Disneyland Resort – California Food and Wine Festival

My family spent the afternoon at the Disneyland Resort on Sunday, April 14.  The primary purpose for this trip was to meet up with a couple friends to experience the special food offerings available at Disney’s California Adventure for the Taste of California Marketplace, which is part of the annual California Food and Wine Festival currently being offered in the park.  This is the west coast version of a popular, long-running event that Disney holds every Fall in Epcot at Walt Disney World.

The Taste of California Marketplace offers a selection of fairly small, sampler-style portions of a number of different food items, all designed by California-based chefs and intended to represent the state’s culinary culture.  Small cups of California-made wines and beers are also offered to accompany these.  All of these items are available at the now-defunct Lucky Fortune Cookery counter-service restaurant, which is located in the Pacific Wharf section of the park.  This location provides a good infrastructure for the food service as well a large dining area (shared with two permanent restaurants with a great deal of available tables and chairs.  It makes for a much more convenient location than the multiple locations that were used during the first year of the event and which are still in use at the Epcot event.

The sampler-sized portions served at the Marketplace mean that the typical guest is likely to try a variety of choices, particularly if the items are being ordered as a meal rather than as a quick snack.  I ended up ordering 5 of the different food selections as well as one cup of wine.  Another couple that was dining with us eventually ordered and shared at least one of every item offered.

I initially ordered one each of the chicken and beef California skewers, the Festival Cheese Plate and a cup of Mirassou Chardonnay on a first trip to the counter.  The Marketplace also has the usual selection of soft drinks available and, since it was a hot day and the wine doesn’t really work as a thirst-quencher, I did order a Coke as well.  After finishing those, I was still hungry enough to try a couple more items, so I went back up and ordered the Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin Slider sandwich and, for dessert, the Seasonal Berry Trifle.

I particularly liked the skewers, which included the meat and a few various vegetables with a sweet chipotle glaze.  The sauce was fairly strong, but I found it to be extremely tasty and to really complement the flavor of the meat.  I generally don’t like cooked vegetables, and I have a strong sensitivity to onions, so I didn’t really eat too much other than the meat.  That did make the portions especially small for these (a common problem for me with skewers), but I did really enjoy the portions I did eat.

The cheese plate was ok, although I tend to like somewhat softer textured cheeses than most of the ones chosen for this platter.  For one thing, I tend to find softer cheeses to be a bit more flavorful while these were a waxy.  The one big exception was what they described as a huntsman cheddar bleu, which I thought was absolutely delicious.  I love bleu cheese and it mixed with the cheddar to form a flavor that I found tremendously appealing.  The cheese plate also came with some seedless purple grapes which were very fresh and at just the right level of ripeness.  The platter also featured a good sized pita crisp.  I’m not really much of a wine expert, so I asked the clerk to recommend a wine that would go well with my order.  She suggested the Chardonnay as a good compliment for the cheese plate and I found that it did go well with it.

My least favorite of the items that I tried was the Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin Slider.  This miniature sandwich was served on a small brioche roll and also included onion crisps and what Disney described as a citrus mojo criollo sauce.  Due to my sensitivity to onions, I had to remove most of them from my sandwich, although I was able to leave a few on as I’ve found that fried onions generally don’t affect me quite as much as ones that are raw or cooked in other ways.  That meant that I was able to get at least a bit of the flavor that they added to the sandwich.  The sauce was very heavy on garlic, though, and I strongly expect that one’s taste for this sandwich will be very much measured by one’s tolerance for garlic.  I generally do like garlic and initially found that I really liked the flavor.  About half-way through the sandwich, though, I found that I had pretty much had my fill of it.  The friends we were with pretty much picked this as their favorite item, though, so certainly your mileage my vary.

For dessert, I had actually asked for the Ghirardelli Chocolate Marquise, but was surprised when they gave me the trifle instead.  When I checked the receipt, I found that it did show the trifle as well, so I guess that the cashier must have hit the wrong button.  Since the trifle was generally to my taste as well, I decided not to bother trying to get it corrected.  The berries were strawberries and were very fresh and nicely sweetened by both the vanilla custard and light whipped cream.  The pound cake was a tad more dry, but still tasted very good.  Overall, it was a good dessert, although I would probably be interested in still trying the other one if I make it back there before the end of the festival.

One thing that should be noted is that the marketplace does not make for an inexpensive meal.  The items are priced fairly high for the portion sizes and getting enough food for a filling lunch can quickly run up in costs.  They do honor the customary discounts for annual passholders and Disney cast members (employees), which can lower the cost a tad if you qualify.  Without discounts or tax, the food items that I ordered came to a total of $24.50.  The glass of wine was another $3 and the Coke was the usual $2.50 or so (I don’t recall the exact amount).  Those prices for just one person are in the same ballpark as lunch at a fairly high-end table-service restaurant, although with service and presentation that are more in line with fast food. 

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I visited with my family, but I haven’t mentioned anything about my wife and son’s food choices.  The reason for that is that neither of them ended up ordering from the Marketplace.  The food choices just didn’t really appeal to my wife’s tastes and we also decided that the combination of the high prices and fairly exotic selections were questionable for a 4-year-old, even though our son does tend to be a fairly adventurous eater.  This was where the Food and Wine Festival’s setting inside of a Disney theme park was very much an advantage.  It was only a very short distance for them to go over to the Farmer’s Market counter service restaurant where both were able to get chicken strips for lunch. 

The close proximity between the somewhat upscale offerings of the festival and the more traditional theme park offerings served us well after lunch as well.  Our son did get restless with the somewhat longer, more formal lunch (and he was in a bit of a cranky mood anyway), but afterward  we were able to easily take him to do things that were more enjoyable to him.  Had we not been visiting with a small child, we might have been more interested in exploring more of the seminars and other events associated with the festival.  Instead, we park-hopped over to Disneyland where he got to visit with Mickey and Pluto, ride the tea cups and the carrousel, and then finally see the "Enchanted Tiki Room" show before we headed home for the day.  It was an extremely hot day, so we were fortunate that lines were pretty short allowing us to do quite a few things in just a couple hours.

California Adventure had been pretty crowded that day, so we were expecting much larger crowds at Disneyland than we actually found when we got there.  I suspect the Food and Wine Festival is turning out to be a pretty good attractor for the park, although I’m also sure that the "2 for 1" deal for that gives 1-day at each park for one price is also bringing a lot of people in.  I would guess that most weekend visitors taking advantage of the deal likely go to Disneyland on Saturday and California Adventure on Sunday, which would account for at least some of what we saw.  I did notice that the lines for the regular restaurants in the Pacific Wharf area of the park were substantially longer than the lines at the Marketplace, which probably isn’t too surprising at the prices they were charging.

I would overall consider our experience with the Food and Wine Festival to be a positive one.  The food choices at the Marketplace made for a very enjoyable and interesting lunch, even if the prices were definitely somewhat inflated for what was being offered.  Still, it was an overall positive once-a-year experience and I could easily see going again next year.

Vacation Signatures – Explained

One of the Disney-related discussion boards that my wife and I both enjoy participating on is called Mousepad.  Like many discussion boards, this one includes a "signature line" feature, where it will automatically append a personalized signature to every post you write.  Unlike some boards, the software at this site is set up so that if you change your signature line in the settings, it will automatically change the signature on all of your posts, including old ones.

Quite a few of the regular participants (and staff members) on these boards are people that my wife and I have known for quite some time, both online and in real life.  Because of this, we have found that it is fun to regularly change our signature lines to cryptic references to various events in our lives, frequently based on funny things our currently 4-year-old son has said or done.  I admit to have basically stolen this idea from a good friend, but hopefully she doesn’t mind too much.

During our recent Disney Cruise and Walt Disney World vacation, we started coming up with signature line ideas so much that we finally just started taking down a list. After getting home, I created a web page with the list and my wife and I both just put links to that page in our signature line.  Now that it has been up for a while, I figured I’d write up the explanations for each item, since they all represent (hopefully) amusing little anecdotes from the trip.  Hopefully this will be a fun little epilogue to my previous trip reports.

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Disneyland’s Candlelight Processional and Ceremony

This evening, we visited Disneyland to see the annual Candlelight Processional and Ceremony, a long running program of traditional choral Christmas music performed in the Town Square area of Main Street USA. This show features a combined choir made up of numerous area choirs along with a live orchestra and a celebrity narrator. This year’s narrator was Jane Seymour. Although the show is held on Main Street during park hours, it isn’t heavily promoted to the public and a large portion of the viewing area is reserved seating that is not particularly easy to get. They do offer a very limited number of expensive dinner packages to the general public, but the vast majority of the tickets are distributed to invited guests, mainly through various Disney corporate partners. Most of the public viewing is largely obstructed views and a generally long wait is required to stake out a half-way decent spot.

Since we have a 4-year-old that wasn’t likely to sit patiently for the 60-minute show (not to mention the fairly long wait), my wife and I decided to each go to a separate performance while the other took our son on attractions. Right after the second parade got past Main Street, my wife headed off to find a spot for the 5:30 performance. She ended up staking out a spot opposite the Opera House, pretty much right by the rope into the reserved seating area. As soon as the processional started to make its way into the theater, she joined the crowds in that area that were allowed to move in to fill the unused seats in the reserved seating area. As a result, she ended up with a really good seat for the show.

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Disney Cruise and Walt Disney World 10/07 – Mickey’s Not-so-Scary Halloween Party

On Sunday night, we attended Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, an after-hours holiday event held at the Magic Kingdom.  This extra-charge event includes a special Halloween-themed parade and fireworks show as well as trick-or-treating at various candy-distribution stations located all over the park.  There also is a lot of special Halloween decoration, lighting, and music in the park in order to add to the mood.

Disney has wisely created a fun, very family-oriented event that is focused on the more light-hearted aspects of the holiday instead of the scarier blood and gore type of horror that is found at the Universal Studios and Six Flags parks and at the grandfather of theme park Halloween events, the Haunt at Knott’s Berry Farm.  The focus here is mostly on Disney characters (and kids) dressed in Halloween costumes and Disney-style spooky characters like Jack Skellington, The Headless Horseman, and the ghosts of the Haunted Mansion.  It is generally the right tone for an event at a Disney park.

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Disney Cruise and Walt Disney World – 10/07 – WDW Notes

I still have quite a bit more to say about the cruise, but since I haven’t had much time to write anything over the last couple days, I thought I’d switch gears a bit and write up a few notes from our first few days at Walt Disney World.

For this part of the trip, we have returned to the Wilderness Lodge, which is our favorite resort.  This is my 4th time staying there and my wife’s 3rd stay.  On my first visit and the first visit with my wife, I stayed in a regular room.  While I loved the decor and location of the resort, my one complaint was that the rooms are a bit small.

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Disney Cruise and Walt Disney World 10/07 – Main Dining Rooms.

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that dinner on our first night was at Triton’s. This is the most upscale of the regular dining rooms, not including the special adult-only restaurant, Palo. The restaurant is lightly themed to The Little Mermaid, but doesn’t generally include any show elements or anything like that. It is a very attractive and elegant dining room. This is also the one restaurant that differs from those on Disney Magic, which has a dining room themed to Beauty and the Beast (Lumiere’s) instead. That made this one a somewhat new experience for us, although the overall atmosphere of the two is really pretty similar.

Dinners on our second and third nights of the cruise were at Animator’s Palate, which is the cruise line’s most showy restaurant. The restaurant is entirely themed to Disney animation and is designed so that, over the course of a dinner, the surroundings can transform from black and white to color. This is accomplished through a fairly sophisticated system of video projections and lighting effects.

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Disney Cruise and Walt Disney World 10/07 – Nassau

Today’s port-of-call on the cruise was Nassau in The Bahamas.  This morning, we got up early enough to go down to Tritons for a table-service breakfast.  I ordered french toast and bacon.  The french toast was very thick and rich with a dusting of cinnamon and powdered sugar.  It was really very good.

As always, the service on the ship is a big part of the experience as well.  The syrup for the french toast was served directly by the wait staff.  They also had someone circulating around the restaurant with a big plate of various rolls, danish, croissants, and other similar treats.  My son and I each had a cinnamon roll and really enjoyed them a lot.

Of course, one of the advantages of dining on a cruise ship is that there are a lot of choices and it is generally possible to have as much or as little food as fits your appetite at any given meal.  Most of us had fairly good size breakfasts, including my french toast, eggs benedict for my father, an omelette for my mother, and pancakes for my sister.  On the other hand, my wife and son each decided that they really only wanted a bowl of cereal and some bread or a roll and they were easily able to accommodate those requests as well.

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Disney Cruise and Walt Disney World 10/07 – Saratoga Springs and Day 1 of the Cruise

For our first night at Walt Disney World, we stayed at Saratoga Springs, which is our DVC home resort.  Even though it is our home resort, this was actually the first time we had visited that resort, much less stayed there.  In our past visits, we have generally been able to get rooms at other resorts closer to the park (Wilderness Lodge Villas and Boardwalk Villas).  We are staying at Wilderness Lodge (our favorite!) again for the WDW portion of this trip too, but decided to go ahead and try out our “home” for our arrival night before the cruise.

Our feelings about Saratoga Springs were somewhat mixed.  It is a nice complex overall and the room was great (typical of DVC rooms), but I think the place is overall just a bit too big and spread out for our tastes.  I know that some people really tend to prefer the more spread out resorts like this, but we generally like the more compact resorts overall.  They just feel a bit more comfortable to us and we like the feeling that everything is pretty quickly accessible.

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Disney Cruise and Walt Disney World 10/07 – The night before and the travel day.

A couple years ago, we bought into the Disney Vacation Club timeshare and have been doing annual visits to Walt Disney World in Florida.  This makes a lot of sense for our family as we are all big Disney fans (my wife and I even met, got engaged, and had our wedding at Disneyland) and my parents and sister also live in the Orlando area. 

For this year’s trip, we saved up enough points for a 4-night cruise on the Disney Wonder followed by 5 more nights staying at the Villas at the Wilderness Lodge.  As much as possible, I’m going to try and keep up with at least some general reporting on the trip as it goes.  I’m actually writing this entry during our flight from Los Angeles to Orlando.

The last 12-hours or so before the trip didn’t exactly go smoothly. Shortly before I was ready to head home from work last night, I got an email from my wife that water was backing up in our kitchen sink and washing machine drains.  As soon as I got home and confirmed that it wasn’t a problem that could be quickly fixed, we called for a plumber.  It took them until around 11pm to get the problem fully repaired at a cost of around $1300. 

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San Diego and Sea World Trip Report – August 2007 – Part 2

If you missed part 1 of this trip report, click this link.

Day 2: Sea World

The second day of our trip to San Diego was dominated by a visit to Sea World. Our son has been very into sharks and other marine animals for quite a while, so Sea World seemed an obvious destination. I admit that the Sea World parks have never been my absolute favorite theme parks. The parks are good showcases for marine life and I certainly admire their conservation efforts, but for me a little tends to go a long way when it comes to animal exhibits. I do enjoy occasional visits, just not all that frequently. This was only my second visit (as an adult) to the San Diego park, with the last visit being around 5 years ago. I have been to the Orlando park a couple times as well, although it has been close to a decade since my last visit there.

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