Fill a passport with new flavors at Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

It’s a menu, super souvenir, and a kid’s geography lesson all rolled into one: the Epcot Food & Wine Festival Marketplace Discovery Passport! (That’s a mouthful, huh? And yes, pun intended.) These handy checklists detail the ethnic offerings – including food and complementing beverages – at more than 30 vendors arranged around World Showcase during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. Our family goal is to fill one of these passports with as many unique stamps from the vendors as we have room for in our stomachs. Here’s where it will actually help that there are six mouths to feed – one bite each of these sample-sized portions will leave us plenty hungry for more. We likely won’t collect all the stamps, but we’ll have a delicious time trying.

Voted most delicious by our family for the 2016 International Food & Wine Festival:

  • Canada: Le Cellier’s wild mushroom beef filet mignon with truffle butter paired with their Canadian cheddar cheese soup and pretzel roll (Moosehead lager to wash it down)
  • Scotland: potato pancake with Scottish smoked salmon and herbed sour cream
  • France: boeuf bourguignon (cabernet-braised short ribs) with mashed potatoes paired with gruyère and cognac onion soup. Also couldn’t resist one of the premiums from Les Vines de France. Beautiful nighttime picnic on the fountain outside Les Chefs de France!
  • Belgium: Belgian waffle with berry compote and whipped cream (Obsessed. It was perfect.) Oh and a brew, of course.
  • Hops & Barley (American Adventure): New England lobster roll and the fresh-baked carrot cake with extra cream cheese icing because it was last call! Plus, Sam Adams for one of us and California pinot noir for the other. What made it even sweeter? Scarfing it down in the Chase Visa lounge, then catching a near-private showing of the American Adventure as the park closed.

If you manage to stomach your way around each and every one of these marketplaces, be sure to treat yourself to a passport completion stamp, located in the gold-domed Festival Welcome Center.


Location: The annual Festival runs August 31-November 13, 2016, at Epcot Theme Park, Walt Disney World Resort.

Meet: Santa & Mrs. Claus at American Adventure Pavilion

To me there is no better place to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus than the American Adventure Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase. The backdrop is perfect — the jolly duo seated on plush thrones surrounded by trimmed trees and wrapped gifts — we just have to get past the Minnesota kids incongruously meeting the Clauses dressed in T-shirts and sandals instead of parkas and snow boots. The Christmas characters are the American contribution to Epcot’s Holidays Around the World.

MH santa american advThe shiny bow on the package was “O Holy Night” performed by the Candlelight Processional choir on the America Gardens stage in the background. What more could the kids ask Santa for?


Location: Meet Santa and Mrs. Claus in the gazebo of the America Adventure Pavilion, Epcot Theme Park, generally between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Check your Epcot Times Guide to plan a visit.


Fit our family into a phone booth in the UK Pavilion

I wouldn’t have guessed that the iconic phone booths in Epcot’s UK Pavilion would entertain for so long – but I wasn’t complaining. It was our girls’ first time exploring this particular World Showcase pavilion; they had never seen these bright red beacons of telecommunication. Or even seen a pay phone used, for that matter. It was extra novel to barricade themselves inside the booths and pretend to make secret calls!

Speaking of making calls, I don’t know if it has ever actually been possible to make outgoing calls from the booths.  But up until earlier this year, calls could be made to the three phones (plus one in the Canada Pavilion). It was common for guests to walk by the booths as one was ringing, pick up the receiver and be greeted from a faraway fan (or perhaps as a prank from someone right there in the park with you!). Just called the phone numbers (readily available on the net) to verify: Nope, my calls “cannot be completed as dialed”. A little piece of magic I missed out on.

Oh, and no, we didn’t actually try to fit our entire family inside one of those stuffy booths…this time…but as our four little ones are only going to get bigger, we probably shouldn’t have put it off!


Location: Find the phone booths in the United Kingdom Pavilion of World Showcase, Epcot Theme Park, Walt Disney World Resort.


Four places to bang the drums in Walt Disney World

Kids don’t want to work – they just want to bang on the drum all day! So where can you do that at Walt Disney World? Here are four spots we’ve found:

MH walt disney world drumsThe Little Drummer Girls are performing at the following locations clockwise from top left: the interactive play queue of The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh at Magic Kingdom Park, the Outpost area of World Showcase at Epcot, while waiting to be seated at Boma – Flavors of Africa at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and in the Harambe Village area in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Let me assure you – you don’t have to be a kid to join in!


Enjoy: Fish ‘n chips from Yorkshire County Fish Shop

A basket of fish ‘n chips and a Harp lager in his grasp while wandering World Showcase might have been my husband’s favorite memory of a recent trip to Epcot. The highly portable dinner had come from the Yorkshire County Fish Shop, a compact cottage with a quick-service dining window in the United Kingdom Pavilion. Yorkshire County serves up two superior strips of fish – slightly crisp on the outside, flaky and tender on the inside – and thick-cut fries for less than $10. It’s such a tasty, filling bargain that we found ourselves back at Yorkshire County twice during the trip (and, clearly, it was still on the brain days later!)


Location: Find Yorkshire County Fish Shop in the United Kingdom Pavilion of World Showcase, Epcot Theme Park, Walt Disney World Resort.

Touring tip: Expect to wait in a fairly long line during mealtimes for the fish and chips. Rose and Crown Pub & Dining Room, the UK Pavilion’s table-service establishment, also serves fish and chips as their signature dish.


Catch O Canada! at Epcot’s Canada Pavilion

MH o canada epcotFor you Disney regulars: you know that one attraction? The one that, for whatever reason, constantly evades your schedule? The one you keep meaning to hit, but it’s never a priority, so all of a sudden you’ve taken a dozen trips to Disney and you still haven’t checked it off your list? That was Epcot’s O Canada! for our family. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that we’re 1) always toting young children around and 2) we normally start World Showcase with Mexico and work our way clockwise — so that  we either 1) don’t have enough energy to make it to Canada or 2) are too spent once there to subject the kids to the 18-minute Circle-Vision film.

Because it took us so many years to see O Canada!, we missed seeing the original version that played in the Canada Pavilion’s theater from 1982 to 2007. I had to look it up on youtube in order to compare it to the film that plays today. Being a fan of the “old Epcot”, I rather liked the original. Much of the footage was retained for the update and Canadian Martin Short was tapped to inject some humor into it (debatable whether or not that’s considered an improvement). The shots of the Canadian Rockies, Niagara Falls, and the cityscapes are particularly lovely.

MH o canada epcotIt’s notable that the path to the Circle-Vision theater is beautiful as well. It meanders through a re-creation of Victoria’s Butchart Gardens, past a rocky waterfall, and through a gorge into the Maple Leaf Mine, where the film is shown.


Location: O Canada! plays in the Canada Pavilion of World Showcase, Epcot Theme Park, Walt Disney World Resort.


Touring tip: The Kidcot stop is located at the exit to O Canada! and is a handy place if you need to wait for the next showing.


Character Series: Meet Snow White

MH snow white germany pavilionWhere can you meet the Fairest in the Land? (Let me quick consult my Magic Mirror…) Mirror reports back: Perhaps the easiest spot to meet this princess is at her wishing well in the Germany Pavilion of World Showcase at Epcot. Nestled on the outskirts of the pavilion as you enter going clockwise, Snow White (occasionally with the Prince, and/or Dopey) greets guests at the well several times daily between 11:30am and 6pm. Our photo, taken when our son wasn’t quite three, remains one of my favorite Disney snapshots of all time. Check out the way he’s gazing at Snow White!

It used to be that if you had more patience (or maybe a FastPass+ reservation), you could snag some time with Snow White at Princess Fairytale Hall in the Magic Kingdom. This is how we met the princess in 2013 soon after the new meet-and-greet opened. (June 2014 update: Snow White has been ousted from Princess Fairytale Hall by the Frozen sisters. She will now be greeting guests daily at Town Square Courtyard.)

MH meet snow whiteIf you’re prepared to fork over some major moolah (especially when you’re a family of six!), you might try a princess character meal. Snow White makes appearances at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot’s Norway Pavilion and, at the Disneyland Resort, during certain meals at Ariel’s Grotto in Disney California Adventure Park. This is how we met Snow White on the West Coast.


Finding fountains at Epcot: World Showcase Part 2

We’re back in World Showcase, seeking out a second set of fountains that speak to the role of water in the Disney theme parks. The three fountains shown are displayed prominently — two are anchoring squares within the pavilions, and one is directly outside a major attraction. The fourth water feature, a waterfall, hints at a more playful purpose within.

MH epcot world showcase fountainsThe fountains pictured are (clockwise, from left): a statue of St. George slaying the dragon in the Germany Pavilion, the waterfall spilling from Maelstrom in the Norway Pavilion, a Fez-inspired fountain in the Morocco Pavilion, and the clover-shaped fountain found outside the American Adventure.


Celebrate Easter at the Walt Disney World Resort

magic kingdom easterGiven that our Mouse Holiday Family wilts at the thought of such crowds, we have never ventured even in the general direction of the Walt Disney World Resort too close to Easter. As we don’t have the luxury of visiting as often as we’d like (a major understatement), we tend to schedule our trips when attendance is low. This totally wouldn’t be the case if we were locals. We’d take the crowds in stride if we could experience these special Easter activities:

Magic Kingdom

  • Easter Bunny meet-and-greet near Town Square Theatre
  • Special Easter pre-parade featuring Fantasia characters, a few famous Disney hares, and the Azalea Trail Maids.

Epcot

  • Egg-stravaganza: 10 days of hunting for special Disney character eggs hidden around World Showcase. Purchase a special map and stickers ($4.95) to mark your finds; collect a prize when the map’s complete.
  • Easter Sunday egg hunts and relay races for kids in the United Kingdom Pavilion, World Showcase.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Easter Bunny meet-and-greet at the UK Pavilion, Easter Sunday.

Animal Kingdom

  • Mr. and Mrs. Easter Bunny meet-and-greet on Discovery Island, Easter Sunday.

Resort Hotels

  • Many Disney resort hotels offer pre-made Easter baskets or supplies to stock your own.
  • Many resort restaurants will serve special Easter menus or brunches.
  • Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney’s Contemporary Resort get decked out with incredible – and fully edible! – Easter eggs on display.
  • All resorts will have special Easter activities scheduled throughout the holiday. From character meet-and-greets and candy scrambles to crafts, games and egg hunts, there might be enough going on at the hotels to warrant a break from the theme park crowds!

TRYit! to find new favorite flavors at Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival

My mouth is watering as I read about all the new menu items at the 2014 Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. It was only six months ago that our Mouse Holiday Family was pushing our way through the toasty World Showcase, sampling as much of the Food & Wine Festival as the kids would tolerate – but I am so ready for more delicacies! Noshing on small portions from the various ethnic Marketplaces was a wonderful way to encourage the kids to try new foods. The Flower and Garden Festival likewise features booths arranged around World Showcase – Outdoor Kitchens, in this festival’s parlance – offering fresh flavors themed to their corresponding countries. Special “TRYit!” dishes have been specially created to appeal to kids, combining both familiar and new flavors in an attempt to expand often picky palates.

Here are some of the new TRYit! edibles offered this year at the festival through May 18:

  • Florida kumquat pie
  • Hanami sushi with beef, scallops and salmon in a shiso violet sauce
  • orange blossom macarons with white chocolate ganache
  • sweet potato-cinnamon waffle with pineapple soft serve
  • eggplant “scallop” with spaghetti squash
  • smoked turkey “ribs”
  • Caprese push-up with tomato, mozarella and balsamic

And if the kids TRYit and don’t care for it? More for me!