Our monorail pub crawl

Trader Sam

The monorail pub crawl is a fun way to do a sort of progressive dinner around the monorail resort loop. Most people seem to start at the Contemporary Resort and visit the lounge at The Wave, then continue on – via monorail, of course – to the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian. We decided, however, to start at the Poly. We hadn’t yet been to the relatively new Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, had heard it could be tricky to get into, and really wanted to try it out. It was awesome! Not only were the drinks and food very tasty, but there’s a wacky performance that plays out whenever one of the specialty drinks is ordered. We sat at the bar and had a blast!

Shrunken Zombie Head and Krakatoa Punch

Shrunken Zombie Head and Krakatoa Punch

Kalua pork tacos

Kalua pork tacos

Crazy Cast Member

Crazy Cast Member

Next up was Mizner’s Lounge at the Grand Floridian. I’d never been inside the Grand Floridian before, so we explored for a bit before heading to the lounge. This classy, comfortable bar is located behind the Grand Floridian Lobby Society Orchestra’s performance area, so the smooth sounds of jazzified Disney tunes set the tone for this relaxing space. I thoroughly enjoyed their renditions of Under the Sea, Once Upon a Dream, and the Mos Eisley Cantina song.

Salted Caramel Manhattan and Mizner Cooler

Salted Caramel Manhattan and Mizner Cooler

Awesome bread and arancini

Awesome bread and arancini

Our plan was to hit the Top of the World Lounge next, but when the monorail stopped at the Magic Kingdom, we couldn’t help but hop off. It may have been a grown-ups-only trip, but we spent a lot of it acting like kids. But isn’t that the beauty of Disney?

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Skipper Canteen – really average

Having heard excellent things about Skipper Canteen, the new table-service restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, I was super excited to try it. Sadly, it fell short of my high expectations.

First, there was the process of getting a table. Unlike other Disney World sit-down restaurants, Skipper Canteen does not take reservations (or ADRs, in Disney-speak). This seems like a good idea – I mean, who wants to plan every single second of a vacation? The spontaneity and flexibility of having a walk-up sit-down restaurant (if that makes any sense) seems good. Until you take FastPass+ into consideration. These, you must plan 60 days in advance of your trip (if you want the more popular rides). So there we were, our FP+ plans for the evening all set, strolling up to the Skipper Canteen desk to see if they had a table for two… and finding out that we could either wait a half-hour and try to squeeze dinner in before our next FastPass+, or wait until after that ride and risk the restaurant being booked for the remainder of the evening. We opted for the former.

So, after strolling around Adventureland for a spell, and then sitting on a crate in the Skipper Canteen outdoor waiting area for a while, we were called for our reservation. We then had to sit in an indoor waiting area. Finally, we were called again, and our table was ready.

The Jungle-Cruise-esque theming was fantastic. I didn’t take any pictures of the decor, but it’s all over the internet. Search away! I’ll wait for you.

The menu was adorable. Here’s the back:

Skipper Canteen menu back

Now, for the food. The menu looked inventive and fantastic. We had really high hopes. To begin, our server brought out Ambasha bread with seasoned honey. It looked good, but tasted quite average. Actually, it was kind of on the stale side. After we each ate a few bites, we both started to feel a bit off. From bread. This was not a good sign.

Ambush bread. Like a stone.

Ambasha bread. Like a stone.

For an appetizer, we shared the house-made arepas. I love arepas, and those offered at last year’s Epcot Flower and Garden Festival were amazing. These arepas were nowhere near as good. They looked good, but the flavor was on the bland side.

Skipper Canteen arepas

Arepa with black beans, beef, queso fresco, and a tostone.

For our entree, we both ordered the rice noodle bowl with duck. This is a pho broth (Vietnamese soup) with fresh veggies and herbs. And, as mentioned, noodles and duck. You can get it with chicken or tofu instead of the duck, but I would highly recommend the duck. It was the best part of this dish, tender and delicious. The herbs and veggies were fine, but the broth… oh the broth! It could have been so much better. I’ve had pho many times. I kind of love pho. This particular broth had a really odd flavor, borderline unpleasant. I like bold flavors, but this was just not that good. (My husband, by the way, says that the pho broth was not bad, but not good. Just unremarkable.)

The unremarkable noodle bowl.

The unremarkable noodle bowl.

By the time I was less than halfway through my bowl, I was done. My stomach felt like I’d swallowed a rock. Plus, we were in a hurry to get to that dang FastPass. We asked for the check, MagicBanded it, and headed to our scheduled attraction just before the close of our FP+ window. While we walked, my husband told me that the bread had instantly turned to stone in his stomach. I agreed. And that pretty much set the tone for our meal.

Have you eaten at Skipper Canteen? What did you think? Did you suffer any ill effects from the stone bread?

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Disney For Two – The Sequel

Two years ago, my husband and I took a quick, romantic getaway to Disney World. Just recently, we did it again! From a Friday evening through a Monday afternoon, we spent a whirlwind of a long weekend in our favorite place. And, for the first time, we were Disney Vacation Club members staying at a DVC resort (Kidani Village). It was a wonderful introduction to the DVC life!

SW shirts

Here’s how we did on our to-do list for this quick trip:

  1. Eat at Sanaa – check
  2. Epcot wine walk (Germany, Italy, France wine shops) – check
  3. Skipper Canteen – check
  4. Monorail pub crawl – check (well, we made it to 2 out of 3 stops)
  5. Thirsty River Bar and Trek Snacks in Asia, AK – check
  6. Star Wars Launch Bay – check
  7. Star Tours new adventures – check

Not bad for a very quick trip! Details on all of the above to follow.

Have you ever taken a romantic Disney getaway? What are your suggestions for romancing the magic?

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How to use up Quick Service Meal credits

Our last trip to Disney World fell within the “free dining plan” timeframe. Since we stayed in a Value Resort, we qualified for the free Quick Service Dining Plan. With this, each person in your party receives 2 quick service meals plus 1 snack for each night of your trip. We don’t go through a lot of quick service meals (we tend to do a lot of meal sharing due to Disney’s decent portion sizes). Plus, we had two table service meals planned, and another that popped up unexpectedly. Towards the end of the trip, we realized we’d have about 20 unused quick service meal credits. What to do? Well, there’s a relatively new policy that lets you exchange 1 quick service meal credit for 3 snacks. You have to get all 3 snacks within the same transaction, and not all places have “the right kind of cash register” for this exchange. We were able to do this at the store and food court at All-Star Music, many gift shops, any confectionary location, and several counter-service restaurants. None of the locations around Epcot’s World Showcase allowed for this exchange (this may have changed by the time this post is published), which was a bit of a let-down considering we were “eating around the World.” To make use of our last 10 or so QS meals, we got this:

Disney candy

Not bad for free!!!

What do you think of the Disney Dining Plan? I wouldn’t pay for it, but love it when it’s free!

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Gluten-free Mickey waffles rule!

A couple of mornings during our stay at All-Star Music, I walked over to the Intermission Food Court and brought back gluten-free Mickey waffles for the fam. This was perfect; they could keep getting ready, and I could make sure everyone was fed, all without contaminating our suite with gluten and thus keeping my celiac son safe. Win!

GF Mickey waffles

If you can’t have gluten and haven’t yet tried these yummy GF waffles, you really should. They’re delicious! What’s your best gluten-free find at Disney?

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When it rains…

We often visit Walt Disney World during the rainy season. As such, we know that Florida downpours generally pass pretty quickly. We just duck inside somewhere, wait a few minutes until the heavy rain becomes a gentle mist, and head back out. But what to do while waiting for the downpour to lighten up? Well, that depends on where you take shelter. In Epcot’s Innoventions, there are loads of activities to keep you busy. In less busy spots, like the rest & recharge “tent” in Magic Kingdom’s Storybook Circus area, plug in your phone for a recharge while you put your feet up and rest. During one particularly heavy rain, we found ourselves sheltering in Merchant of Venus, a shop in Tomorrowland. To pass the time, we played around at their photo station. Once we saw the result, we couldn’t help but purchase the pic:

Cale as young Boba Fett

Cale as young Boba Fett

Not only is this a fun picture, but it has a greater significance. When Cale was little, he adored Jango Fett. He had a Jango costume and played the “Jango mission game” (of his own creation) whenever we were at a playground (or even in our own backyard). A picture of himself with his childhood hero made for the perfect souvenir!

What do you do when it rains at Disney? Do you head back to the resort? Shelter until it lets up a little? Throw on a poncho and keep going? I’d love to hear about it!

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At the Top of the World

Top of the World menu

On our first Disney World trip as DVC members, we didn’t actually stay in a DVC resort. We’d already booked a stay at All-Star Music before our DVC purchase went through. It seemed like a nice “last hurrah” at our favorite Value Resort. We did, however, use our DVC discount every chance we got. Also, we visited the Top of the World Lounge – a bar at the very top of Bay Lake Tower. As we were quick to find out, any DVC member staying at any on-property Disney resort can visit this lovely spot.

View from the Top of the World.

View from the Top of the World.

Top of the World drinks

We didn’t stay for that evening’s performance of Wishes, but I’m certain we will at some point. The fireworks must look amazing from there!

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Our favorite Disney restaurants: California Grill

The view of the Magic Kingdom from the California Grill.

The view of the Magic Kingdom from the California Grill.

California Grill, located at the top of the Contemporary Resort, is a beautiful restaurant. They also happen to have a wonderful celiac- and food-allergy-friendly menu. We loved our first visit to this special place. Here are the highlights:

I started with a Cucumber Fizz. Yum!

I started with a Cucumber Fizz. Yum!

My tuna roll. This was the first time I'd had sushi since developing a shellfish allergy. I loved it!

My tuna roll. This was the first time I’d had sushi since developing a shellfish allergy. I loved it!

Cale loved everything about his gluten-free meal!

Cale loved everything about his gluten-free meal!

...while I devoured the Pork Two Ways.

…while I devoured the Pork Two Ways.

For dessert, my banana fritters were perfection!

For dessert, my banana fritters were perfection!

Cale couldn't decide between the chocolate pudding cake and the creme brûlée - so they brought him both!

Cale couldn’t decide between the chocolate pudding cake and the creme brûlée – so they brought him both!

This is a great place for special occasions – we had my husband’s birthday dinner here! It is a bit pricey, so it won’t be one of our regular go-to restaurants, but I’m certain we’ll be back at some point. Have you been to the California Grill? How do you think it ranks among Disney’s table service restaurants?

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Disney World Tips by Cale Gillan

Please welcome my son Cale for his first guest post here at Disney for Five:

If you know certain tips, you can get a lot out of your Walt Disney World vacation. These tips include staying in a hotel on Walt Disney World property, making advanced dining reservations, utilizing FastPass Plus, “rope drop”, what to do during busy parts of the day, good quick service restaurants, meet & greet tips, and staying at the park until it closes.

First of all, stay at one of Disney’s on-­property hotels. There are many advantages to staying in one of these over staying outside of Disney World. For one, they are very close to the four parks. There is also free transportation to and from the parks at these resort hotels. It is also worth noting that staying on­-property is just part of the Disney experience, largely due to the theming and customer service.

Another thing to keep in mind is ADRs. This stands for advanced dining reservations. If you stay in a Walt Disney World resort hotel, you can make advanced dining reservations one hundred eighty days before your vacation. This can be used to get a reservation at a very popular restaurant that you would not be able to eat at any other way. You should base your ADRs on your park schedule. Book dining for restaurants that are in the park you go to that day, if you don’t want to park hop. Park hopping costs extra money. Character dining is when characters come around to the table and greet you as you eat. Character dining books up very fast, so use ADRs to get these reservations. Also, make a note of food allergies when you make the ADR, and the cast members there will do the same.

Next up is a system called FastPass Plus. You use these to reserve spots in line for very popular attractions. Except, that basically means rides and meet & greets because nobody uses FastPasses for shows. If you stay on property, you can make FastPass Plus reservations sixty days before your trip. Use them wisely, because you only get to reserve three per day ahead of time. After you use all three of those, you can make more, but only with what hasn’t been reserved by others already. During busy seasons, that won’t be anything good. Some attractions I would recommend using FastPass Plus on are Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight, Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Soarin’, Test Track, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Toy Story Midway Mania. There is one ride that stands out in my mind as something that you should n​ot use a fastpass on, and that would be Mad Tea Party. Ok? Ok.

Rope drop is something that you should definitely think about if you want to make the most of Disney World. This is when you get to the park you are visiting that day before it even opens. Then once the park does open, it is awesome. The popular rides have very short waits, because the crowds are so low. Plus, it just feels satisfying to know how productive you are. Go get ‘em.

Next up is what to do during busy hours of the day. During these times, it isn’t pretty. Rides like Space Mountain and Peter Pan’s Flight can have very ugly wait times. Like, Seven-Dwarfs-at-any-time ugly. To avoid all of this, choose a couple of these activities: have an ice cream break, find a nice shady spot to just rest and enjoy the scenery, browse the stores, ride the Peoplemover (my personal favorite), go to the Hall of Presidents, ride the Carousel of Progress, go to the Writer’s Stop Café, or walk some of the trails at Animal Kingdom. But let’s be honest, it’s never t​hat b​usy at Animal Kingdom.

Our next topic is quick service restaurant do’s and don’ts. Quick service is basically the McDonald’s of Disney World. What does that say about Disney? First up is the do’s. Use quick service in general. You don’t want all of your meals to be ADRs. Half of your trip will be waiting for food. Another do is Casey’s Corner, specifically as your first meal. It is a great way to get excited about what’s to come. Another good quick service place is Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe. Ray himself is scary and extremely unsettling, but the food is very good with lots of variety. Some other good places are just around Epcot’s World Showcase in general. My personal favorite there is the place outside at the Mexico pavilion. Last but not least is Harambe Market at Animal Kingdom. The food there is very good. Now onto the don’ts: ordering gluten free from Casey’s Corner. Moving on.

Ah, my favorite. Character meet & greets. If you don’t do these right, you’re gonna have a bad time. Sounds like it’s not worth the effort, right? You’d be right if you don’t like talking to some girl that’s being paid to act like a character that you’ve known all your life. But if you d​o l​ike that type of thing, I’ve got some tips for you. If you have a character that you or someone that you are with m​ust s​ee, use a FastPass reservation on it. If not, I’ll cover what you should do later on. Also, don’t be shy. I learned after doing exactly that for about two years. It becomes a lot more fun to meet Ariel when you stop blushing and actually communicate. Another thing to keep in mind is that the best times to see characters is during parades or firework shows. Everyone is busy watching those, and if you’re lucky you’ll be able to talk with your favorite character for like five minutes straight. It’s happened to me more than once.

Ariel casual

Now on to our last topic, staying until park close. Basically, just do this. D​o it,​ as Palpatine would say. If the park is open until two in the morning, around 1 AM is when crowds really start to die down. A lot. Space Mountain usually has no wait whatsoever at this time, compared to having an hour long wait earlier that day. Seven Dwarfs can go all the way down to 45 minutes. W​ow. Stores will stay open for a while after the park closes, and it’s fun to hang out in them late at night for no reason whatsoever. At Magic Kingdom, there is the Kiss Goodnight that happens 30 minutes after closing. I couldn’t even describe it if I tried, it’s just magical. A last little bonus to staying until park close is that depending on how late that is, sometimes the transportation lines will die down, and you’ll have less of a wait to get back to your resort.

In conclusion, if you follow those steps you are pretty much guaranteed to have an awesome Walt Disney World vacation. In the words of Han Solo probably: “Stick with me kid, and I’ll show ya’ the ropes.”

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Harambe Market

I love Flame Tree Barbecue, but Harambe Market may just be my new favorite quick-service spot at Animal Kingdom. The food is delicious, and the theming is absolutely incredible.

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Beef gyro flatbread. Just wow.

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Check out more details, including the menu, here. Have you visited Harambe Market? What’s your favorite menu item?

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