Viva Italia! Italy at Its Finest!

Ah, Italy! Just the name of this country probably brings images to your mind. Are you picturing the gorgeous countryside? The fabulous food and wine? Well I can tell you that it's both of those things, and so much more! 

Exactly a month ago I was traveling the Italian countryside, checking out all that Adventures by Disney has to offer. And let me tell you -- it offers A LOT! The amount of experiences I had in just 8 days still blows my mind. I've tried to write this post many times, but each time, so many words fought to fill the page that I thought it best to do it in podcast form, which I did! (You can click here for that link. )  But now that it's been a month, the wonderful memories have distilled into several key moments, and I can't wait to share them with you... read on! 

So as you read this, just know that everything I did, you can do too! This itinerary works almost year-round, and it is worth every cent. First let me introduce you to my tour guides:

Korey & Alexa

Korey & Alexa

They were amazing! I couldn't have asked for better guides!  This picture really showcases their fun personalities.  On your Adventures by Disney tour, you may have different guides, but I can guarantee that they'll bring the fun! These two kept everything moving seamlessly. They functioned not just as tour guides, but as photographers, storytellers, comedians, and best of all  - FRIENDS.

The lovely Alexa hails from Rome, so she functioned as our local guide. Korey is from the US, and he was our other guide, bringing his amazing knowledge of history and the culture to us. I can't thank them enough for making this trip so incredible.  So as the song says, "let's start at the very beginning..."

Rome

Well in many ways, Rome is kind of the beginning - "All roads lead to Rome" after all! Upon arrival, I was met by Adventures by Disney representatives and ushered through the airport. The process (which could have been overwhelming) couldn't have been easier! We were handed over to our private driver, and then we were met at our hotel by our guides.  Here is our hotel, the lovely Grand Melia Rome!

Later, we were whisked off to see the beauty and awesomeness of the Colosseum:

And yes, I am wearing gladiator sandals. Because, you know... when in Rome! This experience really hit me - the weight of all of the history, the fact that it is literally an ancient building STILL STANDING - it was so inspiring. And well - we didn't wait in one single line. Not one. Oh and did I mention walking through the Gladiators Entrance? That is something that only about 1% of visitors get to do. 

Day 2 began at the Vatican.  The richness of this city-within-a-city was truly a sight to behold. And of course, again, no lines! We were among the first to visit St. Peter's Basilica and the Pieta. 

 

The afternoon had us touring more of this amazing city.  Just imagine... a place where the "new section" was built in the 1800s! Seeing 2000 years worth of history in 2 blocks... I can't even describe it. The Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the gelato... oh the gelato! So delicious! 

But the highlight of Day 2 had to be touring the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel after hours. Privately. With no crowds whatsoever. AND we got the rare privilege of taking pictures in the Sistine Chapel (this is not something that normally happens... just an extra bit of pixie dust!! Here are some of my favorites:

Completely amazing!

Orvieto

Day 3 had us traveling to the beautiful medieval city of Orvieto on our way to Tuscany. So many amazing places to visit here, including a gorgeous medieval Duomo (that's a church!). But this is my favorite picture:

Orvieto - side street

Orvieto - side street

Tuscany

Day 4 is maybe my favorite. Hard to pick, but I remember every second of this day. Visiting "Sarah's Farm"... real name Fattoria Poggio Alloro. This family-owned farm has gone from just starting to a leading producer of Wines and Olive Oils. Disney fans, it may interest you to know that Sarah herself will be at Food and Wine Festival in Epcot this year!

IMG_6957.JPG

The itinerary? Pasta making! And food! And a tour of the farm and winery! And oh my goodness, Sarah was such a ball of joy and energy throughout. She made Tuscany completely unforgettable. And I'm calling this the best meal of my life... 

And it really looks like that! What an incredible view!

Also, shout out to our hotel here, which was a converted farmhouse.  The Hotel Borgo di Cortefreda was amazing!

Florence

Day 5 takes us to Florence, home of the Medicis, and a place where almost every major Renaissance artist stayed! I loved seeing all of the gorgeous buildings and of course, shopping! Two highlights though were seeing Michaelangelo's David at the Academia and touring the Palazzo Vecchio. 

 

Venice

Day 6 & 7 brought us to Venice. Of course, it's a water bound city, so what better way to travel than by gondola? Did I mention a gondola with musicians?

After a quick tour to get our bearings, we were taken to the Hilton Molino Stucky, which is a gorgeous hotel with one of the top rooftop pools in the world!

While in Venice, we had plenty of free time to explore, but we also got to see the Bridge of Sighs and Doges Palace which were both incredible. 

But the highlight here was Venetian mask-making at a beautiful shop called "Tragicomica".  The artisans were amazing! They guided us as we designed our very own Carnivale mask!

So as you can see, we were with a group. And you know what? The entire group still chats... almost daily... in our Facebook Group. I was nervous about traveling with "strangers", but let me tell you, they are now fast friends. I truly enjoyed spending time with them. And not to worry, although these were the highlights, there was plenty of "explore on your own" time. Brady and I have fond memories of exploring roaming Italy by ourselves. We could not have accomplished the amount of things we did without the help of Adventures by Disney... and we certainly wouldn't have felt so spoiled! Of course, I wanted to leave some magical surprises, so I didn't tell you everything.

I hope that this taste of "Viva Italia" and Adventures by Disney has inspired you! There are so many itineraries to choose from! I'd love to answer your questions about Adventures by Disney, and your Upon A Star Agent can help you find the perfect match for your family! 

Until next time... Ciao!

Epcot Food & Wine Festival - A Photo Tour (with some words)

OK, so maybe it isn't entirely a photo tour! I have sooooo many words I can use to describe the Epcot® Food & Wine Festival!  Delicious, fun, tasty, yummy... and many other adjectives!  But, you get the idea.  

Each fall, Epcot® transforms World Showcase into culinary wonder, adding plenty of additional kiosks.  Even the "regular" countries of World Showcase put out special kiosks, all featuring the food and (you guessed it) wine/alcoholic beverages from that country.  The flavors are amazing... and the smells just beg you to try!

When you enter Epcot®, be sure to grab a passport.  This way you can keep track of all of the amazing eats/drinks you've tried!

OK we have our passport, let's go!  The Festivities are apparent as soon as you enter!

Let's stop at the Festival Center, shall we? It's located in the old Wonders of Life Pavilion. You can check out my Periscope walking tour by clicking here.  There is a ton of merchandise here, plus this is where many of the seminars are held.  If you head to the back, there is a Ghirardelli Chocolate display.  Check out this year's Star Wars display... all made of chocolate!

It's a good idea to get a nifty wristlet gift card! Load it up with some moolah, and this makes it much easier to get your eats as you tour the world! 

Time to head back to see the food booths! I did 2 Facebook Live Walk-throughs.  Check out my Facebook Page and you can find them under videos. 

And food? Yep.  There was lots of it! And it was all delicious!  I realized that I didn't take nearly as many pictures as I would have like to... I guess I was too busy eating LOL!!

If you've never checked out the Food & Wine Festival, I highly recommend it! It's a great time of year to do an adults trip, girls' weekend, guys' weekend...  You won't regret it!

 

Drinking Around the World Showcase

When planning adult only trips or vacation date nights, I get a lot of, “we want to go drinking around the world”. This refers to World Showcase in EPCOT. It can be a very fun and entertaining way to visit all of the countries in World Showcase. Unfortunately, there have been many adults who have fallen victim to the effects of the “it’s vacation” attitude and had a few too many drinks a little too quickly.

TIPS:

Pace Yourself: with 11 countries, you need to take your time. The basic hours of the World Showcase are 11am-9pm. This gives you 10 hours to conquer the “world” without being tempted to climb a temple in Mexico. Go in with the mindset that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and it will help. Take your time, and enjoy the shops and attractions. There’s more to do than just drink!

Share drinks and dishes: My plan is based on sharing drinks and food. This will help you consume less so you don’t feel as full and can try more. This will also help your wallet!  Drinks run from $6-$16 each. You can blow your budget pretty quickly just on the alcohol, but you will need to eat too.

Hydrate: Not to state the obvious, but Florida is HOT! That can lead to dehydration. Alcohol can also lead to dehydration, making your feel the effects very quickly. No one wants to see you blitzed, and you don’t want to be sleeping it off in your resort before the torches are lit for Illuminations.

Start Early: This plan starts when the World Showcase opens at 11am. It factors in some rides, a dinner and entertainment.

Be Respectful: Drinking Around the World has almost become an adult past-time at Walt Disney World. You can see “teams” with matching shirts, bachelor/bachelorette parties loudly proclaiming victory, and many guests have been seen taking things a little too far. Remember- Epcot is still a family theme park. You can still enjoy yourself and be respectful of others.

MEXICO

The best location to start is Mexico, then work your way around to Canada. The food and drinks seem to make a natural progression from light to heavy going in this direction.

* Skip the kiosk outside with the pre-mixed, sticky sweet Margaritas. Head inside to La Cava Del Tequila and grab a margarita to share. The Blood Orange, Avocado, and Jalapeño Margaritas are recommended. Skip the tequila flights – shots will have you taking a siesta before your reach Italy.

* Grab some chips and salsa to enjoy with your margarita. Tell your server that you follow @CavaDelTequila on twitter and you might receive a special offer.

* Ask your server for a glass of water here. Make sure you finish it before you leave the table.

* Enjoy the Gran Fiesta Tour starring The Three Caballeros, as it has a wait under 20 minutes. Take your time visiting the shops in the air conditioning.

 

NORWAY

* Grab a Carlsberg from the kiosk. While it’s not actually from Norway (it’s actually from Denmark), it’s still a good beer. Avoid the Linie Aquavit Glacier shot – not just because it’s a shot, but because it’s awful! It’s a potato alcohol and reminds me of dill pickles – not in a good way.

* Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe is a snack highlight. The school bread is the obvious choice and a favorite among guests. It’s also cheap.

* Ask at the bakery for another free glass of water. See if you can get it to go so you can sip it while you’re looking around Norway.

* The obvious attraction here is Frozen Ever After. You will need to get a fastpass or you will lose your touring momentum. Aim for a 11:30-12:30 window. This will give you time before or after to get your drink and dish.

CHINA

* The Joy of Tea stand in China has some of the most refreshing cocktails in the World Showcase. They are tea-based and a little light on the alcohol side. The Canto Loopy is light and really tastes like cantaloupe.

* After eating nachos and school bread, along with a poor snack selection of snack food, I would skip food here.

* Purchase a bottle of water at Joy of Tea. Sipping it over the next couple of countries will really help you feel better as you continue on your quest to conquer the countries.

* After you grab a victory picture in front of China’s pagoda, head inside to sip your beverages while looking at the clay army. Enjoy the Reflections of China in the air conditioning. If you want a personal souvenir, Good Fortunes Gifts next to the Joy of Tea will add your name in Chinese, free of charge, to a fan or parasol.

OUTPOST

This isn’t a country – skip it! It doesn’t count as an official stop on a Drinking Around the World tour. Don’t be fooled by the “exclusive” Walt Disney World Safari Amber, it’s a boring Anheuser-Busch brew.

GERMANY

* Beer Here! So many great beers to choose from. Most will go for the Schofferhofer Pink Grapefruit Hefewizen. This beer is refreshing on a hot day. I prefer a glass of Riesling from the Sommerfest kiosk.

* Karamell-Küche is a wonderful sweet shop. The salted caramel is delicious but hard to share. The caramel popcorn is nothing special. Go for a cupcake! Since the shop is usually busy, they are very fresh.

* Keep sipping on that bottle of water you bought in China

* Stop at Kunstarbeit in Krystal and see the beautiful Swarovski Crystal figurines, especially the beautiful Cinderella’s Castle! Grab a pickle – a glass one – for your Christmas Tree. It’s a great tradition to start with your family.

Checkpoint: remember you have 10 hours for the tour. If you are pacing yourself, checking out the attractions and shopping, you should be about 3.5 hours in, making the time about 2:30pm (unless you got derailed at Frozen).

 

ITALY

* Italy is known for great wine. You can opt for a red or white wine flight in La Bottaga Italiana. The pours are very small, so I prefer going to Gelati and getting the Sangria or a Bellini. The drinks here are some of my favorites, so grab a drink for each of you to split; we’ll make up for it at the next stop.

* While you’re at Gelati, grab some gelato. You get 2 scoops to share!

* Make sure you get some water. If the kiosk won’t give you a cup, the sparkling Italian water could hit the spot.

* Relax and catch a street show in the piazza and a picture in front of the wonderful statues.

AMERICA

* I recommend a break in America, especially if you got that extra one in Italy. However, Block & Hans has some American crafts beers that are worth a try. Try the Angry Orchard Hard Cider.

* It’s America – Funnel Cake! There is nothing more to say….

* You can refill your purchased water bottle at the water fountains outside the bathrooms in the back of the pavilion.

* Enjoy the air conditioning inside while you watch the amazing Voices of Liberty performers. I may or may not have grabbed a power nap in the American Adventure theater. Rejoice that you have made it almost half way and your still going strong!

JAPAN

* Time to be adventurous! Head to the back of the Mitsukoshi Department Store to the Sake bar. The hot sake goes down easily. While the Ichiban beer (especially the frozen) sounds tempting, it’s bland and not very appealing.

* After that funnel cake, you’re probably feeling a bit full. There isn’t much in Japan as far as “snacks” go. A guest favorite is Kaki-Gori, which is like a sno-cone.

* San! Ni! Ichi! Participate in the pick a pearl ceremony before heading to the Bitutsu-Kan Gallery, which is filled with wonderful Japanese art. Maybe you’ll be in time to catch the Matsuriza drums.

MOROCCO

* Stop into the Tangierine Café for a coffee infused with liquor. It’s a great afternoon pick-me-up.

* Share some hummus and enjoy the air conditioning with your coffee.

* Ask for a free cup of water with your coffee and hummus.

* After you enjoy the architecture and colorful tiles in the Marketplace labyrinth, head back toward the front of the pavilion to Souk-al-Magreb for henna.

Checkpoint: Coffee and a nap! You should be feeling good! You should be 3.5 to 4 hours past the last check point. It’s around 6:30pm, so let’s grab some dinner!!

FRANCE

* The best drink in the World Showcase is the Grand Marnier & Grey Goose Orange Slush! The Grey Goose Citron Lemonade Slush and Kir Royale are also divine, so grab a drink for each of you to share.

* Before you get your drink, get some dinner, and more importantly, dessert. Head to Boulangerie Pâtisserie les Halles. Try the Bisque de Homard (lobster bisque) and Brie Aux Pommes- brie with apples and cranberries on multi grain bread. There are so many selections for dessert; it’s hard to pick just one! From the excellent Fraises Tart (strawberry tart), to the macaron collection, to the chocolate mousse, there is something wonderful for everyone.

* You can get a free cup of water at the Pâtisserie. Ask for it at check out.

* Check the schedule to see when Serveur Amusant is performing. These French acrobats are so fun to watch as they defy gravity. You can also find Belle by the lake.

ENGLAND

* There are several good beers on tap at Rose and Crown. Try one of the pub blends like the Bumblebee (Boddingtons and Guinness), Blank & Tan (Bass and Guinness) or the Golden Fox (Boddington and Bass).

* Grab some Victoria Sponge Cake from Yorkshire Country Fish Shop. The light sponge is filled with jam and butter cream and is delicious. If you’re still feeling pretty full from your desserts in France, head into the Teas Caddy and get some Shortbread Cookies.

* You can get a free cup of water with your Victoria Sponge Cake.

* Take your beer and treat to the back of the pavilion. Across from Toy Soldier is a band stand. Sit and enjoy the band as they play covers of some of the best British bands, like the Beatles and the Who. Stop in the Crown and Crest to see your coat of arms and pick up a Doctor Who or Sherlock tee.

CANADA

* To get the really good beers in Canada, you used to need a reservation at Le Cellier. Now there is a kiosk where you can grab some of the better beers on the World Tour. La Fin Du Monde is a robust Abbey Trioel that is considered to be one of the best beers in the world, not just World Showcase.

* There isn’t much in the way of Canadian snacks, but you can get some yummy popcorn and receive a special souvenir bucket.

* Ask for a cup of water with your popcorn.

* By now it’s the end of the evening. Find a bench or spot by the lake and enjoy Illuminations. It’s one of the great Disney nighttime shows. With the fireworks, lasers, and soaring music, it’s a great way to end your day.

Touring the countries this way can help you cover World Showcase and see all it has to offer. For regular Disney travelers, this could be a fun way to experience the park in a new way. For new Disney vacationers, this gives you an opportunity to experience every country, not just a few.

Stay tuned to the Upon A Star Travel & Concierge Blog and follow me on social media as my husband, Chris and I, tour the World Showcase and test this out in September. I’d love to hear your results and feedback when you give this a try. Cheers!!

You can find out more about agent Carrie at http://uponastartravel.com/agents/#/carrie/
Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @uponastarcarrie
Carrie@uponastartravel.com