Tuesday, September 15, 2015

NEW STAR WARS STORE IN DHS, WATTO'S GROTTO!


A new Star Wars merchandise store has opened in Disney's Hollywood Studios. Hidden back in the buildings at the exit of the now closed Backlot Tour, across from Studio Catering Co., is Watto's Grotto.

It's two huge rooms of Star Wars! It's not packed like most gift shops, so I suspect more merchandise is on the way.  The theming of the store is fun and the Star Wars music playing completes the atmosphere. It's actually one of the best themed places Disney has designed for this park in years!

As you can see, there's lots to choose from including: clothing, backpacks, artwork, lightsabers, and toys. My favorite was this little spinner carry-on R2-D2 luggage. But, I think you may be able to pick up an actual used droid for the price. 

A soft-sided version was a fraction of the cost and had a push button to activate lights and sounds similar to the lunch box that has been around for awhile. However, the buttons didn't work on any of the ones sitting out on the shelves...no sale.

Instead, I picked up this cute little number. 
There was an R2-D2 version as well, but I hear the Darkside has cookies!

So, on your next trip over to Hollywood Studios, stop in at Watto's Grotto and look around. To find it, just take a right at the Hoth ship.

*Watto's Grotto is handicapped accessible.
*The store has no dressing rooms. However, clothing may be returned to any Disney location within 30 days for refund.
*Thank you to the wonderful and happy Cast Member, Amanda from Pittsburgh, who was so helpful and friendly even at store-closing time!
*To book your next Disney Star Wars adventure, contact Katherine by clicking the link on the right side of the page and let her know that the Princess sent you!
*Follow Jeanie on Twitter @PrincessPapers and Facebook The Princess Papers.

Revisiting the Brown Derby Lounge, A Review.

In June of 2014, I accompanied a friend to the Brown Derby Lounge for some appetizers, cocktails and people watching from their outdoor lounge.  The review is posted on The Princess Papers HERE. The food was less than impressive at the time and unfortunately, so was the service. I had higher expectations for Disney dining experiences, especially at a Signature Restaurant (service inside the restaurant on earlier visits was always top notch).

Last night, I returned after a long break to give it another go.  I am happy to say that the food offerings for the Lounge have improved drastically! Unfortunately, the service still had a lot to be desired. However, from what I observed, if you have the right server, you should have a fantastic experience here.

The Brown Derby Lounge is an outdoor area of tables that overlooks the walkway next to the Brown Derby Restaurant and the courtyard in front of the Chinese Theater/Great Movie Ride Attraction. No reservations are needed. Tables are on a first come, first serve basis. Simply take a seat when you see a table open up.  Most tables are bar height, but there are a few of normal height as well. 

We will go with the bad news first then the good news. (Feel free to skip down to the pictures of the food for the good news!) When we arrived at the Lounge, it was full. We sat at the only available table. Our server arrived immediately and asked us what we would like to drink as we were opening the menus (menus are kept on the tables). We quickly made our choices with hardly a moment to read the menu. Luckily, I was familiar with the menu and I asked questions about two of the food items. Unfortunately, he was unable to give clear answers and pointed to the food on the tables next to us to show us what it looked like. That was helpful, but not exactly what I expected when asking about the menu.
Although our drink order was taken (too) quickly, we waited at least 15 minutes for our drinks. The drinks arrived and our food order was still not taken. We also did not receive any napkins with our drinks. Eventually, another server (I believe her name was Angela and she was working very hard to cover all the tables WITH A SMILE! Good job Angela!) happily took our order and brought us napkins.  Our food was brought out by a runner. Before we could take our first bites, our server appeared and asked how things were. We asked for an additional napkin. It was brought, eventually. 

We never really saw him again other than one time when he cleared some plates while we were eating and another time he reached up to turn on a light that was in the umbrella over our table without acknowledging our existence as he did so, or asking if we would like the light turned on. (The light seemed to be an LED light and actually made it more difficult to see. We noticed no other tables had theirs turned on and turned ours back off.) When the bill arrived, one of the items was a higher price than listed on the menu. We had to flag him down twice to bring it to his attention and he said, "You have an old menu." His reaction seemed to suggest that we were to pay the upcharge. I again requested that the bill be corrected and he brought a manager over, eventually. The manager was very pleasant and handled the issue promptly. He also confirmed that the menus were the new ones. Our server dropped off the updated bill, dashed off, and we never saw him again. 
Two additional service issues that must be mentioned and I hope will improve ASAP.  First, our server walked behind my chair several times and each time, he knocked into my chair. Much like having your chair kicked on a plane or in a movie theater, this is an irritating experience. Several Guests walked behind my chair and none of them bumped it, so it was obvious that there was enough room to avoid hitting my chair...repeatedly. 
One final thing, just as in my previous review, the tables were not wiped off when we sat down. (However, I did see Angela wiping tables off when new Guests arrived at her tables.) I picked up the menu and the side facing down had food crumbs all over it...

Now, THE GOOD NEWS! I am delighted to say that the food was much improved in both quality and quantity from my previous visit. The Lounge has its own menu of appetizers and full bar. There is no option to order off the main dining room menu as of yet.



We shared three appetizers and were satisfied as having that for our dinner. First was the Brentwood Corn Bisque served with Corn and Lobster Fritters and Ancho Chili Oil ($11.00).
The soup arrives in two parts with the fritters in the soup bowl then then soup is poured over at the table. It was rich, creamy, full of rich corn flavor, and delicious. The chili oil was not overpowering at all. The fritters were more corn than lobster but surprisingly light and crisp. Very delicious and filling dish.

We also ordered the Crispy Bites: Parmesan-Goat Cheese Risotto Sticks with Whole-Grain Dijon Mustard Aioli, Brie Cheese with Sweet Onion and Orange Jam, and Blue Affine-Mushroom Arancini with Fig and Balsamic Dip ($14.00).
Unfortunately, when I reviewed my photos, the picture for this item was not there. All the items are served in a big paper cone together displayed in a wire rack with the trio of dipping sauces surrounding it. The brie sticks were like upscale cheese sticks and were the favorite of both of us. The risotto sticks were very large with a light crispy bread crumb coating. The blue cheese bites were small balls and very strong of blue cheese. Surprisingly, I was not a fan of any of the dipping sauces. My husband thought they were ok. Neither of us could detect onion or orange in the one sauce. We agreed it tasted like applesauce. The dips definitely tasted best when paired with the item for which they were made. 

Our last appetizer was, of course, the famous Brown Derby Cobb Salad ($9.00). 
This is an appetizer portion but generous. Compared to the 4 bite-size salad served last year (pic here), this is a great improvement. 

For our drinks, I ordered the Margarita Flight: Classic, Mango, and Pomegranate ($11.25). 
The classic was good, but very strong. The mango was my favorite. I took one sip of the pomegranate and it was far too bitter for me. I couldn't drink it. As usual, I find the drinks are extremely strong at The Brown Derby. Almost to the point of not being enjoyable...almost. 

My husband chose the Pineapple No-Jito ($5.75). 
This is a non-alcoholic cocktail. It looked pretty but he said it just tasted like watered down pineapple juice and a glass of regular pineapple juice would have tasted better. By the end of our dinner, I was feeling tipsy from the margaritas and poured the remaining of the mango into his No-Jito. Delicious! 

Desserts are available and are served as a trio with your choice of any three on the list. We skipped dessert but you can see them on my previous review HERE. The offerings seemed the same as last year.

Overall, the food quality and atmosphere of the Lounge on an evening with comfortable weather make it a great spot for a cocktail and snack or light dinner. The drinks are strong and from watching the other Cast Members, there is some hope for good service.  I believe that if an additional server was added to the Lounge during busy times that this would be a perfect spot to relax.  Hopefully on my next visit, the service issue will have improved as much as the food. Third time's a charm!

*The Brown Derby Lounge is handicapped accessible.  However, the area is tight and most of the tables are bar height.
*Tables in Wonderland is accepted at the Lounge.
*Contact Katherine at the link on the right side of the page to book your next Disney vacation or cruise and let her know the Princess sent you!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Disney Tea Time for Adult Princesses!



What better way to celebrate a birthday and a day of princessing with a friend than an afternoon enjoying tea time at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa Garden  View Lounge Tea Room?  This unique and relaxing experience is located in a sunny room at the end of the lower lobby level of the resort, and I highly recommend making an advanced dining reservation during your next trip. (There were several gentlemen at tea. So, do not be hesitant to bring along a male companion. Everyone can enjoy some quiet pampering!)

The menu for the Garden View Tea Room has recently changed.  The a la carte items are no longer available but a selection of multi-course options provide more than enough choices. Prices start at $30 per person and can go up to nearly $200 for two guests if you opt for splurging on champagne and caviar.  We chose The Bedfordshire Tea ($30 per Guest). It includes three courses plus a pot of tea per Guest.  These same three courses are included with each tea menu option. The higher priced meals include additional courses. We found this basic tea to be more than enough food for our lunch/dinner. It is much more filling than it appears.

A four-cup pot of Tea is included for each Guest.  You may choose from a wide selection of seasonal, signature (made exclusively for the Garden Tea Room by the company, "T," and available for purchase in tins starting at $20), green/white, herbal, and many more.  Our server, Riley, informed us that the Tea Room offers more selections than what the menu shows and he offered to help "pair" a tea to our tastes if nothing on the menu seemed appealing.
I chose an Organic Decaffeinated English Breakfast Tea. I was very happy to see an organic option. It was very smooth and easy to drink. I had one glass over ice with the first course and the rest of my pot hot with a drizzle of honey.  It paired well with the meal and did not compete with the flavor of any of the food. My guest chose the Mad Hatter Tea. This is made exclusively for the Garden View Tea Room and is not the same Mad Hatter Tea that you may see for sale in Disney gift shops.  They are made by two different companies. My friend said that the tea was delicious and tropical.  It definitely had a tropical scent. She drank it hot, but I am sure that it would be delicious iced as well.

Our first course included a selection of Finger Sandwiches, Fruit, and Cheeses.  

The sandwich flavors had changed since my last visit and I was sad to see that they no longer offer the pear and gorgonzola.  The new options include: egg salad, curried chicken (sweet, not spicy at all), cucumber watercress, and an open-faced pickled yellow beet on goat cheese. Also hiding on the plate is a little caramelized onion tart. Another change is the addition of fruit (grapes and berries), cheese (Tillamook cheddar and a sage flavored cheese), as well as sesame lavosh crackers.  I really enjoyed the fruit and cheese, possibly even more than the sandwiches. Everything was very tasty. If there are any items that you do not like, substitutions are welcome. 

The second course was a Berry Tart and Warm Golden Raisin Scone.

These are accompanied by a trio of toppings: house-made lemon curd, clotted cream, and apricot jam.  From an earlier visit, I learned a trick for this course, request a side of sweetened whipped cream as well. It is absolutely delicious on the scone with some jam.  A drizzle of honey along with the clotted cream on the warm soft scone is also to die for! 

By the final course, we were both very full and buzzing on sugar. Unlike the set menu for the first two courses, on the third course, you have three options: Seasonal trifle (pineapple and I think mango was the summer flavor), strawberries with fresh whipped cream, or a trio of mini pastries. I chose the Trio of Pastries, which included a cream puff in the shape of a swan filled with a milk chocolate caramel mousse, a chocolate cream filled eclair with a rich dark chocolate top, and a strawberry dipped in white chocolate and artificially flavored strawberry crispies. 

The strawberry was juicy but I am not a fan of the artificial flavor of the crispies that were attached to it.  I had a taste of the swan mousse. It was delicious but I did not detect the caramel flavor that the server mentioned.  The star was the eclair. I enjoyed the dark chocolate shell. It was very rich and unfortunately, I was too full to finish the plate.  Riley happily brought a to-go box and included an extra swan because, "we don't want the other one to get lonely in the box." (You can't help but smile with a wonderful Cast Member like that!)

My friend chose the strawberries and cream.  The presentation was spectacular with the Grand Floridian logo design on top! She said they were divine and warns that there MAY have been a bit of liquor in them. If we weren't wearing tiaras and being proper princesses, she said that it was good enough to lick the bowl!

At the end of our tea, Riley surprised my friend, the birthday girl, with a gorgeous long stem rose.
To my surprise, he also presented one to me as well.  Again, it is lovely to find such wonderful Cast Members.
Overall, we really enjoyed our tea time in the Garden View Tea Room.  The food was yummy, the service was excellent, and it was VERY relaxing.  Our dining experience was nearly two hours.  It never felt slow or like we were waiting.  The set menu means that the food is ready and the servers go at YOUR pace.  We chatted and had a leisurely time and were not rushed at all. Some other Guests were quicker with their tea. If you would like a nice slowed down vacation moment, take your time. This is a wonderful place to relax.
*Accessibility: There are stairs leading into the Tea Room. However, I believe there is a ramp to the side of the room and Cast Members were asking if Guests would like to stay in wheelchairs. So, I believe the room is fully accessible.

*Tables in Wonderland is accepted. 
*Book your next WDW vacation with Katherine (link on the right side of this page) and tell her the princess sent you! She will be more than happy to make all your dining arrangements including Tea at the Garden Tea Room.
*Children are welcome at the Garden View Tea Room. However, a child specific tea time is also available and includes child friendly food, a doll, bracelet, and necklace, as well as storytime and other activities. The cost includes one child and one adult and is approx. $250. Additional children may attend for an additional charge. Available on select days.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Disney French Quarter Quick Dining Review


If you fancy a family-friendly Disneyfied version of the New Orleans French Quarter for dinner, then take a trip over to Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory food court at Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter Resort.

Inside, you are greeted by large Mardi Gras float decorations hanging overhead and a mix of unmatched dining chairs and tables for a very casual feel.

There are a variety of food options set out in food court style. You will find traditional dining favorites like burgers and pizza, but they also have specialty items like freshly made beignets (classic New Orleans donuts). More on that later!

For our dinner, we ordered the Make Your Own Salad ($11.49). 

I've discovered a love of Make Your Own Salads at Disney. They are also available at all the Disney Value Resorts. They have a variety of options and each location seems to have their own spin on basic salad items as well as protein toppings. Here, the only options were chicken or shrimp. I choose the shrimp.  Since the salads are made to order by hand with your choices, the quantity of each ingredient may vary.  The very kind young gentleman making my salad loaded it up with nearly 20 shrimp mixed into it (large size, boiled in old bay seasoning, served cold)!! I'm not sure if this is the standard portion here, but it was very generous.

We also ordered the Tortellini with Spinach and Sausage, served with a Breadstick ($8.79).


Surprisingly, when my husband said, "I think I'd like to try the tortellini," the Cast Member responded with, "Go get a fork."  She handed him a small dish filled with tortellini as a sample.  This was the first time that I have ever experienced that at a Disney food court and it was nice to see that Guests have the opportunity to make a more informed choice on their meals. (This may also prevent some crankiness later in the day, even with adults.)

My husband enjoyed his meal.  I had a bite and I found the pasta to be very overcooked and mushy.  However, if you don't mind the soft texture, you may still enjoy it. There was a lot of flavor and a lot of spinach. It was a very hearty meal.

We also ordered the obligatory Beignets ($3.29 for 3). Large size of 6 is also available. VERY IMPORTANT: DO NOT PICK THEM UP AT THE COUNTER UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO EAT THEM!!  



Beignets are delicate donuts. They must be made fresh and eaten while hot or they become instantly tough.  You may pay for these with your meal, but wait to order them until you are ready to eat them. Just take your receipt to the bakery counter at that time.  Do not attempt to take them to your room for breakfast the next day. You will be sadly disappointed when you can't chew them come morning.

The Disney version are not as heavy as the ones you will find at Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter of New Orleans, but they are a tasty and unique treat and I recommend that you get an order to share.

Around the resort, you can find lots of unique things to do.  There is a horse-drawn carriage ride that strolls around the "streets."  Also, there is a large pool with a very unique serpent slide and a playground.  For a bit of an adult treat, a pool bar is available.

*Sassagoula Floatworks is handicapped accessible.
*Disney Dining Plan accepted.
*Tables in Wonderland Discounts apply to food court items.
*Contact Guest Services at the Concierge Desk for information on horse-drawn carriage rides.

Please contact Imaginations Vacations by Katherine at Happily Ever After Travel by clicking the link on the ride side of the page to plan your next Disney trip, cruise, or other vacation and let her know the princess sent you!