Our Disney World Experience: Dining Around Disney

This is the 4th post in my series on our recent trip (November 2015) to Disney World.  This was a huge trip for our family, one that we consider ‘once in a lifetime’ and that my wife planned out to give us the most magical and memorable experiences.

I’ve already talked about our visits to the parks as well as our hotel, so I wanted to spend some time going over some of the dining experiences we had.

Meal Plan

We decided to dine at Disney with the standard meal plan.  With that plan, you get one full service meal, one quick service meal, and one snack per day.  You can divide how you use up your dining credits over the course of your trip. Our plan ended up technically being ‘free’ because we upgraded to a deluxe hotel during our stay, and Disney offered the ‘free dining’ option to entice visitors.  And, it did as things were hopping!

Tips On Planning

If you plan on eating at Disney, you will want to be prepared in order to really enjoy your experience.  Here are a few things we learned:

  • Know what you want – Disney has all sorts of options.  They have fancier options, things that lean toward kid friendly, and everything in between.  We wanted a few ‘character’ meals where the characters will walk around and pose for pictures, and knowing this type of preference up front helped us focus our list.
  • Plan your days in full – We set out a rough plan of what park we wanted to go to on what day.  In some cases, we planned the park around the dining options available, and in some cases it was the opposite.  Either way, you have to have a plan. However…
  • Be flexible – You can start booking your dining reservations (I think) 180 days out from the start of your trip. mb-2016-01-ears You want to have a list of places that you want to go, and have an idea, but be flexible.  You may see that a ‘must dine’ place is not available on your preferred day, but is available on a different day, and if that happens, you might have to act quickly.
  • Don’t lose hope – After you make all your plans, you may find that you’ve settled on some options but don’t lose hope.  There are apps you can download that will allow you to plug in where you want to go and when, and they’ll send you an alert if something opens up.  The problem is that there are probably others who are getting the same alert at the same time, so be prepared to act quickly.
  • Use resources and past experience – We had a great book we bought off Amazon, plus a plethora of web sites that we used to get our information.  Everybody will find what’s important to them (and hopefully this post helps some), but use the information that’s out there to make sure that you’re getting the best experience.

Now, onto some of the memorable dining experiences we had.  In each case, I outlined the name of the restaurant, where it was, the type of dining credit that was used, and some thoughts that I hope help:

  • 1900 Park Fare – Grand Floridian Resort – Table Credit – We dined here on our arrival night, and it was a character dinner with Cinderella and some other characters.  It was a buffet and the food was good.  We had an awesome waitress, who was friendly, great with our kids, and gave us some tips that helped us not only at this meal but in just about every other character meal we had afterward.  One of our best Disney meals!
  • La Hacienda de San Angel – Epcot – Table Credit – We had a dinner reservation as we really enjoy Mexican food, and it’s one of our favorite dine-out options at home.  While there was nothing wrong with the meal, I think that we had higher expectations but it really wasn’t much above some of the options we have at home.  While we enjoyed it, there was nothing earth shattering and we’d probably skip it in the future.
  • Hollywood N Vine – Hollywood Studios – Table Credit – Another buffet meal that was character based.  It was a good time but the kids were tired, and the characters took quite a bit of time before they made their way to our table.  We actually had another reservation booked at this restaurant for later in the trip, but ended up cancelling it.
  • Be Our Guest (Breakfast) – Magic Kingdom – Quick Service – This was a really cool breakfast, as the experience of being in the Beast’s castle is the most memorable part, so much that we actually had a lunch and dinner here as well (the lunch was quick service and the dinner table service).  The food was good, and this was the only place where we were able to order in advance, which did make it nice in that the kids didn’t have to wait long to get their food once we arrived.
  • Tusker House (Breakfast) – Animal Kingdom – Quick Service (pretty sure) – This was another character meal and also a buffet, but had really good food.  In fact, all of the Animal Kingdom dining options seemed a step above most other parks.  We really enjoyed our location, the food, and the characters.  It was very relaxing but fun at the same time.
  • Sanna – Animal Kingdom Lodge – Table Service – Each deluxe resort has a full service restaurant, and this was a spur of the moment change that we made.  I am not really one to try ‘new things’, so the idea of eating traditional African food was a bit scary to me, but I went with it, and I am glad I did!  The food was really good.  Definitely get the add-on bread service as that’s a basis for the entire meal.  The wait staff was very friendly, the ambiance was great, and while the kids got a little bored by the end, they still enjoyed themselves and the food.
  • Cinderella’s Royal Table – Magic Kingdom – Table Service (2 credits) – This is the premier reservation, as you actually dine right inside Cinderlla’s Castle.  Pretty snazzy!  Expectations are high, and that’s actually why we dined there twice as our first experience was less than stellar.  We were very rushed and had less than accommodating wait staff, largely because we were the last lunchtime reservation and they were focused on turning things over for the upcoming dinner meal.  We spoke to the manager, and he apologized and offered for us to come back at no charge.  We did so for a later breakfast, and I was so glad we spoke up, because that was an amazing experience.  In fact, when I e-mailed the manager later in the day to thank him, I said that the breakfast experience was exactly as our family had imagined that dining in ‘the castle’ would be, and thanked him for making sure that we had that.
  • Wolfgang Puck Express – Disney Springs – Quick Service – This was a spur of the moment decision for us to head to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) and we loved it.  We all got pasta and really enjoyed the quick and easy experience.  In an earlier post, I mentioned how the quick service restaurants at the resorts seem a bit lacking, but they might not offer as much because they know that they have a ‘captive audience’, but we quickly found that it’s not really that much difference.  In the 45 minutes we might have stood in line to get disappointing food at our hotel’s quick serve, we were able to get ready and take a bus over, and get much better food and a great family dinner.
  • Mickey Shaped Stuff – The great thing about Disney World is that Mickey is everywhere, including in the food options.  It’s all over the place.  From waffles to pretzels to ice cream (my favorite), you’ll get to take a ‘bite’ out of Mickey just about anywhere you look!

There Was More

This barely scratches the surface of all of the different places we went and the food we ate, but I wanted to highlight a few options that stood out.  It’s been a little over a month between the time that we got back and when I wrote this, and since I’d say that food is probably the first memory that tends to fade on a trip like this, the fact that these still stand out says a lot.

I hope you found this helpful.

Readers, I’d love to hear your experiences with Disney World dining, or let me know if I can answer any questions (in which case, the true answer will probably come from my wife as she put all the legwork into getting us well fed!)

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

General Mills Might Be Going Off The Rails With Yoplait Yogurt

I love yogurt and typically eat one cup every day.  I’ve not hopped aboard the Greek yogurt bandwagon, as I really don’t care much for the texture and taste, but I still stick with ‘regular’ yogurt.

A year or two ago, as part of an effort to eliminate the consumption of artificial sweeteners in my diet, I switched from the low calorie (100 calories in most varieties) to the regular version.

By and large, I stuck with three different brands that I enjoyed the most.  Yoplait, plus two store brands (Meijer’s Purple Cow brand, and Aldi’s house brand).  My wife usually got me whatever brand out of the three that was the best price for the week between sale prices, coupons, etc.

It’s been a good system, but just in the past few weeks, the Yoplait brands have made some significant changes:

  • Lower Sugar – Yoplait regular yogurt (red cups) now have 25% less sugar than they did before.  This reduces the calories in a cup (on average going from 170 to 150 calories in a cup).  To offset, they increased the amount of milk in order to attempt to keep the same texture.
  • New Advertising Campaign –  To go along with their new formulations, they seem to be making a push to more TV and print advertising.

On the surface, both of these things seem like pretty good movements.  After all, more healthy options seems to benefit all, and getting the word out has to be a good idea, right?

My Impressions

However, having seen both firsthand, I feel that either one could blow up in their face, and the combination could be catastrophic.  Let me explain:

  • The new taste – I tried out a few cups of the new formula and I was not overly impressed.  You can definitely tell the lower sugar content as it’s not as sweet.  If this was the only change, I’d probably be OK as I could use a little less sugar in my diet, but the problem is that texture seems off.  It seems more chalky and thicker at the same time.  Honestly, it seems they sacrificed quite a bit just to offer a healthier option and cut 20 calories from their offering.
  • The new ad campaign – The TV spots are hard to miss.  They feature a young, pixie-type woman talking in a very heavy French accent about Yoplait.   The colors and general theme can only be described as loud and bouncy.  The first time my wife and I saw one of the commercials, we both looked at each other with an expression wondering if this was for real.  I said: “I don’t get it.” She asked, “Are they making fun of European people?”  I’m not quite sure what message they’re intending to send, but I’m pretty sure it’s not being very well received.

Social Media As A Gauge

mb-2015-07-signMany times, when I have opinions like this, I am not sure if I’m in the minority.  Maybe people love the new flavors or think that the commercials are fantastic.  Who knows?  So, in order to get a read, I’ll head over to Facebook and check out their product page.  Looking at the Facebook page for Yoplat, it appears that my concerns about both the product change and the advertising are well shared.  People think the product change is too drastic (New Coke, anyone?) and wish they hadn’t changed it or offered the new formula as an alternative instead of a replacement.  Many people don’t understand the commercials and turn the channel or fast forward through them as soon as they come on.

It seems the changes are not being well received at all.  Yikes!

I love yogurt and I’d hate to see my number of favorable options reduce from three to two options, but the way things are looking for Yoplait, I’m not convinced they’ll stay in  my rotation.

 

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

9 Reasons Why We Don’t Buy Shredded Cheese

It’s been a long time since we’ve bought a bag of shredded cheese.  Back in my single days, that’s all I ever used.  I’m honestly not even sure I owned a cheese grater!

Now, we buy only block cheese and shred it ourselves.

Here are six reasons why block cheese is better than shredded cheese.

  1. Less Chemicals, Part 1 – Shredded cheese is very convenient but in order to make a product that sells, the companies have to make sure that it stays in shredded form.  If you shred your own cheese, you’ll often note that it will very quickly start to clump together.  That’s fine if you shred and use, but if this happened while it was sitting on the shelves, nobody would buy it!  So, after they shred it, they coat it with chemicals to make sure that it does not clump up.
  2. Less Chemicals, Part 2 – Another problem with shredded cheese is that it is quite
    susceptible to mold growth.   Cheese in any form will start to mold when exposed to air.  Block cheese works great because there’s no air, but with a bag of shredded cheese, there’s just no humanly way possible to get the air out of the bag.  So, in order to lengthen the time before it starts going moldy, the companies, you guessed it, add more chemicals.  Now of course, they’ll tell you that the chemicals are perfectly safe, but why take the risk if you don’t have to?
  3. Shredded cheese is difficult to melt – If you’re using shredded cheese in a recipe that calls for nice, gooey cheese, chances are you’ll be disappointed with shredded cheese.  I’m guessing that the chemicals are doing what they’re designed to do, but it makes for terrible melting.  Block cheese that you shred yourself, however, melts just fine.
  4. Shredding cheese is easy – It’s really not that hard to shred cheese.  Grab a grater, open a block of cheese and away you go.  I do most of the shredding in our house, and an 8 ounce block doesn’t take but a couple of minutes. If you rinse off the grater right after you’re done, cleanup is a cinch.
  5. If you shred cheemb-2015-03-cheesese, you get to eat cheese! – I’m the go-to guy in our house when it comes to shredding cheese.  I actually like it, but my little secret is that I like doing it because when I’m done, I grab a pinch of freshly shredded cheese and enjoy it!  Few things top that.
  6. Block cheese is often cheaper – Depending on the cheese and the store, we’ll often find that you get an ounce or two less of pre-shredded cheese compared to what you get in for a package in block form, yet the price is the same.  To me, it’s worth getting the most cheese for my buck for the simple task of shredding it.

3 Other Things To Know About Shredding Cheese

The items above are full of some good information, but here are a few other things to know:

  • Block cheese keeps well – If you only need 4 ounces, there’s no need to shred a whole block. Simply cut off what you need and shred that, wrap the rest up, and put it back in the fridge.  That will keep the rest of the block lasting fresh for much longer than if you put the remainder back in shredded form.
  • Block cheese freezes – I actually did not know this but apparently you can freeze block cheese and as long as it’s not cream based (most isn’t except for, well, cream cheese, of course), the cheese will be just fine.  This is actually useful information, as we’ve generally shied away from buying larger bricks at Costco or when they’re on sale at the grocery store, for fear that we wouldn’t be able to use all of the cheese once opened.
  • Mold on block cheese isn’t the end world – If you get a little mold growth on the end of an open container of block cheese, you can simply cut it off and use the rest.  On shredded cheese, once you get mold started, chances are it exists through your entire package and needs to be discarded.  Waste less with block cheese.

Readers, for your cheese needs, are you a shred or block household?  What importance does convenience play?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Pizza: Homemade vs. Carryout vs. Sit-Down

Pizza.  Who’s having it tonight for dinner?  Chances are, somebody reading this is already planning on pizza as tonight’s dinner.  And, now that I’m writing about it, chances are at least one more person will choose pizza for dinner.

It’s just that good!

Our family loves pizza, and we love all three kinds of pizza. I’m not talking three different brands of pizza, but I’m talking homemade, carryout, and sit-down. What’s our favorite?  Read on to find out.

To start off, here are some pros and cons of each.

Homemade Pizza

I never knew how easy it was to make homemade pizzas, but now we make a couple of different kinds.  In the cooler months, we’ll make a pizza in the oven using pizza crust yeast, which mixes in with flour and a couple of other quick, easy ingredients to provide crust.  In the summer months, we will get pita bread and make pizzas on the outdoor grill. Yum!

Pros:

  • It’s fun to make a pizza together.  Everybody gets in the game
  • It’s cheap
  • It’s customizable.  Every person can get exactly what they want and how they want it, even on the same pizza
  • It’s healthier (if you want it to be).  You know what’s going on your pizza so you can control what goes on, and we’ve found that things like turkey based pepperoni work just great, and make things a lot less greasy.

Cons:

  • Dirty dishes. One of the best benefits to pizza is typically less dishes, but you need a pizza dish, a bowl to mix the dough, something to roll it out, and a pin, all of which require washing.
  • Rolling out pizza dough.  The first couple of times rolling out pizza dough is interesting and it usually doesn’t come out very round.  The good news is that after a few tries, you get the hang of it!

Carryout Pizza (or Delivery)

mb-2014-11pizzaWhether it’s Little Caesars Hot & Ready or something a bit more upscale, there’s just something great about picking up a phone and a few minutes and a quick trip later, having a hot pizza in a box ready to drive back home and eat.

Pros:

  • It’s easy.  With Little Caesar’s, you don’t even have to call or wait.  Other places, you might have a quick phone call and a short wait, but it’s quick and easy!
  • It’s hot. There’s nothing like getting a piping hot pizza that can only seem to work after it’s been in one of the super hot pizza ovens that only pizza places have.
  • More toppings. Pizza places typically have more toppings available to choose from than you’ll find at home.

Cons:

  • Risk.  Every once in a while, opening the pizza box at home yields less than satisfactory results, whether it be overdone (or underdone), too much sauce, too little cheese or just made wrong.  Since it’s often more trouble than it’s worth, many times you end up stuck with it.

Sit-Down Restaurant Pizza

Who doesn’t love going to a restaurant that specializes in pizza, and will bring it to you?  We have several local places around Detroit, The Alibi and Buddy’s to name a couple, that make pizza an experience.

Pros:

  • Quality.  Typically, quality is top notch and a step above carryout or delivery places.
  • The other stuff.  Our favorite pizza places are also our favorite places for salad and bread sticks.  Typically, a place that does pizza well seems to find a way to do other things well, so when it comes to good things, you get two (or three) for the price of one.
  • Full service.  Going out means no dishes or tables to clean up.  It’s all right there!

Cons:

  • Cost.  The pizzas are more expensive, and you also pay for drinks, tip, and other things that can add up quickly.
  • Wait.  Your favorite pizza place is probably the favorite pizza place for a lot of other people, so you might have to wait…and be really hungry!

As you can see, all pizza options have their share of great things and maybe not so great things, but the one thing that trumps all is that in every scenario….you get pizza!

And, that is the number one thing.

For the record, our favorite out of all three…is all of them!  That sounds like a cop-out and it might be, but we love all three.  The difference is that on some pizza days, one stands out more than another, but overall, we love all three and would never dream of dropping any option out of our ‘rotation’.

Readers, who’s having pizza tonight?  What are your favorite pizza options, toppings, and all the rest?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.