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.

Enjoy: Mini Mickey Kitchen Sink at Beaches and Cream Soda Shop

You scream, I scream, we all scream for Beaches and Cream!

In greater detail: These kids are hollering for three generous scoops of ice cream – chocolate, strawberry and vanilla – topped with hot fudge, strawberry sauce, pineapple and peanut butter, crowned with chewy brownie pieces and Oreo cookies and finished with clouds of whipped cream, cherries and sprinkles. Oh, and it’s served up in a little plastic sink shaped like Mickey’s trousers, which makes for a sweet souvenir.

Otherwise known as the “Mini Mickey Kitchen Sink”, this concoction is perfect for a family of six that wouldn’t be able to stomach the original “Kitchen Sink” monster ice cream treat that put the boardwalk-style Beaches and Cream Soda Shop on the map.

Here’s a tip: The “Mini Mickey” is available without a reservation at the soda shop walk-up counter. Grab one and the whole family can dig in for a cool midday break.

Located: Find this version of the Mini Mickey Kitchen Sink exclusively at Beaches and Cream Soda Shop within Disney’s Beach Club Resort, Walt Disney World Resort.

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.

Enjoy: “Back to the” 50’s Prime Time Cafe

If you’ve got a hankering for home cooking and a return to kinder, gentler times, consider a meal at the 50’s Prime Time Café at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Just be prepared for a truly immersive experience – and above all, make sure to mind your p’s and q’s. Why’s that? Well, we lunched at the retro spot a couple years back and I found out the hard way that our server (“Cousin-Somebody-or-Other”) wasn’t going to let me off the hook for leaving vegetables on my plate!

MH 50's prime time cafeSo we rolled with the antics of the servers because we didn’t mind them harping at us to get our elbows off the table. Two tables over, a woman good-naturedly rose to perform “I’m a Little Teapot” as punishment for something (she probably hadn’t called or written her server, “Auntie Somebody-or-Other” in a while). Our own family temporarily expanded when a “smart-mouthed” kid from a neighboring table was banished to ours. The boisterous fun might not be everyone’s cup of tea – say, if you’re looking for a quiet lunch break in the middle of a bustling theme park – but we enjoyed playing along. Also unique is the nifty fifties-style living room you wait to be seated in, complete with old black-and-white sitcoms on the TVs.

MH 50's prime time cafeAs we all made our best effort to join the ranks of the “Clean Plate Club”, we were allowed to choose a dessert from the ViewMaster menu. (If you’re curious about what’s cooking in “Mom’s Kitchen”, it is chiefly comfort food at its best. We tried both the pot roast and Grandma’s chicken pot pie and have heard great things about the juicy fried chicken and the meatloaf.) For dessert? We ordered the much-buzzed about PBJ malt and one of “Dad’s Brownie Sundae”s. No need for the servers to remind us to finish every last bite.

Location: 50’s Prime Time Cafe serves lunch and dinner in the Echo Lake area of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort.

Enjoy: The burger fixings bar at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe

MH pecos billsOur affinity for the Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café lies in the extensive fixings bar ready and waiting to top that solidly good cheeseburger we order every time. The burger is a rather standard 1/3-lb. patty, but somehow it tastes just marvelous dressed in unlimited sautéed mushrooms – especially during a break in a busy theme park-touring day. We look forward to a refuel at Pecos Bill’s during most family trips to the Magic Kingdom.

Here’s what the burger bar has to offer: sautéed mushrooms and onions, banana peppers, dill pickles, salsa, hot cheese sauce (try it with the French fries!), grated cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and the standard ketchup, mustard and mayo. For a little extra $, the cheeseburger can be upgraded to deluxe and topped with bacon, onion rings and barbecue sauce.

For a bit of extra tradition, we like to snag “our table” in the Pecos Bill dining room themed to look like an outdoor courtyard. I love how the cavernous restaurant – accessible from both Frontierland and Adventureland – subtly shifts its décor as it straddles two distinctly different themed lands. The dining room we like to eat in is reminiscent of a Spanish courtyard while the entrance by the ordering kiosks is all Old West. If I had a great picture of the theme, I’d post it, but I don’t so stayed tuned for our next trip…because tradition dictates that we’ll make a stop!

Location: Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe is located within both the Adventureland and Frontierland sections of Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort.

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.

Star Wars™ Weekends return to Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Star Wars™ Weekends are back at Disney’s Hollywood Studios May 16 – June 15, 2014! The event, which takes place Friday – Sunday, is jam-packed full of special entertainment, characters and dining experiences celebrating the popular Star Wars films and the television series Star Wars™: The Clone Wars.

New Dining Experiences

Two brand-new character dining options are being added to the event this year. Fuel up for a day at Hollywood Studios with the Star Wars Dine-In Galactic Breakfast” at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre ($47.99 for adults and $29.99 for children). Mingle with Star Wars personalities while movie moments from the trilogy play out on the big screen. For dinner, join Mickey and Friends (dressed in their Star Wars best) for “Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine at Hollywood & Vine” ($47.99 for adults and $29.99 for children). The interactive meal is sure to be out-of-this-world with music and a delicious dinner buffet. Included with both the breakfast and dinner is a digital photograph memento. These new limited-time dining experiences will be available daily May 4 – June 15, 2014.

New “Feel the Force Premium Package”

Take in the popular Legends of the Force: Star Wars™ Celebrity Motorcade and the Symphony in the Stars fireworks from an exclusive reserved viewing area. Light snacks and beverages will be served during the Motorcade (11am daily during the event). The fireworks will be accompanied by a special Star Wars-themed dessert party. Also included is a souvenir Disney PhotoPass® card with a series of complimentary Star Wars™ photos. This special-ticketed event occurs daily during the event May 16-June 15, 2014, and is priced at $54 for adults and $32 for children (tax and gratuity included).

Returning Star Wars Favorites

Special themed entertainment will be back for 2014 including:

  • Official opening of Disney’s Hollywood Studios with Stormtroopers at the Gate
  • Padawan Mind Challenge (interactive trivia game designed for ages 4 – 11)
  • Jedi Training Academy (ages 12 & under, also available year-round)
  • Meet-and-greet opportunities with Star Wars characters (and some Disney characters in their Star Wars finest)!
  • Autograph sessions and celebrity guests (Mark Hamill, June 6 – 8 only!)
  • Behind-the-scenes presentations at the Premiere Theater

Enjoy: Winnie-the-Pooh breakfast buffet at The Crystal Palace

Of the two options for sit-down breakfasts in the Magic Kingdom, one is pricey and the other is shockingly expensive. Especially if you’re feeding a larger-than-average family! This is primarily why we’ve balked at breakfasting with Cinderella and opted instead to dine with Winnie-the-Pooh and his pals at The Crystal Palace. Plus, the Palace does a decent breakfast buffet with lots of choices: cooked-to-order omelets for Mom and Dad, Mickey waffles for the kids and plenty of fruit and yogurt for the baby.

The restaurant is clearly named for its conservatory-style glass dome and walls of windows in the dining room that let in the sunlight. Palms, hanging plants and fun topiaries complete the feel. Winnie and Friends are on hand to keep things from feeling too grown-up garden-partyish – coming around to tables to greet guests, pose for pictures, and then lead the kids in a short parade.

MH winnie

Location: The Crystal Palace serves breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets in the Main Street U.S.A section of Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort.

Touring tips: Consider booking either the first (8 a.m.) or last (10:30 a.m.) seating time for the Winnie breakfast (if possible). Here’s why: The 8 a.m. reservation will allow you the earliest entry possible into the Magic Kingdom (read: beat the crowds!). Just show up at the “breakfast” turnstile about 20 minutes before your reservation and provide your ID and dining confirmation number. Booking the 10:30 a.m. slot (which we usually do) allows us to eat a light, cheap breakfast at the resort then bulk up at the Crystal Palace for an early lunch. Choosing the last seating time has also rewarded us extra time with the Winnie characters as new diners have not yet arrived for lunch.

Enjoy: Being selected “Family of the Night” at Olivia’s Cafe

What was it that the staff saw in us that evening when we came through the door of Olivia’s Café? Likely they saw us exactly as we were: a maxed-out mom and dad with an armload of little ones, in our last throes of a busy, but wonderful week at Walt Disney World. Perhaps they sensed we could use a little extra pixie dust thrown our way. Whatever the reason, our Mouse Holiday family was thrilled to be chosen – by Olivia herself, according to legend – as “Family of the Night”!

MH olivia's cafeThe honor was not bestowed upon us right away. First, we eased into the beachy, relaxed restaurant. The walls are adorned with fishing knickknacks and framed photos of Disney Vacation Club members who own at Old Key West Resort. The menu is also flavored with Conch Republic influence: conch chowder and fritters, tropical dressings on meat and fish, and an awesome key lime tart for dessert.
We were about halfway through dinner when the announcement was made. (And let me just say that I had a total sixth sense moment here; I knew instantly they were going to call out our family’s name – probably because I was in the middle of feeding the baby.)

MH olivia's cafe Our kids were delighted! Princess balloons and ice cream sundaes (that the kids could decorate themselves with syrup and sprinkles) were brought to the table, and the dinner guests clapped as though we were visiting dignitaries instead of Midwesterners come to crash a friend’s DVC. We even received a small certificate to commemorate our “Magical Moment”; a truly memorable way to wrap up another successful vacation.

Location: Olivia’s Cafe is located within Disney’s Old Key West Resort, Walt Disney World Resort.

Touring tip: Ferry service to Disney’s Old Key West Resort departs daily from the Downtown Disney Marketplace, 10:30am – 11pm.

Enjoy: Tacos and cerveza at La Cantina de San Angel

It was a typically hot and sticky summer afternoon at Epcot. We had just finished our Future World attractions and were heading in the direction of the crooked path that skirts the Odyssey. Though stomachs were a-rumblin’, we hadn’t yet committed to a particular World Showcase restaurant for lunch.

Proximity probably had something to do with it — Mexico is the first country you approach when traveling clockwise from Future World — but I swear a vision of tacos suddenly popped into my head. Moments later, we were under the welcoming arch of La Cantina de San Angel, Mexico’s counter-service offering.

La Cantina underwent extensive work a few years ago to be transformed from one quick-service spot to two dining destinations. The new table-service restaurant, La Hacienda de San Angel, shares a kitchen with La Cantina and has been constructed adjacent with tall windows that look out onto World Showcase lagoon. La Hacienda de San Angel begins serving dinner at 4pm but allows customers of La Cantina to use the dining room space from 11am to about 3pm. You must know what that meant to a tired family of six on that hot, sticky summer afternoon at Epcot: air conditioning! We admired the newish outdoor covered seating that juts into the lagoon, but bolted inside for a cooler meal without sacrificing the great view.

MH la cantina de san angelWe were pleasantly shocked to grab a table for six next to one of those beautiful windows. And surprised further at the speed with which Dad managed to bring a tray to the table loaded down with tacos de carne (smoked beef brisket on handmade corn tortillas topped with fresh pico de gallo and lime) and empanadas de queso with tortilla chips for the kids. Oh, and a couple of tall, cold Dos Equis. Cheers to us, indeed.

The food was filling and flavorful – could have used just a touch more heat, but I enjoy moderately spicy dishes. The one instance where we took issue with something on our plate, the staff brought out a manager promptly and graciously fixed the problem.

MH la hacienda de san angelWe took a few extra minutes to enjoy both the air conditioning and the lovely “hacienda” design of the dining room. I would have loved to see the hanging star sconces lit up for the evening meal.

A handful of tacos and a couple cervezas did wonders for our stamina to forge on ahead into World Showcase. Muchas gracias, La Cantina!

Location: La Cantina de San Angel is located in the Mexico Pavilion of World Showcase, Epcot Theme Park, Walt Disney World Resort.

Touring tip: La Cantina opens at 11am with the rest of World Showcase. It is a counter-service restaurant only, no reservations are accepted. Its new outdoor seating pavilion is one of the hottest tickets to catch IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth; take this into consideration when planning for dinner.