 packets active dry yeast
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 1 (3.5 ounce) package of Instant Vanilla Pudding
• 2 cups milk
• 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
• 2 large eggs, beaten
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 8 cups all-purpose flour

Before anything else, I begin by setting the cream cheese and unsalted butter for the cream cheese frosting in my electric mixer bowl to soften.

In a small bowl combine warm water, yeast, and sugar. Stir until dissolved. Set aside for later.

In a separate, large bowl prepare the Vanilla instant pudding according to the directions by adding the 2 cups of milk and beating with a wire whisk. Add in 1 stick of melted butter, eggs, and salt. Mix the ingredients together well before adding the yeast mixture.

Gradually add in the flour, 1 cup at a time. As I begin to add the flour, I start by simply mixing it in or folding it in with a spoon. As I add more flour and the dough becomes more difficult to handle, I begin to knead the flour in. Once all flour is added, knead until smooth.

Place in another large bowl that is well-greased (or, do what I do and grease the bowl that I mixed the dough in). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean, damp towel and let rise until double in size. Punch down and let rise again.

While dough is rising, take the opportunity to clean your work area and prepare the filling for the cinnamon rolls.

Cinnamon Roll Filling Ingredients
• 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
• 2 cups brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons cinnamon

In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar and cinnamon using a fork to break up any lumps. I would hold off on melting the butter until you have the dough ready to go, but I like to at least place my butter in the pan so it is all ready to go.

This is also a good time to preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

After dough has risen the second time, punch it down and roll out on a very large floured surface. The dough should roll out into a large rectangle that is approximately 34 inches X 21 inches in size. Brush the 2 sticks of melted butter over the flattened dough using a pastry brush and generously sprinkle the cinnamon and brown sugar mixture over the top.

Starting on a long edge roll up the dough like a jelly roll.

Using a serrated knife cut the end off of your roll. These can be tossed, or used to make two smaller cinnamon rolls. Then, cut the remaining dough about every 2 inches. Using your hands, gently pack each roll to prevent them separating while baking.

Place the prepared rolls onto a greased baking sheet. I put about 6 rolls on each baking sheet to be sure that I don’t have any stuck together. Allow the rolls to rise for about 15 minutes on the pan before placing in the oven.

Bake rolls on the middle rack for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and frost with cream cheese frosting (see recipe below) while they are still warm.

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients
• 1 (8 ounce) brick of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
• 1 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 3 cups of powdered sugar
• 2 tablespoons of milk

Using an electric mixer, mix together softened cream cheese and butter until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time and blend until smooth. Add milk and mix together to thin out the frosting. Frost rolls while they are still warm.

Note: If you do not have an electric mixer, I would suggest sifting the powdered sugar as you add it to avoid lumps.

cinnamon roll

Well, there you have it!
I hope you can enjoy making these tasty treats. If you decide to try out the recipe, let me know how it goes!

Have a magical time!

– Melissa H.

California Grill Review

Walt Disney World (and Disneyland) has no shortage of special experiences.  One of those special experiences sits high above most everything else in Disney, in the top floor of the Contemporary Hotel.  This is the California Grill.  A signature (fine-dining) restaurant that gives stunning looks of Magic Kingdom.  Today, we’ll head there and review a recent meal I had.

California Grill is all about ambiance.  When going to the restaurant, it feels as if you are in on a secret club.  An elevator set on one of the bottom floors of the Contemporary takes guests to the top where the restaurant resides.  Entering California Grill, there are hundreds of wine bottles on display.  Even if you aren’t a big wine drinker, like myself, this is impressive.  The lighting of the restaurant gives it a nice vibe.  There is an airiness to the restaurant and even though tables are pretty close to one another, the restaurant feels pretty open.  Like the Contemporary Resort, California Grill goes for a modern look and succeeds.  There is an open kitchen to look at if seated on the left side of the restaurant.

California Grill Kitchen

 

California Grill seating

 

Location can help a good restaurant become a great one and that may be the case here.  The view is unlike anything else you can get at Disney World.  The California Grill has observation decks that guests can wander out on while waiting for their food to arrive or after their meal.  They also pipe in the music to Wishes as the show is going on in Magic Kingdom so getting a late reservation here close to fireworks time is pretty special.  Even if you have a meal earlier in the evening, keep your receipt, and then they will let guests back in to the restaurant (on the observation deck) to see the show.  It’s a unique and really enjoyable place to watch Wishes, in my experience.

California Grill Napkin_edited-1

Once we were seated, our eyes turned towards the food.  If I’m being honest, my eyes turned toward the food long before this point.  California Grill is a Disney World signature restaurant.  If on the Disney Dining Plan, this restaurant will take 2 credits.  If not, entree prices range from $35-$50.  It’s not a cheap restaurant but you pay what you get for in this instance.  A link to the menu is here.  Like most signature restaurants at Disney, the menu at California Grill does get tweaked seasonally.  With that being said, it doesn’t appear to be very different today than it was when I had this meal.  We looked over the menu but I didn’t have to mull over my decision for too long.  I had heard great things about the Oak-Fired Filet of Beef so that’s what I went with.  That’s what most of my family ordered, as well.

After placing our order and wandering around the observation deck for a few minutes, the bread service came.  The bread service was delicious.  There were quite a few varieties of rolls.  They were all soft, warm and fresh.  The butter came with a garnish and sea salt sprinkled on top, as you can somewhat see in the picture.

California grill bread

 

A view of the Grand Floridian from the California Grill

A view of the Grand Floridian from the California Grill

After the bread service was devoured, our entrees came shortly after.  In other words, a whole bunch of meat came to the table.  Is there a more beautiful sentence in the english language than ‘a whole bunch of meat came to the table’?  The answer is yes, there probably are better sentences but I can’t think of any at this moment.  Back to the beef, the meat was extremely tender and flavorful.  The sauce that they put on top of it was a tomato butter.  It was delicious and added flavor to an already juicy steak.  The meat was very thick and is the best steak I’ve ever had at a Disney restaurant not named Napa Rose.   The Tomato Risotto that the beef came with was easily the best risotto I’ve ever had.  Now, that’s not saying a lot.  I haven’t had a bunch of risotto in my life but I did enjoy it the couple of times I’ve had it before.  As I said, this risotto was easily the best.  The flavor was incredible, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t like tomatoes.  The flavors of the beef and risotto went extremely well together.  All in all, it’s probably the best entree I’ve ever had at a Disney restaurant.

California Grill steak
What’s a meal at Disney World without dessert? Non-existent if you have the dining plan.  So, we dug our noses back into the menu to choose what dessert we should top off our meal with.  This was no small task.  There were quite a few fun and tasty options.  Melissa ended up with the Warm Homemade Fritters.  They were banana-stuffed and came with 3 dipping sauces, caramel, chocolate and (if I remember right) a cream sauce.  She liked them pretty well and so did I.  The caramel dipping sauce was delicious but didn’t think the others were great.  The fritters themselves were tasty but not out-of-this-world.  For my dessert I chose the Sundae Sampler.  This came with a reverse root-beer float (root-beer ice cream and vanilla soda), Toffee, and a banana split.  Everything was in sample or mini sizes.  It was a fun and very creative dessert that went together nicely.  I liked all of the option really well but again, it wasn’t quite up to the same level that our entree was.  It was still a very fun dessert with more unique choices than a typical restaurant.

California Grill doughnuts

 

California Grill dessert trio

 

After our dessert, it was just a few minutes until Wishes so we went out on the observation deck and enjoyed the show from there.

California Grill star fireworks

 

California Grill Fireworks

 

California Grill fireworks ball

 

A lot of restaurants at Disney World are about the experience just as much as the food.  That is definitely true at the California Grill, even though the food is delicious.  No other restaurant gives a view of one of the most famous theme parks in the world quite like California Grill.  The only downside to this is that you are definitely paying for the experience.  It’s an extremely expensive restaurant.  We thoroughly enjoyed our meal there though.  If you are looking for a unique or romantic experience to take someone special, this restaurant definitely fits the bill.  The price is the only thing that brings California Grill’s rating down just a little bit.

Restaurant Rating – 9.5/10

– Andrew

 

 

Question of the Week & Round-Up (3/15/15)

Every Sunday all of our writers get together and answer a Disney related question. Here’s this week’s question and responses:

Question of the Week: There’s a rumored Pixar Place expansion in the soon-to-be newly-named Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you could pick any Pixar film (or franchise) and put them into an attraction for this area, what film would you choose? It doesn’t have to be your favorite Pixar film but the one that you think best translates to a theme park.

Leslie – Up is the winner for me. It has such an expansive world that I feel it could do well with its own world. From rides to meet and greets to outdoor areas for the kids I think that Up could bring a big variety to the park. The only problem is the fact the Wilderness Explorers is already in Animal Kingdom…but no one goes there anyway so I’m sure they could just move it to HollyWood Studios (Sorry Andrew I had to) (ed. note: since Andrew is the editor, he chose to show Leslie who was boss by crossing out this insult)

Andrew – Wall-E is my favorite Pixar film but I think its theme fits in really well with Epcot so maybe it could go in there sometime. Cars should stay mostly in California Adventure, in my opinion. Toy Story is great but already has a pretty big presence in Disney World. Up is a finalist for me but I’m mad at Leslie. So, with that in mind, I’m going to pick Monsters Inc. I think the long-rumored door coaster reenacting the famous scene from Monsters Inc. would be an incredible attraction and one that fits in with the rest of the park. I also think an Incredibles attraction would be awesome but at this point I’m just trying to fit in all of the Pixar films. Also, I must say while Disney’s Hollywood Studios is going under renovation I suggest spending your time in the most beautiful U.S. Disney Park there is – Animal Kingdom. Leslie wouldn’t know that because she happily admits that she’s never spent more than half a day there! (ed. note: Take that Leslie! Any banter that you see here is mostly playful, readers)

Toy Story Mania EtchASketch

Kelsee – Brave is undeniably my favorite Pixar movie, however I don’t know if it’d be the easiest to forge into an attraction. I have to agree with Andrew, Monster’s Inc. would be a great addition to hypothetical Pixar Place. I just hope they’d do more with the ride than they did in California Adventure with Mike and Sulley to the rescue. I like the ride, but there’s so much more you can do attraction wise with Monster’s Inc. I think if it’s a concentrated Pixar area, I’m sure they’ll do more imagineering and collaboration with the movie to ride concept.

On another note, I also think it’d be neat if they could somehow do a ride incorporating all or most of the Pixar shorts. I always look forward to the release of a new one and I think their quirkiness and uniqueness is part of what sets Pixar apart.

FoF Merida

Melissa L. – These are all great ideas! I especially love the idea of doing some kind of ride for the Pixar shorts! I agree with Kelsee, I’m always excited to see a new short!

But as far as the actual movies, I think they should do a ride that is all about the Pixar theory that shows how each of the movies fit together in one world! I’m such a nerd and reading those have always been fun and it would be really cool to see what they come up with!

Kelsee – Nerds unite! I love reading them too.

Cars Land sign

Melissa H. – Okay, so this is going to sound a little strange, but I think it would be really cool to have a land all based on Finding Nemo. I think they could make some cool roller coasters based off of the EAC and the Jellyfish scene. They could also incorporate or move Nemo attractions from other parks. I just think Disney could do a very interesting take on it.

What Pixar film would you most like to see with a bigger presence in the Disney Parks?  Let us know in the comments!

Melissa H. Matterhorn

A recap of the week after the jump.   Continue reading