STK Orlando – Magical Dining Month Review

Elyssa’s and my trip to Disney World happened to fall during Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month. This program is similar to many “restaurant week” type programs, where certain restaurants offer prix fixe dinners at $33 per person from August 29 to October 2, 2016. Participating restaurants on Disney property include Il Mulino, Morimoto Asia, Ravello, Todd English’s bluezoo, and–our selection for dinner–STK Orlando. $1 of each meal is donated to The Russell Home for atypical children.

As has been well documented throughout the Disney blogosphere, STK’s gimmick is a high-end steakhouse mixed with a “club like” atmosphere. (Pro-tip: If you want to fit in with the other guys in “the club”, wear a dress shirt, untucked, with a pair of dark jeans.) Originally, we planned to arrive before the DJ got behind “the 1s and 2s”, but a Florida rainstorm delayed the start of our meal. (For reference, the DJ starts at 6:00pm and progressively turns the music up as the night goes on. It was tolerable for us, if not a little bass heavy, but I wouldn’t wanted to have stayed another hour.)

One item of note before we get into the “meat” of the review (ba dum cha!): our hostess didn’t offer us the Magical Dining Month menu. We had to ask for it. Looking around the restaurant, I didn’t see anyone else that had it. Keep that in mind if you’re planning on taking advantage of this promotion.

As with most restaurant week-style prix fixie offering, the meal consisted of three courses and bread service. The bread at STK is “pull apart” style that comes with blue cheese butter on top and chive oil on the side. This was fantastic (even for Elyssa who only–as someone who is not a blue cheese fan only ate the bottom of pieces.) The chive oil had a nice bit of spice, as well.

STK Bread
STK Bread

We started our actual meal (I say “we” since Elyssa and I ordered the same meal) with what as listed as the Hearts of Romaine salad but differed from the one offered to guests ordering off the regular menu. Ours (shown below) looked more like a traditional salad, while other tables had large leaves of romaine lettuce with dressed dribbled on top and croutons on the side.

Hearts of  Romaine
Hearts of Romaine

The salad was quite good, with a nice flavor to the parmesan-lemon dressing, that went well with fresh peppercorns. The other appetizer options are tomato soup or roasted beets, if the salad doesn’t thrill you.

For our entree, we got the petite filet mignon with “pickled wax beans-almond romesco”. The steak was quite good (I think I prefer a steak from your neighborhood Ruth’s Chris, but it was in the same league as that), and, though the romesco wasn’t particularly flavorful, it complimented the steak nicely.

STK Steak
STK Steak

I don’t really understand going to a steakhouse and ordering something other than steak, but the other entree options were smoked salmon and confit of duck leg.

For dessert, we had the warm chocolate cookie, with chocolate sauce, caramel, and vanilla ice cream. As you can see from the picture below, the cookie they served us was smaller than what Josh had went he reviewed the restaurant a couple of months ago.(Not served in a skillet. 1 star.) The cookie was still fantastic though, and might have been my favorite part of the meal (mostly because I love cookie-based sundaes, not because any of the rest of the meal was particularly bad.)

STK Warm Cookie Sundae
STK Warm Cookie Sundae

The other dessert options are an “orange dream” cheesecake and assort sorbet.

As you might notice, we didn’t order order any sides. Josh’s images depicting 8 bites of potatoes for $10 kept us away. Of course, STK would happily allow you to order their sides from the regular menu even if you are enjoying the Magical Dining Month menu for the rest of your meal. Same goes for their various cocktails (which we also didn’t order, because we planned on hitting up Jock Lindsey’s and Homecoming later that night.) I’ll refer you, again, to Josh’s review for information on those.

Overall, Elyssa and I had a really good meal at STK (and Rebecca G was an excellent server, who provided information about the restaurant and the food as we went along.) I’m perfectly happy paying $66 (plus tax) for what we got (and think it was probably a pretty good value.) That said, I’m not sure STK is for me. As the night wore on, I really started to “feel” the bass of the music, which lessened my overall enjoyment with the experience. If I was paying 2x-3x as much for what I had, that enjoyment factor might mean more than it did when I’m getting a high quality salad, steak and dessert for $33. Since I did only pay $33 per person, though, I give dining at STK during Magical Dining Month a (tepid) thumbs up.

First Evening and Day at Disney World – August, 2016

We’re going to try something different on this trip and try to post some more updates during the trip (in addition to coverage once it’s completed.) Here are some thoughts about the first night and day of the trip:

  • Homecoming turned out to be pretty good (even if I was a little miffed at some of the seating mishaps when we arrived.) The “famous fried” chicken was good, and Elyssa enjoyed her “dinner of sides” (mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, and biscuits.) I can think of a couple of local NC places with better fried chicken, but not to the point where I wouldn’t go back to Homecoming. Getting to enjoy the meal with Eric and Kristi certainly helped things, too.(BOATHOUSE is still our top choice, but Homecoming & Morimoto are pretty close to each other in second.)
    Homecoming Friend Chicken
    Homecoming Friend Chicken
  • Kona Cafe breakfast is still fantastic. We had a 7:30AM ADR to load up on Tonga Toast (Elyssa, as always, was a “big kahuna”) before heading over to watch the Welcome Show at the Magic Kingdom (which we sometimes forget to enjoy because we’re too amped to get to our first attraction.)
  • Rope drop remains a great way to get a bunch of stuff done as your start your day. (We had a number of our favorite attractions–Buzz, Under the Sea, Jungle Cruise, Pirates–done before 10 am with–essentially–no waiting.
  • When it comes to viewing Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire, Josh from easyWDW is not wrong when he recommends standing right near the top of the slope in back of the partner’s statute. I walked to that spot about 30 seconds before the show started and got an (almost) unobstructed view of the whole thing (thanks, random guy with the giant balloon who moved up front for the finale.) It was a great vantage point for a really fun, enjoyable show.
    Let it flow
    Let it flow

Of course, the highlight of our trip so far was getting to meet up with friend of the site, host of Mighty Men of Mouse and all around great guy, Dutch Lombrowski. Dutch took some time out of his night to come join Elyssa and me, ride of Splash, and catch up all various things (that have happened over the 3+ years we’ve known each other.) As an added bonus, always entertaining Gosh Jonzalez joined us for the last hour or so of the night as well. It was great hanging out with both of them.

That’s all for this early trip update. The idea is that we’ll post more soon (but we’ll see how that goes.)

BOATRIDE, baby!
BOATRIDE, baby!
Not a bad squad

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

It might be the weekend, but here at Rope Drop [dot]Net HQ we are still committed to providing you with your News Nuggets. Before we get started on the “links” part of the Nuggets, a quick update to Tables in Wonderland. Disney has finally decided to add Skipper Canteen & Jock Lindsey’s to the list of places that get discounts (along with the much newer Nomad Lounge and Tiffins at Animal Kingdom.) I wonder if this will have any impact on attendance at Skipper Canteen.

As another special perk, Disney is giving 20% of merchandise purchase at Word of Disney in Disney Springs to Tables in Wonderland members through Labor Day. As always, I would recommend that you point out this discount to the cast members (i.e., I doubt they’ll ask you about it.)

Now, with that out of the way, let’s move on to the rest of the Nuggets!

That’s it for this edition of the News Nuggets! Of course, if you’re like me, the biggest news of the weekend is probably the announcement that the new Rogue One trailer will drop during NBC’s Olympics coverage on Thursday! (I’m a little excited for that movie.)

Elyssa Being Goofy
Elyssa Being Goofy

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

It’s time for another edition of the News Nuggets, and the biggest news of the past few days might be that the complete menus of the Epcot Food & Wine festival have been released. Thankfully, it looks like the chocolate truffle from last year is coming back.

Of course, there was a whole bunch of other Disney World news stories to cover, so let’s get right to the News Nuggets!

As you might imagine, there have been a bunch of ride-through / experience videos of the new attractions. I don’t think I’m going to watch any of them, but if you’re interested, here are a few:

I’ll end things, however, with a link to this timelapse video of “Magic Moments” at Disney World. Enjoy!!

Thoughts from a Whirlwind Weekend Trip to Disney World

If you were following along with either my or Elyssa’sTwitter accounts this past weekend, you know that we had a whirlwind trip down to Disney World. Here are some initial thoughts:

  • Magic Kingdom After Dark was Awesome: Even though Elyssa and I walked in a couple of minutes after 11, we had a fantastic time at this event. We rode Winnie the Pooh, Jungle Cruise, Pirates, Splash, Big Thunder (Elyssa rode BOTH Splash and Thunder!), Haunted Mansion, Pan, Mine Train, Under the Sea, Mad Tea Party (all 3 of us in 1 cup), Buzz, and met Mickey. We walked onto everything but Mickey (where we waited for about 10 minutes.) My only regret is that we didn’t eat more free ice cream. Overall, this event was well worth the $75 per person we spent, and I would love to do it again. (And, yes, I know that’s not the real name for the event.)
    Mickey is adorable in his safari gear
    Mickey is adorable in his safari gear
  • Tusker House is always Great (Even after only 3 Hours of Sleep): Elyssa and I love breakfast at Disney World, and one of our favorite places is Tusker House. As we’ve said before, it seems to have higher quality food than other Disney World breakfast buffets, and the character interactions have almost always been fantastic. Even Kilimanjaro Safaris being down with “technical difficulties” when we finished didn’t damper our enjoyment of the morning. (Thankfully, Safaris opened right around the time of our Fastpass+ window.)
  • The Boardwalk is Pretty Great if You Like Ice Cream: If you remember the famous easyWDW YOU WILL LOSE MEMBERS!! post, you know there was some outrage when they closed Seashore Sweets (including the thought there was no ice cream in the Boardwalk area anymore.) Well, as major fans of Beaches & Cream, Elyssa and I were always fine with grabbing a No Way Jose as our ice cream item of choice (we did that on this trip, too), but Ample Hills Creamery now provides another option. The ice cream at Ample Hills is fantastic, with some unique flavor choices (I went with the coffee toffee coffee / chocolate milk and cookies combo), but you do pay for the quality. The 2 cups of ice cream that Elyssa and I got cost more than a No Way Jose (combined, obviously).
  • Joy & Sadness!!
    Joy & Sadness!!
    There is a Stark Contrast between the crowds at the booths at Flower & Garden compared to Food & Wine: (Feel free to make your “Stark” / Game of Thrones joke here.) When you go to Food & Wine, you have to get there right when they open at 11:00am if you want to “guarantee” that you won’t have super long waits. At Flower & Garden, it was rare to even see a line at the booths (even on a Friday night.) Though I had done some research into what was being offered, I ended up deciding that I would rather just spend my money other ways than on the “outdoor kitchens.” I know people say Flower & Garden has become a “mini-Food & Wine”, but I just didn’t get that vibe. (EPCOT AISDE: The Joy & Sadness meet-and-greet is pretty awesome. Highly recommended.)
    Just like I get in my mall food court
    Just like I get in my mall food court
  • Disney Springs is a Really Nice Place to Visit and It Keeps Improving: The “it’s just mall” take is weak and tired. We get it, there’s an Under Armour store at Disney Springs and there’s one at your favorite mall. Cool. Now leave so I can enjoy the ambiance, great places to eat, and the Disney-specific shopping that is also at Disney Springs without you taking up space. I’m fine with people saying Disney Springs is “not for them”, but you’re doing a disservice to people who are planning their Disney World tip if you just dismiss it out of hand. Places like the BOATHOUSE and Jock Lindsey’s offer a chance to relax, have a drink, or get a pretty decent meal in a nice setting that doesn’t require theme park admission (The BOATHOUSE filet sliders are still a great value, and I keep waiting for them to raise the price by like $5 one night), and the construction isn’t even done yet. I think when construction is finally completed, Disney Springs really is going to be a place a majority of people are going to want to visit on their vacations. (DISNEY SPRINGS ASIDE: The 3 Little Pigs Sampler at B.B. Wolf’s was fantastic.)

There was one other big part of the trip for Elyssa and me: The BOATRIDE Club “fleet up” (term credit to friend of the site Eric Laycock). That, however, deserves its own write-up (which I’ll hopefully get to later this week.)

I had a pretty good trip
I had a pretty good trip

Disney World Summer Entertainment Announcements – EMERGENCY News Nuggets

The Disney Parks Blog exploded this morning with news about what’s coming this summer to Disney World. There is so much information that it seemed appropriate for a very special EMERGENCY EDITION of the Rope Drop [dot] Net News Nuggets!

First, we learned that near the end of May (i.e., Memorial Day Weekend), we’ll be getting:

A couple weeks later, in June, we’ll be getting:

  • Frozen Ever After – Say what you want about Frozen, but this is going to draw people to Epcot in a way that hasn’t happened for months (years?).
  • Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire. – The previous Magic Kingdom stage show had been around for so long that I can’t even really remember watching it. I’m interested to see what they do with this one.
  • Soarin’ Around the World – Speaking of things to draw people to Epcot. Going into The Land pavilion the past few months has been eerie. I’m looking forward to Soarin’ re-opening, and I have high hopes that the new video is going to be great.

Disney also announced that new princess Elena of Avalor will debut at the Magic Kingdom in August and posted another rundown of the new Disney Springs elements opening this summer.

Lastly, Disney shared some more details about the upcoming Toy Story Land at The Studios. Personally, I’m less concerned with the attractions coming to this land, and more interested into how intricate the theming is. I really hope I feel like I have been “shrunk[en] to the size of a toy” while I’m there."

Disney also released some concept video of the Slinky Dog Dash coaster, and that seems like an excellent way to end this post:

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

It’s Easter Weekend and and that means (among other things, obviously) lots of visitors to Disney World, and a whole bunch of new Disney World News Nuggets.

The biggest news is probably the new “extra” hours opportunities at the Magic Kingdom:

  • Disney “After Hours” Event Announced. – 3 extra hours at the Magic Kingdom with a low attendance sounds pretty awesome, but $150 per person is a lot of money for it. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I have the option to go to this. (I’m not the first / only person to say this, but it seems like the DVC Fireworks we saw a couple of weeks ago might be a good fit for this party.)
  • Disney adds “Early Morning Magic” to the Magic Kingdom – Rumors are saying that $69 gets you rides on Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train, Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh, as well as a “breakfast buffet” at Pinocchio Village Haus for 1.5 hours before the park opens to regular guests. I was hoping this would be $50 per person, not $70.

That wasn’t all the news from the past few days, though. Here are the rest of the News Nuggets:

We’ll end this edition of the News Nuggets with this look at what has become of Disney’s River Country “Watering Hole”. I used to love River Country, and I was sad when it was closed. It’s freaky to see what it looks like now that Disney has abandoned it. Hopefully, the rumors Jim Hill talks about (building a DVC resort in that area) turn out to be true.

See you next time!

What special entertainment will be part of After Hours at the Magic Kingdom?
What special entertainment will be part of After Hours at the Magic Kingdom?

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

We talked yesterday about the changes coming to Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend at Disney World, but what are we to do with the news of menu changes, new dessert parties, and (sadly) more price increases? Sounds like it’s time for another edition of the Rope Drop [dot] Net News Nuggets! Before we get to the majority of the Nuggets, we should need to point out one huge item:

With that out of the way, let’s get to the rest of the News Nuggets:

Though not a traditional “news nugget”, I would also like to point out that Disney plans to launch “Frozen” and “Tangled” themed wedding packages!. Yes, they’re only available in Tokyo now, but, if you ever need photography for Disney wedding (Frozen themed or not), feel free to contact Elyssa at Kivus & Camera. I bet there would be a discount for involved for getting to photograph that.

Shower Time!
Shower Time!

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

Here are Rope Drop [dot] Net HQ we’re still recovering from the price increase that happened this weekend. Of course, even 8-10% ticket price increases can’t stop us from publishing the next edition of the News Nuggets!

Phew. That was a lot of News Nuggets. Let’s take a quick break to relax in the early morning glow of World Showcase:

Early Morning at World Showcase
Early Morning at World Showcase

Now, back to the News Nuggets!

We’ll finish things up with a couple of “events” from Disney World. First, they recently had a DVC 25th Anniversary “party” at the Magic Kingdom. It featured, among other things, a rare appearance by the Haunted Mansion’s tightrope girl and a special fireworks show. Here are the videos of that show from DVC News, Inside the Magic, and The DIS:

Also, Flower & Garden festival starts tomorrow. There’s a nice primer to the festival at TouringPlans and Denise at Mouse Steps has put together a really nice preview. If you’re still looking to get more hyped for the festival, I’ll leave you with this video from The DIS:

Thanks for reading!

The easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit (2016 Edition) Review

the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit
the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit

With the holidays quickly approaching, it seems appropriate to review a book that you may want to consider putting under the tree of your favorite Disney World fan (or, in your own stocking): the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit

Though have I have been fans of both Josh’s work at easyWDW and Dave’s work at yourfirstvisit.net for some time, I initially avoided a book that (by its title) appeared targeted to people who were not Disney World veterans. After getting getting asked “I’m going to Disney World, what should I know?” for the thirty-eighth time, however, I decided I should check and see if the easy guide might be my default answer to that question going forward.

Structure and Organization

NOTE: If you want a complete, super-detailed breakdown of the book, I will refer you to this post by Josh. If you’ve ever read his work on easyWDW you can probably guess what level of detail he goes into.

The easy guide is set up to walk a first time Disney World Vistor through the key decisions that any Disney World Vistor (first time or otherwise) would have to make when planning a Disney vacations, including: when to go, how long to visit, where to stay, how to tour, etc… Each one of those decisions is receives a dedicated chapter that contains a combination of reviews, recommendations, and tips on how to make the decision, and how to execute on that decision once it has been made. For example, Chapter 5, “Where to Stay”, starts by giving criteria you may wish to evaluate when making a decision about which restort to stay in, follows that up with recommendations by Josh and Dave on where they think you should stay, and then provides detailed reviews of all of the Disney World resorts. This structure means the book can be used in two different ways: as a step-by-step “how-to” for first time or inexperienced Disney World guests, or as reference for more experienced people who just want to look up certain information.

The easy guide as a Tool for First Time or Inexperienced Disney World Guests

The easy guide excels as a step-by-step guide for how to visit Disney World. It walks potential guests through the entire sequence of decisions that they will have to make as they are planning their trip, including key decisions such as when to visit Disney World and how long they should stay. The format of the book is great for first time visitors, since each chapter starts with either specific recommendations from authors Dave and Josh about their preferred choices and why they made those choices, or with an explanation of how one should evaluate various options in order to make her own decisions. (For example, Chapter 5, “Where to Stay” features a section entitled “How to Pick Your Disney Resort Hotel” that walks you through how to evaluate the various hotel options against your available budget.) Basically, it allows a first time Disney World guest to start a chapter, make the decision that chapter discusses, and then move on to the next chapter / decision, all in the order that Josh and Dave recommend.

Though first time Disney World visitors might not need to read all of the reference material available near the end of each chapter, the “cheat sheets” found in Chapter 6, “How to Spend Your Time”, are a must read. Anyone who’s ever used Josh’s easyWDW cheat sheets knows that they offer high quality advice on how to plan your day at a given Disney World park. By providing them in a book designed for first time Disney World guests, Dave and Josh have put their readers in a great position to efficiently and enjoyably see all the attractions and other entertainment available at Disney World, even if it’s their first visit.

My biggest complaint with the easy guide as a complete, go-to resource for first time Disney World guests is the sparse explanation on how to setup and use the various functionality found in Disney’s websites and mobile apps. For example, the section on making ADRs (Chapter 7, Where to Eat – Advance Dining Reservations) is only about a page and half of explanation, and does not fully convey the stressful,  6am, mad rush that takes place when trying to secure reservations at certain restaurants. Instead, that information is relegated to a “Disney World To-Do List” at the end of the book (where it could easily be missed by the book’s readers.) Relatedly, the second-to-last chapter of the book (Chapter 9, “How to Setup Everything Up and Get Everything Done”) dedicates only 3 pages to setting up a My Disney Experience account and booking Fastpass+ in advance of a trip. Though there are some very detailed descriptions of how to complete that process, some more in-depth discussion of how to use these systems (e.g., explaining that your My Disney Experience account needs to have reservations and tickets added in order to make Fastpass+ reservations) might be necessary for Disney World novices.

In summary, the easy guide is almost the perfect book to hand to someone who says “I’m thinking about going to Disney World, what should I know?” It will walk her through all the of the decisions she has to make in order to plan and enjoy her vacation. That said, if you are recommending this book to a first time Disney World vistor, you still might want to point out the importance of certain 180-day and 60-day deadlines, and don’t be surprised if you get a call or two asking for a little help when it comes time to the setup and use some of the My Disney Experience-related stuff.

The easy guide for Experienced Disney Veterans

I made a joke once when friend of the site Dutch Lombrowski was on the WDW 4 Families podcast: “Too much discussion about how various attractions matter to families, 1 star.” If you listen to a podcast named “WDW 4 Families,” you can’t really knock it when it focuses on planning a vacation for families. Here, we have a book entitled the easy guide to your first visit to Walt Disney World. You can’t really knock the book if it’s strength is in helping people plan their first Disney World vacation.

Still, I assume people who visit a site dedicated to Disney World might have some experience visiting the resort, and I want to assure those readers that they will still probably find value in the easy guide. First, as mentioned above, this book makes a great resource to hand to people who ask you what they should know when planning their first Disney World vacation, and, if you’re a Disney World veteran, you probably get that question every so often. Second, the book provides a nice collection of reviews of resorts and dining that you can reference when you need to make decisions in your trip planning. If you like Dave’s and Josh’s work on their respective sites, it’s pretty likely that you are going to like their work in the book. (You might also like the little insights from Disney historian Jim Korkis that are sprinkled throughout the book.)

Lastly, even the most veteran Disney World guest may benefit from seeing how two experts in Disney World vacations recommend planning a trip. After years and years of Disney World visits, us veteran guests might be so set in our ways that we never stop to see if someone has come up with a better way to do certain things. For example, take a look at Dave’s recommendations about which weeks to visit Disney World, or at Josh’s most recent theme park cheat sheets, and see if there’s something new you might want to integrate into your next Disney World trip.

The 864-Page Gorilla

Any review of a Disney World guide book must deal (at least to some degree) with how that book compares to the massive Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. As readers of this site are probably aware, the Unofficial Guide is an almost 900 page (three times the size of the easy guide) book that gives its readers a ton of information about Disney World and its surrounding area. Much like the easy guide, it contains reviews of hotels, restaurants, and strategies for touring the Disney World theme parks. It also adds in tons of information about off-site options, transportation (including airport and rental car information), and other Orlando area theme parks (e.g., Universal Studios Florida, SeaWorld, etc…) that you will not find in the easy guide.

After spending time with both books, I think there is room on a Disney Fan’s bookshelf (on in her Kindle) for both of them. They both contain valuable information (though Josh might have an opinion as to which set of touring tips is better) and I have used both of them as a reference at various points since I purchased them. That said, the easy guide is much more focused on presenting the author’s recommendations than providing the huge dump of information that the Unofficial Guide does. Depending on how knowledgable about Disney World you are, you might see that as a benefit or a negative.

If I was picking a book to give to someone who has never visited Disney World before, I’d probably pick the easy guide. If I was picking a book for a Disney veteran, I’d have to know a little bit more about what kind of Disney guest the person was before making a recommendation.

Don’t These Guys Already Have Websites with this Information?

Yes. Dave runs yourfirstvisit.net, and Josh runs easyWDW.com You could almost certainly get all of the information in the book by digging through these sites and putting together your own “guide to a first Disney World visit.” My question is: Why would you? Dave and Josh have put together the information from both of their sites in a convenient, easy to follow structure, that allows first time Disney World guests to walk through all the important decisions necessary to plan their vacations. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?

For people like me who read Dave’s and Josh’s sites on a regular basis, I partially look at my purchase of the book as a way to support people who do good work that I find helpful. I’m not saying I would have bought the book if it was literally cow feces, but knowing that I’m supporting these guys doesn’t hurt.

Summary

The easy guide is a great book for first time (or inexperienced) Disney World guests, since it walks those guests through all of the important decisions they will have to make as they plan their Disney World vacation. Disney World veterans, though not explicitly targeted by the book, will probably also benefit from the information found in the easy guide. In the end, if you’re looking for a Disney World guide book, I recommend giving the the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit a shot.

The the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit is available from Amazon in: * Paperback (which actually includes a free Kindle version); and * Kindle formats. You can also purchase a PDF version of the book directly from Dave and Josh.

News Nuggets (Special, Double-Sized Edition!)

Double-Sized Corn Dog Nuggets. Yum.
Double-Sized Corn Dog Nuggets. Yum.

While we were away on an actual visit to Disney World, we fell a little behind on the various bits of news that came out over the past couple of weeks. We intend to rectify that situation with today’s special, double sized, edition of Rope Drop [dot] Net’s News Nuggets:

NOTE: While I was preparing this News Nuggets update, Disney released additional details about the nighttime “Rivers of Light” show coming to the Animal Kingdom. I couldn’t wait to share that news, and already posted about it here.

Lastly (and of particular interest to Elyssa), next year’s Dapper Days have been announced: * April 16 – Magic Kingdom * November 12 – EPCOT

I think we already have a Kivus & Camera wedding booked for April 16, so I guess we’ll see how badly Elyssa wants to go down for the one in November.

Reviewing Disney World Annual Pass Restaurant Discounts

Annual Passholder Discount Card
Annual Passholder Discount Card

With the recent increase in price for Tables in Wonderland, I bet I’m not the only one trying to figure out if it is going to be worth it to renew that card. One part of that cost-value analysis involves comparing the Tables in Wonderland discounts to those discounts that I already get as an annual pass holder. Though I am still working through my own analysis, here is a list of AP discounts compared to what you receive via Tables in Wonderland (“TiW”). These discounts appear to be good as of today (and, presumably, through the end of the 2015): NOTE: TiW Discounts do include alcoholic beverages

20% off Regularly Priced Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages During Lunch, and 10% off during Dinner:

15% off Regularly Priced Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages

10% off Any Purchase

10% off Lunch & Dinner Entrées:

10% off Regularly Priced Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages (Blackout Days Apply):

10% off Regularly Priced Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages DURING LUNCH ONLY (Blackout Days Apply):

10% off Regularly Priced Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages DURING LUNCH MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY ONLY (Blackout Days Apply):

10% off Regularly Priced Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages DURING BREAKFAST ONLY (Blackout Days Apply):

The above mentioned blackout days are what you would probably expect: New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve.

NOTE: The Annual Pass does offer a 20% discount off the House of Blues Gospel Brunch, but the discount not available on the following dates: April 5, May 10, June 21, December 20 and December 27, 2015.

Hopefully, this listing helps you a little as you try to decide if continuing with Tables in Wonderland is the right idea for you.

Disney’s Video Preview of Morimoto Asia

On the heels of the Morimoto Asia releasing its menu on its Facebook Page (and 1 day before it opens on September 30), Disney Parks has released a new video “preview” of the restaurant:

The video gives a decent look at the interior of the space, but does not provide a ton of insight into what the experience will be like (though it does put a lot of emphasis on this being the first time that Masaharu Morimoto will be doing pan-asian cuisine.) Based on the reviews of Chef Morimoto’s other restaurants, however, I think people expect good things.

Examining Disney Dining Scarcity as Evidenced by Third-Party ADR Sites

The recent closing of Disney Dining Buddy, and the interesting “Opening Soon” message on the former Dis Dining Agent has led people to talk about Disney’s response to the rather rapid rise of third party ADR services. (NOTE: As of this post, Disney Dining Scout appears to still be operating, and has said they “welcome any opportunity to speak to Disney” about their service.) Though a lot of the coverage on this issue has dealt with how “bad” such services are (for a variety reasons), I have been unable to find a good discussion about one of the primary, underlying issue: how Disney handles the scarcity in its available ADRs.

People *really* want to eat at Be Our Guest
People really want to eat at Be Our Guest

As anyone who has read The Unofficial Guide knows, it is pretty much a requirement that you be online, at 6am, exactly 180 days before you anticipated Be Our Guest dining date, if you want any real chance of getting a reservation. (Don’t worry, we’ll mention the onsite “whole trip” booking advantage later.) Though many restaurants will still have some availability 100, 60, or, possibly, 30 days out, Be Our Guest frequently fills up in a matter of minutes on the 180 day mark. This is a clear illustration of the extremely high demand for ADRs at this restaurant, and of Disney’s primary method of dealing this demand (a demand that clearly outstrips supply): distribution based on personal time investment.

Distribution based on personal time investment is basically saying that “those people who are willing to do thing X at time Y” are going to get a priority when it comes to distributing a scarce resource. In Disney’s case, this means being online at 6am, 180 days before your desired ADR date. Some view it as a “fair” system, since it has no real income or opportunity component (requiring you just that that you get up super early and be on a computer), but also provides a way for people to gain a small advantage by doing a little “something extra” (i.e., the previously mentioned getting up early.) In other words, it rewards people who are “invested” in their Disney vacations, but does not punish those who cannot afford to make more of a monetary investment toward them.

As you might expect, those who are well versed in Disney World planning usually like this personal time investment system, since knowledge of the system’s existence is such a high barrier to entry. (This “knowledge of the system” advantage was also one of the reasons people were upset with the removal of “Legacy” Fastpass, which significantly fewer guests used than the new Fastpass+ system.)

The third-party dining sites, however, fundamentally changed ADR distribution from being primarily based on personal time investment, to being primarily based on personal monetary investment. Now, instead of having a “fair” system where anyone could (in theory) book a reservation by getting up early, the reservations were based on who was willing to pay money to gain access to certain reservations. This distribution based on personal monetary investment is a valid way to distribute scarce resources (see, e.g., Uber’s surge pricing), but (thankfully?) Disney has not yet fully embraced it for ADRs. On the other hand, Disney has fully implemented such a distribution system on the room pricing side of the vacation (and has apparently investigated implementing it on the park admission side of things), so it’s not inconceivable that Disney could move to such a system to allocate ADRs. (Of course, to some degree, ADRs already have a flavor of monetary investment distribution because of the whole-trip booking advantages given to Disney’s onsite guests.)

Before Be Our Guest, it was a lot harder to eat at Cinderella's Royal Table
Before Be Our Guest, it was a lot harder to eat at Cinderella’s Royal Table

At this point, it seems likely that Disney will continue to provide some kind of advantage to people who are willing to make a little investment, whether in time or money, to their vacation (especially, those willing to stay onsite at Disney resorts.) Should Disney want to completely remove this advantage, however, it could move to ADR distribution via lottery. In that case, everyone who wants to eat at Be Our Guest on a given day would put in their request, and then Disney would randomly choose who, out of all the submitted requests, would get the reservations. Though some people may view this as the “fairest” alternative (and though a move to such lotteries for extremely high demand experiences has some precedent), I find it unlikely that Disney would ever make such a change.

A quick aside before concluding this piece: I would imagine that, in addition to the recebt issues people had with an ADR distribution system based on personal monetary investment, people also had an issue with it being third-party sites that were gaining the windfall from the ADR “fees.” That said, I believe that if Disney were to move to a purely monetary investment based system (again, think Uber surge pricing), people would have a very similar reaction.

In summary, the rise (and fall) of third-party Disney ADR sites shined an interesting light on the scarcity problem that Disney continually has to face. The reactions to this issue from the Disney fan community seem to indicate that the status quo of distribution based on personal time investment is the preferred approach of most Disney fans. How are we all going to react, however, if Disney decides that continuing to refrain from implementing a monetary distribution approach means they are (almost literally) leaving money on the table?

Getting an ADR has its rewards
Getting an ADR has its rewards

Early Reviews of Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar

As you may have heard on Twitter yesterday, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar is now open at Downtown Disney (or “Disney Springs” if you’re reading this after September 29, 2015.) As is usually the case when a new place to grab food or drink opens, there have been a ton of new reviews posted.

The most thorough review of the bar, so far, comes courtesy of Dani (last name withheld) at TouringPlans. Her review features a good mix of photos, a description of the arrival experience (texting people that they can return is so much nicer than a pager-based system), and a nice rundown of the food and drinks she tried:

The calamari flatbread [$14.99] is a perfect choice for calamari fans. The harissa spread gives a nice Mediterranean flavor. This is a great option to share. The Air Pirate’s Pretzels ($8.99) were also a surprise hit. The caraway seeds add depth to the flavor, the beer cheese is way-too-good , though the mustard may be too strong for some palates.

(For people liked me who have no idea what “harissa” is, it’s “a Tunisian hot chili pepper paste the main ingredients of which are roasted red peppers, serrano peppers and other hot chili peppers and spices and herbs”.)

Josh from easyWDW also had an excellent write-up on the bar, that was full of his usual snark:

Lisa ordered the $10.25 Reggie’s Revenge: Florida Cane ‘Orlando Orange’ Vodka, Midori Melon Liqueur, White Cranberry Juice, and fresh Lime Juice. Ordinarily, you want to avoid just about anything originating in Florida, perhaps with the exception of this week’s episode of Cops, but Florida Cane does a good job with their vodkas. (emphasis added)

As you would expect from an easyWDW review, the article is full of good pictures (including some artsy titled ones) and good, practical advice about what you might want to actually order. (I admit I was pleased that he also seemed to enjoy the calamari flatbread, since I have been intrigued by that option since the menu was first posted. Also, his running joke about the name of the bar is fantastic.)

If you’re looking for more photos from the bar, then Denise at MouseSteps has a post with about a 100 of them. WDW Magic has also nice, concise, review, if you still want more coverage.

John and Elyssa’s Favorites – Breakfast at Walt Disney World

This is the first post in the Rope Drop [dot] Net John & Elyssa’s Favorites series. As you can probably guess, this series is our take on the always popular “rankings” game.

Elyssa and Tigger Selfie
Elyssa and Tigger Selfie

For the first entry in this series, we have put together our favorite places to have breakfast at Disney World. We based the rankings mainly on “in restaurant” factors (such as quality of food, and restaurant theming and ambiance), but external factors (such as location of the restaurant) did play some role in our rankings. Our rankings include all Disney World table service restaurants where we have ever enjoyed breakfast (and one “quick service” place that you can probably guess).

Favorite Breakfast Restaurants at Disney World

 11. Captain’s Grille: Every so often, you might hear about the “improvements” at the Captain’s Grille. I guess I understand that, but the restaurant still comes in the bottom of our favorites list. The major reason for its position is the generic theming and forgettable meals. If you’re staying at the Yacht or Beach Clubs, it’s not the worst option, but it’s nothing particularly special.

10, Cape May Cafe: This ranking may surprise someone people , who view it as a cheaper breakfast buffet that features characters like Minnie, Goofy, and Donald in their swim gear. For Elyssa and I, however, we cannot handle how loud the restaurant is. The buffet is fine, but we would rather enjoy our breakfast at one of the other breakfast buffets higher on the list.

Star Wars Breakfast at Sci-Fi Dine-In
Star Wars Breakfast at Sci-Fi Dine-In

9. Sci-Fi Dine-In: Though the Sci-Fi Dine-In recently announced it would offer breakfast starting in November, Elyssa and I had breakfast there during a previous Star Wars weekend. Much like the newly announced breakfast, the meal we had consisted of pastries, an appetizer, an entrée, and a beverage. Though we enjoyed the presence of Star Wars characters, we found the food underwhelming, the restaurant too dark, and the “cars” that you dine in rather small and uncomfortable. Since it is actually in The Studios, it jumps ahead of the out of park options mentioned above, but not by a large margin.

8. Trattoria al Forno: With Trattoria al Forno, we enter the section of the list that features restaurants that we consider going to on just about each trip. Though the theming is a bit bland, Trattoria al Forno’s food is top notch (I have enjoyed both the waffle and the apple-cinnamon pancakes). Its location near Epcot’s International Gateway also makes this a great way to start a late morning visit to World Showcase.

7. ‘Ohana: ‘Ohana delivers some of the best character interactions we have had at a character meal. Unfortunately, some of the food delivered was not quite as good as that at other locations (for example, we found the bacon to be soggy instead of crisp and the biscuits kind of disappointing). That said, the baskets of welcome bread were delicious (and they’ll give you more if you ask.)

Elyssa is a Princess at Cinderella's Royal Table
Elyssa is a Princess at Cinderella’s Royal Table

6. Cinderella’s Royal Table: You might expect that a restaurant with pretty good food, inside of Cinderella’s castle, would rank higher on the list, but extremely high cost and the clear pressure that they put on you to finish quickly knock it down our rankings. The interactions with the Disney Princesses, however, are top notch.

5. Be Our Guest: The one “quick service” location in our rankings (I add the quotation marks since the meal is actually delivered to your table after you order at an interactive kiosk), Be Our Guest, combines the excellent theming of Beast’s Castle with the ability to be done with breakfast and roaming the Magic Kingdom thirty-plus minutes before park opening. The mildly-high cost considering the quality and amount of the food you receive is all that keeps Be Our Guest from being ranked even higher.

4. 1900 Park Fare: Located in the Grand Floridian, 1900 Park Fare offers a good quality breakfast buffet and unique character meet-and-greet opportunities, for a lower price than a similar experience actually inside a one of the theme parks. Enjoy a quality breakfast here and then ride the monorail one stop to the Magic Kingdom.

3. Whispering Canyon Cafe: It probably won’t surprise anyone to see one of Elyssa’s and my overall favorite restaurants on this list. Whether you’re having an all-you-care-to-enjoy breakfast skillet, or a full-sized Mickey-waffle (though listed as “Jeffro Bodeen’s Belgian Waffle”, it’s a giant, Mickey-shaped waffle), you’re going to end up with a high-quality meal featuring all the Cast Member interaction that makes Whispering Canyon Cafe such a special place to eat. As an added bonus, you’re just a boat ride away from the Magic Kingdom when you’re done.

2. Crystal Palace: “Poof’s Puffed (Not Stuffed) French Toast.” Need I say more? Seriously, though, Crystal Palace features the gang from Winnie the Pooh and a top-notch breakfast buffet (including an omelet station) inside the Magic Kingdom. It would take some place really, really special to top that….

So onto our favorite spot for “brekkies” as Elyssa likes to say:

1. Tusker House: Tusker House is Disney at its best. Impeccable theming, magical character interactions, and a buffet that serves a bunch of tasty breakfast food. Some of Elyssa’s and my best days have started off with breakfast at Tusker House, and I would imagine that we’ll try to visit it during our Disney trips for years to come. Last but not least, its location near the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris provides a great benefit now (see the animals first), and might provide even more of a benefit when an entrance to Avatarland opens nearby as well.

Meeting Mickey at Tusker HouseMeeting Mickey at Tusker House

There you have it: our favorite breakfast joints at the World. What did we miss? Has anyone tried the new character breakfast at the Four Seasons?