A Solo Introvert at Walt Disney World

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Inspired by episode 51 of the Disney Hipster Podcast, I started thinking back to all of the times I’ve been to Walt Disney World by myself. Over the past 5 years I’ve probably been to Disney alone more than 5 times, and I have to admit, I sort of love it.

I’m a total introvert, and generally enjoy being alone. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and nothing makes me happier than hanging with my family. But there is something fabulously decadent about being alone in my favorite place on Earth, with time to do exactly what I want on my own schedule. So back in January when I found myself traveling to Orlando for a conference, I took the opportunity to travel a day early to visit Disney.

So first question – where to stay? My friend Disney Hipster Andrew posited that maybe it is somewhat bourgeois to stay at a deluxe resort alone. I say, LET ME EAT CAKE! So I booked Disney’s Beach Club Resort for my solo stay. I’d never stayed there, and it’s an easy 5 minute walk to Epcot’s International Gateway. Plus I had a great off-season rate for a room with a view of the parking lot.

A Foggy Beach Club

A Foggy Beach Club

My inexpensive Beach Club room with the lousy view

My discounted Beach Club room with the lousy view

I arrived at the Beach Club at around noon, checked in, dropped my bags, and headed to Magic Kingdom. My agenda? (1) Eat lunch at Be Our Guest, and (2) Experience attractions I’ve never ridden before.

So first thing I did when I entered the park? Walked right up to the Walt Disney World Railroad train station, and hopped a steam train to Fantasyland. (I’d never ridden the train!) Is there anything more charming than riding a steam train around Magic Kingdom? No there is not.

Town Square from the Train Station

Great view of Town Square from the Train Station

Steam Train Magic Kingdom

Riding the rails

My first stop was Be Our Guest for lunch. Now listen up, all of you who won’t eat alone in restaurants. You can do it, really. I’ve dined alone for the tasting menu at Fleur by Hubert Keller – you can sit alone anywhere. Just keep yourself busy if you’re at all self-conscious. I know you have a smartphone. Take pics of your food and look like you’re busy uploading them to Facebook. Tweet your whereabouts so everyone can be jealous. Read email. Eavesdrop on the tables near you. You’ll be fine. (If you need more encouragement, here’s one of my favorite songs – Dine Alone by Quicksand. Listen to it to get pumped before dinner.)

At Be Our Guest, I busied myself by taking tons of pics and checking out the menu while in line.

Line for Be Our Guest

The line for Be Our Guest was about 30 minutes

Gargoyle at Be Our Guest

My friend the Gargoyle

Be Our Guest menu page 1

Front of the menu

Be Our Guest menu page 2

Back of the menu

Cast member

Random cast member that chatted with me at the entrance

Oh, and another great thing about being alone – you can choose to wait in line or not wait in line for as long as you like. When with kids you might be tempted to avoid a half hour line for lunch because they’re hungry, and therefore end up somewhere that you didn’t really want to be. Or you might be stuck with a group who really wants to wait when you would rather do something else. When you’re alone, you can just do what you feel like doing. It’s pretty nice.

OK, so after ordering, I wandered around to each of the dining rooms to check them out, and took more pics. When dining alone, I really enjoy being able to sit on a banquette against a wall that overlooks the rest of the dining room. For some reason I feel less self-conscious and just more comfortable. Plus it makes it easier to people-watch.

Quick pics of the food:

Tuna Nicoise at Be Our Guest

Surprisingly lovely Tuna Nicoise at Be Our Guest.

Onion Soup at Be Our Guest

Very cheesy but sort of bland onion soup.

Passion Fruit Cream Puff at Be Our Guest

Passion fruit cream puff. I liked the mousse.

So after eating, I started hitting all of the attractions I’d never before experienced (mostly around Fantasyland.) I finally went on It’s a Small World (wow, why did I wait so long?? It’s a classic for a reason – loooooved it), Mickey’s Philharmagic (from the lens of someone who doesn’t have any nostalgia around this, it occurs to me that all 3D movie attractions are now passé) and Country Bear Jamboree (a rip-roarin’ good time. Wish I’d seen it pre-update.)

Country Bear Jamboree

I can never get my family to sit through this.

Then I proceeded to ride my favorite attractions that my family doesn’t love, like Tiki Birds, Jungle Cruise, and Tomorrowland Transit Authority peoplemover.

A quick stop back at Beach Club to jump in the pool and change for dinner, and I was off to Epcot!

The only awkwardness I experienced at Epcot was at Rose & Crown. I stopped in at the pub for a pint. The crowd was very raucous and much younger than me, and mostly interested in hooking up with the hotties at the bar than chatting. It was sort of a drag. Their conversations weren’t even interesting to eavesdrop on. I finished my beer and left to walk around World Showcase.

I ate dinner at Katsura Grill in the Japan Pavilion. This is a fantastic spot to stop for a bite alone. I sat on the beautiful patio and slurped my noodles (and sake) in peace. It was some welcome quiet after the crowd at Rose & Crown.

Katsura Grill Japanese Curry Udon

The Japanese curry udon were totally delish

Katsura Grill patio Epcot Japan

One of the prettiest spots to eat in Epcot

After dinner I shopped around World Showcase, spending as much or as little time in each store as I wanted. (I loaded up on gifts for my anime-obsessed kiddo at Mitsukoshi. Trip-guilt hits hard every time I’m in Disney alone.)

I ended my evening at Cantina de San Angel in the Mexico pavilion with chips, guac, Corona, and Illuminations.

Chips and guacamole at Cantina de San Angel

Stale-ish chips and meh guacamole. Great view.

The next morning, I was up early for the Segway tour around Epcot’s World Showcase! (Sadly this tour has been discontinued.) Tours are a fantastic way to spend time at Walt Disney World when you’re alone. The groups are typically very small, and everyone is focused on the tour guide and what they’re doing, especially on the Segway tour where the focus for the first hour was just learning how to ride the thing without falling on our butts. No one will think you’re weird for doing the tour alone, and even a total introvert may end up striking up a conversation with others on the tour. I ended up chatting with an older couple from Minnesota who were there without kids or grandkids just because they love Disney. Their friendliness overrode my standoffishness and it was pretty nice.

Segway Tour of Epcot Selfie

Traveling alone is a great time for selfies!

Segway Tour Epcot

Cast members and tour guides make good photographers, too.

After the tour, I headed back to the Beach Club to check-out and grab my bags. But before saying goodbye to Disney and heading to my conference, I made one last stop. Lunch at the counter at Beaches & Cream.

Burger and Vanilla Coke at Beaches & Cream

Riding around on a Segway makes you hungry and thirsty. Free Vanilla Coke refills!

So really – if you have the chance to go to Disney World alone, don’t let your fear of feeling awkward keep you from having a fantastic time. See it as a chance to do whatever you want on your own timetable. Wander, look at details you’ve missed in the crush to ride every ride, chill. Or as I’ve done on other trips (especially at Universal), take advantage of single-rider lines and ride every thrill ride you can. Take a tour, read a book on a bench and soak in the atmosphere, spend as much time as you want in Innoventions.

No one will even ask you to share your school bread.

School Bread at Kringla Bakerei Og

My precioussss

Have you been to Disney alone? What did you do? Any advice?

MouseChow Ratings:

  • Be Our Guest restaurant – 3 mice
  • Katsura Grill – 4 mice
  • Cantina de San Angel – 2 mice
  • Beaches & Cream – 3 mice
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Rose & Crown Pub, EPCOT – A split decision

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Arguably one of the most charming, wonderful places to relax in all of Walt Disney World is the United Kingdom pavilion in EPCOT. The Tudor facades, gardens, tea shop, and regular appearances of Mary Poppins and Alice make it a place to linger long. Add to that an authentic-feeling drinking establishment with water views and good beer, and you may never want to leave.

Rose & Crown Pub, UK Pavilion EPCOT

Rose & Crown Pub, UK Pavilion EPCOT

The pub at the Rose & Crown is dark and cozy, with outstanding British beers on tap. On any given day you’ll be sure to hear British accents ordering pints, and on occasion the entire pub will break into a jolly sing-a-long of “Hey Jude.” It’s a fantastic place to be, warranting 4 Mice. (4 Mice = I’d be here every day if it were in my neighborhood.) And as a close friend reminded me today, it’s the last stop for many on their “drinking around the World” tour, so can be a bit rowdy. On his last trip (with his pre-teen and teenage sons) he came across a couple of inebriated young ladies getting amorous at the bar. World Showcase became instantly more educational, but not in the way he intended. You’ve been warned.

Black and Tan at Rose & Crown Pub

Black and Tan

The restaurant is similarly atmospheric, usually a little less crowded, and definitely more kid-friendly. Here’s a quick peek at the dining room. (Look, there is malt vinegar already on the tables – you don’t even have to ask!)

Rose & Crown Dining Room

Rose & Crown Dining Room

So how’s the food? It’s pretty good. Not great, but it goes down well with a pint. That is, it’s mostly heavy, greasy, and salty. (In a good way.) One of my favorite items on the menu is the Scotch egg, which I may have mentioned once or twice on this blog. There are very few foods that go better with beer than a Scotch egg, and this is a fine example.

Scotch Eggs, Rose & Crown Pub UK Pavilion EPCOT

Scotch Eggs

A couple of other stick-to-your-ribs options are the bangers and mash, and shepherd’s pie. I’m not a fan of shepherd’s pie, but Mr. MouseChow enjoyed it. My bangers and mash were yummy. (Yes, I had sausage as an appetizer and main. It’s called vacation.)

Shepherd's Pie, Rose & Crown, UK EPCOT

Shepherd’s Pie

Bangers and Mash, Rose & Crown, UK EPCOT

Bangers and Mash

And what meal in a pub would be complete without fish and chips? Sadly, these are only mediocre. The cod is fine, and the batter usually crunchy and redolent of beer. (Usually – but not always.) The chips are perfectly good, just not great.

Fish and Chips, Rose & Crown, UK Pavilion EPCOT

Fish and Chips

I’ve heard that there is a sticky toffee pudding for dessert that’s yummy, but haven’t had the chance to try it. If you have, let me know what you thought in the comments!

So I would give the Rose & Crown dining room 3 Mice. Decent for food within a theme park. If you’re looking for good pub food, get yourself over to Raglan Road at Downtown Disney. It’s awesome.

Oh, and if you’re not into sitting inside on a beautiful day, and you just want a pint and some fish and chips, you can head to the window at the right of the pub.

Yorkshire County Fish Shop, UK Pavilion EPCOT

Yorkshire County Fish Shop

The view is fantastic. (Especially if you can get it for Illuminations.)

Seating for Yorkshire Fish Shop

Seating for Yorkshire Fish Shop

Raglan Road at Downtown Disney Orlando – 4 Mice

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This week I had the great fortune to visit Orlando for the Florida Educational Technology Conference for my day job. And what does that mean? A free trip to Florida and the chance to eat at Disney! I didn’t have time to visit the parks, but was able to convince a couple of my compatriots to join me for dinner at Raglan Road in Downtown Disney. I promised my friends “a fun Irish pub with great food,” so the convincing part was pretty easy.

I’ve been here several times since RR opened in 2005, and have never had a meal that I would even categorize as “average.” The food is consistently excellent, the atmosphere is hopping (literally – there was an Irish step dancer performing near our table outdoors) the bars are 130 years old and from Ireland. And the house band plays 6 nights a week.

Yes, you can get fish and chips and a Guinness. But let’s be clear – the menu goes way beyond the traditional, without losing sight of its roots.

Behold, the Smokie City:

Smokie City, Raglan Road in Downtown Disney

Smokie City, Raglan Road in Downtown Disney

Do most Disney restaurants offer an appetizer of smoked haddock, potatoes, cheese, and tomato? No? They should! In fact, every restaurant should immediately put this on the menu. I wanted to take a bath in it. My friends don’t eat pork, and were concerned because it tasted like it contained bacon. Yet, there is no bacon, just smoky haddock deliciousness. I was concerned that it would be too cheesy, but it was more like a rich chowder. Just excellent.

Except that the chowder, “It’s not bleedin’ Chowder!” looked nothing like that. It looked like this:

It's Not Bleedin' Chowdah, Raglan Road, Downtown Disney

It’s Not Bleedin’ Chowdah, Raglan Road, Downtown Disney

The non-chowder was declared excellent by my Irish friend from New England. I didn’t taste it, but just look at those chunks of fish, shrimp, and mussels!

My other friend ordered the Chieftain Chicken, which for a simple chicken breast looked pretty darned good. She really liked it. Sorry for the dark shot – we were sitting on the patio in order to enjoy the beautiful Florida weather, and photography got pretty challenging the later it got.

Chieftain Chicken, Raglan Road, Downtown Disney

Chieftain Chicken, Raglan Road, Downtown Disney

As I have no qualms about eating pork, beef, or any other unhealthy meat, I ordered the Beefy Murray, mostly because the name made me laugh. It was a rich, peppery steak pie, hidden inside a Yorkshire pudding puff, with apple chutney on the side. Mmmmm…

Beefy Murray, Raglan Road, Downtown Disney

Beefy Murray, Raglan Road, Downtown Disney

We washed this beautiful meal down with beer from Raglan Road’s outstanding selection. In addition to the traditional Irish brews you’d expect, they have a great variety of local and craft beer, including Abita Andygator. They also have a very nice list of Irish and Scotch whiskeys, and whiskey flights! If I hadn’t drunk the whole 8% Andygator and had to drive back to my hotel I would have tried one of the flights. Next time, that High Falutin’ Flight is on my must-try list.

And I couldn’t let the chance for bread pudding pass us by, so here it is, vanilla and bourbon sauce and all. The key is to bypass the top and dig your spoon down to the soft, custard-y center.

Ger's Bread and Butter Pudding, Raglan Road, Downtown Disney

Ger’s Bread and Butter Pudding, Raglan Road, Downtown Disney

Friends, great food, beer, and a warm night in January sitting outside. I can’t think of anything better. Raglan Road is definitely 4 Mice on the MouseChow rating scale. I truly wish it were closer to home.

Slainte!

Raglan Road patio, Downtown Disney

Raglan Road patio, Downtown Disney

Have you been to Raglan Road? What did you eat? How was it? Let me know in the comments!

Is Tonga Toast Manna from the Tiki Gods? Kona Cafe gets 4 Mice

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Anyone who spends any time Googling WDW food options is bound to come across references to Tonga Toast, the reportedly magically delicious breakfast item available at the Kona Cafe in Disney’s Polynesian Resort. So on our recent trip back to Disney, courtesy of a giveaway from DizDiva.com and Magic Carpet Travel (yep, that’s Steve Thibodeau from MCTravel and the MouseChow clan), I was intrigued enough to schedule a special trip over to the Polynesian just to check it out. You know, taking one for the team and all.

First, you need to know how important it is to make Advanced Dining Reservations for breakfast at Kona Cafe. It is unbelievably popular. You’ll be competing for a seat with resort guests as well as those who visit the resort just for breakfast. On Saturday morning in mid-December the wait was over an hour for drop-ins. We walked up 15 minutes prior to our ADR, were handed a buzzer, then poked around the shops for 10 minutes before being called for our seat.

OK, so what the heck is Tonga Toast? I was still confused when it arrived.

Tonga Toast

Here’s the scoop. It is a gargantuan piece of sourdough bread, stuffed with banana, cinnamon, and brown sugar, dipped in egg (like French toast), then fried, and coated in cinnamon sugar. It bears a passing resemblance to an Easter Island head, until you pour on the strawberry compote. Then it’s more like an Easter Island head who’s been bludgeoned.

“But MouseChow,” you may ask, “is it delicious?” Well…maybe you will like it.  Certainly many, many people do. I wasn’t in love with it. The bread is really too thick for the egg custard to penetrate, so the interior is pretty dry except for the one slit cut in the side where the bananas are hiding. They weren’t distributed through the toast. This left one pocket of deliciousness, and a large piece of dry cinnamon toast. The ham was excellent, though.

Mr. MouseChow had the Macadamia Pineapple Pancakes.

Macadamia Pineapple Pancakes

These were good, and also very sweet. Mr. MC ate them with the strawberry compote rather than maple syrup. The tartness of the strawberries were a nice contrast to the very sweet pineapple. But look at that ham!

If we had only ordered the Tonga Toast and pancakes, we would have left slightly disappointed. BUT, our mini-MC ordered The Samoan.

The Samoan

Ahhhh…the Samoan. Pulled pork hash (yes, that’s right!), topped with two perfectly poached eggs and real Hollandaise. Our kiddo pushed the watercress to the side, and dug in. Thankfully it was way too much food for her, so I got to eat about half. I’m still dreaming about the Samoan. Next time we order barbeque, you can bet I’ll be saving some pulled pork for breakfast the next morning.

The beverages at Kona Cafe bear mentioning. We splurged for a French press of Kona coffee. Easily the best coffee we had during our trip. Skip your regular OJ and go for the Lilikoi juice – a delicious blend of orange, passion fruit, and guava. We also tried the berry smoothie, chock full of vitamin B and Omega 3s. Good stuff.

Omega 3 Berry Smoothie

So to sum up:
ADR(Pulled Pork + Great Coffee ) = 4 Mice

Any change to that equation may produce a different result.

What do you think? Was your experience with Tonga Toast different from mine? Let me know in the comments!

Hidden gem in Epcot – the Mitsukoshi sake bar

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I’m sitting in my living room watching Tropical Storm Irene (downgraded from hurricane status a few hours ago) wreak havoc with my vegetable garden.  We don’t get weather like this in New England very often and are not used to dealing with it.  As a result, every loose branch and unsecured piece of patio furniture finds a way to come loose and take out the power lines.  In Orlando however, high winds and rain seem to be an almost daily occurrence in the late summer, and is taken in stride. 

The beauty of the Disney Downpour is the regularity and predictability of the late afternoon rain, and that it almost always clears up after an hour or two and leaves the early evening cleaner and slightly cooler.  During our last trip to WDW we were caught in such a storm while touring through Epcot’s World Showcase.  We ducked into the American Experience pavillion to put on our rain ponchos (a necessity for your pack!) and drink some Frozen Cokes.  Since we had a couple of hours before our dinner reservation at Tokyo Dining, we decided to spend some time in the Japanese Anime exhibit before heading up to dinner.

The exhibit is very cool whether or not you like anime.  But if you or your kids are into Miyazaki movies, Pokemon, or Hello Kitty, it’s a little slice of heaven.  It was still pouring when we left the exhibit, so we ducked into the back entrance of the giant Mitsukoshi department store.  Hidden in the back corner of this gargantuan store is a very nice surprise – a Sake bar!  I’m guessing it was a combination of the thunderstorm, the sake, and being at WDW, but it had one of the friendliest, happiest bar crowds I’ve ever encountered.

Here’s a portion of the menu, which I snapped to remind me which sake we ordered so that I could buy it later.  There are around ten different sakes available, plus plum wine.

I usually prefer unfiltered sake, and there is one on the menu.  But I’ve tried that brand before, and it’s not my favorite.  So, I chose Tenryo Koshu, the vintage sake, while my drinking companion chose the yuzu flavored.

Here’s the very sweet bartender pouring my sake, the bottle, and a snap of the finished product.

The vintage sake was lovely!  Complex, refreshing, and unlike any I’d had before.  The yuzu flavored was sort of like a sake wine cooler.  I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you really just don’t like sake.  But then, why bother?
And happily, if you really like the sake at the bar, you can buy a bottle to take home, right there.  (The sake bar is not a free tasting menu.  It is a bar.  The sake runs between $4 – $10 per glass.)
Sadly, the food at Tokyo Dining was not nearly as fun a find.  Mediocre, mall-food-court grade sushi, and salad that anyone should be embarrassed to serve. 

The best thing we ate at Tokyo Dining, oddly enough, was dessert.  The green tea mousse is truly outstanding.  Sorry, no pic.  My kid attacked it too quickly. 
Next trip, we’re planning to check out Kimono’s in the Swan for sushi, but maybe will stick with Yakitori House at Epcot for a snack to go with our sake.
Mitsukoshi Sake Bar:  4 Mice
Tokyo Dining:  1 Mouse