Live from WDW and a Picture of the Week

Coming to you live from Walt Disney World, where this weekend sees three huge events. The Wine & Dine Half Marathon-which I'm running the relay-Epcot's Food & Wine Festival begins, and WDW celebrates its 40th Anniversary.

The weekend is off to a great start, except for the lack of my beloved chocolate covered strawberries at Hilton Bonnet Creek.

Lastly, this weeks picture is of the enormous runner's expo for the Wine & Dine. I've got a bib number and a tshirt...guess I really have to run this thing...

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej
Ps...this has been a test of the Blogger mobile app...

A Disney Bachelor Party - Yes, They Really Do Happen

As you take a stroll through the parks, resorts, and restaurants at Disney, you can't help but notice all the buttons. They're everywhere. It seems every time you turn around, there's another guest with a big fat button on their chest proclaiming they are celebrating a birthday, anniversary, wedding, graduation, a first visit to Disney, the fact that it's Tuesday, or little Johnny's first lost tooth. But you know what celebration doesn't have a button...the bachelor party.

Perhaps Disney's wholesome nature has no room for guests hosting a celebration usually associated with various forms of debauchery, and therefore we get no button. I'm here to tell you, however, that no matter how out of place they may seem, bachelor parties do take place at Disney, and this is the story of mine...

Three years ago this month, a group of buddies and I piled in our cars and headed for Disney. As the groom, I was somewhat along for the ride, but there was what I'd call a loose outline of an itinerary. After checking into the Dolphin, we made our way down to the ESPN Club for the first event of the party, which was to see our beloved Florida Gators take on rival Tennessee. In addition to thoroughly manhandling Tennessee that day, my Gators gave perhaps the best wedding present of the lot, by delivering a National Championship two weeks after we said our vows. As usual, I digress....

After the game we headed back to the hotel with a few hours to kill. Rather than sit around, we decided to head over to Fantasia Gardens miniature golf for a little friendly competition on the Fairways course. That's right...we played putt-putt at my bachelor party. Big whoop, wanna fight about it?

What I didn't know was in store for me, however, was what my buddies had arranged to be my attire for the evening. Just before we set off for the course, I felt this tug on my leg, and before I even knew what was happening, a 16 pound ball and chain had been padlocked around my ankle. Now, aside from the general misery of having a ball and chain strapped to my leg, there were several problems presented by my predicament. First, I hadn't yet changed my clothes when my buddy chained it to my ankle, meaning I was stuck in the same pair of shorts for the whole night. Second, the chain was just short enough that I could not carry the ball and stand fully upright; I'd be slightly hunched over the entire evening. Finally, and perhaps most depressing, I was told by the key culprit that the code for the pad lock had been FedEx'd to my house, and would arrive on Monday morning. He didn't have the code-I was stuck like this for two days. With the ball and chain in place, as well as the customary ridiculous "bachelor" top hat, we set off for Fantasia Gardens.

Disney Bachelor PartyThe full get up

How I managed to play putt-putt with a 16 pound bowling ball chained to my leg is beyond me, but let's just say it was difficult. One of my buddies and my brother had a friendly wager on who would win, and to my dismay, my brother actually lost. Oddly enough, the feather boa which he was to wear the rest of the evening as a result vanished from thin air.

Our final destination for the evening was one of my favorite places in all of Disney... Jellyrolls. Originally, this was the main thing I'd requested we do for the party, but now I was getting to be a bit nervous about going. Sure, at that point I'd grown accustomed to passers-by laughing or applauding my poor fortune, but I knew that a guy with a bowling ball chained to his ankle all but guaranteed the piano players would embarrass me to no end.

Heading through the Dolphin lobby

Sure enough, an hour or two into their set, the call came for me to come on stage. Thankfully, my friend Captain Morgan gave me a pep talk, and my nerves were pretty much gone as I drug my ball and chain on stage. After the expected ragging by the piano guys, I was made to perform "I'm a Little Tea Pot" and then to "dance." The use of quotations is to denote my inability to dance, however the English language doesn't have a word to aptly describe the "Elaine Benes."

Disney Boardwalk JellyrollsOn stage at Jellyrolls

As the lights to Jellyrolls were turned on to indicate closing time, we made our way back to the hotel and I crawled in bed with my friend the bowling ball. The next morning, my brother took pity on me and removed the pad lock from my ankle. Apparently they had the code the entire time, meaning I wouldn't have to go home to my soon-to-be wife with a ball and chain around my ankle. Perhaps more importantly, I no longer had to walk with a slight lean to the left.

Over the last few years, the "What are you celebrating?" theme has taken over the Disney Parks. It's my firm belief, that the bachelor party is an untapped market that Disney is missing out on, and by golly we deserve a button. Sure, one of us may have wound up swimming in the giant fountain between the Swan and Dolphin, but that and other similar minor offenses should not exclude us from joining the rest of the button wearing masses.

So to all the Disney bachelors everywhere, stand up and make your voices heard! We want a button!

Enjoy Your Stay

7 Reasons I Love the Epcot Food & Wine Festival

Ask anyone you know what their favorite time of year is, and you're bound to get one of many possible answers. There are those that love the summer, when the magnetic pull of the beach or swimming pool is at its peak. Some may say spring is their favorite, with its beautiful weather and the rebirth of greenery. Still others may go with the holiday season; the general good spirits of the world during this time make it a popular choice for many. My personal favorite comes the first weekend in October, and runs till the first weekend in November every year. No it's not a holiday or season-though it really should be granted holiday status-it's the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

The countdown to this year's festival is nearing its end, and as an outlet for my bottled up excitement I'd like to share what makes Food & Wine so special to me that it is viewed not just as an event, but its own time of year. Here's 7 reasons I love the Epcot Food & Wine Festival...

The Weather

Asking for more beautiful weather than Florida in the fall is like asking the butcher for something better than Filet Mignon...It simply doesn't exist. It's during this time of year that the oppressive heat of the summer finally starts to break loose, and being outside is actually enjoyable without risking death. There are few places I would rather be than Epcot's World Showcase on a cool and cloudless fall afternoon.

Walking to Epcot Last Year...Where's the Clouds?

The Atmosphere

Take a walk around the Disney parks on any given day, and you'll see a lot of unhappy people. You can't miss them. Poor beaten down souls that you're certain would rather be in cubicle at work than at this, the "Happiest Place on Earth." Not so at Food & Wine. Perhaps it is the alcohol-OK it's the alcohol-but everyone is in a great mood, random strangers become the best of friends in line, and all are quick to share their favorites of the festival and what you should try next. If only everyone was this friendly at Disney every day...

Naps in the Grass

Yes, you read that correctly...naps in the grass. After several hours of food and drink, and a few laps around World Showcase, the body starts to shut down a bit. What better way to recharge than laying down in the grass under a clear blue sky and taking a nap. Trust me, around 4pm or so you'll find the grassy areas between pavilions littered with guys like me, so don't be shy to join the crowd.

The Perfect Nap Spot

The Cheese Soup

Head over to the booth in Canada and you'll find what is arguably the most popular food item of the Festival...The Cheddar Cheese Soup. Personally, I don't like the stuff. That's right, I said it...I don't like The Cheese Soup, but since my wife insisted I include it in this list-and knowing I'd face ridicule from Disney fans worldwide for its omission-here you go. Apparently, it's good...

Me Trying the Cheese Soup

Festival Beer

Without question, of all the various food and beverage offerings at the Festival, what I look forward to the most is found in the American Pavilion. Each year, in addition to serving nearly their entire line up of beer, Samuel Adams offers a brew made just for Food & Wine....we call it Festival Beer. Original, I know. Over the years, I've fallen in love with many of these special brews, and I can't wait to see what the guys at the Boston Beer Co. come up with this year.

My Favorite Festival Beer So Far

New Booths

This will be Epcot's 16th year hosting the Festival, and most of the booths and their menus see very little change from year to year. Every so often however, a new "country" is brought into the mix. Last year, South Korea and Belgium were added, and their BBQ Beef with Kimchi and Waffles with Strawberries were my favorites of the Festival. This year, four new booths are on tap-Hawaii, Scandinavia, Portugal, Caribbean-and I'm sure these new offerings will be a welcome addition to the Festival. Is that Ropa Vieja I smell?...

One of My Favorites...Beef and Mashed Sweet Potatoes in South Africa

Tradition


There can be little question as to the number one reason I love Food & Wine...It's tradition. What started as a random trip to Disney to celebrate my birthday, has six years later become the weekend my wife and I look forward to most ever year. We visit the same weekend every year, stay in the same hotel, consume too much of our favorite food and beverages, and most importantly, enjoy the time together. Some people have a favorite restaurant, song, or movie...We have Food & Wine.

These are just a handful of the reasons I love the Food & Wine Festival, but there are more...many more. So many in fact, that last year we decided one weekend was simply not enough to soak it all in. This year we are making two trips to the Festival, the first being on opening weekend, which also coincides with the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World. If you ask me, it's the perfect combination....

For all my fellow Food & Wine fans out there, what do you love most about the Festival?

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej

Deej's Picture of the Week


A couple good ones from this year's Epcot Flower & Garden Festival. It was the first time I've managed to catch the Japanese Cherry Blossoms in bloom. Sure, it's a great festival, and the park is gorgeous that time of year, but it will always play second fiddle to the festival that starts in less than two weeks.....Food & Wine!

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej

Cuvee Wine & Bistro - Ocala - A Local Review

I've been at this marriage thing about three years now, and in that time I've learned many of the important ins and outs of this institution. For example, I've learned that wives often grade their husbands, not based on the fulfillment of his manly duties, but rather how he stacks up when compared to the spouses of her friends and family. So when one of my best friends and my brother both planned surprise dinners and weekends away for their wives, I knew the clock was ticking for me to spring into action. Hoping that a nice evening "out on the town" would do the trick, I booked the two of us a reservation at Cuvee Wine & Bistro.
In an attempt to emphasize my efforts, I kept our destination a secret for most of the week. That is, until 5 minutes before we were set to leave, when I managed to accidentally spill the beans. While I pretended to be upset at this slip, I wasn't all that concerned, because I had emailed the restaurant's general manager earlier in the day, and requested two glasses of champagne and our favorite cheese flight be waiting on our arrival. Just as I'd hoped, the look my wife gave me as we arrived at our table more than offset the blown surprise, and I knew her simple "You punk" confirmed her delight.
The Champagne and English Cheddar

If you follow along here often, you may remember that I previously reviewed Cuvee for my friends at Zest Florida Foodie. On that day, neither of us were in the mood for a huge meal, so we opted to go tapas style and sampled several of Cuvee's appetizers. For this visit, there would be no wimpy display of consumption, because I came hungry.....


Some of the many wines offered at Cuvee

First we started off with the previously mentioned Belton Farms English Cheddar cheese flight. We discovered this cheese on our previous visit, and to the casual observer it may have been tough to tell which I loved more; my wife, or the cheese. The stuff is delicious, and part of me wishes it could be part of every meal, although I'm sure my arteries would disagree.

The unique "Cuveene" system

After we finished our champagne, we took a stroll around the restaurant attempting to decide which wine we would try next. Cuvee's interactive system for dispensing wine is very unique, and is as big, if not a bigger, reason to visit the restaurant. The system offers nearly 100 wines, and allows guests to choose 3 different size pours, with full glass prices ranging from $5-$112. Being in the mood for a solid red, I opted for the Chateau Montelena Cabernet, while my wife opted for a blend who's name fails me.


The Ahi Tuna

Getting back to the food, I chose the appetizer special for the evening, which happened to be one of my favorites...Seared Ahi Tuna. The dish was absolutely gorgeous, and to my delight tasted as good as it looked. For her appetizer, my wife went with the Tuscan Scallops, which I had enjoyed on our previous visit. These were served in a rosemary sauce with bits of pancetta, and were so rich she was unable to eat them all, which brought a somewhat evil grin to my face...

The Tuscan Scallops...I stole one.

After successfully executing my plot to obtain her last scallop, we moved on to our mains. My wife chose the special of the evening, which was a black grouper served atop lobster risotto. When the plate arrived, about the only thing which would have made my mouth water more at that point, was if chocolate sauce was somehow incorporated into the dish. Once again, she managed to only eat half the serving, with the leftovers no doubt making the best lunch in history. (Correction: Apparently I paid no attention to what my wife ordered, because it was not the grouper. Insert same review for the Pollo Caprese here).

The wife's entree...The Pollo Caprese

I was feeling carnivorous this evening, so for my entree I went with the Filet Mignon, which was paired with the customary mashed potatoes and asparagus. I threw the chef a curve ball when I requested some bearnaise sauce, and when the soup sized bowl of heaven arrived, it was clear this was no redi-mix. As for the steak, it was perfectly cooked, and would rival any premier steakhouse I've visited.

The Filet and Bearnaise

As for dessert, well the decision to order the Bananas Foster was made far earlier in the evening. I must admit, I'm not a big fan of bananas, so I've only had this dessert on a couple of occasions. While preparing the dish tableside, our server Dana explained they deep freeze the ice cream for several days, to ensure it doesn't become a soupy mess when mixed with the bananas. After a few bites, I was wondering how many moments of happiness I'd deprived myself in the past, by steering clear of this awesome dessert.

Dana's awesome version of Bananas Foster

Speaking of Dana, his service was exceptional, and that's probably an understatement. When he heard I tried the Montelena Cabernet, he gave me the full background on the winery, and their feature in the movie Bottle Shock. A true professional, he was attentive to all of our needs, but did so in an understated way that didn't interfere with our dinner.

From the wine, to the food and service, everything about our dinner at Cuvee was simply outstanding. Sure I blew the surprise of our destination, but everything from then on was simply exceptional. So if you're tired of your friends making you look bad, take her out to Cuvee Wine & Bistro, and you'll be guaranteed a little bit of redemption.

Enjoy Your Stay


Cuvee Wine & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Dear 'Ohana, I've Been Wrong About You....A Review

As my wife and I arrived with some friends at Disney's Polynesian Resort, I went to great lengths to put on a happy face. Under normal circumstances, putting on a happy face at Disney wouldn't be a challenge, but the four of us were set to join more friends for dinner at 'Ohana, which had long been perhaps my least favorite place to eat in all of Walt Disney World. To intentionally subject myself to a restaurant I hate is the kind of masochistic activity I tend to avoid, but on this evening, I was mostly along for the ride, so I prepared myself for two hours of self inflicted torture. Or so I thought....
The Tambu Lounge outside 'Ohana

We were greeted by the hostess with the customary background story to the meal, that 'Ohana means family, and all of us were brothers, sisters, and cousins for the evening yada yada yada. With my jaded distaste for this largely beloved restaurant reaching its crescendo, I made my way past the giant open grill, and took my seat at the end of the table, with my eyes comfortably secured in the back of my head.
Ohana Disney PolynesianThe Enormous Open Grill

As I sat sipping my mojito and enjoying the conversation around the table, I thought back to my previous two visits here, where the seeds of my disdain for 'Ohana were planted. After a few moments of reminiscing, I started to realize that up till now I hadn't given the restaurant a fair shake. Our only visit for dinner came after an epic night at Jellyrolls, where more alcohol was consumed by our group than the cast of Sex and the City on a tour of the Grey Goose distillery. The next time we came to 'Ohana was for breakfast, where 100 kids were armed with Hawaiian music shakers, which was no doubt fun for them, but since none of the kids enjoying themselves were my own, my brain wanted to explode after about 47 seconds. Needless to say, the baggage I brought to the table didn't set 'Ohana up for success on these visits, and I'd held it against them ever since.

Ohana Disney PolynesianThe Dining Room

The first round of food made its way to the table about the same time the Hawaiian entertainer began to enhance the theme with some native melodies. The 'Ohana of my memory featured a somewhat scary performer that couldn't get to the end of their set fast enough for me. But this time around, the absence of a jackhammer inside my head allowed me to enjoy his almost charming songs, and perhaps more telling, had me wondering what else I'd been wrong about with 'Ohana. The answer to that question came with my first bite of food...
Ohana Disney PolynesianThe Famous Pineapple Drinks

The meal at 'Ohana starts off with salad, noodles, vegetables, Asian style pot-stickers and chicken wings all served "family style." I'm not exactly a fan of "family style" dining, because when I'm in a restaurant, the last thing I want to do is manage the logistics of passing a giant bowl of food from person to person, while trying to avoid spilling one of the 9 glasses of water on the table, or anything else deemed embarrassing in a public place. If I wanted to do all that, I'd just stay home, but in a restaurant, "family style" is for the birds. But I digress...

Ohana Disney PolynesianThe Noodles and Vegetables

My annoyance was soon forgotten, however, as I started to enjoy each of the items. The salad, vegetables, and noodles were all good but the chicken wings...oh the chicken wings. Served in an Asian citrus sauce with just the right amount of spice, they were, in a word, awesome. As I enjoyed the wings, I had a flashback to our recent trip to Disney's Vero Beach resort, and my tastebuds confirmed what I'd already been wondering...these wings tasted the exact same as the ones I'd loved there. I was convinced in that moment that if the meal ended right then, I'd walk away perfectly happy and content. No sooner had this thought crossed my mind, when our server arrived holding three giant, dripping skewers in his hands.

Ohana Disney PolynesianThe Chicken Wings And Other Less Important Stuff

The main event at 'Ohana, and the reason why they can pack it in night after night, is well, the meat...lots of meat. They serve pork, chicken, shrimp, and steak in a "rodizio" style, much like Fogo de Chao, or other Brazilian steakhouses which are growing in popularity of late. In contrast to my feelings on "family style," I absolutely love "rodizio." Servers make their rounds through the dining room carrying freshly grilled portions of meat on skewers, and just as soon as you find yourself with an empty plate, poof...more appears as if conjured by Hermione Granger. I mean, really, what's not to like?

Ohana Disney PolynesianHis Belly is Happy After 'Ohana Too 

Just because a restaurant brings me something in unlimited portions, however, does not automatically make it good. In fact, most of the time I'd say that sort of set up all but guarantees a less enjoyable food experience. Nothing could have been further from the case with 'Ohana. The beef, while no filet mignon, was tender and perfectly cooked. The shrimp were amazing, and yet again the chicken was a hit. The pork was the only slight blemish in that it was overcooked, but I was able to disguise this with one of the several dipping sauces provided for the table. In a nutshell, I was blown away by the quality of the food at 'Ohana, especially for a place that seats what I would estimate at several hundred people in one evening.

As the meal drew to a close, I sat back in complete and total satisfaction. So much so, that I skipped the bread pudding and ice cream dessert, knowing that no amount of sugar would make me happier than I was in that moment. It was an all around great evening of friends and food, and from this moment on, it's safe to say that 'Ohana finds itself near the top of our favorite places to eat while at Disney.

To 'Ohana, I'd like to offer my sincere apology. I'd wrongly judged you for many years, and for that slight, I'm deeply sorry. I hope to make it up to you whenever our paths cross again in the future.

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej

'Ohana on Urbanspoon