Rainy Day Disney: Splitsville Bowling in Disney Springs

If you’re anything like the typical Disney vacation planner, you come here looking to max out your time in the parks and perhaps enjoy your resort a bit. For the cost of a trip to Walt Disney World, it’s often hard to justify going off the beaten path to some of the other on property offerings. Sometimes it’s nice to explore beyond the main gates, though – whether it’s because you’re a seasoned enough visitor that you want to do something different, or because you’re passing the time on a rainy day, or because you just want some down time with the family.

As locals we have the luxury of time here, so I’m trying to explore some of the things that we missed out on as vacationers—–and one of the spots that’s become a regular weekend hangout for us with the kids (especially as the rainy-ish season sets in!) is Splitsville in Disney Springs.

Splitsville Disney Springs 1

You can always find a crowd enjoying the outdoor tables by the bar here. It’s a pretty reliable place to take in the game or just take a load off for a bit. But inside you’ll find a fun little bowling alley with separate bars and a surprisingly great menu!

In fact, the thing that took us aback the most on our first visit was how good the food was…

Splitsville Disney Springs 11

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not a signature dining experience. But I was expecting the typical bowling alley pizza and such and it was SO much better. We were waiting a bit for a lane to bowl and were encouraged to have a seat at a table and order awhile. We had a pager that would go off for the lane when it was ready and could take our food with us then.

The current menu includes lots of apps (think sliders, loaded fries, nachos, edamame, and ahi tuna), pizzas, sushi, burgers, and proper entrees that include everything from fish n’ chips to ahi tuna to taco bowls. I got the Fiesta Chicken Bowl ($21…so still Disney prices here) and my husband got a burger ($17).

Splitsville Disney Springs 3

Splitsville Disney Springs 4

The kids got pizza and a hot dog and the hot dog was served New England style on a toasted bread bun.

As for the bowling, it’s a pretty chill setup with pricing by the person and (at least currently) available AP, DVC, and cast member discounts. They currently also honor Tables in Wonderland for food and alcohol.

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The lanes don’t take over the building, but there are plenty of them upstairs and downstairs.

 

You can also have bumpers put up for the game if you’re bowling with littles (or just suck at it like me) and they even have the little ramps that the especially young (or bowling challenged) can use to launch their balls into the lane in a straight line.

And speaking of their bowling balls….look how precious…

Splitsville Disney Springs 9

All in all we’re giving two big thumbs up to Splitsville. It’s Disney prices but it’s also a good time when you want to do something a little more relaxed and a little different. And often when we go we just have the kids bowl while we relax, which makes for a much cheaper hour while we enjoy some food and a cocktail.

Have you been to Splitsville yet? What are your favorite things to do on a rainy day at Disney? (And enjoying shorter than usual lines at the parks is absolutely a good answer!!)

CastleRun: Top 7 Reasons to Run a runDisney 5K

If you’re anything like me and you’ve participated in a runDisney 5K, you have a little pang of “why why WHY did I sign up for this?” when your alarm goes off at around 2 a.m. so that you can go run 3.1 miles. There have been many mornings when I’ve reevaluated my life choices while I roll out of bed in the middle of the night to get ready, drive to a park, and then wait about 2 1/2 hours to run for 30 minutes, only to get home before anyone else in my household has even woken up. But I left this weekend’s Dark Side 5K with a little more clarity on why it makes a heck of a lot of sense to sign up for the Thursday/Friday 5K portion of any runDisney race weekend. So here are my top 7 reasons – one for waking up, one for each kilometer, and an extra one for good luck:

1. The Fanfare

Dark Side Race Weekend runDisney First Order Challenge Photopass Pic 1

If you are newer to running or otherwise are more comfortable with shorter race distances for any reason at all, you aren’t going to get a massive 5K experience anywhere quite like you will at a runDisney event. The pre-race scene is at least as festive as it is for the longer runs, the fireworks at the start are just as exciting, the music is just as energizing, and the course is at least as jam packed with characters and other PhotoPass photographers. The race is also untimed and includes a huge range of runners (and walkers!) – from complete novice to extremely experienced, so it’s one of the least intimidating race experiences you’ll find. And these days you get a proper medal for finishing – so you’ll leave with your bling, too.

ark Side Race Weekend runDisney First Order Challenge Medal Race Bling Storm Trooper

The down side is of course that this will basically ruin you for all other 5ks. But you probably won’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to run those, so it’s okay.

2. The Intimate Park Experience

Dark Side Race Weekend runDisney First Order Challenge Storm Troopers

The runDisney 5Ks are typically entirely within a given park – usually Epcot, sometimes Animal Kingdom. It will be interesting to see what the courses are going forward with the various new lands opening. I can only imagine a run through Toy Story Land or Galaxy’s Edge…. But even now the runs weave throughout a single park in an intimate way that you just don’t get with the longer runs. For Epcot 5Ks, you’ll circle world showcase in the dark with the countries lit, meander through future world with Spaceship Earth glowing, and exit back to the parking lot to finish. It’s a sort of wee hours, quiet park experience that you just can’t get any other way.

3. The Costumes!!

Most of us aren’t willing to run a half marathon in full costume – especially in the Florida heat. But you can knockout 3.1 miles in pretty much anything. This allows you to indulge in some pretty creative outfits and also makes for some of the best people watching of any runDisney event. Knock out your 5K in whatever you want and then you can indulge in comfortable gear for any other races you’re doing that weekend.

ark Side Race Weekend runDisney First Order Challenge Darth Vader 2

***Huge shout out to SuperNerdCosplay on Etsy for hooking me up with my Darth Vader gear this race!!***

4. Get your Body Clock Set Before the Weekend

I know, I know. Double edged sword since the wake ups really do catch up with you as any race weekend progresses, but if you have the luxury of getting to bed early enough throughout the course of a race weekend, it’s great to get yourself started on the crazy schedule on Friday. I typically force myself through the day without napping after finishing the 5K (if you work outside of the house you’re basically home in plenty of time to work a regular 9-5 and more) and then falling asleep early that evening is much easier, which makes waking up in the middle of the night for the 10K, half marathon, and (in January) full marathon a little…well, easier is probably too strong a word. But more natural.

5. Relax…and Knock Out the Characters before the Long Runs

(Caution: Egregious photo sharing ahead….)

Again, if you’re anything like me, your favorite part of a long run is the finish line. And so, if you’re anything like me, once you start you’re probably impatient to get there. For me, this often means that no matter what my plan is *before* the race, I rarely want to take the time to stop to wait in line for character pictures, etc., during a 10K, half marathon, or full marathon. And even if you tend not to mind stopping during those races, it’s nice to go into them with many of the character stops already in your pocket so that you can focus on running during the longer races – especially if the balloon ladies are an actual concern for you. Plus you aren’t nearly as sweaty, so you’re going to look better in the 5K pictures anyway. 😉

ark Side Race Weekend runDisney First Order Challenge Kylo Ren 2

 

ark Side Race Weekend runDisney First Order Challenge Boba Fett

Dark Side Race Weekend runDisney First Order Challenge BB8

ark Side Race Weekend runDisney First Order Challenge Phasma

Since the race is more relaxed and there is no time requirement, taking your time and enjoying the course is really just getting your money’s worth out of a runDisney 5K. And you can also grab the corral character pictures before or after the race, so that you go into the other race mornings not having to wait for the same characters in the much, much longer lines. Of course I can’t promise the same experience every time, but I showed up for the Dark Side 5K at about 3:15 a.m. and managed to grab every pre-race character shot in about 15 minutes. (Which was AMAZING.) And then I went on to get pretty much every character picture on the course so that I didn’t need them going into the 10K and half marathon.

ark Side Race Weekend runDisney First Order Challenge Jabba the Hut 2

ark Side Race Weekend runDisney First Order Challenge Chewbacca Chewie

Dark Side Race Weekend runDisney First Order Challenge Course Pic 2

6. Do It For the Bling.

We all know that the difference between a training run and a race is the bling. So go get yours. Other than the Dopey, which requires completing the 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon over the course of January’s marathon weekend, the runDisney race weekend challenges currently include only the 10K and half marathon – so you can complete the weekend’s challenge without participating in the Friday 5K. But do you really want to do all of that work and leave short one medal that you could have gotten for an extra 3.1 miles?? Because really. Four medals are better than three medals. That’s just basic math.

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And as I mentioned above, if you are new to racing or otherwise more comfortable with shorter distances, do it somewhere that your efforts will be honored with proper bling.

7. The Snack Box.

You guys. They give you the snack box and a banana after the 5K. That’s 150% the number of snack boxes that you’d get just running the 10K and half. In case you need me to connect the dots for you, that’s 150% the cheddar cheese flavored pasteurized cheese snack. So you can basically disregard reasons 1-6 because commmmme to momma….

runDisney cheese dip

 

So there you have it. Seven good reasons to run through in your mind the next time your alarm goes off at 2 a.m. so that you can wait 4 hours to run 3 miles. 😉

Dark Side Race Weekend runDisney First Order Challenge Finisher Pic

Eat This: Fleur de Lys at Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

I’ve shared before that I tend to overlook (or intentionally skip) the offerings at the various festivals’ France and Italy booths, as they tend to offer heavier foods that I don’t crave in the Florida heat. In part because of the cooler temperatures that we’ve had (on and off) so far this year, I’ve managed to try both menus early on and, while I was disappointed in Italy, I was thrilled with France and so excited to share my thoughts here.

As you’d expect, France’s Flower & Garden Festival booth, Fleur de Lys (see what they did there??), is located just outside and to the right of the France Pavilion in World Showcase, just after you cross the bridge from the U.K. pavilion. This year they are offering two savory dishes and one very sweet, along with a number of drinks.

  • Tarte à la Tomate Provençale: Provencal Tomato Tart with Sautéed Onions, Fresh Thyme, and Rosemary on a Flaky Pastry Crust ($5.50)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival France Pavilion Fleur de Lys Tarte a la Tomate Provencale

This was so simple and so good – fresh tomatoes and olives atop a light flaky crust. And I’m a sucker for rosemary and thyme. It was France’s take on pizza and it was wonderful. I’ll definitely be back for more…especially if I can dip it in the leftover sauce from this…

  • Confit de Canard aux Gnocchi à la Parisienne: Braised Duck Confit with Parisian Gnocchi ($5.75)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival France Pavilion Fleur de Lys Confit de Canard aux Gnocchi a la Parisienne

This is as delicious as it is ugly…. and I am *not* an indiscriminate fan of duck. It doesn’t take much for me to find it too greasy or fatty if it isn’t chosen or prepared well. This almost could have passed for a very rich chicken or turkey. And the gnocchi was far from the dense round type that you’d expect in Italian food. Instead is was a flat sort of dumpling. I cannot recommend this ugly little plate of food more strongly…especially if you are smart enough to get the tarte too and dip it in the leftover sauce.

  • Macaron au Chocolat en Sucette: Large Chocolate Macaron Lollipop (gluten free (?!)) ($4.95)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival France Pavilion Fleur de Lys Macaron au Chocolat en Sucette

You guys. Look how pretty!!

This was SO good. I’m not even a big sweet eater – and when I do have a dessert it’s rarely chocolate. Last year the French kitchen at Flower and Garden offered a raspberry macaron that got one bite from me before I had to pass it along to someone else because it was sweeter than I could take or enjoy. This is also very sweet but not nearly as overpowering. The macaron is light and filled with a rich, soft chocolate and then dipped in these pretty little balls of white and (milk?) chocolate that make the whole thing that much more fun and pretty. This might have been one of my favorite desserts at F&G so far.

  • La Vie en Rose Frozen Slush: Grey Goose Vodka L’Orange, St. Germain Liqueur, White and Red Cranberry Juice ($10.75)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival France Pavilion Fleur de Lys La Vie en Rose Frozen Slush

This thing is light and refreshing enough that I can forgive the obnoxious “glass”. The perfect thing for a hot day, especially when you have a macaron’s sweetness to cut. 😉

Have you eaten at Fleur de Lys yet? If you have, let me know what you thought!

Disney Parking: The Fly on the Wall

So yesterday Walt Disney World made the oh-so-earth-shattering announcement that resort guests will now generally be charged an overnight parking fee. The fine print can be found here – but the gist is that for reservations made on or after March 21 of this year, standard overnight parking for resort guests will cost $13/night for value resorts, $19/night for moderate resorts, and $24/night for deluxe resorts. There’s a carveout for DVC members staying in DVC deluxe villas for cash or points or staying elsewhere for points.

The Disney community was of course all a’flutter over the change and I’ve been among the people curious about the thinking behind it. Having slept on it, I think I’m now in a position to share with everyone my entirely fictional take on what the fly on the wall heard during this particular meeting.

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* * * * * * * * * *

Executive 1: Okay John. I know you said you had something important to talk about. I hope that’s true because I moved the yeti meeting AGAIN for this and that situation is starting to get ridiculous.

Executive 2: This is going to take about 5 minutes. Tops. You didn’t need to cancel anything.

E1: Meh. I already canceled it. Those guys are getting irritable. I don’t want to call them back again.

E2: Fair enough. Anyway, this will be quick. Basically tons of resorts are charging guests for overnight parking. Even Universal is doing it.

E1: You know we don’t care what they do.

E2: I know. I know. But stick with me here. I’ve been running the numbers and if we charged just $13 a night for value resorts, $19 a night for moderate resorts, and $24 a night for deluxe resorts….

E1: Wait – why in the world would it be tiered based on the resort level? It’s the same parking space.

E2: Oh. Um. I don’t know. That’s just how I ran the numbers.

E1: Gotcha. Carry on.

E2: So as I was saying, if we charged just $13 a night for value resorts, $19 a night for moderate resorts, and $24 a night for deluxe resorts…here look. I made a spreadsheet.

E1: John. You don’t need to make your own spreadsheets. We’ve talked about this. We have people for that. And they have the actual numbers.

E2: You know I love this stuff. Look!

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*Yes. I mocked this up. Don’t judge me. I pulled the room numbers from Touring Plans and didn’t cross check them. If they’re a little off they’re still close enough. People with cars is a total guess for the sake of running some numbers. I reduced the number at DVC resorts drastically since members staying there are generally excluded from the new policy.

E2: We’d be making an extra $170K. EVERY NIGHT.

E1: You totally made up these numbers, John. And you’ve assumed 100% occupancy every night, which is close but a little high.

E2: Some of them. And yeah. But you get the idea. Oh and I excluded DVC members since there’s something in their contract that made it seem like we couldn’t increase the cost of their stays. Also those people kind of scare me when they’re angry.

E1: Good thinking. Have you run through how this is going to affect behavior otherwise?

E2: We’ve talked it through. With these numbers the effects should be minimal at most. The mega-fans that obsess over everything we do will yell for a minute. But they’re not going anywhere.

::muffled laughter::

E2: Anyway, like I was saying. No one is going to fly instead of drive because of this because the price of air is still way over this new charge. People are probably a little less likely to rent cars, but that’s a good thing because it keeps them using park transportation and on property. And we all know there’s a congestion problem with traffic and parking so even a few less cars is good.

E1: Fair enough. But this meshes strangely with other recent decisions – like when you talked me into offering perks like 60 day out FastPasses to guests at the good neighbor hotels. Are we trying to push guests off property?

E2: Have you tried to book a room on property lately??

::raucous laughter::

E1: True. Maybe the people complaining about room availability will like this.  I don’t know though. It still feels cheap to me. We’re not Spirit Airlines. We’re Disney. I don’t like the nickel and diming. Walt wouldn’t either.

E2: I know. I know. It’s a slippery slope. But this isn’t even going to hit the average family’s radar. It’ll show up as a charge on the bill at checkout. And everyone is doing it. People will complain for a few days and then this time next year people will have forgotten that this ever wasn’t our policy. Everyone is doing it. Let’s just rip the bandaid off and do it too. It’s a lot of money. And we’ve got a lot of projects. These road projects aren’t paying for themselves. And don’t get me started on Galaxy’s Edge.

E1: Enough said. Write it up for the website and let’s announce at noon next week. Leak it that morning to make sure that no one but the crazies threaten to storm the castle.

E2: Done and done.

 

 

******Our legal department (aka my paranoid alter ego) would like me to stress that I made this up completely and have absolutely no access or insight into the actual situation that led to this change. No harm was done to any flies (or DVC members) during the creation of this post.

 

 

 

 

Eat This (Maybe): Italy’s Primavera Kitchen at Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival

Let’s start this review with some stark honesty:

Confession 1: True to my family heritage, I love Italian food – but I almost always skip Italy at the festivals because the last thing I want in the Florida sun is pasta and fried shrimp.

Confession 2: I ate this full slate awhile ago but was holding off on the review because I didn’t want to open reviews of my favorite festival of the year with a buzz kill.

All of this being said, let’s tear the bandaid off and get this done.

Italy’s Primavera Kitchen at Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival is, of course, located just across the promenade outside the Italy pavilion. While it usually takes me awhile to get to Italy’s festival booth, I was with some dear friends with food restrictions that limited options – so we hit Primavera Kitchen to get the allergy-friendly frittata that they offered and knocked out the rest of the menu at the same time.

So, for starters, I love the Bulls and miss them already and thank them for letting me hang and eat my face off with them after Princess race weekend.

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Italy Primavera Kitchen Photopass

But if you’re reading this for nothing but the food review you’re probably getting annoyed at this point. So I’ll save you further scrolling and get to it.

Italy offers three savory dishes and one sweet, along with a variety of wines, sparkling options, and an Italian margarita that I still need to get my hands on.

  • Frittata di Asparagi: Asparagus Frittata, Mixed Greens, and Citrus Dressing ($7) (vegetarian) (gluten free)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Italy Primavera Kitchen Frittata di Asparagi

I confess that I don’t know the ingredients in this. But as far as I can tell, it’s eggs with asparagus in them with some lightly dressed greens on top. If you really, really want to pay $7 for a small amount of scrambled eggs, I highly recommend this. Otherwise, not so much. Let’s move on.

  • Fritto Misto: Crispy Shrimp, Zucchini, and Spicy Sauces ($8)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Italy Primavera Kitchen Fritto Misto

This was pretty bland. Small-ish fried shrimp and zucchini with lots of breading and a generous drizzle of the aptly named “spicy sauces”. It made me feel like I was eating actual calories in Disney World, which is not acceptable. Even if I liked it, I wouldn’t want to eat it in the hot sun…. If this picture makes you want to lick the screen, knock yourself out. Otherwise there are better places to spend your calories and money and then you can just get some firecracker shrimp at P.F. Changs after your trip.

  • Ravioli: Maine Lobster Ravioli with Vodka Sauce ($12)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Italy Primavera Kitchen Ravioli

These are quite tasty, as they should be for $12. (Yes, that’s $6 per ravioli….) They are nicely cooked and filled with lobster and topped with these funny little things that can only be described as lox-flavored boba balls. (If you don’t like the taste of smoked salmon, do NOT eat the balls.) I don’t really have any complaints here except that they were nothing extraordinary and they cost a fortune. If you’re craving ravioli, they will do the trick.

  • Panna Cotta al Melone: Cantaloupe Panna Cotta ($5.50) (vegetarian) (gluten free)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Italy Primavera Kitchen Panna Cotta al Melone

This was absolutely lovely. A soft, melon panna cotta with a pretty little square of white chocolate and a fresh raspberry. If you, like many, are aiming to sample at least one food item from each festival booth, the panna cotta should probably be your choice at Primavera Kitchen. It was refreshing and smooth and not overly sweet at all. A perfect dessert for a warm Florida afternoon.

  • Chianti ($8) and Prosecco ($9)

These are lovely. And help to wash down the bitter resentment of eating a $6 ravioli. Enjoy!

Eat This: Northern Bloom at Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival

We’ve already raved about the Smokehouse at Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival. Now it’s time to talk Northern Bloom – the second booth whose menu I was dying to tackle after I did a first flip through the festival passport.

Northern Bloom is Canada’s aptly named kitchen at this year’s festival, and is of course located just outside the Canada pavilion in World Showcase.

The menu looked absolutely amazing and the foods themselves did not disappoint. As usual, I took one for the team and ordered the full slate of options – and here are the results.

  • Seared Scallops with French Green Beans, Butter Potatoes, Brown-Butter Vinaigrette, and Applewood-smoked Bacon ($6.50) (gluten free)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Northern Bloom Seared Scallops

I dig a good scallop and Epcot’s various offerings throughout recent festivals have not disappointed. But here they up the ante because these scallops have been cavorting with BACON. I don’t know if it’s typical of this dish, but my order didn’t have much in the way of visible pieces of bacon in it. It was more like I was eating scallops that had been making out with bacon earlier in the day and still had that smell and taste all over them. They were SO GOOD. The beans were crisp and the potatoes were soaked in flavor and the scallops themselves were perfection. The brown butter vinaigrette was definitely strong, so if you aren’t a fan of vinegar this isn’t for you. But if you love this kind of flavor combo as much as I do I beg you to hit this booth up and not be bashful about licking the container clean. Waste not want not and all that.

  • Beef Tenderloin Tips, Mushroom Bordelaise Sauce, and Whipped Potatoes with Garden Vegetables ($6.75)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Northern Bloom Beef Tenderloin Tips

So this is a solid little dish without a lot of fanfare. If you’re craving a good stew-type dish (and who isn’t in Florida heat in the spring??) this will hit the spot. To be honest, after all of Epcot’s pureed root vegetable experimentation, I had to do a double take at actual mashed potatoes that lacked the soft creaminess of celery root or squash. No complaints here – just not a lot to say. If you’re traveling with a meat and potatoes kinda girl or guy, get them this. They’ll like it.

  • Griddled Maple Pound Cake with Warm Peach Compote and Sweet Corn Gelato ($4.50)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Northern Bloom Griddled Maple Pound Cake

This is grilled pound cake with warm, soft peaches, gelato, and popcorn. So, in short, it is delicious. Honestly the cake itself took a backseat to the peaches and gelato, which soaked into the cake quite nicely to make for a sloppy, delicious, and not entirely overly sweet dessert. The verdict was that all cake should be under warm fruit and corn ice cream (and popcorn if you’re feeling frisky).

  • Maple Popcorn Shake with Crown Royal Maple Whiskey ($11.75)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Northern Bloom Maple Popcorn Shake

This is basically a maple whiskey milkshake with popcorn floating on top. So you should get it and thank god that there are no calories in Disney World. Cheers and enjoy.

Eat This: The Smokehouse at Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival

I’ve eaten far too much at Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival, which has been underway since February 28 and runs through May 28, not to have shared any thoughts with the class. And so, without further ado, let’s kick things off with one of the booths that excited my taste buds the most going in: The Smokehouse Barbecue and Brews at the American Adventure.

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Smokehouse

As usual, the American Adventure’s offerings are tucked away a bit to the right and in front of the U.S. pavilion in World Showcase. There are times when this causes me to miss their offerings for too long – but for this festival, between the enticing list and the unmistakable smell of the smoker at work as you pass the pavilion, I hit this booth early and will be returning often.

As I mentioned, you’ll find the Smokehouse kitchen to the right in front of the American Adventure pavilion, sitting beside a massive smoker and behind a topiary of everyone’s favorite deputy.

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The Smokehouse offers three savory dishes and one (very) sweet, along with a healthy list of beers, wine, and spiked or unspiked frozen lemonade. It was early in the day, so I skipped the drinks and kicked things off with the full slate of food items.

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival The Smokehouse American Adventure

  • Pulled Pig Slider with Coleslaw ($6.75)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival The Smokehouse American Adventure Pulled Pig Slider

This is a popular sandwich and for good reason. I saw more of these than I could count being handed to guests as I waited for my own food. For $6.75 you get a good sized sandwich on a soft roll piled high with meat and crisp red cabbage coleslaw. Hit with some barbecue sauce, it went down easy enough to go back for more. But I didn’t…because this was waiting for me:

  • Beef Brisket Burnt Ends and Smoked Pork Belly Slider with Garlic Sausage, Chorizo, Cheddar Fondue, and House-made Pickle ($7.25)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival The Smokehouse American Adventure Beef Brisket Burnt Ends and Smoked Pork Belly Slider

Hold onto your hats because in my (always humble) opinion, this is the thing to eat at Flower & Garden this year. I’m sitting here looking at the picture and calculating the minutes until World Showcase opens at 11 this morning. Eat it. And eat it often. The roll is soft and melds with the meat and sauces like butter. And while it’s melting in your mouth you can break to eat the crisp house-made pickle and sausage speared on top. The pickle is spiced perfection and the sausage is – excuse the ancient Greek reference – but if you’ve heard of Plato’s universal chair? This is the universal sausage. The Form of the Sausage, if you will. It’s everything you always wanted from a sausage but didn’t know it. Go eat some. But leave enough for me because I’m going back. As one should when a sandwich makes them pull out Contemporary Civilization class references.

  • Beef Brisket Burnt Ends Hash with White Cheddar Fondue and Pickled Jalepeños ($6.50)

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival The Smokehouse American Adventure Beef Brisket Burnt Ends Hash

Is it weird to feel sorry for a dish? Because after eating the last two items I kind of wanted to say “bless your heart” to this ugly little pile of meat and veggies. It’s not terrible – it’s the same meat that’s in the other dishes with some soft veggies and sauce and a little too much of a kick – but it just doesn’t measure up and feels almost like an afterthought. If you’re avoiding bread, I’d get one of the above sandwiches and toss the roll before I’d do this one. Sorry hash. You are my red-headed stepchild of the group….

  • Warm Chocolate Cake with Bourbon-salted Caramel Sauce and Spiced Pecans ($4) (Vegetarian)

 

I’m not enough of a sweet (especially chocolate) eater to give this a fair review. If you’re a lover of warm, moist chocolate cake, you’ll love this. The cake itself is soft and tastes fresh baked, the caramel sauce is heavenly, and the spiced pecans give it a little welcome texture. Not surprisingly, the taste and texture reminded me of a German chocolate cake. If this looks like it’d be up your alley, it won’t disappoint.

Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival – The Menu Boards

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!! Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival is officially underway. It started late last week, on February 28, and runs through May 28, 2018. Disney has nearly eliminated the need to move most of the food booths around World Showcase Lagoon throughout the year, as Food & Wine rolls into the Festival of the Holidays runs into Festival of the Arts runs into Flower & Garden. But like many others, for me it’s this “last” festival of the season, Flower & Garden, with its colors and tastes and promise of spring, that tops them all.

This year, Flower & Garden hosts a very doable 15 kitchens. The options aren’t quite as pretty as those at Festival of the Arts – but the price tags aren’t as steep either. So as you roam World Showcase photographing the gorgeous topiaries and coaxing butterflies to land on you, you’ll be able to sample plenty of the goods for fairly reasonable prices.

Before I dig into the various options, perhaps it would help your planning to have every menu board at your fingertips….so without further ado:

The Honey Bee-Stro – Showcase Plaza

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Honey Bee-Stro

Pineapple Promenade – Showcase Plaza

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Pineapple Promenade

La Isla Fresca – Showcase Plaza

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival La Isla Fresca

The Berry Basket – Showcase Plaza

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Berry Basket

Jardin de Fiestas – Mexico

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Jardin de Fiestas

Lotus House – China

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Lotus House

Bauernmarkt: Farmer’s Market – Germany

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Bauernmarkt

Primavera Kitchen – Italy

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Primavera Kitchen

The Smokehouse: Barbeque and Brews – The American Adventure

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Smokehouse

Hanami – Japan

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Hanami

Taste of Marrakesh – Morocco

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Taste of Marrakesh

Florida Fresh – Between Morocco and France

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Florida Fresh

Fleur de Lys – France

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Fleur de Lys

Cider House – United Kingdom

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Cider House

Northern Bloom – Canada

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival Northern Bloom

 

What have you eaten so far and what are you most eager to try??

Taking the Florida Plunge: Looking Back on Six Months as a Disney Local

We closed on our Florida home on August 11, 2017 – just 3 days before the kids were set to start at their new schools. The flurry of madness that preceded that day has, as these things do, settled into a barely remembered blur. And while I do still usually use my navigation system to get around, while I do still have the odd unpacked box in our house, and while there are still very much (and probably always will be) 2 places that I casually refer to as “home” – it didn’t escape my notice that this past weekend marked the six month anniversary of our becoming Disney locals. And that there was a first dose of perspective that came with this little milestone.

None of these things have come as surprises, honestly. But there’s a certain depth of understanding that comes with really living it. And I know so, so many of us daydream about taking these very steps. So, without further ado, the handful and a half of things that I can offer after half a year of life just behind the castle.

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1. This is still real life.

Again, worth noting, this wasn’t a surprise. But living it drives it home that much more. As the crow flies, our home is about 1.2 miles from Cinderella Castle. There are fireworks at my bedroom window every night. I wake up to the sound of the train whistle and TTC ferry horn and lie in bed with the lower notes of the Electrical Water Pageant streaming in through my usually open windows. Our local park isn’t a playground anymore – it’s Magic Kingdom. And it’s not rare that I take my kids to Epcot for an hour after school for nothing more than to watch the trains in Germany.

But it’s still real life. My kids still get sick. I still have to walk my dog. Most of my time is spent working and cleaning and folding laundry. Arguments and little tantrums still happen and groceries are purchased and budgets are made and life (and death) just otherwise continue as before. I am finishing this very post while simultaneously making dinner and helping my kids to mass produce valentines for school tomorrow. We are not on vacation. We are living our own reality – but we are living it in the place that is “home” for us as it always has been. The once dreamed of “lunch in Epcot” is a real thing. The train whistle still stirs my heart every morning and I am fully immersed in the world that I have always loved. My heart doesn’t have to ache for this place anymore. It is mine and we live our very real, mostly very normal, life with the honor of having it as our backdrop. I am not “living a dream”. I am living real life in the place that is right for us.

2. Parks and Fireworks.

Further to my above thoughts…I don’t go to the parks every day. Usually it’s once or twice a week – sometimes more, sometimes less, and often only for an hour or two. My days are more often spent working or running errands. But the parks are there. Even as I write this at my kitchen table, I’m aware of the train whistle blowing outside and grateful for its closeness. Even if today’s schedule doesn’t permit a ride on the Peoplemover – and it probably won’t – it could…and so could tomorrow’s. The “see ya real soon” note overhead as you exit Magic Kingdom used to make my heart ache on that last day of a trip. Now I simply know it’s true.

Similarly, I don’t run to the window every time the fireworks start. I watch them often. I take the 3 minute walk to the lake by the house when friends are visiting to watch them and their reflections on the water. When time permits, I pull my car over for a minute to take them in when they’re overhead as I’m driving home. But more nights than not their soft booms are just a comfort. A sort of clock chiming the known hour. A background din that’s become like the white noise of traffic when I lived in New York, or of frogs and crickets when we lived in Maryland. Fireworks and ferry horns and water pageants are the background noise of my day. I don’t necessarily run to them anymore. But they are there and I am happier for it.

3. It’s hot out but whatever.

As I type this we’re midway through February and high temps each day have been firmly in the upper 80s. Evenings have been breezy and beautiful. Days like this in February are the up side to half a year of extreme heat and humidity – not just the summer months but pigtailing into late spring and early autumn. I love heat and hate hate hate to be cold, so this works for me. Even my dog, a massive black Great Dane, has been known to lounge blissfully on our lanai in the August heat. We are a summer-loving family. But, while the season of heat and humidity are much longer here, the hottest days here are no worse or more humid than the ones in the DC area that we left. When you vacation here in August, you are running around outside all day in the sauna that is central Florida. When you live here, you’re more likely to be out for an hour or two on occasion and otherwise enjoying your AC like you would be anywhere else. So in short, for us this factor works and isn’t that big of a deal. We are happily trading ice and snow for February days by the pool. But if you hate the sun or something…you know….perhaps consider other locales.

4. Internet Friends and Friends in Real Life and the Madness that is Disney Social Media.

If you’re at all engaged in Disney-related social media, you know that the network is massive and at times almost overwhelming. Whether you interact on Facebook or Instagram or via blog or vlog or podcast, etc. etc., the Disney community is massive and oftentimes wonderful. Seeing how hundreds of online acquaintances have panned out in real life has been interesting. For the most part I’ve been incredibly impressed with the power of the community down here – even if it does need to be approached with as much common sense as anything else. If nothing else I’ve had to learn to draw boundaries for my own personal wellbeing, as I’m pretty introverted and just need time to myself to recharge for my own mental health. Not necessarily a point that will apply to everyone – but living in a place that is this social, where events are this constant, where the weather has you out and about constantly, and where friends and family that aren’t local are visiting frequently, it’s been an interesting thing to learn to handle day-to-day for an introvert like me in a way that doesn’t drain me empty.

5. Creating your own happiness each day isn’t easy.

Bear with me here because this gets a little deep. And it’s certainly not Disney or Florida life-specific. In fact it’s something that’s been with me since very soon after I walked away from corporate law well over a year ago.

Being tangibly responsible for your own happiness can be overwhelming – or at least something very new to get used to. It’s something that’s true for each of us no matter what our situation is – but having been effectively stuck in Big Law for well over a decade, unfulfilled by it but feeling that I didn’t have another viable choice that would be responsible to the people I loved, what was lacking in each day, and overall, was to some extent out of my hands. I did everything that I could to make the best of it and have talked about that ad nauseam, but all in all I justified it by knowing that I was providing for the people that depended on me.

When you decide to rewrite your life from scratch, those excuses go away. Your happiness and fulfillment – your feeling about the day when your head hits the pillow each night – are on you in a way that cannot be ignored. If I am not proactive in moving forward into something better, I am aware of it in a way that I can no longer deny. That is incredibly empowering. But it is also a bit intimidating. When your happiness and fulfillment depend on nothing but you, the excuses fall away.

And that brings me to my last sort of realization for the moment….

6. Life doesn’t have to be harder than it has to be.

Again – this isn’t Disney or Florida specific. And it definitely isn’t going to apply to everyone. But one of the big things that I’ve slowly learned to accept over the last year and change is that life doesn’t have to be a constant, self-imposed challenge to the extent that that challenge isn’t fulfilling you or moving you forward into the life that you want. This might all sound a little hokey – but as an extremely Type A person who lived most of her life up until fairly recently equating the “next step” with whatever was the next thing in line to conquer, it’s been an education to learn to be more deliberate and self aware in my choices. Growing up I chose the hardest classes and past times, chose an Ivy League college in New York, studied Japanese, went to Harvard Law, got a job at arguably the best corporate firm on Wall Street, did the biggest deals, tackled the hardest eating regimens. And on and on. I assure you that this isn’t a list of brags. It’s a list of the path that I wanted to conquer – and “conquering” has never been what’s hard for me.

Don’t get me wrong. There was plenty in there that I truly did love. At 18 years old, New York’s energy meshed beautifully with who I was. I adore Japanese culture. Harvard was an extraordinary experience. But so much of my larger choices were based more on what was objectively challenging than what was right for me. They say if you can’t make it in New York you can’t make it anywhere. And so I wanted to be in New York in my 20s – and make it. They say something very different about Florida. But I love it here. And I’ve been learning, slowly, that that’s alright. I’ve spent enough time proving myself to everyone else. I don’t need to be the most impressive person in your Facebook feed. Like I said above, my happiness (or, more appropriately, my fulfillment) is on me, and that’s where my focus is these days. Sometimes (and more) that’s much harder than meeting society’s predefined version of success.

So there it is in a nutshell. My perspective after the last 6 months as a Florida and Disney local. This is a little deeper and less about the fun of living here than might be expected – but it’s the honesty of what came to mind as I started to look back. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s similar for many others, because making a move like this usually comes with a list of reasons that aren’t as simple as loving Mickey Mouse.

But honestly. I really love Mickey Mouse too….. <3

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#ArtfulEpcot: Mexico’s El Artista Hambriento at Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts

Last weekend I hit Epcot for some train watching and Photopass fun with the kids…

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…so of course I had to knock out another booth while we were there. And that booth was Mexico.

Epcot International Festival of the Arts Mexico Booth El Artista Hambriento

Throughout Epcot’s various festivals, Mexico has always been a favorite of mine. Did it measure up again this time? Welllll……

  • Mixiote de Cordero: Wrapped slow-braised lamb, marinated in tres chiles paste and spices ($8.95)

Once when I lived in Manhattan my roommate saw a guy chasing another guy through Union Square with a brown paper bag. He threw the brown paper bag and it exploded against the street and had been full of…..

Oh never mind.

I don’t even know why the bag of poop story popped into my mind just now.

Seriously though. You have to giggle at this one a little. As far as the taste goes? I mean – I guess it’s pretty good meat? If you’re paleo or keto or otherwise craving a bag of slow cooked protein, this works. Otherwise it’s just a bag of meat. A pretty good, $9 bag of meat. So moving on…

  • Tacos de Puerco: Two corn tortillas with slow-roasted pork shoulder, marinated in ancho paste and served with sweet plantain puree garnished with pea tendrils ($9.95)

Epcot International Festival of the Arts Mexico Booth El Artista Hambriento Tacos de Puerco 1

These weren’t bad. I wish I had more to say about them. The description sounds AMAZING on paper. They had a nice little kick and there was a barely there, wanted to taste it more bit of sweetness from the plantains. I didn’t love them as much as, say, the shrimp tacos that Mexico has featured at other festivals, though. The sauce was more heat than taste and my American palette tends to want a little crunch with my food. And honestly, the price trend continues – because $10 is a lot for what’s on this plate.

  • Atole de Fresa and Mexican Concha Bread: Warm strawberry drink served with Mexican concha bread ($3.95)

Epcot International Festival of the Arts Mexico Booth El Artista Hambriento Concha Bread

So…um….my picky 7 year old loved this? I wasn’t thrilled. It was basically a slightly sweet, pretty dry roll and a cup of warm strawberry yogurt. The yellow on top was pretty nondescript. Like it had a little texture but wasn’t sweet enough to be noticeable on the taste front. At least the strawberry “drink” dip cut the dryness? Otherwise…nope. Don’t waste your calories here.

  • Frida Guava Margarita ($13.75)

Epcot International Festival of the Arts Mexico Booth El Artista Hambriento Frida Guava Margarita

Holy freaking expensive drink. Was it tasty? Yes. It was delicious. But the $14 price tag is borderline offensive for this thing. I’m not even convinced there was alcohol in it. If you want a sweet, tasty drink and couldn’t care less how much you spend on it, have at it. Otherwise, there are probably better places to blow $14.