Thursday, January 29, 2009

Best Dining Experiences at Disney World

I qualify this entry by stating that I'm by no means a restaurant reviewer, nor do I play one in the blogosphere. I just know what I like, and sometimes I know why I like it. (Much like my commentaries on books, movies and music.)

So here's what I really liked. I was totally impressed with the meal at Le Cellier in the Canada pavilion of Epcot. The steak was done as well as the best places I've been in Chicago, including David Burke's, Wildfire, and Capital Grill. It was tender, juicy, and tasty. And the mushroom risotto is excellent as well. Of course their Canadian Cheddar and Ale soup (I don't remember the exact name) is a tasty treat. And their iced tea is nice and light; I could probably drink it without a sweetener.

I was also quite impressed with the California Grill. It's the first time we've eateh there, and I was a little disappointed that they couldn't accomodate us as far as a seat with a view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks, especially since we got there early and we had requested such a table when we made the reservation, then earlier in the day. (It was my birthday that day, and they were aware of that also.) We were a party of six, which makes it harder... But the food and service made up for it. Their soup was excellent. I could have made a meal out of just that. And the duck was sensational. It was pricy, no doubt, but it was also the best meal we had while there.

Our lunch at the Yak and Yeti was pretty darned good, as well. I had a dish which featured skewered shrimp, and I didn't leave a single one. I love the Asian flare there, and our service was almost as good as at the California Grill.

Other meal stops were the SciFi Drive In, Tony's, Chefs De France, and Portobello's in Downtown Disney. And we went offsite one night for a meal at a local Persian restaurant called Shiraz (on Westwood Blvd, just off of I-4 and north of DTD). The meal at Shiraz was excellent also.

I have to say, though, that we've had better service in all of those restaurants in the past. The service was excellent at California Grill, and at Yak and Yeti, and it was very good at the Sci Fi Drive In. I can't say that the service was BAD at any of the other Disney restaurants. It just was - well, maybe uninspired is a good word. In the past, even when the food was pedestrian, the service has been outstanding.

I regret not sampling either of the dining establishments at our home resort, Jiko or Boma. Next time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

UAL and Disney's Magical Express

I guess my title could be a bit confusing, because there is no link between these two items. But I wanted to touch on both things, and figured I could do so in a combined post.

First, DME. I love this service. It makes that Disney feeling start right at the airport. It really feels, to us at least, like you're being transported to somewhere very special.

I love the convenience of the transportation to and from the airport, and for us, it has always worked flawlessly. It is so nice to not have to handle our baggage from the moment we check it in Chicago to the moment we pick up our bags at the carousel back in Chicago. This is especially true since my wife is the classic over-packer. We almost move in when we go somewhere. I'd be okay with a small carry-on sized case myself, but hey! I'm a guy! In any case, on this trip we had six full sized suitcases for 4 adults and 2 children. Plus carry-ons.

We did rent a car, as soon as we could upon arriving in Orlando. We got to our hotel, found our room, and then went right down to meet the Alamo shuttle. And a nice Dodge Caravan mini-van was waiting for us. (Not a bad car - beat the heck out of the Ford Windstar we got the last time we were a bigger group.) Early morning reservations at character dining at the Contemporary (this trip) and Polynesian (last couple of trips) are much easier to make if you don't have to depend on the Disney inter-resort shuttles. And late nights at the parks become a little more palatable when you don't have to carry a six year old off the shuttle because it was a 20 minute wait to get on the thing, and then another 30 minutes to get back to the hotel. Drop off was convenient, too. We all got in, dropped it off at the Car Care Center, and the Alamo shuttle took us straight to Epcot for our last day of park visits.

I'd recommend the DME to anyone if for no other reason than the baggage handling.

Now onto United: We were supposed to fly out at 12:35 pm, so we had to get the shuttle at 9 am. Which meant a pretty early wake up time (6 am for my wife, and thus for me...). But after being loaded on the flight, we were removed after 1 1/2 hours. Mechanical difficulties. (No air conditioning during most of that hour and a half, either.) So we are finally told that we'll be on a plane from LA, and will depart at 6:30 pm. This works for me. Except that THAT flight also had mechanical difficulties. They finally cancel our flight completely at around 7 or 7:30 pm. Give us vouchers for a hotel (offsite, of course) and meal vouchers. We are told that we will be on a 6 am flight in the morning. And it sounds like this isn't guaranteed - they have to have a plane available to fly us out on, and it sounds like they're counting on being able to get one of the two planes with mechanical difficulties from our original flights ready to fly. If not, who knows? Great. With all six bags that we didn't want to touch till we got back to Chicago, and two small kids in tow, we're supposed to get up to catch the 4 am shuttle back to the airport.

Well, we made it. But what a stressful, downer way to end the trip.

But we will definitely be back. Probably sooner than later.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Disney Vacation

Okay, we're back. I must say, it was probably the worst Disney vacation I've had, though not for anything Disney did. And since most of our Disney vacations have been great, being "the worst" is not necessarily bad. But...still...

First there was the stresses of worrying about the weather, and whether we were going to get airborn on Saturday the 17th. Well, the weather cooperated. So we found ourselves a-wing to MCO Orlando, and the magic of Disney.

Which, for me, starts the minute you get to that Disney Magical Express line. We boarded our bus bound for Animal Kingdom Lodge, and off we went. My kids watch the video with the enthusiasm they usually reserve for their video games, so even THAT seems magical.

The hotel was gorgeous. It's a fabulous place, and we were the only ones on the bus going there, so the driver was telling us about the restaurants (which we didn't get to eat at on this trip) and the animals and such. The lobby is spectacular, right up there with the decor of the Polynesian (up until now, our favorite resort, and it still may be), and the grounds are just as nice.

The service at the front desk was good, but not as good as I'm used to at Disney. There were little things they didn't give us - like our "Perks" book, and no one said "Welcome Home" like they always have everywhere else we've stayed since buying into the DVC. The concierge service was good; we haven't had much occasion to use the ones at the other hotels, but this time we needed to get park tix for Grandma and Grandpa.

Our room was fabulous, but then it should have been - we treated ourselves and the grandparents to a two room DVC villa. The views were good. We could see the animals out in front of our window every morning, though we could see the fences that enclosed them clearly. No illusion there. Those animals weren't going to be roaming off the grounds.

We rented a car that night and headed right to a park. Most stuff was pretty much walk-on, which was what we were hoping for during the week. It was a nice night, but not cold.

But of course, as the week went on, the temps dropped, and on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, it was actually pretty darned cold outside. And it was CROWDED! Everywhere we went it seemed like there were crowds. Lots and lots (and lots and lots) of tours, many from Brazil. Those tour directors were standing in the Fastpass lines, with stacks of tickets, collecting Fastpasses for their group members. I guess that, coupled with the holiday on Monday, was enough to boost the crowds, but still... None of the popular rides was what I'd call "walk-on", except for Big Thunder Mountain for a while on Wednesday morning when we got to the Magic Kingdom early.

It did finally warm up on Friday, and we spent a great day at Epcot, topped off by a really good dinner at Le Cellier. And that night was Extra Magic Hours at Epcot, so that would have been nice, if we weren't leaving on Saturday at 9 am. But as it was, we had to get back to the resort to pack, and we had an early wakeup call, so even though my boys were whining about having to leave "so early" (it probably was still close to 9 pm when we left), we closed the books on our Disney vacation.

I'd write now about the flight, but this is long and I have to move on. So I'll save that mild horror story for another post, maybe Wednesday.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Will the weather cooperate?

We fly out for Orlando on Saturday morning. We've been getting dumped on with snow all week, and today we're immersed in a cold spell which has to be approaching records. It won't exceed 0 degrees today, or so they've predicted.

They're also predicting snow for ... Saturday. Hopefully it holds off long enough for us to get airborn and out of this miserable winter weather. Fingers crossed...

I'm hoping I'll have some insights or passion when I get back, and will have something I'm excited about or that I find interesting enough to have some good solid posts.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Disney Vacation is almost here!

Five days till we leave for Disney World!

We will be staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and have reservations for dinner at Chefs de France, Le Cellier, Tony's, and California Grill, and lunch at Yak and Yeti.

Can't wait...hopefully the weather will cooperate.

Monday, January 5, 2009


We were going to go see MARLEY AND ME on New Year's Day, but the times didn't work out and this Disney offering was starting just as we got to the theater (in downtown Chicago), so we got tix for it and went in.

This is not a great movie. I'd give it two of four stars, were I to rate movies using a four star system. It had its moments, but in the end it was just a little too much of Adam Sandler for me. He's sort of worn out this character for me already. Because, for me, this was just more of the same Billy Madison/Happy whoever big overgrown kid character that I've seen in most every Sandler comedy. (I've heard he was good in a serious role, but I didn't see that film and don't recall what it was even called.)

But my kids thought it was okay. And the story was decent - a handyman at a hotel continually gets the shaft at his workplace, but when he is drafted to babysit his niece and nephew, things start to change. He notices that when he tells them a bedtime story, the parts that they add come true, for some reason. So he tries to tailor the stories to make the outcome favorable for him, thus assuming that everything will work out. Of course, things don't work out the way he wants them to, not exactly anyway.

Kerri Russell is good as the teacher/love interest, and the kids are good. Most of the rest of the roles are cliches. (My kids got a kick out of the first bedtime story where he refers to himself as Sir Fixalot, and his rival as Sir Buttkiss. And that might be the funniest bit in the movie!)

It's an okay Disney movie, and that's about the best I can say for it.