giant shrimp

Orlando, FL

90 posts in this topic

impressions can get a bit skewed when you're on the road, especially in orlando, but seasons 52 had really good food when i ate there in january. have yet to check out rock creek restaurant. by the way, how is thyme square doing these days? our last meal there a few years was a shambles, but i assume that somebody would have turned out the lights by now if they had not made substantial improvements.

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I wholeheartedly agree. Not one for health food, salads or calorie counting, I was skeptical, but we had a great meal. Based on the number of appetizers we ordered (lots of flatbread varieties), we took in a lot of calories. But the entree I had, pork tenderloin IIRC, was delicious.

impressions can get a bit skewed when you're on the road, especially in orlando, but seasons 52 had really good food when i ate there in january.

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This is an excerpt from an article I wrote about Orlando restaurants last Fall for a trade publication in my industry. The purpose of the article is to do an overview of restaurants in the same city that our convention is in. This particular year was Orlando. Because I travel to Orlando regularly I have gone to Seasons 52 many times, each time leaving wishing they would open one here :

"In February of last year one of the newest trends in the future of the restaurant industry in the United States took its first step with the opening of a concept restaurant in Orlando. Darden Restaurants, known for the locally extremely popular Bahama Breeze along with Red Lobster and Olive Garden, took a virtual leap with the “knockout” opening of the two hundred fifty seat Seasons 52 where every “generous” entrée served is no more than 475 calories. This includes grilled jumbo sea scallops with sautéed fresh asparagus and toasted pearl pasta, herb ricotta ravioli with julienne vegetables and garlic broth, sesame glazed salmon chop salad with citrus soy dressing, a six oz. filet mignon with sautéed spinach, grilled wild mushrooms and “big steak” potatoes as well as a large bowl of black mussels steamed in orange ginger broth.

The menu changes every few weeks offering fresh seasonal products (52 weeks of the year, thus the name). Much is grilled over oak and olive oil is used rather than butter. Paper thin flatbread starters feature grilled steak and crimini mushrooms along with artichokes, goat cheese and fresh herbs among others. Desserts include $1.95 individually sized desserts which fill a tall shot glass such as carrot cake with rum sauce and bananas Foster sundae. In fact some diners order literal trays of shot glasses each topped with a different dessert. So much for calories! Seventy wines are also offered by the glass.

This is the hottest restaurant anywhere near Orlando with long lines even on weeknights to match. A second one is under construction but will not open until December. Prices for entrees range from $8 to 20."

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I enjoyed Seasons 52 a few months ago when I was down there. Definitely the type of place that would do well in DC.

Timpano has actually started serving the single-size desserts, but they are nowhere near as good as the ones at Seasons 52.

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Since someone morphed this into a dinning in Orlando thread, I will add my 2 cents, and 52 will not be mentioned. I used to be forced to visit Plasticland several times a year, and the only saving grace was a decent meal.

If you find yourself stranded in this souless place, I would recommend sticking with big hunks of beef. Charly's and Vito's offer some very nice beef. The portions are over the top even for a steak house. The cakes that are offered as part of the dessert selections are easily eight layers tall. I once split one at a table for four, and we could not finish it.

But the best steak to be had in that city is at Del Frisco's. This is the original location and not owned by the same group that owns the chain (Del Frisco's is the best chain restaurant I have ever been to). The meat is crusted with salt, and served on a very hot platter. The meat is cooked less than you order it, but this is because it continues to cook on the platter. This is no cheap steak cooked in butter (Ruth's), but aged prime meat that is dream enducing.

Outside of beef, not much stands out in my memory of Orlando, and I am happy to say, I do not have to go back anytime soon.

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Del Frisco's on Lee road (on the "far side of downtown") was actually opened by a close friend of the owner of the original Del Frisco's in Dallas. I first went to the Dallas original in the mid '80's when it was considered the city's best steak house. For a number of years this was the only other Del Frisco's until the original owner sold out to Lone Star who subsequently opened a number of Del Frisco's around the country. But Orlando, I believe more faithful to the original, is still the best. I agree with Steve, this is the best of all "chain" restaurants. In addition to beef the sides are outstanding: batter dipped inch thick sweet onion rings, superb cream of spinach, a ripe heirloom or beefsteak tomato sliced 1/2 inch thick layered with sweet onion and topped with excellent crumbled roquefort cheese and the house viniagrette, Strawberries Romanoff which are nestled in fluffs of house whipped heavy cream infused with Grand Marnier. I believe that next to Luger's in Brooklyn this may be the best steak house in America-in the unlikeliest of places.

I also agree with Steve about Charley's and Vito's which are owned by the same group.

Seasons 52 by the way was started by the former chef from Disney's California Grill which may give an indication of the standard it is held to. Don't let the Darden association mislead you.

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I am sitting with a Floridian in my office who lives near Gainesville who says that Butcher's Block has one of the most elegant interiors he has ever seen (at least in a Florida establishment) and the "food is pretty damned good." It's on International and Jamaica in Orlando. Anyone been?

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Seasons 52, which pioneered this concept on Sand Lake road in Orlando, was the highest grossing restaurant in its first year in the Darden chain. This includes Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze and a few others yet the food at Seasons 52 is very similar to Disney's California Grill. As it should be. The founding chef is the same at both. This is the list of awards it has won in its first two years: http://www.seasons52.com/media/awards.asp Seasons 52 also has a dark, supper club type of ambience sort of like an upscale Bonefish Grill. Additionally it features a 60 seat bar and about 75 or so wines by the glass. After 8 there is a pianist who sits in the middle of the oval bar which transitions into what has now become Orlando's hottest meeting spot for the over 30 crowd.

I've had five dinners so far at this restaurant plus one this coming Sunday. Rock Creek is one of numerous restaurants around the country that are now helping grow what is arguably the hottest trend in the industry. My wife and I will probably try Rock Creek within the next week. It will be interesting to see how it compares to the restaurant which started all this. If it is even close the drive from Reston to Bethesda is shorter than one might think.

Seasons 52 is going national having opened three locations with two more about to open, all in Florida. I wouldn't be surprised if a number of local groups aren't taking a serious look at this before Darden opens here. I know nothing about Rock Creek's ownership but if it is indeed successful, it would seem that more locations would be forthcoming. For Seasons 52 there may now be the issue of maintaining the level of quality which they opened with. All five of my dinners there were with the Disney chef in residence. He's gone now. It will be interesting to see if it has suffered.

Edited by Joe H

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I've been in Orlando for the past few days on business and have had the fortune of coming upon some great restaurants along International Drive and up in the Universal area that bear mentioning.

The first night, after walking by the Mercado Mall (and looking in on some very quiet restaurants), we proceeded a little further south (towards Sea World) and stopped into Vito's Chop House. Dined on a 20oz Tuscan Porter that tasted great with a reasonably priced glass of Malbec...it was no Ray's, but far better than Outback!

For lunch the next day my co-worker and I stumbled upon a Cantonese-style restaurant (can't remember the name...it had something with Hong Kong in it)serving dim sum (no carts, ordered via sheet). It had the typical greatest hits, along with non-dim sum items, one would expect and they were prepared to a high quality! This fine place was located just south of the Lighthouse Seafood Buffet (gaudy looking lighthouse) and about 10 minutes north of Vito's on I-Drive.

Later that evening we "took it up a notch" and decided to dine at Emeril's in U-Studios City Walk. We slipped in with a 5:30 (the other time for this popular choice was 9) reservation for kitchen-side seats and were blown away by the experience. I started with a homemade sausage appetizer (boudin and andouille) while my co-worker had a crabcake served with some frisee on a remoulade, both were more than satisfying. My main dish (co-worker had an Emeril's salad) was a duck breast and leg combination with a cranberry chutney, yellow curry rice, and grilled asparagus. In a word, W-O-W! A perfectly cooked medium rare duck, an amazing combination of flavors and textures, and a brilliant presentation...quite simply the best duck dish I've ever had. The meal ended with a subdued Earl Grey creme brulee. Also had a refreshing bottle of Torrontes (Argentina) throughout the experience. Was worried that a meal at U-Studios would be a tourist trap, but Emeril's was anything but!

I would've been more than happy finding only these three great places on my trip...but there was still one more to be found. Just a few blocks north of Vito's (between there and the Chinese place) on I-Drive is a shopping center with "The Crab House" and one of those "solve the mystery" restaurants. The real gem in this strip mall is a Japanese place called Hanamizuki. I feasted on a Moriawase (chef's choice) Sashimi dinner set. For $30, not only did I get 18 pieces of some of the freshest fish (tuna, salmon, snapper, yellowtail, squid, and octopus) I've ever had...but I also got several appetizers (tempura, chawanmushi, miso, etc.) and a dessert. A deal it was, but the quality was off the charts and I've dined at some of DC's finest (Sushi-Ko, Kaz's, etc.). And if sashimi isn't your thing, they also had a wide selection of traditional Japanese treats ranging from onigiri, nabe, shabu shabu, udon/soba (many kinds), and the "love it or hate it" natto.

Needless to say, I've been thrilled with our culinary finds thus far in this "tourist city". For us foodies, it seems that the general rule for success should be the less gaudy the restaurant looks on the outside, the better your dining experience will be on the inside. I've got one more day here before being shipped off to the hurricane disaster area(s), perhaps another diamond in the rough will be unearthed!

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I'm not so sure that Emeril's is a "diamond in the rough." It is also very expensive with the majority of entrees in the low to mid 30's. I've had two dinners there, hosting a total of 14 people and will not return. Picking up the check for $1000 for 8 and having to apologize is a once in a lifetime experience. But it happened to me there. My wife and I had dinner three times at the original on Tchoupolitas street (sp?) when Emeril was still there in the mid '90's and we thought this was among the very best restaurants in America. Based on my two dinners in Orlando, there was little in common. In this price range I would go to Norman's but this has also been inconsistent. I went when it first opened and Norman Van Aken himself was in the kitchen. It was awesome!!! A return visit the next year was good, but nowhere in league with the first time. Vito's, owned by the Charley's group, is an excellent mid range steak house that is enormously popular with convention groups. I like it. A lot. Still, the Del Frisco's on the far side of town is far superior.

Enzo's on the Lake is a very good, locally popular Italian restaurant considered by many to be the Orlando area's best. Straub's has very good rock shrimp and is also very popular. The best seafood restaurant overall is Disney's Flying Fish Cafe and their adjacent tapas restaurant is better than you might expect. Disney's best restaurant is their California Grill-NOT Victor and Victoria which is horrendously expensive. Your last meal should be at Seasons 52. Order the garlic chicken flatbread for your appetizer and planked salmon entree and post your thoughts about this on here. Any of a half dozen of the "fat test tubes" for dessert, especially the bananas foster. If you go, before 6:30 you should not have a problem getting a seat at the bar. In the dining room, on a weekday, the wait is one hour plus around this time (weekend two hours plus). About 80 wines by the glass.

Edited by Joe H

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I second that. Yay to Seasons 52. Boo to Emeril's. Very expensive for the quality of food offered, IMO.

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Come January 1, I am packing up the tribe and doing the hajj to Disney World (aka, Vegas for kids). I am petrified that once I leave the compound, it'll be Olive Garden's galore.

Any suggestions?

Edited by B.A.R.

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We stayed at Portofino Bay and as a result, a few of our meals took place in that general vicinity (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure). The expensive Italian place right on the Portofino property isn't going to knock your socks off with inventive cuisine, however what we ate tasted good.

Emeril's restaurants are way over-priced (shocker, right?). We had a not-bad-at-all meal at the Hard Rock Hotel's restaurant, although the service was muy screwy. Sorry, but the name is escaping me.

Try Seasons 52. It's heading in the direction of a chain, however the meal I had there in May was really good. Interesting concept too (although they don't beat you over the head with it). Oh, near Seasons 52, there's a Lebanese place that is supposed to be out of this world (they rave about it on egullet anyway).

Edited by JLK

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I spent the last 2 days in the Orlando airport. Literally. There is a Hyatt inside the airport that has meeting rooms. I did not have high hopes for the dining portions of the meeting, but, if you ever find yourself stuck in the Orlando airport around dinner time head over to Delta Gates 60-99 and go to Hemispheres in the Hyatt. I had a very moist brined and roasted pork chop with a light herb cream sauce and some of the best roasted root veggies I've ever had. Must've been the bacon tossed in with them. My boss had a very nice looking steak with mushrooms and haricot verts and a co-worker had a flash fried red snapper that disappeared mighty quickly.

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Hello from the Orlando airport. :huh: I'm very excited to be heading back to DC from this "bigger is better" land that seemingly has a TGIFridays on every corner.

Anyway...I tried to take my calorie-conscious client to Seasons 52. She would have loved it, but we couldn't get a reservation and the bar was wall-to-wall people. The PGA Merchandise Show has made Orlando even more crowded than usual.

As a result, we ended up at neighboring Cedar's (or is it Cedar? Can't recall.). I'd heard a lot about it on egullet and thought it was fine, but not significantly better than, say, Lebanese Taverna. My client, a pickier eater than I ever was, barely ate her chicken soup and timidly tasted one bite of the unfamiliar hummos. :lol: I enjoyed my mixed grill - skewers of lamb chunks, spiced/minted ground lamb and chicken. The meats were really tasty and moist; Cedar lost points for serving the meat with very bland plain white rice. Lebanese Taverna's rice is always a nice bonus for me. Steamed vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and a lone tomato half) came along for the ride and picky client enjoyed them. What can I say, I'm a giver.

I would have liked to try Cedar's baklava, but client was clearly antsy to move on to the next stop. *sigh*

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Anyway...I tried to take my calorie-conscious client to Seasons 52.  She would have loved it, but we couldn't get a reservation and the bar was wall-to-wall people.  The PGA Merchandise Show has made Orlando even more crowded than usual.

As a result, we ended up at neighboring Cedar's (or is it Cedar?  Can't recall.). 

i had a similar experience, except was with five other people and there was an almost two-hour wait for seasons 52. i think four people could have squeezed into the lounge area, however, which has quite a few tables. i just couldn't figure out how to get rid of two of our party, since i couldn't quite remember who was driving.

i found cedars a bit more interesting than you make it sound. the kebbah bil saynieh was presented as three dark triangles, a rather intriguing, unfamiliar combination of beef and wheat. it was stiff but moist, with crunch. baba ghannouj, hommos bi lahmeh and falafel were all exemplary. the flavor and body of the almaza beer were on the reticent, light side and you needed at least two because they were small. this is not a good place, however, for vegetarians. i was with one, and he didn't think they did anything special enough for him. an order of quail brought three, and if my wife had been misfortunate enought to have to accompany me on this trip and they landed on her plate i would have tried to snatch one from her. ditto with the rack of lamb. i heard and saw good things about both, without being able to taste either. the service was excellent and i would definitely check this place out further if it were convenient to do so. considering its location, i can only say fortunately it is not.

it would have been worse had you ventured a few doors further down the strip and snagged a table at roys. the dining rooms are incredibly loud and they insist on reading the menu for you, which you cannot hear. i tried the swordfish of too many ingredients, including gorgonzola, last year, and this year they were out. i wouldn't have gone for it, but they talk it up and i probably wouldn't have been able to be heard to prevent someone at our table from making the same mistake unless they were sitting with their head resting on my shoulder. the chef here typically suggests that his fish be cooked to medium well. the chocolate souffle is too much goo, but people seem to anticipate and love it. i don't pay for the annual pilgrimage to this establishment, and nobobdy forces me to go. i have been to quite a few of them, including maui, and the best one was in atlanta, though that may have changed by now. the hand in the kitchen is surprisingly heavy.

there are worse places to eat than the coffee shop at the peabody. it is diner style, and a nice place to waste time after you have spent an hour or so waiting for them to ceremoniously march in their ducks for the night. ask for a schedule of this event first.

somehow i got lost at the hard rock cafe on the way to the river that would carry me to the multiplex at universal city where i couldn't find anything better to do than watch a popular torture movie that actually didn't give up all hope, a sop to the teenagers who populate the malls and line up at the boxoffice these days. (people are even losing their toes on television, in a south american series, epitafios, which i have been watching to learn spanish, without much success, except that some of my nightmares now have spanish in them.) anyway, against my better judgment i entered the back of the hotel through an employee entrance and breezed through security but soon found i couldn't find my way back. i ended up on the lobby floor and in the changing room at the palm, and just as it looked like i was going to have to go through the kitchen and dining room to make my escape i found someone who was able to lead me to a safer route. i ended up in the kitchen, the name of the hotel's restaurant, which someone up above me has faintly praised. the mushroom risotto there was not bad. the wine was pretty good, and overpriced, by the glass. jerry garcia was being offered as a chard and cabernet; i am unsure if this vineyard is as distinctive as the music. fearing that possibility, i ordered something else. that famous rock star barbara streisand loomed over my table protectively throughout the entire meal, and this is a good place, when you find yourself alone, for dysfunctional family watching.

the next time i return to orlando, i want to do it with family. i hear there is a cafe over near celebration where they do a really nice roasted donald duck. don't order the chocolate mouse, however, unless you want to disillusion the children.

Edited by giant shrimp

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somehow i got lost at the hard rock cafe on the way to the river that would carry me to the multiplex at universal city where i couldn't find anything better to do than watch a popular torture movie that actually didn't give up all hope, a sop to the teenagers who populate the malls and line up at the boxoffice these days. (people are even losing their toes on television, in a south american series, epitaphios, which i have been watching to learn spanish, without much success, except that some of my nightmares now have spanish in them.) anyway, against my better judgment i entered the back of the hotel through an employee entrance and breezed through security but soon found i couldn't find my way back. i ended up on the lobby floor and in the changing room at the palm, and just as it looked like i was going to have to go through the kitchen and dining room to make my escape i found someone who was able to lead me to a safer route. i ended up in the kitchen, the name of the hotel's restaurant, which someone up above me has faintly praised. the mushroom risotto there was not bad. the wine was pretty good, and overpriced, by the glass. jerry garcia was being offered as a chard and cabernet; i am unsure if this vineyard is as distinctive as the music. fearing that possibility, i ordered something else. that famous rock star barbara streisand loomed over my table protectively throughout the entire meal, and this is a good place, when you find yourself alone, for dysfunctional family watching.

Just wonderful. I leave in the morning for Orlando and I'm staying at the Hard Rock. I hope someone isn't watching MY family's dysfunctional behavior. That said, I'm glad to hear Kitchen is an acceptable option....or at least the risotto.

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Just wonderful.  I leave in the morning for Orlando and I'm staying at the Hard Rock.  I hope someone isn't watching MY family's dysfunctional behavior.  That said, I'm glad to hear Kitchen is an acceptable option....or at least the risotto.

they pile on the food at kitchen, portions are pretty big. the menu is extensive, with something for everyone, and oversized desserts for the children who at least attempt to eat their vegetables. they even have a "kobe beef" burger. don't go looking for nuances in the cooking, and the tab can get pretty high, which is one of the reasons some of the dads got grouchy at tired kids who just wanted to play. i think it is okay to carry away open bottles of wine, people were doing it.

and i wouldn't worry about the dysfunctional behavior. there is so much of it going on that you and yours will most likely just blend into the crowd.

Edited by giant shrimp

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Del Frisco's on Lee road is one of the best steak houses in America. It is NOT connected to the Lone Star owned national chain. It was set up by the original owner of Dallas' Del Frisco's (from the '80's) and is owned by friends of his who wanted to create the excellence of the Dallas original in Orlando. It is by far the best steak house in Orlando. Unfortunately everyone in Orlando knows this and they go there. But, because it is on the far side of downtown, you won't find an awful lot of tourists. I 4 to Lee rd. and turn left. You can also have dinner at the bar. And the bar challenges Seasons 52 for popularity. (I was the first one to mention Seasons 52 two years ago on CH.) Seasons 52 sometimes has over two hour waits on Friday and Saturday. Also, if you get there by 6:15 or so you can usually get a bar seat even if there's a large convention in town. By 7:00 it's almost imossible unless it's a weeknight and no conventions. I've been there about 15 times over the past two years and feel pretty comfortable with these time frames.

Across the street from Seasons 52 is a decent alternative, Moonfish. Not great but locally very popular and worth checking out. Vito's is good for the price on International Drive. I also like Flying Fish and Spoodles both on Disney's Boardwalk. Spoodles is very similar to Jaleo and I think as good. Flying Fish is considered by many to be Orlando's best seafood restaurant.

Locals like Enzo's on the Lake for Italian, Maison et Jardin in Altamonte Springs and Norman's in the Ritz Carlton; the former is Orlando's version of L'auberge Chez Francois and the latter, if Norman is there, is awesome. Awesome! If he's not it's good but not great. I am not a fan of Emeril's although Tschoup Chop is better. I do like Chatham's Place which would be my number one alternative to Seasons 52, just a few blocks away. A lot of locals; signature grouper dishes.

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and i wouldn't worry about the dysfunctional behavior. there is so much of it going on that you and yours will most likely just blend into the crowd.

Too true - especially since there is rumored to be a mini-rockweiler convention going on down there at the moment. :lol:

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I am going back to DisneyWorld in a few weeks. Last time we went we ate dinner at the resto at top of the Contemporary (forgot the name), Wolfgang Pucks at Downtown Disney, and the hospital (sad long story). The food wasn't bad per se at the two Disney restos, but in my opinion had too much going on. Has anyone been there lately? Any suggestions? Thanks so much.

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It's the California Grill at the top of the Contemporary. The chef who opened it many years ago is the same chef who opened Seasons 52. Puck's places have nothing in common with Spago or Chinois in LA other than his name. I can't separate the Disney properties from Orlando so see my comments about a number of them under the Orlando thread. Supplimental to this Victoria and Albert is a remarkably expensive affectation that now pales to a number of other restaurants that have opened elsewhere in Orlando. Jiko is an interesting restaurant in the Animal Kingdom Lodge possibly worth a look. For middle of the road Bahama Breeze across I 4 is better there than elsewhere in the U. S., perhaps much better. There's another on I drive.

Disney would love to have you spend every minute of every day on their property. Don't be afraid to leave it. Last, I reviewed Orlando restaurants for a 50,000 circulation trade paper a year ago.

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We stayed at Portofino Bay and as a result, a few of our meals took place in that general vicinity (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure). The expensive Italian place right on the Portofino property isn't going to knock your socks off with inventive cuisine, however what we ate tasted good.
I will be staying at Portofino Bay for a conference in a few weeks. Any ideas to take a client to dinner?

I know there are two corporate planned dinners, one at the Italian place mentioned above, the other at Planet Hollywood.

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May have some time to catch a bite for lunch in Orlando before we fly home from vacation next month. Anyone out there know of some good local places to grab a tasty bite?

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May have some time to catch a bite for lunch in Orlando before we fly home from vacation next month. Anyone out there know of some good local places to grab a tasty bite?

There is a long thread on here about Orlando area restaurants. The bottom line to everything on that thread is Seasons 52 which is the local outpost of, yes, a chain. Scroll back for the various posts and then give serious consideration to going to Seasons 52. If you sit at the bar and arrive before 6:30 you'll have no problem. For the dining room on a weeknight there is a wait. An hour or so after 7, longer on weekends. Still, Seasons 52, from a seat at the bar is as good as it gets for this. If you're single you'll wish D. C. had a place like this...

For those reading this Seasons 52 is also opening two restaurants in Atlanta this year: Buckhead and Perimeter Mall.

It's coming north! slowly.

Edited by Joe H

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May have some time to catch a bite for lunch in Orlando before we fly home from vacation next month. Anyone out there know of some good local places to grab a tasty bite?

I should have clarified that we're flying out in the early evening and would be looking for place for a quick tasty and not too expensive lunch. Seasons 52 sounds wonderful but we'll be leaving too early to try it this time around.

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State Line is a must-stop on any road trip between here and NYC. And they have taps in the back where you can fill up a growler!

Others that I really like: Bottleworks in Seattle, Belmont Station in Portland, and obviously, Chevy Chase.

I'll be in Orlando for a wedding in a few weeks. Will try and check out #1: Knightly Spirits, and report back.

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I'll be in Orlando for a wedding a few weeks. Will try and check out #1: Knightly Spirits, and report back.

Please do. The last time I was in Orlando I searched high and low for good beer and all I could find was Cricketer's Arms, which wasn't even that good a pub.

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I'll be in Orlando for a wedding in a few weeks. Will try and check out #1: Knightly Spirits, and report back.
Please do. The last time I was in Orlando I searched high and low for good beer and all I could find was Cricketer's Arms, which wasn't even that good a pub.
I forgot to report back on Knightly Spirits. A very small shop in a strip mall, which from the outside looks like a nondescript liquor store. Beer is in two chaotic aisles in the very back. They mainly concentrate on Belgians, and there were a number I'd never seen before. Was on the way to catch a plane and didn't have the inclination to buy anything. Best beer store in the US? I don't see it.

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Anything new on the scene in Orlando? Better yet, anything good to eat between Orlando and Sebring?

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I'm down here right now and here's my short list; The Ravenous Pig, K Restaurant, Luma, Black Bean Deli(lunch only), Bubbalous Bodacious BBQ(has to be on Lee rd), Jax's 5th Ave Deli & Ale House(Lake Mary location has around 70 taps & a couple hundred bottles), in a rush Publix for fried chicken or a sub, for a glass of wine Eola Wine Bar or The Wine Room.

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Primo in the JW Marriott at Grande Lakes is my go-to when I'm in town. They were responsible for my favorite soft shell crab dish of 2008, and the wine service has been stellar.

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We were in Disney for the 2008 Epcot Food and Wine Festival and the best place that we ate while there was the California Grill at the Contemporary. The sushi was very very good and you can't beat the view. we are planning on going back in May.

Joe H mentioned the Flying Fish way up top. we ate there too and were less than impressed. For the money, the California Grill was much better.

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If you're eating on Disney property, here is a rundown of some options.

Thanks for all the tips, everyone - I'm going to research them later today. But I should have been more specific: I'll probably get dinner in Orlando tomorrow night, but after that I'm looking for good chow within, say, a half hour drive of Sebring, where I'll be the rest of the weekend.

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Flight delays made dinner in Orlando impossible, and a wacky schedule made eating at almost any restaurant difficult, but I did get to four places in Sebring: Ribmasters BBQ, Mi Rancho, Thai House, and Sebring Diner.

Maybe it was bad luck or something: I got lunch at Ribmasters not knowing it was the day before the 12 Hours of Barbeque competition* just 'round the corner at the fairgrounds, so maybe that explains the poorly cooked, barely smokey, slightly tough pork ribs. Perhaps they were busy getting ready for the event? But there was nothing masterly about the ribs.

Mi Rancho served about the worst Americanized Mexican/Salvadoran food I've ever had, and that includes a burrito from Chipotle, but at least the plantains were edible, if incredibly boring.

Thai House**, on the other hand, was amazingly good. Or maybe the seven of us were exhausted after a long day and enjoying the camaraderie and desperate for anything flavorful. I'm not sayin' to drop everything and go to Sebring just to eat at Thai House, but this was some of the best Thai food I've eaten. Dishes were slow to come out, but I overheard some talk that makes me think Mama was working hard that night. Tried to go back Friday night, but the tiny place was hoppin'.

Sebring Diner is a perfectly fine place serving perfectly fine diner food. It stands out mostly for the really nice and attentive service we saw for the regulars, a la "now, Mr. Jones, that dish is really salty. Can you have that much salt?" to a man who appeared to be in his eighties. There really are a lot of elderly people in Florida. Most of them seemed to be waiting for a seat at Sebring Diner Sunday afternoon.

-----------

*word was that the competition is not particularly spectator (eater) friendly, so I didn't go

** on US 27N just north of Sebring Parkway

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Wow, 1 year hiatus for this thread.

Is there anything new to report on the Orlando scene? My parents are headed to the area and charged me with finding them places to eat. Anything but super-high end would be good. They've even talked about a drive to the east coast, to Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach -- and are frustratingly having a difficult time locating a reputable seafood place so close to the ocean.

Thanks for reading!

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Not to continue the theme already all over this thread, but I had a business dinner at Seasons 52 this fall and it was a great meal, including some excellent local seafood.

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Not to continue the theme already all over this thread, but I had a business dinner at Seasons 52 this fall and it was a great meal, including some excellent local seafood.

Continue away - FWIW, my experience at all things culinary in Orlando is bad, bad, bad (I've never been to Seasons 52).

(Did I mention that a couple years ago, Matt and I hit ALL FOUR Disney theme parks in one day? Yep, I took Advil that night, indeed.)

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Continue away - FWIW, my experience at all things culinary in Orlando is bad, bad, bad (I've never been to Seasons 52).

(Did I mention that a couple years ago, Matt and I hit ALL FOUR Disney theme parks in one day? Yep, I took Advil that night, indeed.)

Well the update on Seasons 52 is at least pleasant to hear. I've also received intelligence that there's a Five Guys in the vicinity. (Another chain, yes, but when you're going to be in the same place for over a week, a reliable lunch spot is nice to fall back on.) Thanks for the input.

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Agree on Seasons 52. Had a nice dinner there awhile back.

I've mentally bookmarked The Ravenous Pig in nearby Winter Park for the next time I'm down there. Have heard some good things about it.

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About a week ago, my husband just went to The Ravenous Pig, based primarily on an earlier posting on Don.Rockwell.com, and had a very enjoyable meal. I've never heard him say one good thing about dining in the Orlando area, until now.

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I have lived in Orlando for 40+ years and although it is not a culinary mecca by any stretch of the imagination, there are a few independents that should, if nothing else, give you an alternative or two to all that factory food so ubiquitous, especially in the tourist areas. The Pig was mentioned above and the food there is definitely good. The service wasn't so great the last two times I was there, but I prefer to sit at the bar anyway. Here are some other suggestions:

Le Coq au Vin This is a French place located in south Orlando that's been around for about 30 years. Very good food and wine.

Chez Vincent Another nice French place located in Winter Park, just north of the Orlando city limits (close to the Ravenous Pig) This place has been around well over 10 years.

Bosphorous A Turkish restaurant with good food - a little pricey, but good. It's maybe 3 or 4 years old, not exactly sure.

Enzo's Upscale Italian, beautiful setting on a lake, great food. Been around for probably 20+ years.

K Restaurant & Wine Bar This place has good food, probably similar to New Heights although I think New Heights is better. I think it was better before the economy went south, but I would not hesitate to recommend it. Sit at the wine bar and order apps.

Logan's Bistro A nice little bistro not too far from downtown Orlando.

Shin Jung Korean Sorry for the Yelp link, but these guys don't have a website. The address, etc. should be there. This is a small Korean restaurant with good food. You can also walk along Colonial Drive in this area and within a few blocks find a dozen of so independent Vietnamese restaurants - some are probably even good :angry:.

Black Bean Deli OK, this is my favorite goto Cuban place. It is not much more than a food cart permanently attached to the ground. There are only a few seats inside and they only serve lunch - primarily take-out. But the food is great, very authentic Cuban food made by Cubans. They don't have a website, but hey, give em credit for setting up a myspace page.

As far as seafood goes, I hesitate to recommend anything. Straub's used to be pretty good way back when, but I'm not so sure now. You would think being in Central Florida, good seafood would be easy to come by. A lot of the places mentioned above usually have a seafood dish or two on the menu that are far better than I've been able to get at a dedicated seafood restaurant. There's a great place on the intracoastal waterway north of St. Augustine called Caps, but that's a good 2 hrs away. There are a couple of seafood places at the Port of Canaveral that aren't too bad and the fish is usually fresh since they're located right at the docks ... plus it's interesting watching the activity at the port.

If anyone's interested in some redneck dives, let me know!

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We flew in and out of Orlando a week ago while staying on the coast. On the way back to the airport we drove through Kissimmee and had a delicious lunch at Jerusalem Restaurant there. It's a little family-run place, a little dark, but the food is fresh and very good. If you're in that area, do give it a try.

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Just stopped through Orlando this past week while being trapped in Tampa due to the weather up here. Went to Mama Nems' for dinner after a day at SeaWorld (feed the dolphins - it's worth it!). Mama Nems' is exactly the type of food that you want to eat after going to upscale restaurants and just crave a home cooked meal. Not the best food EVER, not revolutionary, but just solid soul food.

For dinner, we did their main with three sides deal. The wife had fried chicken with red beans and rice, fried green tomatoes, and cheesy grits. The fried chicken was two thighs and a leg, well fried and seasoned - perfectly crispy on the outside, with not too much batter. The sides were good - fried green tomatoes were a little bland but the red beans and rice were rich and tasty. I had the smothered pork chops with fried okra, mac and cheese and collard greens. I was eying the oxtail (and should have gotten it!), and the pork chops were good, but not great. The pork chop was fried, then "smothered" in brown gravy. Nothing special, but the okra was great. Not slimy at all, and nice a crispy. Mac and cheese was standard and the collards were nice and smoky. Got a slice of red velvet cake to go, which had walnuts in it, so I didn't taste it. We walked out of there for around $30.

The location of this place is NOT really tourist friendly. It is relatively close to Universal, but you really need to hop in a rental car to get there. When I was in Orlando for business a couple years ago and took a cab to this place, we got stranded there trying to get home. No cabs in the area, and if it wasn't for the cops (who were also eating there) who literally pulled over a cab just so we could get in it, we would have been stuck there waiting 40 minutes for a cab to arrive. They seem to do a very healthy take-out business and very much seem to be a locals only type of joint.

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I've been lurking in DR for a couple months, but a fantastic meal at the Ravenous Pig prompted me to post. I was in Orlando recently and tried both Seasons 52 and the Ravenous Pig. Seasons 52 was okay. TPR was on a completely different level, comparable to any meal I had in DC.

I liked the flatbreads at Seasons 52 (they were almost as good as what I recently had at Willow) and liked the shotglass dessert options. The appetizers were a bit disappointing, decent but I'd say just a step above Bone Fish Grill. The entrees were serious disappointments. My dinner companion ordered crab stuffed shrimp and they tasted like cheap crabcakes. I ordered a duck and romaine lettuce salad, the first dozen bites were good but then the overly sweet dressing (seasoned with Splenda to keep under the 475 calorie?) became really cloying. The service was good. The atmosphere was very nice, with comfy seating and somewhat Balinese decor.

The food at Ravenous Pig was much better. What amazed me was the quantity and quality of the food we got for our money. All the dishes were intriguing to read about, looked great, were generously portioned, and tasted delicious. They were really consistent. All hits, not misses (except for the "interesting" bacon flavored old fashion that I ordered, but that was my fault).

Standouts for me were the Guyere biscuits (as fluffy and buttery as any southern biscuit, with veins of Guyere), the truffled fries (a beer glass full of shoestring fries smelling like heaven), the shrimp & grits, and the grilled octopus. We ordered so much appetizers that we didn't have any room for entrees or desserts, but they looked very good as well. The service was attentive and friendly, even though the restaurant was jammed pack.

I would highly recommend reservations for both places. Otherwise you might be looking at hour+ wait to be seated.

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I've been lurking in DR for a couple months, but a fantastic meal at the Ravenous Pig prompted me to post. I was in Orlando recently and tried both Seasons 52 and the Ravenous Pig. Seasons 52 was okay. TPR was on a completely different level, comparable to any meal I had in DC.

I liked the flatbreads at Seasons 52 (they were almost as good as what I recently had at Willow) and liked the shotglass dessert options. The appetizers were a bit disappointing, decent but I'd say just a step above Bone Fish Grill. The entrees were serious disappointments. My dinner companion ordered crab stuffed shrimp and they tasted like cheap crabcakes. I ordered a duck and romaine lettuce salad, the first dozen bites were good but then the overly sweet dressing (seasoned with Splenda to keep under the 475 calorie?) became really cloying. The service was good. The atmosphere was very nice, with comfy seating and somewhat Balinese decor.

The food at Ravenous Pig was much better. What amazed me was the quantity and quality of the food we got for our money. All the dishes were intriguing to read about, looked great, were generously portioned, and tasted delicious. They were really consistent. All hits, not misses (except for the "interesting" bacon flavored old fashion that I ordered, but that was my fault).

Standouts for me were the Guyere biscuits (as fluffy and buttery as any southern biscuit, with veins of Guyere), the truffled fries (a beer glass full of shoestring fries smelling like heaven), the shrimp & grits, and the grilled octopus. We ordered so much appetizers that we didn't have any room for entrees or desserts, but they looked very good as well. The service was attentive and friendly, even though the restaurant was jammed pack.

I would highly recommend reservations for both places. Otherwise you might be looking at hour+ wait to be seated.

There are now two Seasons 52 in Orlando and both are inconsistent. I've been back to the original perhaps 9 or 10 times since my last post above in '06. I continue to love the flatbreads (especially chicken and garlic; a shrimp one was good, too) and cedar planked salmon. I actually refuse to believe that many of the dishes are under 475 calories-especially the flatbreads. A bit better than Bonefish is probably a good analogy for most dishes. Still, I really like the layout and the ambience. Overall, it's not as good as, say Rock Creek here but it just works for me. Travelling to Orlando a couple of times a year for business and dining alone it is just perfect. I must also note that having been in five or six Seasons 52's and having heard 15 or 20 piano players I find something of a correlation to how much I enjoy the restaurant and how good/bad the piano player is. Most Seasons 52 also get an older crowd at the bar, I think-usually 30-45+.

I still wish there was one here.

I'll try the Ravenous Pig on a visit this spring.

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I liked the flatbreads at Seasons 52 (they were almost as good as what I recently had at Willow) and liked the shotglass dessert options.

100% agree with this assessment, these were clearly the two best things about Seasons 52 when I stopped by for lunch last Friday. I wish that more and more places would have dessert options like this as opposed to an $8+ dessert that is enough to feed four people. I am generally a glutton, but there is something to be said for having options that don't cost a lot or push my stomach to its limits.

Actually, let me correct myself, the absolute best thing about my trip there last week was the bartender, Sarai, who turned my three hour liquid lunch into a great time.

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If you are looking to go off the beaten path in Orlando, here are a couple options.

Pollo d'Oro on W Colonial Dr (SR 50) west of I-4 is some of the best rotisserie chicken ever. Is a bit of a hike if you are staying near Disney, but worth it. Map

Beefy King is a local sandwich shop that has been around for 40 years. They specialize in steamed roast beef sandwiches, but also have ham, turkey, pastrami, corned beef, BBQ beef and BBQ pork. Crispy tater tots, or 'spuds' round out this local experience. Website Map

One other that I visited recently is Johnnie's Hideaway. This might sound like a tiki themed tourist trap, but it is not. This is an upscale eating establishment, along the lines of Vito's and Charley's, which are corporate cousins of Johnnie's. We started with the steamed mussels. The mussels alone were great and full of flavor, but the broth was magical. You will want to save that for bread dipping. Our main consisted of broiled grouper topped with blue crab meat and a white wine sauce. Fish was cooked perfectly and the sauce was excellent. Sides were bacon creamed spinach and lobster mac n cheese. Both very good. Finished with a creme brulee. Excellent meal. I travel to Orlando often to visit friends and usually try to avoid the Disney area like the plague, but I will go here again. Website Map

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We were down in Orlando the week of December 12th, with a temperature reaching a warm & cozy 25 degrees with wind chill. But we ate really well.

-The Ravenous Pig, in Winter Park; worth the trip. The most interesting food in the Orlando area without the commericialization. A wonderful experience. Menu options include Housemade charcuterie and artisan cheese, black pepper pappardelle w red wine braised rabbit ragu, hedgehog mushrooms, percorino; pastrimi spiced veal cheeks w farro risotto, radicchio-red onion agrodolce, forelle pear mostardo; Berkshire Pork Porterhouse w fried waterkist green tomatoes, ham jam, pickled mustard seed butter; and you get the picture. Food was well executed. Staff was knowledgeable with wine parings. The bar has picked up on the craft coctail trend and is able to execute at least their whisky sour version very well. Would return if ever back in the area.

-Le Coq Au Vin, off the beaten path in Orlando. 40 year old establishment serving French county fare was truely excellent. Prices were extremely reasonable and staff was helpful with wine selections. Not in the tourist district; but would love to go back if ever in the area again.

-Lee & Ricks Half Shell Oyster Bar, on Old Winter Garden Rd. A 60 year old establishement that could be construed as a hole in the wall. 12 fresh oysters for $6. Shucked right there in front of you and placed directly on the 60 year old cement bar for your enjoyment. They steam oysters too. Some other selections are available, but really it is all about the oysters. And Budweiser. So if you do not like oysters, do not go. Again, not located in the tourist area.

-Mama Nems southern style food, 805 S Kirkman Rd. Home style prepared food and lots of it. For me, the collards were good and the fried chicken too. The ribs were tough and potatoes lacked flavor. Would not go back.

-If I remember the BBQ place we went to, I will post about it later.

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Who would think some of the best food I've had in a while would have been in Orlando, but it was. Dinner at The Ravenous Pig was fabulous. The diversity and quality of the charchuterie was worth the trip. There was a speck wrapped grilled date stuffed with goat cheese on a fruity sauce and a lamb meatball on top of a tzatki (sp?) in addition to fabulous soppresata et al. Oh, the chicken liver pate with a preserved cherry... oh my. The salad would have been good with less dressing (I never get salad dressing on my salads unless the server insists that it is better with it...) The pastry chef (co-owner of the place) must have a way with ice creams and sorbets because the dark chocolate sorbet and ginger ice cream were better than ANY I've had in DC, including my favorites Dairy Godmother and Pitango (not a fan of Dolcezza). I'll be dreaming of that dessert for a long time.... ETA: I had the most perfect view of the kitchen sitting at the chef's bar. What a treat! I really learned a lot watching the kitchen staff and chefs work in a not huge space.

Okay, now I'll share a place with the dr.com that I discovered randomly because it was near where I was staying.... Pollos a la Braza Mario. I arrived in Orlando pretty late and was convinced I'd end up at some random chain and was more than pleasantly surprised when I saw this place and checked it's urbanspoon info. Wow. What luck. I asked some diners as well as staff what to get. They all (literally, all) recommended the skirt steak. I wasn't that hungry so I was hesitant. However, I was convinced by the locals to try it... It is a HUGE meal. The steak was well seasoned and served on a sizzling cast iron with a side of beans (something Columbian, I think) and rice which were both rich and flavorful. Instead of potatoes I asked for sweet plaintains which were great.

I really wish there were places like either The Ravenous Pig or Pollos a la Braza Mario in DC (proper).

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I need to jump on the Ravenous Pig bandwagon and wish that it magically transports itself up here. I flew into Orlando on the way to Tampa and stopped in for lunch. Spoiled me for the rest of the trip. And of the three pig logo'ed restaurants I've been to this year in the south (Cochon and The Refinery being the others), this one was the best. I got the gatherer salad with "mixed baby lettuces, beets, goat cheese, avocado, pistachios, herb vinaigrette" which was beyond ridiculous. For every crunch, there was a smooth counterbalance. Advocado and goat cheese? My new favorite combo. And I think, but can't promise, that the herb vinaigrette had basil in it. This is a salad I'll remember to some time to come, so don't bonk it if you're there, get it.

Then came the grilled cheese. Odes should be written to this grilled cheese. I desperately wanted to go back on Sunday before my flight and get one for the plane I liked it so damned much. Just a simple grilled cheese you say? Hah. It was a grilled cheese avec "arcadia peach & rhubarb jam, pepita pesto, grilled radicchio, goat cheese, aged swiss, sourdough". SaltysweetcheesycrunchyFABULOUSNESSonnaPLATE. And then. How can there be an and then? And then it was pan fried in delicious butter. I'm drooling writing about it.

As a solo diner, I was happily seated at the bar, and the bartender was fantastic. Informative, friendly, kept everything going for the restaurant. The servers are intensely proud of their food ("Ready for the best grilled cheese of your life?") and it borders on pomposity, but who cares when the food backs it up?! I don't get to Orlando often, but if I can schedule a long layover, it's worth the car rental and quick drive up to Winter Park.

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Funny, I had forgotten how scary dining options can be in Orlando until I went this past weekend and reread this thread. I am just sharing my theme park dining experiences, since little man and I didn't really make time to eat off-site. We only spent two days total in Orlando and most were at the parks.

We made a point of visiting Hogsmeade at the new Harry Potter exhibit on the Islands of Adventure (Universal). Little man and I decided to dine there for linner (lunch/dinner). He opted for the Turkey Leg platter ($11) that comes with mediocre wedge fries, then wanted an apple cider ($2.89), while I opted to share his platter and order a butterbeer ($3?) since it was on the must-try list. The turkey leg was huge and salty--it tasted like brined Easter ham, which would be fine if they offered a side of bread or salad. It also was big enough to last two meals. I am only writing to recommend the butterbeer, I guess.

At the Magic Kingdom, we had a snack at the Ice Cream shop in Tomorrowland, but was big enough that it covered lunch (a cone was $3.19, while my float was $3.99) apparently. It also helped that we had an early booking for dinner at the Crystal Palace at 4:30p. I wish I could say positive things about CP, since the menu does try (which was overpriced at $40.99 per adult since it was an ayce), but ultimately, was it not for the fact that Winnie the Pooh and friends were around for photo ops and autographs (pictures with Eeyore!), I would skip it. Basically, most of the dessert tasted like condensed milk (ie., flan, key lime pie, cheesecake, etc.) and while the entrees tried to inject flavor (ie., rotisserie chicken, cinnamon-lemon jasmine rice), it looked as good as it tasted (which was poor).

The experiences and memories inside the parks were great!

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Funny, I had forgotten how scary dining options can be in Orlando until I went this past weekend and reread this thread. I am just sharing my theme park dining experiences, since little man and I didn't really make time to eat off-site. We only spent two days total in Orlando and most were at the parks.

We made a point of visiting Hogsmeade at the new Harry Potter exhibit on the Islands of Adventure (Universal). Little man and I decided to dine there for linner (lunch/dinner). He opted for the Turkey Leg platter ($11) that comes with mediocre wedge fries, then wanted an apple cider ($2.89), while I opted to share his platter and order a butterbeer ($3?) since it was on the must-try list. The turkey leg was huge and salty--it tasted like brined Easter ham, which would be fine if they offered a side of bread or salad. It also was big enough to last two meals. I am only writing to recommend the butterbeer, I guess.

At the Magic Kingdom, we had a snack at the Ice Cream shop in Tomorrowland, but was big enough that it covered lunch (a cone was $3.19, while my float was $3.99) apparently. It also helped that we had an early booking for dinner at the Crystal Palace at 4:30p. I wish I could say positive things about CP, since the menu does try (which was overpriced at $40.99 per adult since it was an ayce), but ultimately, was it not for the fact that Winnie the Pooh and friends were around for photo ops and autographs (pictures with Eeyore!), I would skip it. Basically, most of the dessert tasted like condensed milk (ie., flan, key lime pie, cheesecake, etc.) and while the entrees tried to inject flavor (ie., rotisserie chicken, cinnamon-lemon jasmine rice), it looked as good as it tasted (which was poor).

The experiences and memories inside the parks were great!

Say hi next time!

We ate at CP three times in one day. Little guy was over the moon at seeing Pooh and the gang but the food was truly mediocre. Breakfast was the best of the lot.

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Say hi next time!

Oooo - wouldn't it be great to have a DR caravan to Disney now that there are age-appropriate little elves amongst us? That should be the next get together. :-)

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Returning from a week in Orlando, well, mostly Disney, and although we ate mostly in Disney restaurants, we did get a baby-free night out in ... Downtown Disney. Raglan Road is an Irish gastropub, or at least strives to be. The portions are substantial, the food was above average, the atmosphere was raucous (they have live music 6 nights a week), and the service was harried. Entrees have quirky names like "Keen Eye for the Shepherd's Pie." We started with the mussels and some kind of tart to share, I had the chicken and mushroom pot pie, the +1 had the slow cooked ribs. All were enjoyable, none were particularly outstanding. Lots of beer, of course, with some nice craft beers. The desserts were too large to consider (so we went to Ghirardelli a while later).

Overall, not a place I would seek out, but definitely a good choice for Downtown Disney.

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There are now two Seasons 52 in Orlando and both are inconsistent. I've been back to the original perhaps 9 or 10 times since my last post above in '06. I continue to love the flatbreads (especially chicken and garlic; a shrimp one was good, too) and cedar planked salmon. I actually refuse to believe that many of the dishes are under 475 calories-especially the flatbreads. A bit better than Bonefish is probably a good analogy for most dishes. Still, I really like the layout and the ambience. Overall, it's not as good as, say Rock Creek here but it just works for me. Travelling to Orlando a couple of times a year for business and dining alone it is just perfect. I must also note that having been in five or six Seasons 52's and having heard 15 or 20 piano players I find something of a correlation to how much I enjoy the restaurant and how good/bad the piano player is. Most Seasons 52 also get an older crowd at the bar, I think-usually 30-45+.

I still wish there was one here.

I'll try the Ravenous Pig on a visit this spring.

An absolutey awful dinner at the Seasons 52 on Sand Lake road tonight. As noted several times above I love the atmosphere of this place but dinner tonight (standards: garlic chicken flat bread and cedar planked salmon) were indescribably terrible. If it was this bad on my earlier trips I never would have returned. The flatbread-whoch I have really enjoyed-made me long for several frozen pizzas...

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After 2 nights of dining on gastronomical delights such as Bahama Breeze and Red Lobster, we ventured onto Disney's property at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I was really impressed with the ambiance. It made me feel like I was back in African, as much as the Paris hotel in Vegas made me feel I was back in the city of lights. Too bad the animals roaming on their reserve were''t served at their restaurants, because the food they did serve at Boma did not remind me of Africa. I don't recall eating alot of Indian in Africa, and certainly no pita or hummus in South Africa. The spicy chicken probably isn't even as good as Nando's but since I've never been to Nando's, I can't be sure. It's definitely not as good as Super Chicken or Crisp and Juicy chicken. At $37 per person before tax and tips, this buffet doesn't compare to its bretherns in Vegas.

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After 3 nights of mostly self-induced crap, we found better food.

At Portobellow in Downtown Disney, they did a great job of frying calamari. Light batter, crispy, not oily, like the stuff we got in Venice, found only at Palena in DC. Decent pasta dishes, but the pizza was really small. On a 4 star scale, I'd say it's 2.5 stars.

Portobello

Also at Downtown Disney is Ragland Road, an Irish pub. We were only interested because their next door neighbor advertised Irish fish and chips (Cooke's of Dublin). After some research, Ragland's fish and chips were supposedly even better. They did no disappoint, the cod was as good as Eammon's. Too bad they only had tartar and vinegar. The SSS Beefy salad was also very good - steak wth horseradish cream accompanied by a salad. The Beef Murray - beef stew wrapped in pastry - was just so so.

Ragland Road

Thanksgiving was spent at La Luce, in the Hilton at Bonnet Creek. It's upscale but still casual elegant, and baby friendly. We tried some pizza, antipasti misti, fritto misto (good frying but not quite as good as Portobello, but the rock shrimp was especially good), orrechiette with clam and kale for me and ravioli in tomato sauce for my wife. Overall, a solid restaurant, more variety than Portobello but about the same level when it comes to execution.

La Luce

I would go back to all 3 restaurants.

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Returned from another trip to Orlando this week. Went to two places of note. First is Del Frisco's off of Lee Rd. It seems that this location is what the Del Frisco's chain is based on, but this one is supposedly independently owned and operated. Straight forward steakhouse. Prime beef and a la carte sides. As fate would have it I was at Ruth's Chris the week before and I would say that I preferred Del Frisco's steak. Website

Second was The Ravenous Pig in Winter Park. Had been trying to get there for some time. It was excellent all around. Only issue I had was the pork belly starter was too small to share and believe it or not a little too fatty. Was still delicious. My main was duck cassoulet. Real depth of flavor throughout and crispy duck skin. Co-signing on what many others have said here, if you are going to Orlando go here to eat. You will not be disappointed. Map Website

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We went to Seasons 52 last week and honestly felt like bringing our bring our 1 year old could have gone either way. We've been there before alone, but a 5pm reservation and a wonderful server really made it work. With too many days of fried, fast food under our belts, we were desperate for something refreshing and relatively healthy and the food was exactly what we were looking for. A tuna "sushi roll" was really nice, a large duck salad was ok, and the mahi mahi special was excellent. I forget what else we ordered, but either way, it was a nice change from the Rainforest Cafes, etc. I didn't see a lot - if any- other high-chair-aged kids in the restaurant, but the server was welcoming to us and really kept things moving. He came over right away to offer to bring some warm, whole-grain type roll for our son to pick on, and gave him a cardboard sippy cup to drink from. We ordered quickly to keep things moving, but worked our way through at least 2 apps, an entree and a side in a quick, but not really rushed meal thanks to our server keeping the dishes coming, clearing as soon as he could, and treating us really well even though we could have been "those people".

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I MUCH prefer Sand Lake road's original Seasons 52 (first of all of them) to the Tyson's location which opens to the Mall.

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We spent 4 days at Disney last week and, with the exception of a mediocre meal at IHOP, ate (and were gouged) exclusively at the Disney parks.

Boma–Flavors of Africa: located in the Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. There were several African-inspired dishes; however, the macaroni & cheese probably doesn’t count. Most of the dishes we had were pretty good, particularly the prime rib and the basic roast chicken. There were some interesting side dishes, and the desserts were good. This was probably one of the better meals on our trip, which is kind of like picking the smartest Kardashian sister.

Magic Kingdom: Collectively is a culinary wasteland. The best meal here was, at best, acceptable. The food is designed to feed the masses. Our low expectations for food here were not met. The food here is staring up longingly at the Mendoza line.

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall: Located in Epcot. We had Breakfast with the Princesses which our 4-year old loved. Don’t go in expecting good food and you won’t be disappointed. Just keep telling yourself “we’re here for the princesses” and you won’t feel like you were ripped off when you get your check.

Restaurant Marrakesh: Located in the Moroccan pavilion at Epcot. We had a spur-of-the-moment late lunch here that was very good. The roasted lamb shank that I had was surprisingly flavorful (if a bit dry), while my wife’s Lemon Chicken was prepared nicely, as the lemon flavor was present but not overpowering.

Boulangerie Patisserie: Located in the French pavilion at Epcot. Decent ham & cheese baguettes, tarts, and croissants.

Fairfax Fare: Located in Hollywood Studios. They are “known” for their “gourmet hotdogs”, which we did not order. We did have an acceptable pork sandwich and a surprisingly good smoked turkey leg, which had a good smoke flavor and was not the least bit dry (given the size of the turkey leg, I would be scared sh*&tless if I ever met the full-sized bird).

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Disney dining at Christmas. I must be crazy. Right now we plans for breakfast at the Crystal Palace (Pooh), Kona Cafe (banana stuffed french toast) and Tusker House (Donald Duck in safari gear),lunch at Tony's (Lady and the Tramp theming) and Le Cellier. Our one big dinner splurge is Artists Point in the Wilderness Lodge the night before we leave.

The hot ticket at Disney right now is the new Be Our Guest, Beauty and the Best themed dining. I didn't get a reservation there and I'm not going to wait 90 minutes in line for lunch. Sigh...

Because we are doing this last minute and trying to keep to some sort of budget, we passed on California Grill. Maybe next time.

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I'm flying to Orlando tomorrow for the annual I/ITSEC conference, but this time I'll be staying at the Doubletree Sea World. Any recommendations nearby to there? I'm scared, hold me.

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I was steered towards 4 Rivers Smokehouse earlier this fall. Allow me to suggest you steer away from 4 Rivers Smokehouse, unless the idea of 'famous burnt ends' that are closer to chipped beef appeals to you.

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Sigh... We went, we were all sick with colds, viruses and bronchitis, and we ate. The first sign that we were doing well is when the little guy opted for chicken soup at Panera the first night over pizza at Disney Hollywood Studios.

Food highlights: The Wave at the Contemporary Resort. We ended up canceling Artist Point because we were too tired and switched to the wave. Really fresh, tasty food. Mr. BLB had a lovely steak and I had a very nice lamb shank.

Tusker House in the Animal Kingdom had the best breakfast buffet of the trip. The character interaction is still the best at Crystal Palace but their food is just okay.

Yak and Yeti in the Animal Kingdom. It is owned and run by Landry. It is fake Asian food. Yet it was also really well done and tasty. Or maybe we were simply beaten down by then.

Lowlights:

Le Cellier in Epcot. People RAVE and RAVE and RAVE about how great it is. I had a perfectly okay meal there but I don't get how it has become an obsession for so many Disney fans.

Counter service at the Magic Kingdom--we had two really awful meals at Pinochio's and Cosmic Rays. Really, really, awful meals. Terrible salads, roasted chicken and burgers. The french fries were good.

I think we're done with Disney for a while though.

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Three nights in Orlando this week, snow flight permitting... anyone been recently?  I've done Cask and Larder a few times (pretty solid) but thinking I might finally drop in to Ravenous Pig.

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Definitely go to Ravenous Pig. We (me, wife and son) were there in early January (based on reviews here) and were very, very impressed. We arrived early (4:30), were seated in the bar area and the bartender/manager on duty attended to us with drinks and apps while the wait staff finished their meeting.Truffle pasta special of the day, a huge bone-in ribeye (Tomahawk chop, if I recall) and steak frites were our 3 entrees. All superb. My wife loved the pasta, letting me only have a taste despite that we usually equally share our orders. Tomahawk billed (and priced) as serving 2; we thought leftovers would be good in a steak salad the next day but the three of us did not leave any of it. Service excellent. If ever back in Orlando area, we will return.

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A few days again in Orlando and Orlando North, where I find myself increasingly for work...

 

Ravenous Pig was awesome.  Ate at the bar with a lively crowd for a mid-week late evening.  Ribeye Tartare ($15) with roasted beets, horseradish croquettes, and pickled quail egg went fantastic with a full pint pour of Hopslam (at $6 a pleasant surprise).  Only downside to this plate was the pile of technically edible faux 'dirt' all over the middle - I thought that silly trend had past.  The bad gastronomy was more than made up for by the horseradish croquette, which was fritter on the outside with a liquid horseradish cream core.  Next course was a special of roasted octopus with dueling sauces of romanesco and mole, with greens and grapefruit as well.  The combinations and perfectly cooked octopus (nearly undercooked, melt-in-your mouth, no char but no chew) made for rich, lusty eating.  Bartender paired it beautifully with a sparkling rose.  Dessert was a foie gras torchon served with 'dark and stormy' gingerbread.  Similar to the foie and french toast trend in dc right now, this combo is just sweet and rich enough on both sides to compliment each other.  Bartender tossed a half glass in front of me unrequested as well. "We just nearly killed a bottle of sauternes and who needs the last bit more than the guy having foie for dessert?"  Can't argue with that.

 

Also had a massive, softball sized/shaped grouper steak at Winter Park Fish Club that came with a cup of ahi tuna chili.  Yes, chunks (and bits) of ahi in chili.  I can't say it worked 100% but it was interesting enough, and the grouper was good enough to change my preconceptions about that fish.  Thicker really works with grouper.  WPFC is a super informal shack serving plates and sandwiches paired with a ton of sides (think a slightly more evolved/fancier Fishnet).

 

Cubans On The Run (their joke, not mine) was pointed to me as the best Cuban in the area.  The cuban sandwich was just ok but that was my mistake.  As I waited I saw all the regulars going towards the heated case for ropa vieja and the like.  Fortunately the papa rellena I had while I waited was big as my head and did most of the work filling me up regardless.  The liquid crack Cuban Coffee was essential for me as well, and I stopped by several times while I was visiting.   I need to come back and explore the fryer and warmers.

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Dining at Disneyworld

 

Rain Forest Cafe (Downtown Disney): We were pressed for time and very hungry, so this is where we ended up. The service was pushy, always trying to upwell us, some of which worked. I must admit that I rather liked their tex-mex egg rolls, and my burger was adequate if horribly overpriced (not unsurprising since it's Disney). My wife got the  BBQ Wrap (iirc), which the server noted was made with the same beef as their brisket (or some slow-cooked meat), and was tender, flavorful and very good.

 

The Plaza Restaurant (Magic Kingdom): I had a really good Cheesesteak here! In fact, we all enjoyed our meal. We topped it off with a giant banana split and Brownie Sundae. Worth it! I've long thought that the food was surprisingly bad at the Magic Kingdom given it's their signature property, yet this place was excellent.

 

Boma (Animal Kingdom Hotel): I’ve eaten here several times and always enjoy it. It’s an expensive buffet ($37 pp) and probably not worth it, yet I can’t help but go. I do really like the food and the amount of choices. It’s also nice to get outside before/after a meal and see the animals grazing about.

 

Flying Fish Café (Boardwalk): This is our second visit here and we continue to really like the food. I had the Surf and Surf, which was a piece of fish (I don’t remember which) stuffed with crab. Others had the scallops, which were large and came with a tasty risotto. The portions are huge.

 

Sci-Fi Diner (Hollywood Studios): I had a good burger, but what you’re really going for is the novelty of the old-car-tables and giant screen showing old films.

 

San Angel Inn (Epcot, Mexico): I got the enchiladas and a horchata margarita, both of which I thought were very good. Our service was atrocious, alas.

 

Via Napoli (Epcot, Italy): We had a really good pizza here and a bunch of tasty sides including calamari, arancini, and mozzarella caprese. This place is on the list for when we return.

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A few years ago, I thought the Wolfgang Puck Cafe was the best "table service" option in Downtown Disney. BTW, this blog has useful (if not very critical) information about Disney restaurants.

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Wanted to post a trip report from our trip.  MK and I went down to Orlando as he had a business meeting Monday for one company and then he wanted to investigate some of the new interactive features at Disney to get some ideas for a new museum for which he will have input.  So we flew down Saturday morning.  We headed to Epcot first.  As a note we missed our hotel shuttle (we were staying right off the parks) so we took a cab.  That was horribly expensive.  I would suggest using UberX in Orlando, it was by far a better deal.  We didn't know if they could pick us up inside the parks, so we would take the monorail to a Disney resort and get it from there.  Also Disney accepts Apple Pay, which I found really useful.

 

Epcot- I have to say bless it's heart, Epcot really needs an update.  It was kind of a sad version of it's better days.  I was also amazed they haven't found a way to get India into the world showcase yet.  It needs some new energy and rides.  BUT the good news for foodies is that we ate very well here.  We went to the sit down sushi restaurant in Japan and had a really nice meal.  I had the sushi sampler which was 6 pieces of nigri and 2 pieces california roll, 2 pieces spicy tuna.  The sushi was really good and amazingly fresh, actually some of the better sushi I have had recently.  I also had a bowl of miso and their salad.  The salad was a lot bigger than I expected, probably didn't need it and miso soup, but I didn't realize it would be such a large bowl of greens.  It was in between side salad and entree portion size.  We also had some sake, MK had a beer.  The service was really good.  

 

Ravenous Pig- that night we went to Ravenous Pig.  It was a bit of a hull.  When MK priced out the taxi he didn't want to go, but then we saw the Uber price and decided to go for it.  It was a really amazing meal.  I had a guinea hen ballotine with root vegetables and mushroom sauce that was out of this world good.  MK had a what they called a pork porterhouse, it was a huge smoked chop, maybe a triple chop if that is possible.  We also had their charcuterie which was so well done, it reminded me of one of our own talents here in DC.  It featured a duck ham that was incredible.  We also had the pretzel and doughnuts for dessert, both were fine.  But our entrees and the charcuterie really were the star.

 

Magic Kingdom- We just had burgers in the Starlight Cafe, I probably would have gone elsewhere.  I wanted a sit down service type place, but it was more crowded than we expected and MK wanted to eat early.  To be honest, the hot dogs at Coney's on Main Street looked pretty darn good. I also had a chocolate covered frozen banana which was tasty.  I am amazed how well they have done at incorporating healthier food options and gluten free, vegetarian options throughout the parks.  We also were always asked about any dietary needs.

 

Downtown Disney-  Was located really close to our hotel and since they have buses going from the parks and transportation center it's pretty to get to and back.  We went one night from in Magic Kingdom (rail to a resort then switched to bus).  Another night I just ubered to and back although note there isn't really a great place to get dropped off by independent transportation.  I know they do that on purpose, I didn't mind walking a little.  The first night we went to Wolfgang Puck's restaurant.  We had a sashimi platter to start, which was also really good and fresh sushi, the detail work on the plate was pretty impressive.  We both got their special for the evening which was a mahi with shrimp and potato in a really great broth.  Then we hopped back over to the Magic Kingdom for the parades and some last rides before the park closed. I went back my night after Orlando and ate at Fulton's Crab House, there was a long wait, but luckily I found a spot at the bar.  I started with a caesar salad because they said they had a traditional one with homemade dressing.  It was fine, but not like what I was hoping for, the cheese was pre-shredded and it was just ok.  I got the seafood platter for two under the raw bar section for one.  (Note if you are on a Disney dining plan and you have two people, apparently you can get this as a shared app, the waiter told the couple next to me)  It had blue crab, oysters, shrimp cocktail, tuna lettuce cups and king crab legs.  It wasn't the best I ever had, but it wasn't bad at all.  I would definitely get it again.  It wasn't really special in any way, but it was all fresh, especially the tuna in the raw tuna lettuce wraps, and everything tasted as it should.  I also got a loaf of round crusty bread, they need sharper knives for their bread and warmer butter.  Anyway again the service was really good. I would go back here.

 

Universal Studios- MK had to work and I wanted to see Harry Potter world, so I got an admission to both Universal parks.  I will say, I didn't go over most kids school break (it was the Monday most started back) and it was a Monday.  The rest of the park was not empty but certainly not packed, but the Harry Potter section of Islands of Adventure was overwhelming with people, to a point that it made me really uncomfortable.  I don't think it was laid out well for the amount of people visiting.  Maybe they just didn't know how popular it would be.  The ride times there were also really long.  I was going to eat there, but the line just to get order at the counter, not even a real sit down meal was over 40 minutes, so I nixed that went back to the other part of the park and grabbed a kebab.  I did have a butterbeer and was glad I did, it was a frozen butterscotch drink that was very tasty.  I rode a couple of the rides, but the ride through the castle kind of did me in, so then I took it easy and jumped on the Hogwart's express (this was probably the best part of the experience, except the line.) The other section in Universal Studios is more visual focused and less ride focused.  The gringots ride wasn't near as intense so that was good.  The big draw was the wands and that you could stand at all these different places and "cast spells" and things would happen.  MK would have liked to have seen this part, it was similar to the treasure hunt in Magic Kingdom that you use your magic band for, except the wands that actually worked for this experience were super expensive (whereas a magic band costs $12 and does other things).  And without MK there to see it I didn't bother.  The Universal side was a little less jam packed because it has a more open layout.  I was disappointed that they don't have more entertainment while you are waiting in line for rides, the wait at King's Cross Station is a perfect example or where they could have put in features while you were waiting in line and they didn't.  I also thought it was silly they had a little market you pass through to get on the train, and it didn't sell the stuff from the book (which they have they sell it elsewhere) such as chocolate frogs, bert's botts, etc.  I thought that was a big miss.  It's also too bad they don't have any rides like at Disney geared towards an all ages crowd (like Peter Pan's Flight, Pirates of the Caribbean) as there was really an all ages crowd, but except for the train, was really geared to a roller coaster crowd.  Anyway I was glad I saw it, but am not likely to go back.  I also have a qualm with the dining at Universal Studios.  They have a bunch of options when you enter the first part of the park that joins their two parks: Moe's, Panda Express, Starbucks and many others.  But once you enter the gate to a park your options switch to mainly pretzels, hot dogs, burgers and their sit down options have pretty lame menus.  You don't want to take the time to walk all the way back out to the other section for lunch.  It would be nice if some of those places were inside the parks.  Anyway my two cents.  

 

On my last day, we ate by the pool at our hotel, the Hyatt Grand Cypress and then at Chicfila in the airport.  It was a nice hotel with a great pool.  I think if I was going to GO to Disney, I would stay in park.  All the perks in regard to free transportation make that a pretty nice deal, with how expensive transportation is in this area, but it really wasn't a bad place to stay at all, but again I think we were pretty off season.  

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Dining at Disneyworld, Redux

 

The Plaza Restaurant (Magic Kingdom): Again, I had a really good Cheesesteak, and topped it off with a giant banana split.

 

Boma (Animal Kingdom Hotel): Ditto: I’ve eaten here several times and always enjoy it. It’s an expensive buffet and probably not worth it, yet I can’t help but go. I do really like the food and the amount of choices. It’s also nice to get outside before/after a meal and see the animals grazing about.

 

Sci-Fi Diner (Hollywood Studios): I got The Famous All American Picnic Burger, which was a burger patty topped with a split hotdog. This burger was large and tasty, however it played mind tricks on me because what I was eating was clearly in burger form yet I was mostly tasting hot dog. It also came with a side of cucumber salad, which was thinly shaved with a vinegar based dressing and a bit of onion. They also had flavored cokes (vanilla or cherry) with free refills. Given the prices, and the fact that the novelty has worn off, I doubt we'll eat here again even tho it was tasty.

 

Fulton Crab House (Downtown Disney): We got in right away for lunch during a pretty bad rain storm, so props for that. I had an order of Fish and Chips, which came with fries topped with Old Bay seasoning. This was two large battered and fried pieces of white fish atop a generous pile of fries. I felt it was a large portion at the good low price of $13. While I enjoyed my meal, an was rather impressed, others in my pary thought it was just average. The wife in particular had the grouper sandwich, thought it was a bit bland and the bun didn't hold up.

 

Hacienda (Epcot, Mexico): Good view for fireworks, tho it’s best to sit near the glass windows. Fortunately, tables by those windows didn’t have a problem with kids moving to the wall and sharing that space. This place has much better food than at their indoor Mexican restaurant, and a better/larfer menu too. For apps, we got an order of Gorditas (two to an order) and Queso Fundido (a large portion of melted chees with chopped chorizo). Their chorizo was particularly good. For mains, I split their mixed grill platter, which came with steak, chicken, chorizo, veggies, beans, and rice. The wife had shrimp tacos. All portions were ample, and the food was very good; the best meal we had, I’d say.

 

Tucker House (Animal Kingdom): This is a buffet, very similar to Boma, but differentiates itself because it is a place for Character dining. Given the size and price, it lacked some things that Boma offered, in particular there were no soup offerings. However, if you have kids, this is the place to come to because of the characters (and you get the same Boma-style food).

 

Flippers Pizzeria (near Sea World): We were looking to get off property for a pizza and this place had good trip advisor reviews. It's a chain but that doesn't bother us and I was too tired to look further than the first place I came across with positive reviews. Anyway the place serves everything made to order, brick oven-style pizza (600 degrees!) with Pepsi products. The tossed salad was a good size, but had some questionable pieces of lettuce in it. The pizza came out hot and was pretty good. I would have preferred more toppings, but that's me. It's not worth going out of your way for, but if you're looking for a solid pie and are in the area, you could do worse than to find yourself at this place.

 

Well, that’s all till the next trip!

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Intrepid roadtrippers, please take a moment to lament the passing of the iconic Orange Ring fruit stand off US27 in Haines City, at the northern end of the central Florida citrus belt, and site of the first citrus processing (aka juicing) plant in the US (1915).  There's a "for lease" sign on the site now.  Consistently better and cheaper than the tourist trap stands that line I-95 near Jax, this one was my go-to on the annual return trip from the Sebring race.  At least they'll still ship via mail-order.

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A recent stopover in Orlando led to FishBones, a Talk of the Town restaurant. For reference, I'm going to go ahead and say Talk of the Town is the Great American of Orlando, which means that all of their restaurants are basically the same, but themed differently. But it also means you know what you're getting into and likely to get good, efficient service. (I have also been to Charley's and have had Johnnie's Hideaway recommended to me.) Shortly after 9 on a Monday night, it seems we missed the dinner rush and according to our waiter, a group of 20 (from a Microsoft conference at the OCCC) with no reservation.

 

Re: drinks we both had a drink that was advertised as a "Ginger Sage Fizz" with "Plymouth Gin, Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice, Ginger, Sage" but neither of us could taste sage, which was perfectly fine with me. It was refreshing after a long day of snorkeling, kayaking and driving from the Gulf coast.

 

The online menu for FishBones leaves out the feature of that particular restaurant, which is the eight or so fresh fish options. I found it interesting that the name of the person or captain who caught the fish was included with the source. (Sorry, I forgot to take pictures.) The night I was there, the typical seafood restaurant varieties could be found: salmon, swordfish, grouper, Chilean sea bass, trout, etc. Once you pick a fish, you pick a preparation ranging from grilled, blackened, citrus something or other, terriyaki-ish with bok choy, cedar planked or topped with crab (for which there is no upcharge!)

 

I went in wanting scallops, but was rather disappointed with the scallop options, so two of us ended up making our own surf and turf, ordering the grouper with crab preparation and a New York strip. (The on menu surf and turf options are a chicken and fried shrimp and steak and lobster tail. Pretty weak if you ask me.) The grouper was butterflied and the crab was stuffed inside. It was described as crab with lemon, but it was mostly crab with butter, which ended up being too heavy for the grouper and could have benefited from some acid to balance it, but tasted good nonetheless. We got the fish with the vegetable of the day which was a mix of squash, zucchini, red pepper and white onion which I will say was good because the vegetables were not overcooked, which I find to be a common problem with vegetable sides in restaurants. We opted for the NY strip with Bearnaise and mashed potatoes. The steak was cooked perfectly to the requested medium rare and it's hard to mess up mashed potatoes. These were of the skin-on red variety.

 

FishBones is about two miles down I-Drive from the Convention Center on Sand Lake Road.

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In addition to another great dinner at The Ravenous Pig -- highlight being the pork porterhouse that my dad ordered, likely one of the best things I've eaten all year -- we ate a lot of good Cuban food while in Orlando.  Best dish was the lechon asado at Zaza New Cuban Diner...just the right amount of crispy and fat.  The ropa vieja at Padrino's was cooked in a rich sauce and went great with rice.

 

As far as chains go, the Holy Shiitake pizza at Mellow Mushroom on International Drive delivered as always.  So decadent, yet worth all the calories.  Much better than Flippers, which I agree is fine for what it was.

 

Coincidentally, I also had a work conference in town earlier this month and ate two surprisingly decent dinners at House of Blues (pulled pork had just the right amount of spice and fat) and Planet Hollywood (enjoyable small rack of ribs) in Downtown Disney.  Wouldn't go back unless there was no other choice, but wouldn't complain either.

 

P.S.  I also recommend the ancho fizz on tap at The Ravenous Pig for anyone who likes their cocktails spicy.

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We spent December 19-24 at Disney World, staying at the Dolphin (see very end for a word about that). 

 

Highlights:

 

Blue Zoo at the Dolphin.  Todd English’s establishment may have changed very little over the years but manages to deliver a relaxed, uncrowded experience despite its Disney location.  They continue to provide excellent fresh seafood and not destroy it by drowning it in trendy ingredients.  Our server was over the top in caring for my 4 and 7 year-old nephews and my own 16 year-old.  We all noticed and admired a drink that was emitting a pool of fog as we walked past the bar area.  Our server identified it as being dosed with liquid nitrogen and offered to dose drinks for the kids.  Downside – the happy hour specials are not available in the main dining room even during happy hour.

 

Morimoto in Disney Springs.  Warning -  only a passing resemblance to the Philadelphia Morimoto.  This is a pan-Asian menu with heavy Korean, Chinese, and Japanese offerings.  Everything was excellent although you can do better in DC for every dish we tried.  But we’re spoiled here in DC. 

 

Lowlights:

Flying Fish on the Boardwalk.  Maybe I have unrealistic expectations, but any restaurant within the Disney World compound ought to be more than familiar with the needs of families who have young dining companions.  Based on our dining experience, the staff at Flying Fish rarely encounter children.  We had a barbarically early dining time of 5:15 so we could attend the Fantasmic fireworks show at Hollywood Studios.  While we were seated promptly, appetizers (ordered pretty promptly) did not arrive until 5:45, and they did not put our dinner orders into the kitchen until after the appetizers had been served.  This means that all of us, including the little guys, were waiting until about 6:25 for our entrees.  FOH staff, including the managers we tracked down, were utterly unconcerned when we began asking about entrees.  While bread was available, we did not want to stuff the kids with bread, although that is what happened.   By the time entrees arrived, the little guys were too stuffed (and antsy, because who keeps a 4 year-old at the table for more than an hour if they can avoid it) to eat them, they had mucked up a sauce-on-the-side request, and delivered one mushy jumbo shrimp of the 4 in someone’s shrimp entrée.   Other than that, the food was decent if you are into one of those “let’s drown our seafood in a gazillion trendy ingredients†menus.  They do get points for a beautiful delicate buffalo mozzarella and ripe tomatoes in my heirloom tomato salad.  But with kids and on a deadline?  Never again.  

 

Be Our Guest at the Magic Kingdom.  Be Our Cash Cow would be a better name for the Magic Kingdom’s latest sit-down eatery.  Guests are issued a GPS-equipped plastic disc shaped a bit like a rose and herded into a cattle chute-like chamber equipped with one menu for every 4 guests or so.  They eventually reach the business floor where they are led to their Very Own Machine to choose food.  Need that mustard on the side?  Forget about it!  There are zero options to customize the limited menu of sandwiches.  At that point the guests are turned loose to mill about the dimly lit cavernous dining hall where they can fend for themselves in finding a table.  The food is rolled out on a cart to your table, which the servers locate via the GPS discs.  It’s an overpriced pretentious cafeteria.   The Magic Kingdom’s food is a whole new level of suck compared to the rest of the parks, but this is just egregious.  

 

Trying to find breakfast if a park has Magic Hours that start at 7 am.  If you stay on the Disney properties, you will have access to Magic Hours, usually 1-2 hours at the beginning or sometimes end of one or more of the 4 main parks each day.  Woe betide you if you are relying on Disney transportation and the Magic Hours start at 7 am and you actually want to be there.  You will be waiting for your Disney Transportation before 6:30, so the hotel’s breakfast options won’t be open.  And when you arrive at the park?  None of their food is open either! 

 

About the Dolphin:  It is my hope that when Marriott takes over the Dolphin in 2016 as part of its acquisition of Starwood, they will make a few improvements.  The side of the hotel that faces the lake between the hotel and Epcot (and Hollywood Studios) needs a serious soundproofing upgrade.  The passenger ferries on the lake toot their horns until they stop running around midnight.  It sounds as if you’re sleeping in a NYC tenement with honking traffic.  The Epcot fireworks show is largely visible from the hotel, but if you should be exhausted at 10:30 pm and trying to sleep, it is going to sound as if you are in a crackhouse shootout. Staff at the Dolphin are doing a terrible job of policing the hallways for food service items; we would see items 8-10 hours later.   Every dresser drawer reeks of mildew and even with the AC running, clothing was damp.    

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We spent December 19-24 at Disney World, staying at the Dolphin (see very end for a word about that). 

 

Be Our Guest at the Magic Kingdom.  Be Our Cash Cow would be a better name for the Magic Kingdom’s latest sit-down eatery.  Guests are issued a GPS-equipped plastic disc shaped a bit like a rose and herded into a cattle chute-like chamber equipped with one menu for every 4 guests or so.  They eventually reach the business floor where they are led to their Very Own Machine to choose food.  Need that mustard on the side?  Forget about it!  There are zero options to customize the limited menu of sandwiches.  At that point the guests are turned loose to mill about the dimly lit cavernous dining hall where they can fend for themselves in finding a table.  The food is rolled out on a cart to your table, which the servers locate via the GPS discs.  It’s an overpriced pretentious cafeteria.   The Magic Kingdom’s food is a whole new level of suck compared to the rest of the parks, but this is just egregious.  

 

Trying to find breakfast if a park has Magic Hours that start at 7 am.  If you stay on the Disney properties, you will have access to Magic Hours, usually 1-2 hours at the beginning or sometimes end of one or more of the 4 main parks each day.  Woe betide you if you are relying on Disney transportation and the Magic Hours start at 7 am and you actually want to be there.  You will be waiting for your Disney Transportation before 6:30, so the hotel’s breakfast options won’t be open.  And when you arrive at the park?  None of their food is open either! 

 

About the Dolphin:  It is my hope that when Marriott takes over the Dolphin in 2016 as part of its acquisition of Starwood, they will make a few improvements.  The side of the hotel that faces the lake between the hotel and Epcot (and Hollywood Studios) needs a serious soundproofing upgrade.  The passenger ferries on the lake toot their horns until they stop running around midnight.  It sounds as if you’re sleeping in a NYC tenement with honking traffic.  The Epcot fireworks show is largely visible from the hotel, but if you should be exhausted at 10:30 pm and trying to sleep, it is going to sound as if you are in a crackhouse shootout. Staff at the Dolphin are doing a terrible job of policing the hallways for food service items; we would see items 8-10 hours later.   Every dresser drawer reeks of mildew and even with the AC running, clothing was damp.    

 

We stayed at Coronado December 18-26th and we did a Beach Club trip in August.

 

We heard fireworks at both resorts every night.  The December fireworks were the worst because I would be awakened at 11 pm or midnight for the Star Wars ones every single night.  Mr. BLB and BL-3rd grader never stirred.    I actually found the Beach Club pool noises to be more of an issue than the fireworks when we stayed there--of course we had "splurged" on a pool view.  Never again!  Booked our next trip for an old fashioned standard view.  

 

We did a grocery delivery from WeGoShop of cold cuts, yogurts and water so we did breakfast in the room or I would throw a ziplock bag of deli meat in my bag and we'd eat while waiting for the bus.  It made taking advantage of the 7 am park openings so much easier!  (BL-3rd grader is up at 6 am no matter what...)

 

Our dining highlights and lowlights:

 

The Plaza:  The Club Sandwich was a winner for me.  No one else liked their meal though (tuna salad and brisket burger) and I don't think we'll be going back.

 

The Rose and Crown:  Excellent all around.  Perfectly fried fish and chips for the youngster.  Mr. BLB and I shared a pork pie, corned beef and a shepherds pie.  

 

Hollywood and Vine (Minnie's Holiday Dinner):  I don't like buffets at Disney. And I really don't like them at dinner.  But I was surprised at how fresh everything was, everything was kept at an appropriate temperature and the dessert variety was impressive.

 

California Grill:  Once again, our best meal was here.  They make an impressive cocktail, the service is excellent, the view is amazing and the food is always on point.  Mr. BLB had the bison steak.  I think I had the pork two ways.  BL-3rd grader had the kid's salmon and the rice krispy treat sushi for dessert.  

 

Whispering Canyon:  We went because I needed to see the Wilderness Lodge holiday decorations.  BL-3rd grader and I shared the all you care to eat skillet and Mr. BLB ordered something he didn't like but I can't remember what it was.  I liked most of the skillet but had no room for any more.  The setting is beautiful and it is a nice option if you want to see the resort without paying Artists Point prices.

 

Liberty Tree Tavern:  We did lunch and it was another grand success.  Fish and chips (again) for BL-3rd grader who may have exceeded his fish ration for week now that I think about it, a Salmon salad for me and something unmemorable for Mr.  BLB.  The ooey-goeey toffee cake was a perfect end note.  

 

Places we could skip next time:  Cinderella's Royal Table (average but super expensive), Beaches and Cream, Mama Melrose, The Pepper Market.

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The secret to Disney lodging and parks: AAA.

 

We did an extended family trip there last year. We rented a gorgeous house just under a 10 minute drive from the front gate, with 4 bedrooms, a pool/jacuzzi, and gated neighborhood entrance, and it was about $1000 for the entire week. To rent 3-4 rooms on property would have cost that for 2 nights, even at a budget property. But even for a single room it's cheaper.

 

AAA not only came through with significantly discounted park tickets, you get up-front parking passes (you are right next to the handicapped parking, so no need for the parking shuttles). No joke - it takes less time to drive the 10 minutes to the gates, drive to the individual park, park and walk to the theme park gates, than it does to walk from your hotel room to the bus stop, wait for the bus, and do the same. I don't have to worry about bus schedules, we can do breakfast in the house, and I can still park-hop using my car or WDW transportation. Sure, I pay $20/day/car for parking, but I saved that easily by not eating breakfast on property.

 

You lose 3 benefits staying off-property: Extra Magic Hours, 30-day (instead of 60-day) advance on FastPass, and priority dining reservations. We had no problems maximizing our FP options only 30 days out, and did fine on dining reservations as well. As far as EMH - it's well documented that the park with EMH is far busier than normal on that day. You'll probably spend that 1-2 extra hours on lines. You're better off going to a NON EMH park. With 2 teens, a pre-teen, 4 adults and a grandma in tow, we were able to basically hit every ride in each park in a single day without the extra hours (granted - summer hours - so the days were already long).

 

Just to keep this slightly on topic, we love Boma and go there every time. Nearly all of the EPCOT World Showcase restaurants are decent - the German buffet at lunch is a good bargain. Magic Kingdom is a food wasteland - Liberty Tree Tavern (lunch) and Tony's Town Square are passable, but everyone knows that, so tables fill quickly. At Hollywood Studios, Sci-Fi Theater (bottomless milkshakes!) is crazy fun, but limited seating makes it hard to get a table. Mama Melrose is passable (this seems to be a theme - Italian is never great but usually edible at WDW). Dining at Animal Kingdom might be worse than at Magic Kingdom - just eat your chicken nuggets and go on the roller coaster again. Luckily, this park you can kill off in 3/4 of a day, so you can go elsewhere for dinner.

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The secret to Disney lodging and parks: AAA.

 

We did an extended family trip there last year. We rented a gorgeous house just under a 10 minute drive from the front gate, with 4 bedrooms, a pool/jacuzzi, and gated neighborhood entrance, and it was about $1000 for the entire week. To rent 3-4 rooms on property would have cost that for 2 nights, even at a budget property. But even for a single room it's cheaper.

 

AAA not only came through with significantly discounted park tickets, you get up-front parking passes (you are right next to the handicapped parking, so no need for the parking shuttles). No joke - it takes less time to drive the 10 minutes to the gates, drive to the individual park, park and walk to the theme park gates, than it does to walk from your hotel room to the bus stop, wait for the bus, and do the same. I don't have to worry about bus schedules, we can do breakfast in the house, and I can still park-hop using my car or WDW transportation. Sure, I pay $20/day/car for parking, but I saved that easily by not eating breakfast on property.

 

You lose 3 benefits staying off-property: Extra Magic Hours, 30-day (instead of 60-day) advance on FastPass, and priority dining reservations. We had no problems maximizing our FP options only 30 days out, and did fine on dining reservations as well. As far as EMH - it's well documented that the park with EMH is far busier than normal on that day. You'll probably spend that 1-2 extra hours on lines. You're better off going to a NON EMH park. With 2 teens, a pre-teen, 4 adults and a grandma in tow, we were able to basically hit every ride in each park in a single day without the extra hours (granted - summer hours - so the days were already long).

 

Just to keep this slightly on topic, we love Boma and go there every time. Nearly all of the EPCOT World Showcase restaurants are decent - the German buffet at lunch is a good bargain. Magic Kingdom is a food wasteland - Liberty Tree Tavern (lunch) and Tony's Town Square are passable, but everyone knows that, so tables fill quickly. At Hollywood Studios, Sci-Fi Theater (bottomless milkshakes!) is crazy fun, but limited seating makes it hard to get a table. Mama Melrose is passable (this seems to be a theme - Italian is never great but usually edible at WDW). Dining at Animal Kingdom might be worse than at Magic Kingdom - just eat your chicken nuggets and go on the roller coaster again. Luckily, this park you can kill off in 3/4 of a day, so you can go elsewhere for dinner.

 

Bragging rights for having taken my young dining companion to *all four parks* in a single day. I don't think I've ever been so tired as I was that night - there have only been a few times in my life when I was so tired I couldn't sleep, and this was one of them.

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The secret to Disney lodging and parks: AAA.

 

We did an extended family trip there last year. We rented a gorgeous house just under a 10 minute drive from the front gate, with 4 bedrooms, a pool/jacuzzi, and gated neighborhood entrance, and it was about $1000 for the entire week. To rent 3-4 rooms on property would have cost that for 2 nights, even at a budget property. But even for a single room it's cheaper.

 

AAA not only came through with significantly discounted park tickets, you get up-front parking passes (you are right next to the handicapped parking, so no need for the parking shuttles). No joke - it takes less time to drive the 10 minutes to the gates, drive to the individual park, park and walk to the theme park gates, than it does to walk from your hotel room to the bus stop, wait for the bus, and do the same. I don't have to worry about bus schedules, we can do breakfast in the house, and I can still park-hop using my car or WDW transportation. Sure, I pay $20/day/car for parking, but I saved that easily by not eating breakfast on property.

 

You lose 3 benefits staying off-property: Extra Magic Hours, 30-day (instead of 60-day) advance on FastPass, and priority dining reservations. We had no problems maximizing our FP options only 30 days out, and did fine on dining reservations as well. As far as EMH - it's well documented that the park with EMH is far busier than normal on that day. You'll probably spend that 1-2 extra hours on lines. You're better off going to a NON EMH park. With 2 teens, a pre-teen, 4 adults and a grandma in tow, we were able to basically hit every ride in each park in a single day without the extra hours (granted - summer hours - so the days were already long).

 

Just to keep this slightly on topic, we love Boma and go there every time. Nearly all of the EPCOT World Showcase restaurants are decent - the German buffet at lunch is a good bargain. Magic Kingdom is a food wasteland - Liberty Tree Tavern (lunch) and Tony's Town Square are passable, but everyone knows that, so tables fill quickly. At Hollywood Studios, Sci-Fi Theater (bottomless milkshakes!) is crazy fun, but limited seating makes it hard to get a table. Mama Melrose is passable (this seems to be a theme - Italian is never great but usually edible at WDW). Dining at Animal Kingdom might be worse than at Magic Kingdom - just eat your chicken nuggets and go on the roller coaster again. Luckily, this park you can kill off in 3/4 of a day, so you can go elsewhere for dinner.

 

We've stayed off-site and I was so crossed-eyed tired that driving back after was just not a good plan.  So staying on-site works for us. 

 

We really like to do early EMH and then hop elsewhere.  

 

Don, my own young companion is desperate to do all 4 parks in one day.  Perhaps this summer I'll come up with  a plan for him to do it.

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Park hopping is fun but extremely inefficient. And you can only FastPass reserve in one park per day.

 

I get that people don't want to drive back after a long day at the park, but I'd argue that I'm getting 2 hours more of sleep per day because I can leave the house that much later and get back earlier for the same number of hours at the park. But we're also not 6am risers, so losing the EMH morning hour or two for an 8a or 9a park opening is more our style anyway.

 

Efficient use of FastPass, especially advance reservations, is the way to maximize the rides/day.

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Park hopping is fun but extremely inefficient. And you can only FastPass reserve in one park per day.

 

I get that people don't want to drive back after a long day at the park, but I'd argue that I'm getting 2 hours more of sleep per day because I can leave the house that much later and get back earlier for the same number of hours at the park. But we're also not 6am risers, so losing the EMH morning hour or two for an 8a or 9a park opening is more our style anyway.

 

Efficient use of FastPass, especially advance reservations, is the way to maximize the rides/day.

 

No doubt, but we arrived in Orlando on Friday evening, and departed on Sunday morning - they have trams from one park to another, so you can leave your car. Trust me, at the time, I was a hero.

 

As soon as Matt fell asleep, I went straight down to the bar.

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Obviously, if you're doing one day at the parks, hopping is the only way to get more than just one park. But most people go for many days.

 

The only time we normally hop is when one park closes hours earlier than another; we'll then hop to a park that's still open. By the time you leave one park, walk out and to the tram/monorail/bus/etc., get to another park, and enter, that's an hour most of the time. That's 2-3 rides, so it doesn't normally pay.

 

Note that after 4 days, an additional day only costs $10. Hidden secret - as long as you do it before the 4th day is up, you can upgrade your tickets in the park to add more days. We usually go for a week - 4 days at Disney parks, 1 day in a water park, 2 days at Universal.

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You lose 3 benefits staying off-property: Extra Magic Hours, 30-day (instead of 60-day) advance on FastPass, and priority dining reservations. We had no problems maximizing our FP options only 30 days out, and did fine on dining reservations as well. As far as EMH - it's well documented that the park with EMH is far busier than normal on that day. You'll probably spend that 1-2 extra hours on lines. You're better off going to a NON EMH park. With 2 teens, a pre-teen, 4 adults and a grandma in tow, we were able to basically hit every ride in each park in a single day without the extra hours (granted - summer hours - so the days were already long).

 

This is very interesting.  I did't realize that the park with the Extra Magic Hours was much busier than the others, although now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense.

 

On the other hand, if you get to the park with EMH, the second they open, you can knock off everything you really want to hit before the park officially opens.  Especially at a smaller place like Animal Kingdom.  The last time we were there, we hit our favorite ride, Expedition Everest something like 5 times before the park opened!  We hit a couple other good ones too.  By the time the park actually opened, we were just about done with it!

 

In the morning, Extra Magic Hours were only offered an hour before the park opened, but the last time we were there, at the Magic Kingdom, they extended 3 hours past closing time, which ended up being 2 am.  Not everything was opened at that late hour, but we did  Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad time and time again with absolutely no lines.  

 

So if you have teenagers or other humans who like to ride the really popular rides, you can really make a killing if you wisely use the EMH.

 

Also make use of the "wait times" apps.  They can help you decide how to best use the Fast Passes.

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Another quick report from Disney, SeaWorld, and points in between:

Morimoto: We went to the restaurant in Disney Springs (nee Downtown Disney). The bento-box style plate that their lunch special comes in really makes for an excellent presentation. Also, the food was very tasty, and the portions were large. I've never had Peking duck before, but I noticed nice layers of crispy skin, fat, and meat. My only problem was with the kids hotdog, which was too fancy by half. It came out in two small, flat-bread like buns, with asian-style accoutrements. So, if you have a kid who wont eat that weird shit, all your left with is half a hot dog. HALF A GD HOT DOG! for $12! Also, service was slow particularly given the restaurant was half empty.  

Sanaa: The signature dish for this restaurant in the Animal Kingdom hotel area is their bread service, which comes with 5 assorted nan and 9 sauces. It's legit. For mains, we got Butter shrimp and Goan seafood curry that was just ok. In all honesty, all the mains we got were lacking in taste, and there was no depth. Also it was advertised as a place to watch the animals, but unless your at one of only 5 tables at the window, you can't see shit. 

Tusker House: Animal Kingdom. Same as my latest post, an excellent buffet with character dining that includes Mickey, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy, which is a combo that's hard to top.

Be Our Guest: In the Magic Kingdom. Ordering and getting drinks is a shit show free for all. So, for spite, you can grab any drink you want regardless of what you might have paid for. I went in with very low expectations, as I had heard that this place sucks, but I got a very good hot ham and cheese sandwich. It was huge, toasted bread, not soggy, lots of heavily salted fries. Tasty. 

Earl of Sandwich: in Disney Springs. Similar to Potbelly but not as good. Still, a tasty sub. Price was right at 6.99. One of the few places on Disney where you don't feel ripped off. 

Tony's Town Square: In the Magic Kingdom. Basic Italian fare that's perfectly fine. I had a chicken parm that was enormous. Good bread service.

Anthony's Coal Fire Pizza: This was a random pizza joint somewhere between disney and SeaWorld. We got a ricotta and meatball pizza. It was excellent, and I'd recommend it. Lots of toppings. We didn't order a salad, but we could see fresh and tasty looking salads coming out of the kitchen. 

Shark Grill: SeaWorld. Amazing atmosphere, what with being in front of all the fish tanks. I got the seafood pasta, which came in a very cheesy and tasty sauce. It had good amounts of scallops, shrimps, and mussels. Big portion. Large bread basket with rosemary rolls. Unlike Morimoto the kids meal came with a huge hot dog.

Also, there's some hot dog place at the end of Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, that serves a dog large enough to make Jenna Jameson blush. You can get it smothered in toppings, too, for a nominal charge. It's one of the better deals in the park, and a good dog, to boot.

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I'm curious if anyone remembers a wine store in Disney Village called "Village Vintner." I bought the first two bottles of wine I *ever* purchased to lay down there, and believe it or not, I still own them 27 years later! It's gone now - there's no trace of it on the internet - but it was a terrific wine store that catered to serious oenophiles. I suspect I'll never drink those two bottles - way too much sentimental value now.

Disney Village is now called Disney Springs, but over the years it has been:

1977-1989: Walt Disney World Village (or, "Disney Village" for short) - I went in 1988, I believe.
1989-1997: Disney Village Marketplace
1997-2015: Downtown Disney
2015-        : Disney Springs

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