Dining at Maria and Enzo's

If you've followed along on any Upon A Star adventures or social media accounts, you probably know that Disney Springs is a rapidly changing and rapidly growing place! In fact, it was recently listed in a travel blog as one of the top 20 places to visit -- and I couldn't agree more!

On our recent trip in January, Brady & I ventured with our friends down to Disney Springs several times - after all, a foodie's gotta eat!

Maria and Enzo's is one of the newest eateries. It's themed - stick with me here - like an airport! The back story is that Maria and Enzo had a small bakery in the airport, but when it closed, they converted the whole thing into a dream restaurant (with the help of the owner of the Edison next door - but that's another blog post!). 

As you might imagine, this restaurant serves Italian food. The views are fantastic -- overlooking the water -- and the food I had was wonderful.  I loved the whole look and feel. There were travel & aviation posters lining the walls, and the room had an open and airy feel.

In addition to the main seating area, there is also a "First Class Lounge". There are no outside views, but it does have tablecloths! Due to the diners, i couldn't snag a picture of those tables.

But let's talk about the real star here - the FOOD.  I love Italian food! And I really enjoyed everything! The menu is somewhat limited, but very good. The first picture was our appetizer, the Arancini di Carne (fried rice stuffed with meat ragù, peas and mozzerella).  For my entree, I had the Busiate con Granchio (spiral pasta with lump crab meat) -- it tasted fresh and was so delicious! Brady had the Rigatoni, and our friends had the Spaghetti. Desserts were the Cannoli and the Sicilian Ricotta layered sponge cake.

All four of us were impressed with our food - and with our server! Martina was amazing - be sure to request her table when you go!

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In terms of pricing, you are definitely going to pay over $20 per entree. Disney Dining Plans are not yet accepted; but for me, I don't mind paying for a great meal every now and again.

Want to try it for yourself? Let your Upon A Star agent know that Maria and Enzo's is a must on your next trip -- we will set it all up for you. 

Buon Apetito! 

VIP Disney Experiences - Dining Events (Part 1)

What a fun but crazy month! We here at Upon A Star Travel have been hard at work planning magical vacations and checking out new offerings for our clients!  I had the opportunity to check out some VIP Experiences down at the Walt Disney World Resort this past month, and let me tell you - I am super excited to share.  If you want even more detail, check out the Divas Dish Podcast where I shared live from my hotel at the Grand Floridian (Episode 68). Click this link, or grab it on iTunes, I Heart Radio, or Stitcher.

Of course, the magic of Disney is unsurpassed; but, if you are someone who likes just that extra special touch, never fear! Disney has it covered! So, let's start with one of my favorite topics ... FOOD. 

Of course, thinking of upscale, VIP cuisine in Disney, your mind may go immediately to Victoria & Albert's.  This is a 5-Diamond Restaurant located on the 2nd floor of the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. I've often heard about the amazing food, and this is a place that had always been on my bucket list.  Let me say - it lives up to the hype! WOW!

So first of all - GO HUNGRY.  This is a 7-course meal, and it can be done with or without wine-pairings. Everything was absolutely delightful. Even if you aren't sure about a particular dish, trust me - it will taste amazing. 

And they even had this really cool way of brewing coffee for dessert - and as a coffee snob - trust me when I say it was fabulous!

Looks like a science experiment, right? Very neat to watch.  

Now we ate in the dining room, but there is also the option to do the Chef's Table. 

Speaking of Chef's Tables... did you know that you can request a special Chef's Table? Whether you're heading down for business or just having a special family gathering, Disney can coordinate a beautiful experience. 

It was such a neat experience watching the chefs prepare your food at the On-stage Kitchen. The head chef then described each and every course - it really brought the food to life! Oh, and as you might imagine, it was absolutely fabulous!

I also experienced the dessert portion of the "Highway in the Sky Dine Around" on the roof of the Contemporary.  The desserts were perfection, and of course, so was the view of the fireworks!

Another fun dining experience was "Savor the Savanna" at Disney's Animal Kingdom... but that's a post for another week! Stay tuned for more of this series very soon!
 

Interested in booking one of these experiences? Contact your Upon A Star Agent today!

New Dining Experiences Coming to Walt Disney World

Trattoria al Forno at Disney’s Boardwalk

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This is a brand-new character meal featuring Disney Couples!  This new breakfast will feature couples from Tangled and other films like The Little Mermaid.  Looks like this will be the first-time Rapunzel will have be at a character meal.

While enjoying enjoy breakfast, guests will be encouraged to “share the tales of their own hopes and dreams” or maybe tell a tale of a great adventure.

Trattria al Forno has a great location.  The Boardwalk is within walking distance of Epcot and Hollywood Studios so it’s a great place to start your park day.

While the official menu has not been released here’s hoping their waffle with espresso-mascarpone cheese remains.  It’s excellent!

This exciting new Character Breakfast is set to open this spring.  Advanced Dining Reservations are recommended. 

 

Hollywood and Vine at Hollywood Studios

Minnie’s Seasonal Dine has been a enjoyable dinner experience with Minnie, Mickey, Donald and Goofy for a little over a year now.  Soon there will be more chances to join Minnie and Friends for some festive fun.  This spring Minnie’s seasonal Dine will be offered for lunch! 

Minnie Mouse arrives for lunch starting May 14, 2017.  Advance dining reservations are recommended.

 

Paddlefish at Disney Springs

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Adding to the new food line up is Paddlefish, the multi-million-dollar transformation of Fulton’s Crab House in Disney Springs.  The iconic paddleboat has been reimagined into a modern yacht experience.

The seafood-centric menu features Maine lobster, King and snow crab and a selection of fresh fish picked daily.  Some favorites from Fulton’s are still on the menu like the lobster corn dogs.  An expansive wine list as well as classic turn-of-the-century cocktails as to the ambience of the restaurant.

Paddlefish is now open.  Advance Dining Reservations are recommended.

 

Planet Hollywood Observatory at Disney Springs

Planet Hollywood has re-opened its doors in Disney Springs.  The overhaul of the interior and exterior took more than a year.  The new observatory houses the new Planet Hollywood Restaurant and shop along with the new Stargazers Bar. 

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The menu features burgers and other items created especially for the Planet Hollywood Observatory by The Food Network’s Guy Fieri.  For guests that speak in Guyism’s you’ll recognize LTOP, SMC and Donkey Sauce on the menu.  The Stargazers Bar will showcase local Florida Craft Beers.

Planet Hollywood Observatory is now open.  Advanced Dining Reservations are recommended.

These new dining experience are an exciting addition to the food choices at Walt Disney World.  Contact your Upon A Star Agent for more details. 

 

 

 

 

 

Escape from the Cold - it's All-Inclusive Season!

As fall temps cool down and we start to feel the chill of winter approaching (at least up north!), it's inevitable that we start missing the sun, the warmth... and that "summer" feeling. Not to fear! All-Inclusive season is here! 

If you've never tried out an All-Inclusive, it really is a fantastic experience.  Not long ago, I posted about my time at Secrets Akumal. This year, I've also visited Hard Rock Resorts, Club Med Resorts, and many other great locations. If you have never been to an All-Inclusive, you may be wondering, "what's the big deal?".  Let me show you...

Hard Rock Rivera Maya - Heaven (Adults-only) section

Hard Rock Rivera Maya - Heaven (Adults-only) section

You all know that I am a HUGE theme park fan.  I tend to be a very active individual, and I love being an active vacationer.  That being said, there are times when it's nice to just have a beach.  And some sun.  And fabulous service. This is where an all-inclusive comes in.  

When you purchase an all-inclusive package, it's just that... inclusive of everything.  Food, drinks (yes, alcoholic ones too), entertainment... it's all there.  Now as you might imagine, there are different types of all-inclusive resorts, and not all are created equal.  That being said, there is a great option for everyone.  Whether you want adults-only or family-friendly, we can find a perfect resort for you.

Secrets Resorts are high on my list of loves.  I visited two locations in Riviera Maya, and WOW.  Top-notch, personalized service, 24-hour room service, adults-only, beautiful amenities... oh yeah, and palm trees.  Here are some pictures from Secrets Akumal and Secrets Maroma Beach. Oh - did I mention that Maroma has been consistently ranked among the top 10 beaches? Both are great; Akumal has a great vibe for couples or just friends hanging out -- Maroma definitely caters more to the romantics.

Related to Secrets is Dreams.  This would be the family-friendly version... but the great news is, there is absolutely no sacrifice in quality.  Check out these pics of Dreams Tulum!  Sure, it was cloudy that day, but it was warm, and the spa looked even more inviting as a result!

Looking for a little more lively entertainment? Hard Rock Resorts will give you an amazing experience! The best part is, you can go to "Heaven" (adults only) or the "Hacienda" (family).

One more mention in Mexico- because I was SO impressed by it! The Valentin Imperial Maya is a family-owned, gorgeous adults-only resort.  

Another popular location is Punta Cana.  Although it's a newer resort area as compared to Riviera Maya, there are some fabulous places! A popular family place here is the Nickelodeon Resort by Karisma.  Top quality + family fun = a great vacation!

Let's head to Jamaica and to a resort name I know you know -- Sandals! There are a lot of beautiful Sandals locations -- this one in Negril has such a beautiful beach! Oh, and by staying Butler Level, you'll get the ULTIMATE pampering experience.

Sandals is a couples' resort, but not to fear - Beaches is the family-friendly answer. And guess what? There is a Beaches Negril!

Ready to hit the beach? Contact us, and we will help you plan the All-Inclusive vacation you've been dreaming of.  

New Summer Dining at the Diamond Horseshoe

If you've ever walked through Frontierland in the Magic Kingdom, chances are you've noticed the building housing the Diamond Horseshoe.  Additionally, chances are that the doors were closed, and you bypassed it without much thought. 

The Diamond Horseshoe is the East Coast version of Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe Review.  As the Golden Horseshoe was one of Walt Disney's favorite places to be in the park, it stands to reason that it was also included in plans for the Florida park.  The Golden Horseshoe is still going strong - and it provides daily entertainment in the form of Old-West Saloon style singing and comedy alongside down-home quick service cooking.  

While the Golden Horseshoe still provides daily shows and meals, the Diamond Horseshoe's run hasn't always been so smooth. For a time just after the park opened, it was a packed-house for the Saloon-style entertainment and refreshments.  People arrived early to get tickets on Main Street to ensure a view of the entertainment. Standby was very difficult to get in terms of viewing this show (something we experience now with Anna & Elsa, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Be Our Guest). It changed names a few times over the years - Diamond Horseshoe Jamboree, Diamond Horseshoe Saloon Revue - but in the long run, for various named reasons, the company decided to close the doors on this unique experience.  

The Diamond Horseshoe has operated only seasonally since 2003 as a Quick Service location, and it has occasionally housed meet-and-greets for Woody, Jessie, and Bullseye.  Even when it was open seasonally, it really was only during peak lunch hours.  One trip, we happened upon the doors being open, and we were excited for the opportunity to sit and dine in this really neat space! 

The food was tasty, and you could see by walking around that it would have been a fun and intimate atmosphere for a stage show.  Of course, one could never count on being able to dine there.  Until 2016... 

This year, we were excited to learn that the Diamond Horseshoe would host a 1 Table Service credit meal throughout some of the summer months! Knowing the history of this place, and of course being curious, we quickly snagged a reservation for our May trip.   We weren't disappointed. 

The service was good, and the food reminded us a lot of the Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge (one of our favorites).  Food comes served family-style with favorites like baked beans, corn bread, ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, turkey, mac and cheese, and corn on the cob.  Dessert was a campfire s'mores brownie - YUM!

All-you-care-to-enjoy, including dessert! I really enjoyed my dining experience as well as the food.  The place was by no means crowded, so it was a nice escape from the heat and crowds.  Currently, this is only a temporary dining experience scheduled to end this summer.  I truly hope they decide to keep this option around, though! 

Tiffins and the Jungle Book Alive with Magic

On my recent trip to Walt Disney World, I was so excited to experience new dining experiences and shows alongside my old favorites. Today, I'd like to highlight my meal at Tiffins in Animal Kingdom.  

Let's start with the name; a "tiffin" is a light meal or packed lunch in South India.  Often, a "tiffin" is in a tin bucket.  And if you order the bread service, it comes in a replica tiffin!

Bread Service

Bread Service

Now look at me - I'm already into the food! Allow me to back up and show you the beauty of this new dining establishment.  You will find it tucked behind Pizzafari on Discovery Island, right near the construction for Avatarland. 

The building itself is beautiful.  As you can see, there is an outdoor area, the Nomad Lounge, which is a great place to sit and wait while your table is prepared. There is both an indoor and an outdoor area.

The decor inside is beautiful as well.

Tiffins offers a dining package that includes reserved seating at the evening show, which is currently "Jungle Book: Alive with Magic".  When Rivers of Light premieres, the package will likely continue to be offered for this experience.  When you dine here as part of the show experience, the meal comes with appetizer, entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage. 

The menu had a lot of interesting dishes, and among the four of us dining, we had quite a sampling of food!  There is a picture of the full menu above, but here is a close up of the dessert menu. :) 

And now what I know you really want to see... the food!

Everyone agreed that their meals were incredible.  None of us had complaints with the food, the service, or any aspect of our experience.  We would all go back in a heartbeat! I also have to give a shout out to the vanilla bean simple syrup - they gave that to us to sweeten our iced tea, and oh. my. goodness.  It was incredible!  Tiffins is a signature dining experience, so it requires 2 meal credits on the Disney Dining Plan.  At this time, no discounts (Annual Passholder, DVC, etc) are accepted.

Of course, we also got to see the Jungle Book: Alive with Magic Show.  While I was disappointed that Rivers of Light hadn't premiered, I must give kudos to the performers of the Jungle Book.  I love the timeless music, and the dancers and musicians did a great job. I did a periscope of the performance, which you can watch by clicking this link.

I look forward to dining at Tiffins again, and I am excited to see the new Rivers of Light show as well.  I'll be posting again about it once I've experienced it! In the meantime, stay tuned for my review of the Diamond Horseshoe next week!

California Grill Brunch

If you were watching my page last week, you know that my hubby and I had the opportunity to dine at the California Grill's new brunch this past Sunday.  I was so excited, because it was literally opening day for this experience!  Being among the first to take part was amazing.  

California Grill is located atop the Contemporary Resort, and it offers stunning views of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot (in the distance), and the other Magic Kingdom resort areas.  It's also a very popular location for viewing Wishes Fireworks in the evenings.  

So here is an admission: prior to this weekend, I had never eaten here.  Hard to believe, right? It's always been on the list, but we never followed through for one reason or another.  We love a good brunch, though, so this was the perfect time to make a reservation.  

The hostess was so kind and escorted us right up to the lobby.

We were greeted immediately and ushered to our table.

As you can tell by the chopsticks, the California Grill does offer a lot of sushi.  Of course, there are many other delicious offerings as well. Here's a peek at the menu.

The first course is self-serve. There is a beautiful display of all of the above offerings.  I particularly enjoyed the mini lettuce wedge and the self-serve yogurt station, although all of it was amazing!  There is also bread service served with butter and jam delivered right to the table.

Next came the entree.  We both tried the steak, and it was out of this world!  The seasoning and preparation were perfect.  I also heard rave reviews about the sweet potato pancakes.  I guess this means I'll have to go back to try those!

For those so inclined, there is a complimentary cocktail included; there is also a Bloody Mary Bar available for those who would like to choose their own ingredients -- based on the amount of Bloody Marys I saw on tables, I'd say this station will be very popular!

After all of this amazingness, you may think the experience is almost over - au contraire! There is still a luscious dessert tray!  Of course, dessert is only complete with coffee, and the coffee here was amazing.  It was french-pressed, strong, and not bitter at all.  It was the perfect accompaniment to the beautiful cookies and candies.  Disclaimer: I totally forgot to take a picture before we dug in... so this is a midway through re-arrangement of the cookies/chocolates. :) There is also a yummy toffee bark!

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Of course, you simply must check out the observation decks at some point throughout your stay.

 The entire experience lasted about an hour and a half, so it's definitely a leisurely experience.  Unlike some of the character breakfasts/brunches, this location was quiet and peaceful.  I should also mention that there was a wonderful piano/string bass duo playing throughout our meal, adding to the ambience.  There were some families there, but by and large the population consisted of adults.  This is a great location for honeymooners and couples.  it would also be a great option for a date day - drop the kiddos off at the Polynesian's Kids' Club (there is a charge for this) and then the adults can enjoy a date before heading out for the day.

I would absolutely go back here! Have you ever dined at the California Grill? Comment below!

Quick Service Dining in Disney: Magic Kingdom Edition

I think it's well established that I love to eat.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks... I'm no respecter of times.  And when I am on vacation, good food is very important! That being said, I have decided to do a series involving my favorite eateries around the "World". Because there are so many, and in order to keep these posts manageable to read, I'll focus on a specific type of dining in a park/resort.  For me, the Magic Kingdom really epitomizes the Disney experience.  As such, our journey begins here.

When it comes to a Quick Service meals in the Magic Kingdom, the first that comes to mind is the ever-elusive Be Our Guest.  This restaurant is an anomaly in that it changes over from a Quick Service by day to a Table Service by night.  I love this! First of all, the ambience is second to none.  As a little girl who grew up loving Belle and her movie, dining in Beast's Castle truly never ceases to amaze me.  

Trust me, these pictures do NOT do this place justice! But really, the focus of this article is the food.  And Oh. Em. Gee.  It is fantastic! I typically get the carved turkey sandwich with pommes frites (AKA french fries), which is so so good! Dessert varies, but I love anything with the gray stuff on it -- and hubby almost always opts for the Strawberry Shortcake cupcake.  Of course, there are tons of options here, and I'm pleased to say that they are a lot different from traditional fast food.

Aside from the menu, this location is unique as far as how it serves your food.  When you check in/order, you are given a small "rose".  This is actually a handy little device that uses RDFI technology to allow the servers to know where you chose to sit - and they deliver your order right to you! You also get real silverware (as opposed to plastic).  As far as seating choices go, I love dining in the West Wing -- it's so spooky and amazing. 

The trick with this restaurant is that you usually can't just walk in.  Reservations are a must if you really want to dine here.  So, when you need a "walk in" location, one of our favorites is Columbia Harbour House in Liberty Square.

There are so many things I love about this place.  But first, I have to give a shout out to my favorite greeter.  He sings to the passers-by, rings a bell, and welcomes everyone in with a smile.  He is basically a fixture from what I can tell - I think I see him every trip!

The menu is definitely heavy on seafood, which happens to be my favorite.  I love the fried fish and chicken basket when I feel like throwing my diet to the wind, but on my most recent trip, I discovered how amazing the salmon platter was!

The decor inside is nautical, and there are some nods to the Haunted Mansion ... one of my favorite attractions! If you dine here, try to sit on the second floor - there is a great view!

My 3rd go to in the Magic Kingdom is definitely Pecos Bill's Tall Tale Inn.  This has been an annual favorite of mine, partially because of the fixin's bar!  Now a disclaimer: there was just an announcement that this restaurant is slated to receive a new menu.  And I am SUPER excited about it!  Originally I was in love with their taco salad, which was discontinued a couple of years ago.  Now, it is going to be a lot of burritos, rice bowls, and fajitas.  Second to seafood, these are my favorite food groups!

Now for some stunning news -- I apparently have absolutely no food pics from this establishment.  This is likely because I'm starving and gobble down my food before taking a picture when I go here... I promise to rectify this situation on my trip in January!  Hopefully the new menu will be in place by then so I can offer our loyal readers a review.

So, those are my 3 faves in the Magic Kingdom.  Honorable mention goes to the Diamond Horseshoe, which is only open seasonally.

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So, what are your go-to Quick Service eateries in the Magic Kingdom? Comment below!