Disney’s Magical Express

Magical Express Booklet

Magical Express Booklet

What is it?

Disney’s Magical Express (ME) is a service offered by Walt Disney World to provide free airport transfers and luggage service between Orlando International Airport and select Walt Disney Resort Hotels. This service can be booked at the same time you make your Disney Resort reservation.  If you don’t know your airline info at this time, it can be added anytime up to ten days prior to your arrival. It is recommended that you book the service a minimum of six weeks prior to your arrival.  During the busy seasons early booking is most likely very important, but for our off season trips our motor coaches are rarely above 25% capacity. Regardless, don’t put it off if you have your flight info. [Read more…]

Disney Dining Review: Todd English’s bluezoo

After being so impressed with our dinner at Kimono’s, we knew that our next trip had to include another one of the Swan and Dolphin restaurants. We decided to try bluezoo not only because I had read about their wonderful drink concoctions from last year’s Food and Wine Classic, but also because we had purchased one of their $25 off coupons for only $2 from the Restaurant.com website (thanks, Mousesavers!)

Bluezoo is in the Dolphin side of the hotels, off to the right as you walk through the revolving door from the causeway. We were early, so the hostess noted our reservation and we sat at the bar to peruse the drink menu. I was tempted by the Burnt Orange cocktail that looked so unique on the website only to have the bartender inform me that although impressive, the drink was time consuming and didn’t quite live up to the hype. Sigh. So I asked her opinion of the Serenity only to find out that she was Kristin Cooper, the creator of Serenity that had won a contest sponsored by the vodka importer for best mixed drink. Well, that sold me. Serenity was a mix of cucumber vodka, elderflower liquor, strawberry, basil, rosemary, lime, pineapple and just a touch of rock candy syrup. The cucumber and elderflower were predominant, followed by a wonderful fruitiness that was not too sweet. The rosemary was hard to detect, and the basil reference may have only been the leaf floating on the top of the drink, but regardless it was definitely a winner in my book too. The only drawback to me was those short, heavy martini glasses that look so pretty are really difficult to pick up. Dave decided to try one of their microbrewery bottled beers, the Stone Brewery Levitation Ale. Stone describes this beer as a “deep amber ale having rich malt flavors, a big hoppy character, and citrus overtones”. Having a taste for the big rich beers, Dave described it as a fairly light, easy drinker that wasn’t too hoppy. I liked the bottle with its engraved gargoyle.

With the bar drinks being so good, we certainly were looking forward to dinner. The hostess seated us in a large, open and relatively empty dining room. I loved the “chandeliers” with their loose swirls of glass bubbles. We sat at a cozy table with a curved couch for two and were offered a choice of 3 different types of water with our dinner. We chose the sparkling, but I wish I had known they were going to charge us for our water choice. Next time I’ll order the tap!

We were brought a bread selection of herbed and ciabatta breads and a crispy, ornate lavash. All were delicious, but the best part was the fennel butter to go with them.

Our waiter, Shannon, was very pleasant and amiable, so we asked him to suggest an appetizer. He recommended the Teppan Seared Jumbo Sea Scallops on Braised Beef Short Rib with Silky Cauliflower Puree. My mouth is watering again just writing this down. They were kind enough to even divide it between two plates, since we were sharing and half this appetizer was just the right size. The scallop, perfectly cooked, was huge and stacked on a sizable piece of short rib, both sitting in a delicious creamy pool of the cauliflower.

Todd English's bluezoo-Teppan Seared Jumbo Sea Scallops Appetizer

Teppan Seared Jumbo Sea Scallops on Braised Beef Short Rib with Silky Cauliflower Puree

Shannon recommended that each bite should have a bit of both scallop and beef and truly it was one of the most amazing flavors I’ve ever experienced. If I wasn’t in a public place, I would have licked the plate.

Choosing dinner was a tough decision too, but Dave decided on the Ahi Tuna with Parsnip, Seasonal Root Vegetables and Glazed Pearl Onions with an Olive Soil. The presentation was beautiful, with the vegetables across the top of the plate, the two large slices of gorgeous red tuna in the middle and the olive “soil” (basically crumbled dehydrated black olives) across the bottom.

Todd English's bluezoo-Ahi Tuna entrée

Ahi Tuna with Parsnip, Seasonal Root Vegetables and Glazed Pearl Onions with an Olive Soil

I knew this had to be extraordinary, because Dave took his time eating it! He did let me try a piece of the tuna and it was just melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

I ordered the Dirty South Swordfish on House Smoked Tasso Risotto with Rock Shrimp and Littleneck Clams.

Todd English's bluezoo-Dirty South Swordfish entrée

Dirty South Swordfish on House Smoked Tasso Risotto with Rock Shrimp and Littleneck Clams

I ate the clams first, just to get them out of the way. They were very small and perhaps a bit overcooked. The risotto was excellent, but I only found two small shrimp in it. No matter, the swordfish made up for anything that might be lacking. It was a good size portion, also perfectly cooked with a wonderful smoky-paprika rub that was just the right compliment without being “spicy” or overwhelming.

The best accompaniment to any meal this good is a glass of wine that is equally amazing. Dave and I are big fans of buttery, heavily oaked chardonnays. This style is getting harder to come by as wineries lately seem to feel the need to make lighter, fruitier chards. We explained what we liked to Shannon as we browsed the wine list and he said that he would go ask for a recommendation from the bar. He came back with two glasses of a ZD Chardonnay from the Napa Valley. (We said we would share a glass, but again they provided two good size pours and only charged us for one. Granted it was a $17 glass of wine!) This wine was the epitome of our favorite chardonnay, deep golden color and that wonderful vanilla/butter nose and flavor. They could not have picked a more perfect wine for us.

As much as we wanted to try a dessert, we just couldn’t do it without over-stuffing ourselves. Shannon did come back to the table with two small glasses (they looked like shot-glasses) of a raspberry sorbet, but told us to wait just a moment before eating them. He returned a second later with a pitcher of liquid nitrogen that he poured over the sorbet that pooled into the serving plates and bubbled and smoked. It was a pretty neat effect and the perfect end to a fabulous meal.

Todd English's bluezoo-Raspberry Sorbet

Raspberry Sorbet with Liquid Nitrogen (not on the menu)

We can’t wait until we return in August to share this place with the kids. My daughter, who is almost as much a foodie as we are, will love it. My son, I had concerns with because of his allergies. When I inquired about how they handled a shell-fish allergy in a mostly fish restaurant, I was reassured just like anywhere on Disney property, that allergies are handled impeccably and without hesitation. Overall, I highly recommend bluezoo. For the frugal (like us!) there are coupons available and they are on the Tables in Wonderland plan. But the real reason we’ll return is that the food, service and atmosphere may be the best we have experienced so far in Disney.

Disney Dining Review: Kona Cafe

Although we have never stayed at the Polynesian Resort, we have visited a few times. Our first trip we did the Spirit of Aloha Luau, which was a lot of fun. We have taken the boat over from Magic Kingdom and walked along the beach. We have gotten off the monorail just to look at the lobby with its beautiful greenery and waterfalls and check out the Wyland Gallery. But after reading an article on the Disney Food Blog, I found another reason to visit – the banana-stuffed-sourdough-bread-rolled-in-cinnamon-sugar Tonga Toast at the Kona Café.

We had 8:45 am reservations, plenty of time to get from All Star Music to Magic Kingdom to ride the monorail over. Kona Café is on the left on the same level as the entrance from the monorail. We were seated right away and immediately ordered the French press of Kona coffee for two. If you like strong coffee, it doesn’t get any better than this, especially at (typically Nescafe saturated) Disney World. My heart, or I should say stomach, was set on the Tonga Toast, but I was very tempted by a few other things on the menu too. I was pretty pleased when Dave ordered the Pineapple Macadamia Pancakes because that was my second choice!

The wait for the food was a little long, but not unreasonable. For a Saturday morning, the restaurant was busy, but not packed. I would imagine, since the entire eating area was open to the hotel lobby, that it could get pretty loud in there during the peak season.

When our meals came, the waitress also brought one pitcher of maple syrup and one of strawberry syrup. The strawberry syrup was wonderful, tasting of really fresh, ripe strawberries and nothing artificial. It was a perfect compliment to the Tonga Toast. I must admit, I had a slight concern with ordering Tonga Toast because I had read one review where the writer had thought that it was too sticky sweet for their tastes and especially for breakfast. Now I like sweet, but I can’t handle sticky sweet and the Tonga Toast has made my list of one of the best things I have had at Disney. All the flavors, the cinnamon and the banana and the sourdough French toast, were all so good together. And it was sweet, yes, but definitely not overwhelming. I really wanted to try those pancakes too, but I hated having to share! But I’m glad I did because the pancakes were fantastic! The pineapple and toasted macadamias were actually mixed in with the batter and they didn’t skimp on the amount they put in there. They were a bit more filling than the Tonga Toast, but they were just delicious. Dave had also ordered ham on the side and that was a perfect compliment.

Kona café is an excellent choice for breakfast (I’ll admit we couldn’t finish all of the pancakes, but I think I picked every last macadamia I could find out of them) and definitely a good start to a busy day. Next time we go we’ll have to bring the kids, I need someone to order The Samoan so I can try that too!

For more info about dining, including food allergies and the Disney Dining Plan, check out our Dining at the World page.

Review: Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside

Our review of Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside is based on our single experience staying there November 13th thru 18th, 2009. The service, cleanliness and theming are comparable to other Disney moderate resorts, fully living up to the usual Disney standards.

The grounds are a bit confusing. We had some trouble finding our room at first but once you get your bearings its ok. Riverside is very picturesque, especially in the mornings. The reflections in the calm waters of the Sassagoula River…

Disney's Port Orleans-Riverside Mill

Disney's Port Orleans-Riverside Mill

Disney's Port Orleans-Sassagoula Steamboat Co.

Disney's Port Orleans-Sassagoula Steamboat Co.

…and the way the morning sun comes thru the trees is beautiful.

Disney's Port Orleans-Alligator Bayou

Disney's Port Orleans-Alligator Bayou

Disney's Port Orleans-Alligator Bayou

Disney's Port Orleans-Alligator Bayou

The main pool is not nearly as big as the one at say, Caribbean Beach, but it does have a water slide and some water spouts for the kids. If you want to do some exploring, the Alligator Bayou area is lush and winding and it’s just a short walk to check out the Port Orleans French Quarter too. The room layout is typical of other moderate resorts, basically identical to those we stayed in at Caribbean Beach, just themed differently. Some of the Riverside water view and standard view rooms with two double beds also offer a trundle bed for a maximum occupancy of five. As of 2009 I would say that the rooms at this resort could stand a refresh in terms of a coat of paint and some new furniture. This didn’t jump out at me but when you look at the details one would hope that the rooms at this property are nearing the top of the list for renovation.

In my mind the best part about Riverside was the dining options. We have not eaten at Boatright’s Dining Hall, the table service restaurant at Port Orleans Riverside, so I can’t give any opinions on that. However, in our opinion, the counter service options offered at the Riverside Mill food court are some of the best. There is a pastry shop with all sorts of wonderful goodies. There are make to order sandwiches, salads and hot food. Servings were enough for the two of us to split one entrée and be satisfied. For breakfast the hot food was scrambled eggs with whatever fixins’ you wanted and the the usual Mickey waffles. Lunch consisted of gourmet sandwiches, interesting pastas and salads, and a selection of made to order stir fry entrées. The River Roost Lounge is a full indoor bar and lounge and has a separate section with a piano player that does fun sing-a-longs to entertain the kids. The Muddy Rivers Pool Bar by the main pool serves drinks and snacks. They were getting ready to close as we arrived for a drink in early evening. I asked about their hours and the bartender said they would stay open as long as they had customers but in mid-November crowds were very light so they usually closed up fairly early.

I would be comfortable recommending Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside resort to anyone looking for moderate price range accommodations on Disney property. If you are looking for the very freshest rooms I may point you more toward Caribbean Beach since I know they have done some recent renovations. For the amount of time we spend in our room this doesn’t bother us and the excellent quick service food options are a big plus that will keep us coming back.

Tips for Using the Disney World Magical Express Service

We have a couple tips to share with you regarding the Walt Disney World Magical Express Service.  For a quick description of this service, see the post “Disney’s Magical Express“. Over the last several years we have used the service many times and for each of those trips the Magical Express has served us well. We would like to share our experience to help you optimize your enjoyment of everything that Disney has to offer by avoiding some of the waits that can be associated with using the Magical Express service. [Read more…]

Disney Resort Pools: Caribbean Beach

Although we have now been to Disney three times, we have only stayed at two resorts. For our first trip we knew we wanted to stay at a moderate resort. We wanted something a bit “more” than a value resort, (perhaps originally thinking “if we are going to do this once, we’ll spend the extra money”. Little did we know…) but a deluxe resort was definitely out of our price range. So our choices were between Caribbean Beach Resort, Coronado Springs and Port Orleans. We decided on Caribbean Beach mostly because of the pool…

So doesn’t it just figure that for our first trip the main pool at Caribbean Beach was closed for complete renovation? Thankfully, the kids didn’t seem to care much, the other pools were open and to them just the fact that they were swimming in Disney was awesome. But when it came time to plan the second trip, the kids knew they wanted to return to C.B. to experience the new pool having been enticed by the pictures posted on the construction walls.

Disney's Caribbean Beach Main Pool

Disney's Caribbean Beach Main Pool

Well, the new pool is amazing. It is very large with the deepest area being just over 4 feet (perfect for my kids who aren’t the greatest swimmers). There is a small slide at the shallower end, a larger tunnel slide at the deeper end and a zero-depth-entry area.  The whole area has a dilapidated Spanish style fort theme with turrets, bridges and cannons that spill water. Next to, but separate from, the main pool is a kiddie area themed around a pirate ship with more slides, a dump bucket and water cannons. There are also 2 large Jacuzzi type pools in the main pool area, they would each fit about 8 to 10 people.  There is plenty of chaise and table seating, even during the busy July season, we were able to find open chairs.  The pools are open 24 hours.  The main pool does have lifeguards and their schedules vary by season.  When the lifeguards go off duty the water slides close.  The other “quiet” pools in the resort don’t seem to have lifeguards.  Towels are available, so you don’t have to bring your own (or use your room towels) and there are adjacent  showers and bathrooms.  Having yet to experience many other of the Disney resort pools, I’m not sure how this one ranks in Disney standards.  But when you have a tough time getting your kids out of the pool to go watch fireworks at Magic Kingdom, I think that says a lot!