Deej's Picture of the Week


The dessert buffet at Disneyland's Club 33. I may or may not have stopped here before eating my entree.

Want to hear more about our visit to this Disneyland icon? Stop back by on Monday!

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

Review: The Napa Rose Chef's Counter

There aren't too many that would admit to cancelling a reservation at a fine restaurant in favor of a Big Mac, but sadly I'm that guy. Three years ago my wife and I made our first trip to Disneyland, and on the last night of our adventure opted for McDonald's instead of the "big" meal we had planned. Granted, that was my first experience with a Big Mac and life has been more complete ever since, but I've carried regret ever since that inexplicably dumb decision. This time around, I was determined to not only see through that original meal, but top it by dining at the Chef's Counter of the famed Napa Rose.

Napa Rose Chefs Counter
Our Seats For The Evening

I heard about the Chef's Counter from my friends at the Disney Food Blog, and was excited to try this unique experience.  As usual, we arrived to the Grand Californian Hotel - where the restaurant is located - about 20 minutes early so we could enjoy a pre-dinner beverage, and were seated at the counter right on time. Napa Rose features a huge exhibition kitchen, and Chef's Counter guests are seated along the perimeter with a perfect view of all the action. There are two seatings for the Chef's Counter each evening - 5:30 & 8:30pm - of which we opted for the latter following a full day at the parks.
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
The Bar at Napa Rose
Once we were settled into our seats I was immediately transfixed on the activity in the kitchen. It was like watching an episode of Iron Chef unfold before my eyes, and I was playing the role of Mo Rocca. Our server explained that we had three options for the evening's menu. We had the choice of ordering off the restaurant's traditional or pre-fixe menus, or we could simply allow the Chef to create the experience for us with each course being a complete surprise. We of course went with the third option, adding a level of suspense to the excitement of the evening.
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
The Action in the Kitchen

The Chef de Cuisine - Gloria - was running the show for the night, and she stopped by to introduce herself and inquire about any allergies or dislikes. It would have taken all night to list the things I prefer not to eat if given the choice, so instead I only asked her to avoid nuts if possible. 
A Rare Sight...The Chef Working the Line

Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
The Amuse Bouche

After a few minutes of admiring the action in the kitchen, we were presented with an amuse bouche to start the food festivities. Ever have a Good Humor ice cream cone with the solid piece of chocolate at the bottom of the cone? Well imagine that same delectable bite, but replace the chocolate with salmon tartar. My taste buds were certainly amused, and I quickly drafted a letter to the folks at Good Humor with a new product idea.
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
Tiger Salad

My next course was the Tiger Salad, while my wife was presented with the Yellowtail Carpaccio. The salad featured the best of both worlds, with spicy beef being alongside lobster tempura. I first tasted my wife's carpaccio and began to have a little bit of envy, but it immediately subsided with the first bite of the Tiger Salad.
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
Salmon Carpaccio

Before our third course I inquired with Chef Gloria as to the beautiful stuffed peppers I had seen prepared earlier. I should have known that this would end up being my next dish, and it tasted just as good as it looked. Not to be outdone, the wife was presented what might have been the biggest scallop I've ever seen. It was like a scallop steak...two words that should appear together more often. 
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
The Wife's Scallop Steak

For my fourth course, Chef would not tell me anything about the dish before I tasted it. A few bites in she informed me it was Rabbit Meatloaf which was served with some caramelized mushrooms. I'm glad I hadn't earlier shared my distaste for fungi or meatloaf because I seriously would have missed out. Appropriately enough given her love for Latin food, my wife's course was a stuffed tamale which she had finished before I could ask for a bite. I'll assume that meant it was good...
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
Rabbit Meatloaf

By this point in the evening we were thoroughly full, but there were still 3 courses to come. For our mains my wife was given the Filet Mignon with Truffle Mac & Cheese. It was here that I was convinced Chef Gloria and my wife were actually pals in a previous life. 
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
The Filet Mignon

After picking up my jaw from the floor I dug into my dish of Lamb Porterhouse. While I have had plenty of porterhouses in my day, this was my first experience with the lamb version, and as with the rest of the meal it didn't disappoint. Perhaps better was it didn't leave me wishing for a three hour nap afterwards. 
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
My Lamb Porterhouse

For dessert Chef gave us the choice of either a cheese course or something sweet. She must have sensed we were torn between the two, because she actually wound up bringing us both. The cheeses were incredible, but I was even more amazed at the preparation that went into such a tiny plate. 
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
Our Beautiful Cheese Plate

After our surprise course we were finally ready for the final dish of the evening. My wife enjoyed the Warm Pumpkin Bundt Cake, which again I'll assume was tasty because I was not offered a bite. My cap was the Tahitian Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee, which was probably the perfect choice, given I was working on reserve stomach capacity by this point. 
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
Warm Pumpkin Bundt Cake

An ironic note from the meal...just about every dish my wife received would typically have been something I ordered, and vice versa. This created a lot of "entree envy" throughout the meal, but I was glad it happened this way because it forced both of us out of our comfort zones.
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
Creme Brulee...Oh Yeah, it was our anniversary.

In addition to the amazing food, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the evening was the interaction with the staff. Just about everyone working in the kitchen made a stop by our counter at one point or another, and they were all clearly very proud of their work, and deservedly so. In the beginning I felt weird asking questions while someone was working, assuming they must really get tired of it, but by the end of the evening it felt very natural and I knew most by name. Chef Gloria and her staff put on an amazing evening for us, even with a full restaurant and a 50-top party seated outside. 
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
A Truly Great Evening

I've used a lot of words here to describe our experience at the Napa Rose Chef's Counter, but in reality all I really needed was one.....awesome. As we left the restaurant I assumed that it would be hard to top that experience, but little did I know we would do so just 12 hours later...

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

Napa Rose at Grand Californian on Urbanspoon

Walt Disney World vs Disneyland - The Great Debate

"Which is better...Disneyland or Disney World?" 

One of life's age old questions to which there will never be an answer.

When friends or family would ask where we traveled over the last couple weeks, most seemed to have the same reaction when I told them Disneyland and Vegas. "Disneyland?" they would ask, perplexed as to why a guy would travel cross-country to visit a place that he can find 90 minutes away in Orlando. As any Disney fan can tell you, however, there are many stark differences between the two resorts, and the debate as to which is better is one that will never be resolved.
Proof I Won at Toy Story Mania

My heart of course belongs to "The Florida Project," and as I walked the grounds of Disneyland last week I couldn't resist making comparisons to Disney World in Orlando. While any attempt to resolve this Great Disney Debate would be futile, what follows is this Disney World fan's perspective on the original House of Mouse. 

Things I love about Disneyland 

The Original - There is a aura of nostalgia around Disneyland that one can never experience in Florida for one key reason....Walt himself. As you enter Disneyland you're quickly reminded that this was Walt's park, with the sight of his still intact apartment above the fire station on Main Street. 

The Monorail - In Orlando the monorail serves as a source of transportation between some of the parks and resorts, while in California it is basically a ride. There is one important difference, however, which makes this version better than it's Florida counterpart....you can ride in the back. As a monorail junkie, being allowed to ride in the back ranks among the top 5 coolest things I've ever done....OK so "coolest" might not be the right word here.
video


Park Hopping - Try walking out the front gate of any park in Orlando, and enter another within 2 minutes. Yeah, it can't be done. At Disneyland, however, the entrances to both parks are literally a stone's throw apart, making park hopping quite easy. Which is good because I quickly grow tired of the crowds in Disneyland, and prefer the more laid back California Adventure (more on that later). 

Space Mountain - The Disneyland version is better...Trust me.
Music, Faster, Side by Side Seating = Better

Food - In Orlando your choices for quick food on the go are pretty much limited to lame burgers, chicken nuggets, turkey legs, and cardboard pizza. Try finding spicy Korean beef and rice or soups served in a fresh sourdough bowl in the Magic Kingdom. Go ahead, I'll wait...

Things I not-so-love about Disneyland 

Seclusion - There is none. Thanks to its thousands of acres of property, the outside world rarely makes an appearance in Orlando, however this is not the case at Disneyland. There are 14 IHOPs within a two block radius of the resort, and guests of such fine establishments as the Jolly Roger Motel and Candy Cane Inn could pole vault into the park if they so chose. Staying at one of the Disneyland hotels can help in overcoming this obstacle, but your wallet will also be far lighter as a result. 

Crowds - OK, so at any theme park there are going to be crowds, Cartman taught me that. But at Disneyland park in particular, the layout can cause the experience to feel less like a theme park and more like Times Square on New Years Eve. California Adventure seems to handle the crowds much better, although I guess one could argue that is also due to a lack of attendance. Either way, prepare to take lots of baby steps...literally. 

The Matterhorn - As a kid, I always wanted to experience this ride...As an adult, it leaves me feeling like I was in a head on car accident.
On The Matterhorn - The Smile Belies My Pain

I tried really hard here to come up with more things I don't like about Disneyland, but in the end I failed. The fact is I love Disneyland, just in a different way than I love Disney World, sort of like the relationship I have with my dog and cat. 

As expected, my trip to Disneyland had no impact on my allegiance in the Great Debate. What I learned, however, is that it is imperative to have an open mind when visiting Disneyland as a Walt Disney World fan.  The differences between the two far out number their similarities, but as my mom told me when I was a kid, being different makes you special, and Disneyland certainly is different.

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

Magical Blogorail Teal - The Disney Bucket List

Welcome to those of you joining me from Capturing Magical Memories and those of you just hopping aboard. I am the 2nd stop on our Magical Blogorail as we explore each of our Disney bucket lists.

When it comes to my life of travel to the Disney parks, I've had a pretty good run to date. Since we are somewhat local, we manage to visit Disney World about once a month, and over the years have stayed in each of the resort's hotels. We've visited Disneyland in California twice, most recently as last week, and on both occasions were fortunate to dine at the iconic Club 33. We've even crossed the pond to experience Disneyland Paris, although both trips were the only time in my life where Disney was the less important destination. When it comes to my Disney bucket list, however, it is pretty clear by looking at a map where I must go next....Asia.
The Paris version of this famous statue.
The ultimate "bucket list" Disney trip would take place in about five years, and would include a visit to the shiny new Shanghai Disneyland, followed by a stop at Mickey's other digs in Hong Kong and Tokyo. Since I'm halfway around the world, I'd also throw in a visit to Singapore for good measure, although I realize there isn't a Disney park there....yet. Of all the places I'd like to visit in the world, these cities all rank in the top 10, even without considering the presence of a Magic Kingdom. The fact I could visit Mickey, and be able to claim I've visited all of the Disney parks, is simply a bonus. 

Guess I better start saving now...

Thank you for joining me today. Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail Loop is YourFirstVisit.net.

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard.

1st Stop ~ Capturing Magical Memories
2nd Stop ~ The World of Deej
3rd Stop ~ YourFirstVisit.Net
Final Stop ~ The DisneyFAITHful

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej

Disneyland and Las Vegas - A Tebowing Preview

After a great week of travel, we have returned home from our adventure to Disneyland and Las Vegas. There will be plenty of awesome posts in the coming days and weeks, but here's a quick preview....Tebow style. Enjoy!



Disneyland

Paradise Pier

California Screamin'

Tower of Terror

Disneyland Railroad Station

Sleeping Beauty Castle

The Back of the Monorail

Club 33

Caesars Palace

Group Effort at Caesars Trevi Fountain

Bellagio

Bellagio Fountains

5 Diamond Tebow
Stay tuned for more from our trip, but in the meantime I'm curious....Have you joined the Tebowing craze?


~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~


Deej

2011 - The Lessons I Learned Through Travel

It is that time of year again. As we bid farewell to 2011 and welcome 2012, it seems natural to take a moment to reflect on the year that was, and the things we may have learned along the way. I realize that I'm a couple weeks early here, but considering I'm presently in Vegas, it is probably best I look back on the lessons of 2011 before, as opposed to after my visit to Sin City. That, and the blogosphere is sure to be littered with these posts in the days leading up to 2012, so for once I'm attempting to be a trendsetter. So without further adieu, here's a look at some of my travels this year, and what I learned along the way.

I opened the year with a visit to the new Amway Center in Orlando, and learned that the real attraction was the stadium itself, not the game.

After avoiding the temptation for over a year, we finally paid a visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. It lived up to the hype....
Wait for my turn with the Sorting Hat...
In February I put together a plan to spectate Disney's Princess Half Marathon, where my wife was joining thousands of other crazies for an early morning run. Turned out my plan was nearly just as crazy.

We spent Spring Break eating our way around Walt Disney World. The best meal of the week was compliments of Citricos at the Grand Floridian Resort. Thanks to the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival, I was able to see Japanese Cherry Blossoms in bloom for the first time.
Epcot's beautiful Japanese Cherry Blossoms
Our summer adventures started in Austin, where we visited the theme park that is the original Whole Foods Market. I also learned in Austin that Barcelona is one heck of a football team.

The Summer of Deej continued in Atlanta, where I discovered that I actually am cool enough to stay at a W Hotel. We also made our traditional visit to an Atlanta institution...The Varsity.

Next we traveled to Washington D.C., mainly to watch my beloved Manchester United take on Barcelona in a rematch of the previously mentioned Champions League Final. Here I learned Samantha Brown has great taste in hotels, and also enjoys making her fans blush.
Sam Brown wrote me on Twitter. Best...Day...Ever.


The final stop on our summer tour was Disney's Vero Beach Resort, where we got in plenty of games of gin rummy, and enjoyed my favorite thing at the beach....rain! 

As we moved into the fall, we made our traditional visits to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, and also took part in the Wine & Dine Half Marathon. I retired from competitive running shortly thereafter...

In early November I visited the Carpet Capital of the World, and came to understand why so many people use their vacation time to observe leaves on trees.
Beautiful setting for a great day of golf.
Finally, our final adventure of the year was to a gem of old Florida, the Mission Inn Resort. My wife learned she enjoys golf, and I discovered I'm lousy at shuffleboard.

Without a doubt, 2011 was a great year, and 2012 promises to be just as exciting. I learned plenty along the way, and I'm sure Vegas is teaching me a few more hard lessons as we speak.

What did you learn while traveling in 2011? 

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej

Guest Review: The Don Cesar Beach Resort

Today I welcome my good friend Tracy Wiu with a guest review on an iconic hotel of old Florida...The Don Cesar. Take it away Tracy!

I love to travel and try to get away more often than not. I am also very frugal and believe in always finding the best deal. When my weekly email from Sniqueaway.com arrived in my inbox a few months ago, and the picture of the gorgeous pink palace also known as the Don Cesar Resort appeared on my computer screen, I knew I had to take advantage of the discounted rate.

So my husband and I cleared our schedules, took a couple days off of work and headed west. The drive from Orlando was easy – all highway and no fuss. A couple hours later, we see the pink palace from a distance. I was getting excited.

The Don Cesar


When you pull up to the Don Cesar, it seems like the only option is valet parking. Again, I love to save money and did some research beforehand. There is self parking for a fee and for the most part it’s pretty convenient. We parked and took our luggage up a flight of steps to the lobby since there is no elevator from the self parking area. Thank goodness we were only staying for two nights. I suggest you drive up and drop your stuff then go park if you have more luggage than a carry on.

We finally get to the lobby and it looked very strange. There were walls everywhere and the front desk was about the size of the one in my office. The agents greeted us and explained that they were doing construction to the front desk, and we were currently at the concierge desk. No biggie. We were upgraded to a gulf view room and were told that we got free parking and Wi-Fi (usually $22 value per night) since we booked on SniqueAway. Score! Once we were all checked in with our keys in hand, he offered to give us a brief tour of the hotel. Really? Yes please!

The Don Cesar Lobby
The Gorgeous Lobby. Photo Credit: TripAdvisor

The tour was very brief but he let us know where the pool was, the beach access, the bars, and the restaurants. He told us about the special events happening the next morning and even gave us a bottle of water for our stay. So much for not getting amazing service for booking through a discounted website, we were getting treated like royalty.

So we go to our room and it’s beautiful. It was fairly large and had a king size bed, a flat screen television, keurig coffeemaker, mini bar, and a vanity. The bathroom was tiny, unfortunately, but I don’t need to spend my time there. We dropped off our luggage, grabbed a margarita at the tequila bar, then headed to the beach. It was late and dark but the view was beautiful. The glow of the hotel from the beach was amazing. I was ready to conquer the next 2 days at this resort. 

The Don Cesar Room
The Room
The next morning we woke up and had breakfast at the Sea Porch CafĂ©. They had a breakfast buffet as well as a la carte options. I’m not a good judge of breakfast foods as I can’t stand breakfast, but the husband seemed happy. We hit up the beach for the rest of the day as well as the pool and it was amazing. When you get to the beach they have beach attendants who help you with your lounge chair and your umbrella. The only downside is there is no bar at the beach. There is also a giant sign that says “no alcohol on the beach” but no one seemed to pay attention to it as everyone had a drink in hand.

We later moved to the pool area where there was a lot going on. Music was blaring and the energy was vibrant. The pool bar was fabulous and had a long list of different frozen cocktails. We sampled two or three and enjoyed the amazing service from the bartenders. The drinks were a bit pricey (about $12 - $14 each) but the bartenders all had heavy pours and were just a pleasure to hang out with. After a day out in the sun, we decided to go back to the room and take an afternoon nap.

The afternoon nap didn’t last long as our neighbors in the room next door were throwing a party of some sort. Yup. They were laughing, playing music, laughing some more.. and I assumed there were at least 10 – 15 people in there. We didn’t say anything because we had dinner plans. So off to dinner we went.

We had dinner reservations at the Maritana Grille. I had heard amazing reviews of this restaurant and well, it did not disappoint. We ordered our food and were pleasantly surprised when they presented us with an amuse bouche. For our appetizers, I had the oysters, which were amazing. The hubby played it safe with the Maryland Crabcakes – which were mostly crab and not much cake. 
Don Cesar Maritana Grille
Oysters anyone?
I stuck with the seafood theme and ordered an amazing seabass for dinner. Hubby had the filet. Both amazing. For dessert, I had a soufflĂ© and my husband ordered the Bavarian Reveal. Some guests were calling it the “Lady Gaga” which made the manager very unhappy. Check out the video and you’ll figure out why...

video


The service was literally one of the best we’d ever had. It was formal, yet casual, and very specific. For dessert, I wanted a dessert wine, a port to be specific. I don’t know my ports very well and asked the server to surprise me. Well surprised me he did. He showed up with 3 different dessert wines and proceeded to give me a bit of history on each one. Fantastic. Although dinner at the Maritana Grille cost more than what we paid for our room, it was worth every penny.
Too....Many....Choices...


When we got back from dinner at around 11:00 pm, the next door neighbor’s party was still going on full swing. Since we weren’t invited to partake in their celebration, we decided to finally call the front desk since I really wanted to get some sleep. They quickly obliged and the party finally ended and off to dream land we went.

All in all, the Don Cesar is a beautiful and very elegant hotel. Unfortunately, it is showing it’s age in some places but they are slowly upgrading it. The service is still that of a five star hotel and the history of the establishment is quite noticeable within. Would I go back? Absolutely, especially if another great deal came along, and I would definitely visit the Martina Grille again should I be in the area. 

Thank you to Tracy for stopping by today. You can tag along with her adventures and quest for stardom on her blog or on Facebook.



Deej's Picture of the Week

Inspired by my upcoming trip to Vegas, I decided to take a look at some oldies from my last visit there. I was a sucker for one of the overpriced Grand Canyon helicopter tours, but in the end it was perhaps the most memorable experience of the trip.

It will be interesting to see how the skyline has changed...

Scratch that off the list...Gosh, what happened to all my hair?
We will be skipping the helicopter tour this time around, but I'm sure there are many future "Pictures of the Week" to come...

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

Identity Crisis - The Quest For My Blogging Niche

It is 3:15 in the morning on a night not long ago, and I find myself staring at the ceiling unable to sleep. Perhaps the Starbucks I had shortly before bed had something to do with it, but the bigger culprit are the swirling thoughts running through my head. On this sleepless night, I wasn't concerned with money, or a sick loved one, or if the Euro would see the light of 2012. No, my lack of sleep was due to reasons far more trivial in the grand scheme of things. I was worried about my blog...

Over the last year or so, an internal struggle has been waged over the direction of my little corner of cyberspace. When I started The World of Deej, I assumed that about the only people stopping by would be my wife, mom, and maybe a few good friends. Fast forward about six months and I began to realize that there were actually people reading this stuff - some of them on a regular basis. I had been given a taste of heroin for new bloggers - the unique visitor - and I wanted more...lots more. So like any self respecting male, now that the project was started I decided it was time to read the instructions. 

I came across countless articles from more established bloggers on what has made them successful. As I went from article to article, there was one refrain that kept being repeated...Find a niche, find a niche, find a niche.  There was just one problem....I don't have one. I mean, sure, I identify myself as a travel blogger, but that is about as specific as saying I'm from North America. According to these guys, however, I had to have a niche, and for whatever reason I decided to search for one at 3:15 in the morning.


My inner turmoil continued on for the next few months, and just about every day brought a new idea or direction for my blog. I registered three completely different domain names, thinking that I would shut down The World of Deej altogether, and start again with XYZ being my niche. The problem with sticking to a niche, however, is that it meant dropping some topics from my writing. I love writing about hotels, restaurants, and Disney just the same, and to drop one in favor of the other seemed silly. Sure, a niche would be good in the eyes of Google Analytics, but would it be good for me?

It went on like this for a while, until one day I came across a post from my friends at yTravel Blog titled "To All New Travel Bloggers." It was as if the post had been written just for me. Here was one of the more established blogs that I respected telling me that they once felt the exact same way, and sometimes they still do. The message was clear...be yourself, do this for you and no one else. 

The quest for my niche is over, and in the end the entire process brought me right back where I started. The World of Deej is simply a travel blog based on my various adventures. It will probably never get any more specific than that, but after a year of struggle, I'm once again sleeping at night.

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year...To Travel

The holidays are upon us, and while for many that means family gatherings, frenzied trips to the mall, and plenty of baking (mom there better be baking), for me it means it is time to travel. We plan a big trip around the holidays every year, and certainly this year is no different. Some call me crazy because that travel almost always involves heading to the cold, but that is usually by design. There is something about hot and humid Florida doesn't say "the holidays" to me. So while birds and most tourists head south this time of year, we usually do the opposite. Here's a look at my favorite memories of holiday travel from the last few years....

Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville at Christmas
A blanket of snow greeted us
Asheville at Christmas

Asheville at Christmas
The Biltmore Estate
Walt Disney World

Disney at Christmas
I really want this tree.
Disney at Christmas
This one is pretty awesome too - Grand Floridian
Disney at Christmas
The famed gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian
Disney at Christmas
They should keep it like this year round.
New York City

New York at Christmas
The tree at Rock Center
New York at Christmas
And of course, a little last minute shopping.

This year our adventures take us to a couple destinations synonymous with holiday travel...Disneyland and Vegas. OK, so that might be a bit of a stretch for Vegas, but I'm sure there's gotta be a Christmas tree somewhere in Sin City. Man...talk about irony.

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej