Beyond Neverland 2.0

It’s time for our Second Annual Beyond Neverland Trip! I can’t believe it’s already been one year since our first. It was a year ago on our trip that we decided to document our travels in this blog.


As usual, we plan on taking it easy, while trying at least one or two new activities. One thing we always say that we’re going to do is play mini golf at either Winter Summerland or Fantasia Gardens. It has become the running joke that we will play mini golf everytime we go, because we always seem to run out of time to play. This year we are staying at Carribbean Beach Resort – a hotel we haven’t stayed at in 26 years. I remember it vividly and look forward to rediscovering the offerings. I am so ready for
our little two night sisters’ getaway. At this time tomorrow, we will be there!

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Food fun from my last trip

One of the greatest things about heading to Walt Disney World is the dining. There are so many different wonderful food options, from super fancy to a walk up counter – you can find pretty much anything you are looking for or craving. On my last trip I enjoyed some of my must-haves as well as a few new finds:

Pizzas from Via Napoli IMG_20160527_200549

These are the most authentic pizzas I’ve tasted since dining in Rome in 2009. I know they import their flour and tomatoes from Naples and I think that might be what puts theirs’ over the edge. Every time I eat here, I must have the same pie – Carciofi Pizza which is a white pizza topped with fresh artichoke, fontina, mozzarella and truffle oil. I had never tasted truffle oil until trying out this pie years ago and I am hooked on it. It adds a really unique element to the pizza. The other pie pictured is a simple Margherita topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil. We traded slices, but I dominated the Carciofi. The Margherita was really good too!

Dole Whip

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A true, tried and tested treat, it’s one of my go-to items to have for lunch when I’m hot and saving room for a big dinner. I also really appreciate how it is available almost year round at Epcot (at the Flower & Garden and Food & Wine festivals) since I usually spend a lot of time there.

The Bread Basket and Romaine Salad at Le Cellier

Bread and salad, sounds basic right? Not here. I was blown away at these starter options. The bread was soft and absolutely delicious – pretzel, multi grain and sour dough. I love having different choices and not just a basic plain roll when a bread basket is presented at a a restaurant. The salad description reads as “Black Truffle Vinaigrette, Pecan Whisky Sabayon, Parmesan Brioche Crumbs.” It was seriously one of the freshest tasting salads I had ever eaten. And the Sabayon, had a hint of sweetness that I couldn’t get enough of. The next time I return to Le Cellier, I really hope it is still on the menu.

The Loaded Mashed Potatoes at Le Cellier

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This decadent side is Molly’s favorite accompaniment in all of Walt Disney World. It is gluten free, but that’s where the health benefits end! The mashed potatoes have smoked cheddar, bacon, chives, and potato skin crisp. C’est magnifique! Of course, there was plenty to share, so we all enjoyed this treat.

It has gotten to the point where my favorites list continues to grow and grow. That is another element that keeps Walt Disney World “fresh” for a veteran like myself!

 

 

 

Staying off property…again…?

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Photo credit for all photos: Wyndham Hotels and Resorts

 

UPDATE: We returned to this resort later in the year and stayed in the “garden” wing of this resort, vs. the tower that we wrote about in this post. It was a horrible experience and we ended up moving to a WDW resort. So, we can no longer recommend a stay at this hotel!

 

As you probably know by now, we almost always stay at a WDW resort mostly because we don’t like to leave “the bubble.” Being immersed in the magic 24 hours a day is what we thrive on and at one time was all we ever knew. We’ve started expanding our horizons , and this past week I had the opportunity to try another off property resort. A few months ago, my husband mentioned he had a conference at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista, located on Hotel Plaza Boulevard next to Disney Springs. When he told me the dates and location I told him I was “in” immediately. While he listened and learned about earthquakes I could play in the parks on my own! We also extended our stay an extra night so we wouldn’t have to drive back to Jacksonville on a Friday evening in rush hour traffic. As an added perk, his company paid for our first two hotel nights as well as mileage and his meals. Score!

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From the moment we pulled up I got such a good vibe. Valet parking and self parking are the same reasonable rate ($8), so we used valet as we knew we wouldn’t be driving until we left. It was really convenient being able to unload and not worry about parking the car. Check in was a breeze and we were treated with excellent service. We had a room in the main tower on the 17th floor and it was nice and clean and very quiet.

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The entire place was really relaxing and calming. I made use of their fitness center twice and was impressed at the machines and the cleanliness, as well as towels and water that is offered.

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I took advantage of the hotel bus system once and it wasn’t bad. They depart on the hour and half hour so it was nice to know when to be down for the bus. From pick up to walking into the Magic Kingdom it took me 45 minutes total. For return from the parks, I didn’t write down the locations of where they pick up, so instead I took a bus to Saratoga Springs and walked from there. From the bus stop to my room it was 15 minutes (though I admit I’m a power walker). I did not try any of their restaurants, but it is worth noting they have a 24 hour quick service option located in the hotel lobby.

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My favorite amenity was the proximity to Disney Springs. As mentioned before, if you aren’t staying near the Springs, it’s quite a headache driving or taking a bus to the area. The traffic is usually bad as the roads going into the area get jammed up, especially in the evenings. All 3 nights we simply walked over and were there within 5 minutes since the hotel is literally located next to a pedestrian bridge. It was great being able to really take our time at Disney Springs without being rushed. We also took a few boat rides to the different Disney resorts for fun (Port Orleans Riverside and Old Key West).

If the price was right and I wanted to spend some time at Disney Springs, I would certainly stay here again. It may not be fully submerged in the Disney magic, but it’s definitely close enough for me!

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Morimoto Asia: A Dining Experience Worth Braving the Crowds For

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When I booked our New Year’s trip, I knew on the first day we wouldn’t be hitting any parks. I had mentioned this to Mama Darling, and she immediately suggested we try out Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs. I checked out the menu and it didn’t take too long to convince me, I was in. I had never actually heard of it before and didn’t realize how hard it was to get a reservation. I booked one for us at 5:15 pm which is a little on the early side, however, after checking daily for a few weeks I snagged a cancellation at 6:00 which for us was a much more suitable time.

This was my first visit to Disney Springs in well over two years. The last time I was there it was still called Downtown Disney, and there wasn’t much construction going on. Molly and Mama Darling have been to DTD/DS quite a few times since construction started, but I didn’t quite know what to expect. This post is going to focus on the restaurant experience rather than the ‘Springs, but I will note that trying to get to the restaurant was an adventure to say the least with crowds everywhere!

Upon entering, we sensed a calm atmosphere with immaculate modern architecture, and we quickly forgot about the chaos outside the doors.

 

We waited a few minutes and were seated at a table for two in the middle of the restaurant on the first floor. The thing I loved about the seating was that even though some tables are close together, you still have a feeling of privacy and can hardly hear anyone around you. (Or maybe our neighbors were just quiet!) I really liked the open kitchen concept and I could easily tell how spotless everything was. The music was soothing and mellow, with a little bit of a flair that we loved. We actually used Mama Darling’s app on her phone that tells you what music you are listening to – the artist is called OhmG & Bruno.

I knew I wanted to try a bunch of different items, so we decided to share everything, rather than ordering our own entrees. Luckily, Mama Darling let me choose everything, apparently she trusts my opinion when it comes to fine dining.  We were pleased to see that they have different menus for people with various allergies.

We started out with three dim sum selections- vegetable egg rolls, chicken dumplings and grilled chicken bao (steamed buns with grilled teriyaki chicken):

 

 

Everything arrived piping hot, and I could not wait to dive in. All three appetizers were deliciously authentic. My favorite were the egg rolls, which I added onto the order last minute. I am so happy I did! They were unique and filled with edamame, kale and mushrooms and served with a spicy apricot dipping sauce.

For our entrees~chicken lo mein and basil fried rice:

 

Now these entrees might seem basic at first glance, but I can assure you they were not. They were not your “typical” fried rice and lo mein. The noodles tasted fresh, not dried, and the sauces in both dishes were very pure in flavor. The amount we ordered was the perfect amount for two people, and I would definitely order these entrees again. I only hope that in the future I can go with more people so we can order even more selections to try. I absolutely will be back!

 

Extra Magic Hours Before Sunrise

On our last trip, our passes were blacked out the first day, and we enjoyed taking it easy and leisurely soaking up the atmosphere of the Epcot Resorts. Mama Darling had joked that she would go to the Magic Kingdom that night to see if her pass would work after midnight (the park was open until 1:00 am). Her case would be that it was technically January 2nd at midnight, and they should let her in.

I thought about it for a millisecond, but then came up with a more do-able plan for the next day. I noticed that MK had Extra Magic Hours at 7:00 am, and I thought why not? It would require getting up super early, but it might be kind of fun. I let the others know my plan and set my alarm for 5:50 am with the intent to be out the door by 6:15 am (I do not take long to get ready at all). To my surprise, the bus stop had lots of others with the same game plan as me. It was comforting to see them all in their rain gear (it was raining lightly) and in the pitch black. It really felt like the middle of the night when our bus arrived, because it was just so dark.

We arrived at the Magic Kingdom by 6:40 am, and there really were not many people there at all. The only other times I’ve been near or in the parks this early was for the Walt Disney World Marathon and Half Marathon. Other than that, I’ve never had the opportunity. They let us in the gates at 6:45 am, and I was easily one of the first 50 people lined up. The “Welcome Show” started promptly at 6:50 am. and it was so cool seeing it in the dark. Even the Mayor wasn’t awake yet – a Dapper Dan had to do the opening!

 

Just as they let us in I got right up front and they actually did herd the group behind a rope. Rope drop is something that I thought was no more,  but I guess they still do it after all. As we slowly walked down Main Street (still in the pitch black), it was neat to see it all lit up along with the Castle and holiday lights. I figured I better tackle the Mine Train first if I wanted to ride it. I got in line and didn’t have to wait – it took about 10 minutes to get through the whole queue. Not bad! At this point the sun was starting to rise. It was really neat to see the Magic Kingdom “wake up”.
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Next up: Peter Pan. This queue also took about 10 minutes to get through, but after that I did not wait in any lines at all. It was crazy to think that literally two days ago the park was at capacity and Space Mountain had a 180 minute wait. After Peter Pan, I made my way over to the Barnstormer and I literally had it to myself (other than a couple people in the front).  I seriously felt like I was the only person in the Storybook Circus Section of Fantasyland. After the quick Barnstormer ride, I walked onto the Tea Cups and Winnie the Pooh and rode Thunder Mountain twice in a row. I zig-zagged my way back to Fantasyland, walked onto Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid, and finished up my morning on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. Check out this video, I had a whole people mover to myself as well as front row!

 

I could have stayed and done more attractions, but I decided to head back to the resort to meet up with the others. Would I do this again? Absolutely. I conquered 9 attractions in under 2 hours and was back to the Dolphin by 9:30 am. I’d say I made the most of my pass that morning!

Living with the Land… “Festive Style”

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to take a quick Christmas trip to the World, and it was the perfect way to get into the spirit of the season. I didn’t realize this on previous December trips, but Epcot seems to be the best park when it comes to the abundance of decorations, performances and music piped throughout the park. While each park has unique holiday experiences, I noticed in the other parks, there were some areas that didn’t have decorations or music. With that being said, I focused most of my time in Epcot during my 2.5 day visit.

To my surprise, Living the Land was decked out with little festive enhancements throughout the journey. I actually rode the attraction 3 times because it was so cute and enjoyable. Again this proves one of the Second Star Sisters’ core philosophies that no matter how many times we go, there’s always something new to encounter. This attention to detail is also what sets Walt Disney World apart from all other theme parks. Enjoy the photo slideshow below of Living with the Land….”Festive Style,” and most importantly, Happy Holidays from the Second Star Sisters!

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Destination – Dole Whip, Part Two

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The Original Likit in St. Augustine, FL

A couple of weeks ago I had family in town, so we decided to head south about 45 minutes to St. Augustine – the “oldest city” in America.  Now this is somewhere we frequent quite often, and it’s really fun to feel like we’re on vacation even just on a weekend day.  The day we visited was warm and sunny, and my group was very interested in trying out a Dole Whip stand that I noticed had popped up on the main drag, St. George Street, over a year ago.  I had never had the opportunity to try it, but it seemed to be, yet again, the real deal.

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