A Little Disney Magic and A Surprise Trip to Fantasmic!

Trip Review SaturdayOne of the reasons people like us keep going back to Disney over and over and over is because of the “Magic” that we feel and experience while we are there. For today’s Saturday review article I wanted to write about one of these instances from a recent trip when we experienced a piece of “Disney Magic”. Back in the days of the original FastPass system if you were like me you loved leaving the parks and being able to give away any unused FastPasses to another family that could use them. You were able to spread some “Disney Magic” yourself. Well, with the FastPass+ system now in use we can’t pay it forward like that anymore, but we were the recipients of something similar one day in Hollywood Studios.

As we were returning to Hollywood Studios after a mid-day break we were approached by a lady on Hollywood Boulevard who asked if we were staying for Fantasmic. We had not decided whether we were staying or not at the time and that is when she offered us one of these:

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Her family had done a Fastasmic! Dinner Package, but had decided they were not wanting to stay around for the show. We decided pretty quickly that with this reserved seating voucher we would go ahead and try and see Fantasmic! It was almost too good for us to pass up and we certainly did not want to let the “Disney Magic” go to waste.

With the reserved seating pass in hand we headed into the stadium about 20 minutes before the show as that stadium can seem extremely hot in the summer while waiting for the show to start. For some reason there just does not seem to be much of a breeze in the amphitheater. We did make it into the reserved seating section fairly easily, but the stadium was pretty crowded at this point.

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We purposefully wanted to be kind of near the back of the seating area as we had a three year old with us at the time and we thought the show might be a little intense for him. Not to mention this stadium is very difficult to get out of after the show, so that is another positive to being near the top of the amphitheater, it allows for a quick exit.

The show was good as it usually is, and our three year old did make it through. He only got scared one time and covered his ears, but he enjoyed much of the show as well. He especially enjoyed the boat of characters.

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Overall we were extremely excited to be the recipients of this round of “Disney Magic” and will certainly do our best to pay it forward some time in the future when we have the opportunity.

Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Review

 photo IMG_0987_zpsr30bjmkb.jpgFor today’s Saturday Trip Review Article we are going to look at our last visit to one of the most popular restaurants at Disney World, the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. The Sci-Fi Diner is one of the most heavily themed restaurants in all of Walt Disney World as guests are ushered into a dimly lit room meant to reflect being at the drive in movies, and I happen to think Disney really did a great job of delivering on this theme. From the movies playing on the big screen to being seated in replica convertible cars that have been made into booths, the theming is impeccable.

It is worth noting that we had a 5:50 reservation and check in about five minutes early, but were a little disappointed to not be seated until 6:20. For some reason this restaurant seems to have issues like this more often than not of not seating guests on time. As soon as we walked inside though the atmosphere took over and we were certainly able to enjoy our dinner.

Our waitress for this meal was fantastic and as we ordered our drinks she reminded us that we could have anyone of their special flavors added in so I took her up on that offer and added some vanilla flavoring to my soda and it was delicious. She also brought our three year old son some goldfish in a little cup so that he would have something to snack on while waiting for our meal. I have never seen that at any other Disney restaurant and he very much appreciated it.

 photo IMG_1003_zpskfm7ch1g.jpgNext came our meals and my wife ordered an appetizer as her dinner, the Honey Chipotle Barbecue Chicken Wings with Blue Cheese Dressing and Celery Sticks and she loved it. She even commented that it was probably the best thing she had eaten on our trip thus far and this was on about day five. She offered me a wing, which I graciously accepted and was able to confirm her opinion that these wings were great. It is something we would definitely order again either as a meal or appetizer.

For my meal I ended up going with the Sci-Fi Angus Burger topped with pulled pork, Siracha barbecue sauce, Swiss cheese, and pickled apple slaw. I asked for the slaw on the side as I am not a huge fan of that kind of thing on my burger. This burger was actually really good and cooked well, the only negative I had was that the pulled pork did not seem extremely fresh. It was a little tough and not extremely flavorful. The apple slaw was pretty good in our opinion as we just ate it as a side instead of trying it on the burger.

Our son got the popcorn chicken kids meal and it was served with french fries. I am always amazed at how large of a serving of fries they put on kids meals at sit down restaurants and this one was no exception. He enjoyed his kids meal, but his favorite thing was the shakes we ordered to go with our meals. We tried both the oreo shake and the chocolate shake and both were delicious.

Overall, Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater is certainly a favorite of our family for several reasons. The atmosphere is great, it is a great meal for kids as their is built in entertainment with the movie screens, and the food is usually pretty good. The food is not fancy and I would not call it excellent, but it is certainly an enjoyable spot for lunch or dinner at Hollywood Studios. Finally, our waitress on this trip, Brittany, was awesome! She was constantly interacting and talking with our son. She brought the snack to him at the start of the meal and kept checking on him the entire time. She even boxed up the remaining goldfish for him so he could take them out into the park for a snack later. She truly had the “Disney Spirit” going for her and it made our visit to Sci-Fi extra special.

For more reviews of dining at Disney World visit the dining page of this blog.

Review of Disney’s Pop Century Resort

When staying at Disney World you are always faced with the choice of what level of hotel that you are going to spend your vacation in. Sometimes a deluxe resort is calling your name and sometimes a value is calling your name. Well, the value may be calling your pocket book more than your name, but regardless I’m here to give you a review of one of those value resorts and try and convince you it is still a place where you can have a great Disney vacation. We have stayed at Pop Century a few times now and every time we have left with a positive view of the resort in our minds.

Our experience at this resort has always be fantastic at check in. The cast members have always been extremely helpful and this time was no different. We had a very helpful cast member welcome us, but we were able to go straight to our room as I had already received the text giving us our room number. This process worked flawlessly and we were given a room in the exact location that we had requested. We had a nice view of the lake, had a pretty quick walk to the main area, but were on the back side of the building so the pool noise was kept to a minimum.

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Another thing we always love about Pop Century is the nice icons around the resort. It is always a fun resort to take the kids to walk around and get pictures with the larger than life figures.

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The rooms and beds are small, but again, this is a value resort. We have found the room to be enough space for us, at least at this point with small kids, and the rooms have always been clean and comfortable.

Another area of the resort we really enjoy is Everything Pop, the food court and shopping area. Though this food court is often overshadowed by the nearby Art of Animation food court we really enjoy this one as well. The menu has enough variety to be enjoyed by everyone, but they execute all of the dishes fairly well. They also always have plenty of seating and the drink area is large enough that you do not usually have to wait in line to get refills.

Another of our favorite areas are the pool at Pop Century. It is always such a fun and festive atmosphere in the afternoons when the pool party is going on. Another great positive here with the main Hippy Dippy pool is its close proximity to the food court, which makes it very easy to grab a refill in your mug or get a quick snack. The pool is also a great area to sit in the mornings and watch the sunrise with a cup of coffee!

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The final area we really have always had good luck on at Pop Century is the bus service. I have heard other people were not so lucky, but in our several stays here up to this point we have always had a pretty good experience. The busses to the parks have always been fairly frequent and this year we ever got to ride on the new double length busses a couple of times to and from Magic Kingdom. Those double length busses seem to have been a big difference maker in transportation to the values and moderates as they can hold so many people.

Overall, Pop Century is a great option for two types of trips. First, if you are traveling with small children the size of the rooms should not be a big issue for you and Pop Century will serve you well. Second, if you are using this resort for a short trip or for a trip where you plan on spending almost all of your time in the parks this could be a nice fit even if your kids are older. Either way Pop Century has a great atmosphere, has a great staff, and certainly provides a distinctly “Disney” experience.

Lysa’s Fall Disneyland Experience – Episode 3

cropped-NEW-Icon-Edit-A.jpgEpisode #3: Week of February 8, 2016
Host: Jon Arthur
Co-Host: Lysa Thornton

In this week’s episode Jon and Lysa will be discussing news and current events at Disney Destinations around the world,  hearing about Lysa’s recent trip to Disneyland for a travel agent education program, and taking your listener questions on Disney travel.

Please send any questions about the show to host@mousedreamsblog.com and visit our website, www.MouseDreamsBlog.com for more information. Also, like our Facebook page at Facebook.com/MouseDreamsblog and follow us on Twitter @MouseDreamsBlog.

Finally, thanks to our sponsors and friends at Big Dreams Travel, an Authorized Disney Travel Planner. Visit them at www.bigdreamstravelusa.com to help with your next vacation

You can submit Disney trip planning questions for us to answer on the show by e-mailing us at podcast@MouseDreamsBlog.com, by tweeting your question to @MouseDreamsBlog on Twitter, or by visiting the listener questions page on our website at www.MouseDreamsBlog.com/podcastquestions. We would love to answer your questions on travel including Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or Disney Cruise Line. Have a great week everyone and thanks for listening!

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Kona Cafe Breakfast Review

For today’s Saturday Review article we are visiting one of the most popular breakfast spots at Disney World, Kona Cafe, at the Polynesian Village Resort. We were seated rather quickly once we checked in and were greeted by our server who quickly had our table filled with coffee, milk, and water. The service was adequate during the meal, although not something that was extremely memorable to us.

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We ordered two main entrees, the infamous Tonga Toast and the Big Kahuna. First, the tonga toast was fantastic. It was cooked very well and the filling was divine. The strawberry compote that accompanies this dish had mixed reviews. I loved it and thought it was a fantastic addition to the banana flavor of the tost. My wife on the other hand was not a huge fan of the compote saying it had too strong of a flavor for her. She used regular maple syrup and loved it on her part of the Tonga Toast.

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The Big Kahuna, just as it sounds, provides a large quantity and selection of items. The Pineapple Macadamia Nut Pancakes were what I really wanted to try and they did not disappoint. I felt the amount of pineapple on the top was a little over the top as I just like a little bit with each bite, but overall it is a really nice dish. The potatoes that come with this dish were cooked perfectly and had great flavor. Finally, the different meats on the plate were also cooked well and tasted to be of good quality.

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We also decided on the Donald’s Breakfast kids meal for the little one in the family and he loved it. He seemed to really enjoy the eggs and he ended up eating almost all of the cinnamon toast.

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I will also say the coffee was excellent, although I did not splurge for the press pot as my wife is not much of the coffee drinker. As you can see in the first picture above she is more of a cream drinker! Overall, we loved our first ever breakfast at Kona Cafe and will definitely be back.

Via Napoli Review

For today’s Saturday Review article I want to highlight a very popular restaurant in the Epcot World Showcase, Via Napoli. This restaurant is not only a favorite of ours, but it is a favorite of a large number of Disney World visitors. The large restaurant with the open kitchen and pizza oven is a fantastic option for families, especially those with large groups. The atmosphere is festive, the smells are divine, and the pizzas are authentic.

We arrived at around 11:20 AM for our 11:30 reservation time and the small lobby was already bursting at the seams as the restaurant didn’t open until 11:30. We could still see them having their staff meeting inside the restaurant, and some of them were still meeting even after we were seated at about 11:35.

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We decided to try and appetizer we haven’t had before in our previous visits and as you can tell from my picture we wasted no time jumping right in and trying the Arancini which is described as fried risotto balls with mozzarella and meat ragu.

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It was so good I was honestly considering getting another order. The flavor was great and the texture of the risotto after being fried was absolutely perfect. Even our three year old son loved his portion!

For our pizza selection we ended up getting a large pizza and splitting two of our favorite flavors, Quattro Formaggi and Piccante. I’ll also take this opportunity to say that our main waitress was awesome throughout the meal as she wanted to make sure we had everything we need. She even served us all a piece of pizza when it arrived, which kept me from getting a nice picture of the entire “pie”, but it was a great gesture nonetheless. I did the best I could!

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The Quattro Formaggi was fantastic as always and our three year old naturally loves it because it is all cheese and my wife would agree. My personal favorite is the Piccante.

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The Piccante is described as tomato sauce, mozzarella, and Italian spicy sausage, and it has been great each time I have ordered it. The sausage has a nice amount of spice to it, but not to much to make it in-edible. I also tend to enjoy that their pizzas don’t have a lot of tomato sauce, which is a big positive for me. Overall we were satisfied once again with our meal at Via Napoli and will most certainly be making a return trip in the future.

Magic Kingdom Evening Touring

Trip Review SaturdayIn this weeks edition of the Saturday Review I’m going to discuss an evening visit to the Magic Kingdom. Just like always we are a family with a toddler and were visiting on an evening in the middle of the summer. We began our evening touring at 6:30 PM after our dinner inside the park and had the goal of being out by around 9:00 PM.

This plan is a look at what you can do if you are able to go into the evening time with at least two Fastpass+ reservations still available to you. We had a Fastpass set up at Peter Pan that we used as we started touring. Peter Pan is always a good use of a Fastpass in the afternoon or evening and this time was no exception as we passed a 60 minute standby line and were on the ride in about 5 minutes.

After Peter Pan we headed into one of the most nostalgic rides for our family, Mickey’s Philharmagic. The ride was charming as usual and is still one of our favorite evening attractions at the Magic Kingdom. We stopped and got in a ride for the three year old on the carousel before heading over to use our other Fastpass+ reservation at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Many of you might want to know if we took the toddler on the ride and the answer is yes. We gave him the choice, let him watch the ride, and told him it goes pretty fast and he still said he wanted to go, or in his words “I want to ride high ho.” He loved the ride and couldn’t understand why we couldn’t get right back on. I tried to explain that the line was about 80 minutes, but he didn’t like that answer very well!

After Seven Dwarfs we decided to do another ride the toddler would enjoy and headed back to Storybook Circus and took a ride on Dumbo. What a great ride at night! The lights and the water just make a great little experience and of course you get great views of the park once you get up high. It was about 8:00 at this point so we started heading back towards the front of the park. We stopped so I could take a ride on Space Mountain as I had picked up a child swap pass when my wife had ridden that morning. It was a great ride as always and then we of course had to take a spin on the Peoplemover on the way out of the park.

By the time was had finished the Peoplemover it was about 8:30 and we began our walk to the exit. They did have the back path open behind Main Street and we took it since we didn’t have any shopping to complete that day. We were out of the park by 8:45. So overall, we did seven attractions in about two hours and 15 minutes with the aid of a couple of Fastpass+ reservations. I’d say that’s a pretty production evening at the Magic Kingdom. Happy Trip Planning!

‘Ohana Dinner Review

Here we are for another trip review article and this week I’m going to discuss our latest visit to one of our favorite Disney World restaurants, ‘Ohana. The Polynesian Village Resort is home to this restaurant that is one of the most popular on property and we have had several great visits here since our Disney obsession began about five years ago.

We arrived about 10 minutes early for our reservation time and despite the craziness that is ‘Ohana check in we were seated almost right at our time and with a view of the castle. For some reason I was so excited about dinner I didn’t get a picture of that great castle view so you’ll just have to trust me, it was a great view! We had a fantastic waitress who came and introduced herself and got our drink orders. While she was gone we got our stomachs warmed up with the bread, which was warm and delicious as always.

After we had received our drinks they dropped off our salad, which was a new recipe this year and we did enjoy it more so than the one that had been here in the past. After the salad we were treated to one of the most underrated parts of an ‘Ohana meal, the noodles plate.

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We really enjoy the noodles here. Maybe they just seem good as they balance out all of the meat, but they sure seem to have a great taste and almost a slight sweetness to them. At the same time the plate of wings and potstickers arrived.

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Now, my wife loves the chicken wings and I love the potstickers, so we are able to appease each other by eating what we like. The wings are sticky and have a very tasty sauce and the potstickers were cooked just perfectly crispy. It was certainly a good start to the meal. As we were enjoying these items the meat began to arrive. For those of you who haven’t been to ‘Ohana the meat is delivered on long skewers and the waiters just push off however much you want onto your plate. Here was my plate at some point in the meal.

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The steak was cooked perfectly as you can see in the picture. That has not always been the case here as it is sometimes overcooked, but we got a great batch on this visit. I also had the chicken and it was really tasty, and my wife and I agreed it was much better than we remember. I was a little disappointed that the pork had been taken off the menu as I used to like the pork better than the chicken, but this was good nonetheless. Finally, the shrimp…heaven! I love the shrimp here and it has been that way every time I have been to ‘Ohana. It is cooked perfectly and the seasoning and char are just excellent. Needless to say what you see on the plate above was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of shrimp I took care of on this visit!

After we finished all of the meat we could eat they brought out the final course; bread pudding!

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Now, I am a big fan of bread pudding and I know some people do not like the consistency of this dish, but I tend to really enjoy this type of dessert. The bread pudding is served warm and then topped with vanilla ice cream that melts down over it. Then you can pour the sauce over the top and it is also hot so the ice cream continues melting and just makes a delicious mixture around the bread pudding. Overall, it was a great finish to a really good meal.

I would also note that we were dining in the blackout period of May 30-June 15 at ‘Ohana for the Tables in Wonderland card. I asked our waitress about it and she went and asked her manager and they ended up giving us sour discount anyways. So, big props to our waitress, not only did she take great care of us, but she got us our discount too!

Hopefully you all enjoyed our review of ‘Ohana. We’d love for you to tell us about your visit to ‘Ohana in the comments section below.

Animal Kingdom Families with Children Morning Plan Review

AnimalKingdomEntranceFor this weekends edition of the trip review article I’m going to go through a morning visit we had on our last trip to Animal Kingdom. This is not going to be a step by step touring plan for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but it will give you a good idea of what to expect and one specific way to tour this park with the use of Fastpass+. For clarification we are a family of two adults and one child who is too young to ride Expedition Everest and this trip took place in June, so summer crowds were in effect. (Picture to the Left Credited To: CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade at Wikipedia)

We arrived at the park via our resort bus at 8:25 AM before a 9:00 AM opening.

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The park opened at 8:47 AM, but keep in mind Disney had been changing things up with Animal Kingdom’s opening procedures, so it may very well be slightly different from this. After walking to the back of the park we ended up arriving at Kilimanjaro Safari just before 9:00 AM and had to wait a couple of minutes for the ride to open. They opened right at 9:00 AM and we were soon boarding a safari vehicle. Here are a few pictures of our safari, which was good as it usually is in the morning.

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We were off the ride just before 9:30 and were well ahead of schedule. We had actually planned on visiting the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and we would have had about 25 minutes to do so, but we decided we would rather spend the time grabbing some breakfast at Kusafiri Bakery. Our plan was to attend the 10:00 AM Festival of the Lion King Show as we knew it would be not very crowded and we could show up very close to showtime. We arrived at 9:55 AM and walked right into about a half full theatre and enjoyed a great show!

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After the show our plan was to use our first Fastpass+ of the day. Now, for our family we have a hard time deciding what to use our third Fastpass+ on. We usually use one on Everest and Dinosaur, but our son is not quite into Kali River Rapids yet and my wife and I don’t care to ride it without him like we do Expedition Everest. The attraction we settled on to use our Fastpass+ for is the Mickey and Minnie Meet at Adventurers Outpost.

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We have done this meet before and it is a really unique meet and greet as you actually get both characters at the same time, which is not the case at most meets. We arrived at 10:40 and were meeting Mickey and Minnie by 10:45 which bypassed about a 20 minutes standby line. Not a huge jump, but Character meet and greet lines are notoriously boring and some of the least fun ones to wait in. After a great meet it was about 10:55 and our next plan was to head for some lunch. We enjoy having lunch at Restaurantosaurus or Flame Tree BBQ in this park. Flame Tree certainly has better food, but it was very hot and we decided on Restaurantosaurus as the seating area is air conditioned. I’m not going to do a full dining review here, but I will include a picture of my entree, the Mac ‘n Cheese Dog. We enjoy the food here, although it is nothing special, but the air conditioned seating area is a big positive.

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The next step on our agenda was that we stopped at about 11:30 for a ride on Triceratop Spin and had to wait about 10 minutes. Next we were heading to the 12:00 PM performance of Finding Nemo: The Musical. We arrived about 11:50 and got a seat on the first row of the top section and it was perfect.

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The show was over by 12:40 and we headed at this point to use our next Fastpass+ at Expedition Everest. Of course one of us has to stay with our son so it took us about 25 minutes to both get our ride in. After riding Everest we headed back to Dinoland to use our final Fastpass+ at Dinosaur.

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We arrived at 1:20 and I was able to ride walk right into the pre-show. While one of us rides the other likes to take our son and ride Triceratop Spin as the line is usually about the perfect length to take up the time the other person is at Dinosaur. When I got off at about 1:40 my wife had decided she didn’t want to ride so we were ready to head out of the park. Here is what we accomplished in about 4 and a half hours at Animal Kingdom in the summer.

  • Kilimanjaro Safari (Standby)
  • Breakfast at Kusafiri Bakery (Would have had time for Pangani Trail)
  • Festival of the Lion King Show (Standby)
  • Meet Disney Pals Mickey & Minnie at Adventurers Outpost (Fastpass+)
  • Lunch at Restaurantosaurus
  • Triceratop Spin (Standby)
  • Finding Nemo: The Musical (Standby)
  • Expedition Everest (Fastpass+, 2 Times due to Young Child)
  • Dinosaur (Fastpass+, Other adult and young child did Triceratop Spin)

We were very pleased with our day, especially considering we were able to see both Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo, which is kind of a difficult task in just a half day of touring. We hope this plan helps you in planning your morning at Animal Kingdom. Thanks for reading and happy trip planning!

The Plaza Restaurant Review

Plaza Club SandwichIt’s Trip Review Saturday and in this article I’m going to review our latest visit to The Plaza Restaurant. The Plaza, located at the end of Main Street U.S.A. is one of our favorite dinner spots when we are looking for a simple table service meal. This restaurant has been one of our favorites over the past couple of years because it is one of the best value table service meals on property. There are several menu items available for between $12 and $16 which by Disney standards is a great value for a table service restaurant.

The Plaza Restaurant is located on the end of Main Street U.S.A., facing the castle. It is a small restaurant once you are inside, but the theming is fantastic. You certainly feel like you have just walked off of Main Street and that this is a place you would most definitely find on Main Street in small town America. One of the other big benefits for us is that you can order dessert from the Main Street Ice Cream Parlour when dining here. More on that later!

We had a dinner reservation for this evening and checked in about 10 minutes before our reservation time. Unfortunately, we were not seated for about 45 minutes, which is very rare for Disney dining reservations and especially rare based on our past trips to The Plaza. I’m not sure if they were just over-booked or there was some impending severe weather so people may have been hanging around inside the restaurant longer than usual. We were seated eventually though and our waiter was very quick and efficient. We usually do not liked to be rushed and he was fast, but we did have some FP+ reservations later on in the evening and the delay in getting seated had us closer to our windows, so this time we appreciated the quick pace.

As far as the food we have always enjoyed what we have ordered at The Plaza. There are no appetizers on the menu, but since we knew we would be ordering dessert that was not a problem for us. I should mention that they do offer a soup of the day and side salad even though there is no appetizer menu. The first thing we tried was the Turkey Sandwich: smoked turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise layered on toasted multi-grain bread. The cost of this sandwich was $12.49 and it comes with chips.

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All in all this sandwich is a great bargain. As you can see in the picture above there is a large amount of meat and other toppings. Also, the multi-grain bread it was served on was fantastic. We didn’t finish the entire sandwich, but we certainly finished the bread! The other entree we tried as the Plaza Club: smoked ham, turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise on toasted sourdough bread for $12.49.

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The signature club left a little to be desired in our opinion. It had plenty of meat and toppings, but we found the bread to be very hard. Actually if I had it to do over again I would probably ask if they could make the club sandwich with the multi-grain bread, now that would be a fantastic club! Don’t get me wrong the club was good, just not my favorite thing on the menu. I have also ordered Beef Brisket Onion Burger before here and remember it being very good. Overall we were satisfied with the entrees, especially considering they cost $12.49 at a sit down restaurant. Also, you get a large serving of the chips with each sandwich and we are big fans of those. That is one food item we think Disney does really well and it is a nice changeup from having fries as a side with a lot of meals.

Of course after our entrees we had to save room for one of our favorites, a brownie sundae from the Plaza Ice Cream Parlour.

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This dessert was huge and extremely tasty. It is so nice to just sit back, relax, enjoy your ice cream, and look out the large windows and observe all of the action taking place on Main Street and in the hub. The setting of this meal is almost perfect and the food is pretty good to compliment that. Overall, we highly recommend The Plaza Restaurant. Like we said earlier this place is a great value if paying cash. It is not a great value if on the dining plan as you aren’t getting much value for your dining credits, so if you are on the dining plan you might just consider paying cash here and using your table service credits elsewhere. That will do it for our review of The Plaza, thanks for reading and happy trip planning!