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Aug. 17, 2020

Life After the Disney Dining Plan: Season 1, Ep 1

Life After the Disney Dining Plan: Season 1, Ep 1

In our Podcast Series Premiere we focus on life after the suspension of the Disney Dining Plan. Marc discusses eating across the parks without using a single dining credit, modifications to dining, and shares his review of new procedures and practices in the parks from August 2020. 

Transcript
Marc Valentine:

Hello, everybody,and welcome to Disney life podcast. This is the first episode of our brand new Disney life podcast. My name is Marc. In today's episode, we are going to delve in all things Disney dining, a lot of people have noticed that since covid, the dining plan has been suspended. So today, we are going to discuss in great length, a variety of different options from quick service to table service options, and even dip over to the Food and Wine Festival. To help all of our future travelers navigate Disney dining, without having the comfort of the dining plan. We stayed for about 12 days. So we had a great opportunity to experience all kinds of dining options throughout not only the parks, but also in the resorts. So we are going to give you some strategies to help you navigate the Disney Parks post dining plan suspension. And, you know, hopefully, we can discuss just some general observations of life in the parks after COVID and get some comments and maybe some commentary, having just done a pretty lengthy stay over in the parks. So without any further ado, I want to, you know, get into just my general observation of my experiences. So we had the opportunity, we being both my wife, Lynda and our daughter, Isabella had an opportunity to travel to Disney starting about two weeks ago. So one of the benefits of going I think two weeks after , essentially two weeks after the parks opened was we had had an opportunity to go and parse through all of the stuff that we saw on Facebook, we had an opportunity to really read and do lots of research. At that point, the mask policies had all been really sussed out a lot, a lot more. And so we we felt like we had a real handle on the state of play at Disney. With all of that said, and seeing the pictures online and hearing all of the commentary about the parks. The one thing that I will tell you is even going in having a lot of knowledge, we were still floored and taken aback by how different this Disney experience was, from our past travels to the park, you know, we generally go so we are out of state pass holders, we generally do go about two, maybe three times a year, for about a week each visit. And this was a longer visit. You know, since the COVID breakout in March, we didn't have a chance to do our normal spring visit. So that was canceled. And then we in essence, we tacked that on to our DVC stay for this summer. But we had a chance to really enjoy the parks. And, you know, kind of take all that in. But despite all of that, there were still a lot of really new experiences. So the first thing that I do want to tell people is, you know, whether it's this topic, and when we get into the dining plan, or it's anything, you know, obviously most most of these podcasts and you know, I'm sure that for those of you who listen to podcasts with regularity know, you know, all of these podcasts are highly subjective, you know, the hosts will give you their thoughts and their opinions. And the first thing that I want to say is, I don't think that my opinion is going to be the end all be all. It's just my observations and my experience of what I felt. You know, the first thing that I do want to stress before I even get into dining, you know, all of that said is I don't want to, you know, give you a piece of information, have you go to the parks and get it get yourself into a level where you feel uncomfortable because, you know, you listened to this podcast or you listen to other podcasts and got other reviews. And you know you based your decision upon, you know, this piece of information or stuff that you'd read on Facebook or heard on other podcasts. When it comes to staying or even traveling to Disney right now. The thing that's just so important to stress is that you have to feel totally comfortable with the decision to go. You know, given the spike in COVID given what you are seeing on the news, if you have any doubts about your safety, if you have any doubts about the situation that you're going to go into, my advice to you would be is you know, maybe maybe hold off on your travel plans and maybe wait for the 50th anniversary of next year. You know, unless you are confident and unless you're 100% sure that this is what you want to do, unless you have complete and utter faith in Disney, use your discretion. I mean, you know if it's right for you to go, as far as we were concerned, you know, we went online, we waited. Like so many other people, we didn't know if we were going to cancel our trip. But we took a look at all the safety precautions that Disney had put in place, we have several friends who are cast members that kind of gave us you know, day to day narratives on what was being done. We took a look at crowd calendars, we took a look at all of the pictures of people that were going to crowds. And then we also made the smart decision to say, Listen, if we're going into a park, and we're in a situation that we don't feel comfortable, we're just not going to go. I will tell you, and in complete honesty that there were a few situations, specifically in Hollywood studios, where there were some crowd levels that we looked at, and we did not feel quite comfortable going into certain areas of the park at various times. Hollywood studios of all of the parks that we experienced, and we went to all of the different parks, including Disney Springs, the only park that we ever felt that social distancing was really challenged was Hollywood Studios. Right now, Hollywood Studios is the park to be, you know, not just because of the opening of galaxy's edge, it is a very easy park to do. There's a lot to do at the park, and of all of the parks. In terms of the experience, I felt that Hollywood studios, at least for how we do Hollywood studios, was the least diminished of the four parks in terms of the experience, I'm sure that you've read. And you know, one of the things that almost all of these podcasts have talked about are the diminished experiences. And we're going to get into that, especially later on with dining, because that was something that really took us by surprise in terms of the limited menus. But all of the parks have been pared back considerably. Several attractions aren't open. And depending on how you do each Park, you know, in some cases, those changes will be more noticeable than others. That said, for us Hollywood Studios was not a noticeable change in the way that we do Hollywood Studios. You know, we've seen Indiana Jones so many times that the absence of that show did not bother us. Same thing with the Voyager a little mermaid, you know, we did miss our character interactions with the Star Wars characters over at the dock. The Star Wars docking bay. But again, that didn't ruin the time for us. That Park really had a life energy to it versus some of the other parks. Most notably Epcot. For me, just to let you, know Epcot has always been my favorite Park. But this last trip was pretty depressing for me. I know they're trying to get people in right now with the Food and Wine Festival, which is a very muted festival. But you know, even that park itself, like mind, mind you the construction, you know, even before COVID the construction was, you know, harder to kind of stomach and see the park just literally being ripped apart in front of your very eyes. But since COVID that park to me just, it felt the most changed. And it just it wasn't the same experience. But I think that that's why Hollywood Studios is the park to be at right now. You know, both that and the Magic Kingdom, or that you parks that you feel are still resembling the true Disney experience that you had prior to the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus. So, make sure that when you go you know that again, I can't stress this enough that it's something that you're really comfortable with. Because if you go into this situation and you are worried and you're troubled by the spikes in Coronavirus, if you're troubled and you think you know, I don't know if it's worth risking my family, then you shouldn't go I mean, Disney is a luxury. It's not going to go anywhere. You know, you don't have to buy into the hype of "Oh my God, I saw all these things on Facebook and people telling me that if I don't go now I'm going to regret it because the crowd levels are so low." If you don't feel comfortable, it doesn't matter how many people were in the parks, you're not going to enjoy yourself if you're constantly stressed out about worrying, am I going to get sick or not? You know, we are very conscientious just to let you know to like our family during quarantine. I mean, in the first few weeks, we didn't go anywhere. We socially isolated to the max and then I guess you could say we just got to that point where We started to look at, you know, our kind of place in all of this and said, you know, at some point we do also have to start to emerge from all of this and live our lives. We do so carefully. You know, we enjoy Disney Disney as a part of our family, it's a part of our DNA. And while that certainly played a part in influencing our decision to go, it wasn't the only determining factor, you know, we really looked at the safety precautions that Disney had in place. I don't need to rehash all of the, you know, different facets that have been discussed in various podcasts. But if there is a place that you should feel safe in the world at large, it would be Disney World. They have gone above and beyond in terms of cleaning procedures, in terms of cast members being vigilant about other individuals having their masks on, every cast member wears their mask. You don't have a reason to to be worried. But if you are generally an anxious person, when it comes to Coronavirus, and you even at Disney, you cannot be comfortable, I would again, I'd stress that you don't go, I would. So we are and I do want to get into you know the one facet and try to focus on something with this podcast every single week to kind of share some information and to discuss news, hopefully, we're going to try to have some guests on and, you know, do some discussions for individuals who are traveling to the parks, and maybe get connected with some other podcasters out there to really do some collaboration. But we want to talk or I would like to talk about the Disney dining plan with this blog specifically and with this this time that I have with you today. The one aspect of this trip that we really did not know. And we were concerned I guess most with was the absence of the dining plan. We love the Disney dining plan. We can get into a discussion with individuals about its merit, there are some individuals that rail against the Disney dining plan. You know, there's individuals that are strict tables in Wonderland. You know, when it comes to they get their tables in Wonderland card, they avoid the dining plan at all costs. It just fits their style. But for our family. The Disney dining plan has always been so easy. We just purchased the dining plan, we understand how the dining credits work. And then we just make our reservations and go you know other than our gratuities, you don't have to worry about what you're ordering. You don't have to really pay any mind to the menus itself. You basically it's just it's a very easy plug and play system. So one of the things that we're really concerned with this this 12 day trip, especially because it was a lengthier trip was without the dining plan. And in this new COVID environment. You know, what, what is this going to look like? Is it going to be overly frustrating? You know, in terms of budgeting, is that going to be challenging for our family? And you know, what are the experiences going to be like? So, you know, first and foremost when it comes to dining post COVID. While I'm sure that most of you who are listening out there in the world understand and know this. The dining experience at Disney has not just changed with the the absence of the dining plan. But the the the dining options themselves have been severely diminished. There are only two character dining experiences currently being offered, one of which I'm going to talk about in great length, because I was very disappointed in it. But right now there are currently only two options available to you. One is Topolinos Terrace, and that is a character breakfast over at the Riviera resort. And the second character breakfast right now is the garden grill over at Epcot featuring Chip and dale and Mickey and Pluto, much like it had been prior to, you know, the outbreak of covid. You know, other than that there are no character offerings, which for me was very sad. Our family enjoys character dining. It's why we also go with the Disney dining plan because character dining can get very costly and very expensive very quick. So with the dining plan, we have the opportunity to do lots of character dining without having to worry about the price tag that's associated with it. And then other than Cinderella's royal table, we really don't have to worry about how that's going to impact our dining credits. So if you are looking to do character dining, without the dining plan, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I think that you will be somewhat disappointed by the lack of character dining options currently available. We did both character dining experiences. We are and have always been big fans of the garden grill, we like the you know, we'd like that family style meal. big fans of the steak, big fans of the turkey. For us, it's very comparable and similar to for those of you who know, the menu over at Liberty tree Tavern over in Magic Kingdom, they bring you you know, a plate full of options. You know, they're very family friendly options. So our daughter loves to eat at those two restaurants. And, you know, we don't have to fight with her to get her to eat. Because there are really nice kid friendly options that come out specifically the turkey and the mac and cheese are her, They're her jam, she loves those. So for us garden grill was I dare I say the closest experience to the post COVID experience that that we had there, we didn't have a noticeable difference in the experience and the even the character and actions at that. So for those of you who are familiar with the layout of the garden grill, they have the two tiers that rotate, everyone is being seated in the booths on the lower tier and then the characters, no one is seated at the top, the characters will walk around the circle at the top as well servers, and then they'll stop above your table and you have a chance to take a picture with them. And it's really nice, because they'll actually stop at each table much like they do prior to the outbreak. You know, now they don't get really close to you. Obviously you can't touch them. There's no hugs, and there's no real close interaction. But you really get a sense that the characters are giving you personal attention and personal time, very much worth it. For those of you if you had to choose between the two character interactions, I would strongly recommend for those families that character dining is a priority. definitely make sure that on your Epcot reservation day you get that reservation. Topolino's Terrace for us was a very different experience. Now, I do want to stress that we did have a chance to eat at Topolino's was pre COVID. And it was very quickly it became my new favorite go to spot. And you know while you would not see me over in Facebook world because I am there's I really have no notoriety at all. I'm just another guy and many of these groups. One of my biggest comments of all of Topolinos Terrace prior to the outbreak was and I would stress this to anyone who ever would ask me about it. I would say it had become my favorite breakfast, not just character breakfast, but my favorite breakfast on property. And I stress to people I said Listen, if you haven't done Topolino's Terracce breakfast, you have to go You have to do the breakfast there. Not just because the ambience of the restaurant itself, and the character interaction, but the food there to me was just so spectacular. And it was a must do experience for us moving forward. So when this trip rolled around, we made sure you know it wasn't just because it was a character dining, we but we made sure that we got that breakfast like that to me. I said to Lynda, I said, Lynn, we got to get that breakfast. I love it. I have to go over and get my steak from Topolino's . So we went there on, I think it was our third day. And I was so excited. It was you know, it was that one day that you have an exp..., everyone knows this, you have that one experience that you just can't wait to go. So you're you're up at like 6am. I mean, I think our reservation was at like eight or 830. And that was an Epcot day too. So we couldn't get into the park till 11. But I didn't care. I just woke up, So excited to go and eat my breakfast. And then we got there, we're so excited. The place is just gorgeous. If you haven't had a chance, go online and check out some of the pictures that the restaurant itself is absolutely beautiful. And the characters are really well done. They're like all of their outfits are just so adorable. It's, and for those of you who don't know it is Mickey, Donald, Daisy, and Minnie. And they are all dressed up in respective artistic outfits. Minnie is the poet laureate, want to say Mickey's the painter, Donald is the sculptor. And then the performance artist is Daisy. And they have these wonderful outfits. So the characters themselves will walk out. Again, you can't go up to the characters, and they kind of just do a wave. There's music that accompanies them. They don't get as close to the tables as they do over in garden grill. So that you really have to be Johnny on the spot with your camera and you have to capture them as they're moving. So that wasn't it wasn't as delightful as garden grill in terms of the character and interaction. You didn't feel close to them. It was Just from your table you kind of saw the characters walk by. But the thing that I want to stress to people who are excited to go to Topolino's is, and this was like a real learning experience for us. And really, I have to be honest, that was the catalyst of me even contemplating starting my own podcast, was just sharing this experience, to give people an idea of just the various things that I wanted them to know before they they went because this was like a heartbreaker for me. But I went onto the menu, I wanted to find that menu item that I had so desperately waited months since February to eat again, and it was not there. So one of the big lessons, not just for topolino is but we can repeat this across the board, for every single restaurant prior to showing up, please in your my Disney experience app, check that menu, make sure that you're not dreaming of a menu item. And then you go to the restaurant itself. And it's gone because the steak that was life changing and some other people love the hash, the hash is not there and the steak are gone. The menu itself was extremely disappointing to me. If I'm going to have two eggs over a side of bacon and sausage, with biscuits, and you know other other pastries, I'm just going to go to Grand Floridian cafe, which is an amazing like, I don't want you to think that like I'm saying, Floridian Cafe is bad. It's not. It's actually prior to topolinos terrace, grand floridian Cafe was my favorite breakfast on property. But if I'm going to get that, and I'm going to pay in excess of $40, for a plate of eggs, you know, it's got to be something spectacular. And it just, it wasn't there for me. And I don't want um, you know, I, some people won't mind that some people will say, Hey, you know, you're not paying $40 for a plate of eggs, you're paying for the experience. But again, for me, it wasn't the same character experience as it was in the past. And everything was just very muted. So it was a little bit of a letdown. So, in my mind, we were like one for two in terms of our expectations for character dining, we really love the garden grill, if Topolinos, does not go back to its former glory. I think for us, you know, we're just, we're just going to bypass it in the future. And there are just so many other great breakfast options that I think that we are going to enjoy and gravitate more towards, then then having to go back to Topolinos terrace. So for those of you wondering, you know, what the character dining is like, Is it worth it? Again, it's going to be it's going to be up to you, if you don't mind paying, you know, an excess of $40 for a plate of eggs, or, you know, pancakes and waffles, then, you know, certainly by all means don't let my review dissuade you from going and experiencing Topolino's for yourself, I just think that there's a lot better options out there, in terms of getting getting the best food and the best bang for your buck. Um, you know, and if you're again, if you're going there, to experience the characters, I just want you to also know that they're not going to come over to your table specifically, you're going to have to play paparazzi and catch a snap and snap a photo of them from from a distance. Whereas in garden grill, you know, they they really got to a point where you felt like they were addressing your table almost like they were in the past. So that was character dining, kind of kind of in a snapshot. Now, as far as dining in, in the parks, you know, dining in the parks, again, very similar to to what you see with the character dining experiences, dining is very limited. You know, asking some of my cast member friends, you know what, you know why they have done that? It seems like Disney itself is trying to, you know, get very similar ingredients for various dishes. And that, you know, they don't they don't have some of the more exotic choices on the menu, so that they can order very similar ingredients to prepare the four or five options for each, you know, meal that day. So much of this, the entrees and the appetizers that we have always gravitated towards. Once we had our disappointment at open Topolino's. We really started to look ahead at the menu and kind of plot out, you know what we wanted to get. And we actually wound up changing a few of our reservations as a result of that. Magic Kingdom. We ate at all of the restaurants that were there, both quick service and sit down. My favorite is Pecos bills and I just I'm a sucker for that chicken bowl with the the black beans and the rice. And we always get a side order of the chips with the guacamole. And that is, you know, just just as good as ever. And I think we did Pecos bills twice, we did Starlight cafe. And yeah, it's, it is what it is. It's a footlong hot dog and, you know, hamburgers. And they're, you know, they're good. I mean, they haven't changed all that much. What I will say about the quick service is, we are huge fans of this new system. So for those of you don't know, you know how this is going. And again, this is this is kind of why we're doing this podcast is the procedures have changed for all quick service ordering. So all the ordering they're recommending is done through the app through the my Disney experience app. So what you'll do is you'll open up the my Disney experience app, you will create a new mobile order, you will fill out the order, you can actually customize it. So if you you want certain things added, there's a button on the bottom that you can say like, please don't add this. And then once you place the order and you pay for it in app, you have to have your credit card or a form of payment, whether it's a Disney gift card, or redemption card, you have to have it linked to that part of the my Disney experience app. Once you pay for it, what you'll do is there will be a button that'll say your orders been placed. And then you'll click the I'm here prepare my meal button on the on the app. And then you have to go up, wait until it's gives you an all clear and it says Your food is ready. You show that to a cast member who is at the door, and then the cast member will let you enter. And then in most places, this was another thing that we were really worried about. And for anyone who's ever eaten at the Magic Kingdom, you're always worried about seating and especially in you know, the current climate is you know what a seating going to look like am I going to get a seat, and is my seat going to be socially distanced. So what the cast member will do, especially in some of the more busy, quick service restaurants, is they will pick out a table for you. In almost every situation with the cast members, you know, you had someone who was seating individuals in the quick service spots, and you had people that were just sterilizing off everything. I mean, families weren't up, you know, in excess of a minute from the table. And already they were spraying it down with with the sanitizer, and making sure that all of the tables were clean, I have never seen the quick service venues. So clean, and just looking so good as I did in our in our last trip. So you will you know you'll walk up your order, and you'll have a chance to go and eat it I have to tell you of all of the changes that were brought about by the outbreak and the pandemic. This was one that I I really loved this like To me, this was a huge improvement. Like I'm hoping that Disney looks at their procedures and they look at how they're doing business. And this is something that winds up staying, because it's so much more efficient than you know fighting these huge crowds and these huge lines and then having, you know, having to fight individuals then for a table, like having someone seating. Having certain amount of people inside of the venue using the app, it just made it so it made it so much more enjoyable for us. Like this was the one aspect of low crowds that, like, give this to me any day. Like let's let's keep this um, because it's very efficient. So, the quick service, you know, the quick service options in Magic Kingdom are still very much like they were... Casey's is not there, which for us was both a blessing and a curse. We love the food of Casey's but again, Casey's is a it's a huge mess. Like, I'm hating to sound like this, but, you know, whenever you walk by Casey's, it's just that corner smells of ketchup to me. And I like ketchup as a condiment, but when everything smells like ketchup, it's just like it's a trigger for me. So it was nice to walk by Casey's and not have to smell the stench of ketchup just being everywhere all over everything. As far as the table service goes now we did not eat at Cinderella's royal table. I and it is not available and we did not eat at Be Our Guest as well. And I know that they're seating there but we did not have a chance we didn't even see that that option available to us. But we did have a chance to eat at Tony's we also ate at Skipper Canteen. And what am I forgetting? There is another restaurant in there that I know that we eat out Liberty tree tavern, which was a really cool experience for us because we eat at Liberty tree Tavern. twice once we eat at Liberty tree Tavern in the tavern itself and then the second time we went a fire alarm going off. And as a result of that they got a little bit backed up with their seating. So they seated us next door at the closed diamond horseshoe, which was really cool. I'm a huge fan of the diamond horseshoe, I love the history of that restaurant itself. I'm not as big of a fan of the barbecue options there. So for us, it was like the best of both worlds I got the ambiance of the diamond horseshoe with the food of liberty tree. So it was like that, that was the night I was in absolute heaven. So we went to Liberty tree twice. I'm not gonna lie that I mean, the food there is amazing, but it's always about the ooey gooey toffee cake for us. That is the holy grail of desserts as far as my wife and I are concerned. And usually there's like a knife fight that breaks out at the table for the lion's share of that dessert itself. But we love that dessert. And so we did Liberty tree twice. Skipper canteen is low key becoming one of our favorite meals on property. We've eaten there now, maybe four or five times in various trips. And we've never had a bad a bad meal there. I mean, the servers are hilarious. They're very attentive the ambience of the building, we're a big fan of, we hit the jackpot this time around, and we got seated in the butterfly booth. So that was a really cool experience. And just we love the food there too. I mean, the Kungaloosh is a outstanding dessert, I ordered a panna cotta, my wife got the Kungaloosh, she won. I went up, you know, just like looking at her dessert the entire time until she took mercy on my soul, and gave me some of her dessert. But Skipper canteen is becoming one of our favorites. Tony's is a very polarizing dining option. You see this in Facebook groups, there's individuals that are Italian foo... Italian food purists. We come from the northeast, so we live in in New York City area and have just wonderful Italian food options. So Tony's for us is very hit or miss. There are certain entrees that we will get there that we just we can't do them. Again, we're Italian food snobs, we can't do them at Tony's. There are other individuals that don't have the same experience in terms of the quality of Italian food that we do. And it's perfectly fine. And they love Tony's but we we had a great experience. We had a wonderful experience at Tony's I was pleasantly surprised. We ordered on the caprese salad, which it's kind of hard to mess up a caprese salad. And we had a pizza and we shared a pizza and then my daughter had you know her pasta with her sauce on the side. And then she likes to dip into that. So for us, you know, that was our I think you would say that that was our pleasant surprise at, at that park, you know, we kind of we kind of hold our breath a little bit, whenever we go into Tony's to say, are we going to enjoy this. And that was an instance where we were we really did. So the Magic Kingdom. As far as the dining, the dining that's there was very unchanged. As far as what we ate there, we felt that that that dining experience was not all that different from what you get on a on a normal normal basis. So, you know, if you're saying well, how is that going to be different from the Disney dining plan, truly nothing, you know, nothing. There's a few carts and there's a few specialty items that aren't available. But that you know, that's that's kind of the downside with with almost every park or every resort, there's going to be personal favorites that you're going to have that you're just you know, you're going to be sad that they're not there, the spring roll cart is closed. And it caused me great sadness to see that that item was not not there. But you know, if you think of the attention that that cart draws on a regular basis and the fact that even on a normal day that that cart is filled with people, you know, it kind of makes sense that Disney made the decision to to close it down. So Magic Kingdom you know, we gave that one two thumbs up in terms of you know, that the dining and we we felt like our dining experiences there were pretty wonderful. Hollywood studios, um, for us is always again, it's a it's a real wild card when it comes to dining. Hollywood and Vine is closed. We did have a chance to do the adjacent restaurant. And we did enjoy it. restaurants that have a lot of character interactions. are a little bit of a letdown. You know, same thing with like whispering whispering cafe over at the Wilderness Lodge. Things that require heavy interaction with the cast members. And, you know, the dining experiences where the cast members really enhanced your dining experience, it's going to be changed. So having the servers in their plastic shields and their masks definitely changed the the experience over at primetime cafe. Food was excellent. The menu there is, you know, it's it's all comfort food, it's you know, it's meatloaf, it's fried chicken, you know, it's pot roast, the food there is you can't really go wrong with it. I mean, it's just it's hearty, sci fi sci fi cafe, again, is the server's aren't the star of the show as much as the the various cars and the movies are sci fi cafe is, burgers, salads, you know, various fare that that was very similar to, to what we experienced, obviously, you're the only family that's going to be seated in the car. The interesting thing about the sci fi drive in theater, we were just a little surprised at like the seating chart. And there were certain rows like the front row, right by the the screen, were not being seated. And I thought that they could have seated them, given the, you know, the six foot guideline, but they didn't see anyone there. Instead, they just kind of seated everyone in the cars across the middle and the back. So for us, we were just kind of were a little surprised at the seating chart, we never felt like the we were in any, any danger, or we never felt compromised in any way by the seating chart. But we just looked at that, thinking to ourselves, both my wife Linda and myself thinking, why did they seat us there food was good, experience was good. You know, you get the whole car to yourself. So, you know, with a lot of these experiences, that's the other thing that you're going to notice sci fi, it kind of made that gave us the realization of a restaurant that is normally packed to the gills, um, being, you know, virtually empty. So it was just really weird. seeing a lot of these table service locations being filled. I wouldn't even say halfway, I mean, a quarter of the restaurant is filled. So I don't I don't know if that is because people are avoiding table service, because they're just worried about being part of indoor dining. Or if you know, individuals just don't know that without the dining plan. They just don't know if they want to swing it. Um, but there were not a lot of people dining and at some of our favorite places, we just could not help but notice how empty they were the one place that we had been dying to try. And we could never, we just we never got into it to the point of where we felt like it was comfortable. was going to the quick service location over and galaxy's edge. And menu items look really cool. We always love the names that they they have these really exotic dishes and these exotic names. No, I did not get into the cantina. On the cantina i don't i don't know how it was socially distanced. If somebody gives me an idea of it, and I haven't even seen pictures since the outbreak of COVID. But we went to the docking bay dining and the food food is excellent. I always have to get a ronto wrap as well. It's one of my favorite. It's one of my favorite foods in galaxy's edge or you just period on property. It's just so awesome. But we we enjoyed our time in the docking bay and it's quick service so again, it was really nice to you know order on the app, get seated, walk over and sit at a booth that was kind of secluded and away from everyone else in a really quiet location in air condition and then just get up you know, that was that was by far. I think that was my most enjoyable meal over at the studios was eating in galaxy's edge. Mama Melrose oh mama Melrose mama Melrose. It is again it's very polarizing whenever I so whenever I'm going to talk Italian food if if this is in a future podcast or any I'm always people people will I think inherently get mad at me because of my take on Italian food. Again. I'm spoiled. We did not have a great experience a few years ago at mama Melrose so we avoided it. But because we had a studios Park past that day, and we wanted to eat in the park so that we could take full advantage of our past we decided instead of instead of eating at a duplicate place that we were going to, we were going to lift our prohibition on mama Melrose. It was at that point in our trip, it was the third Italian meal that we had had after Tony's and after Tutto Italia over in Epcot of the three. There were some really good things. And then there were some things that we we barely found palatable. So we got the calamari appetizer. And again, as long as the calamari is fresh, and it's not chewy, it's good. And it was very good. My wife got that. And I got a salad house salad and that was really good for appetizers. And then she got the chicken parm. And then I decided to get the spaghetti with meatballs. purely from a standpoint I know some people are gonna say like, you know, what kind of adventurous Italian Are you that you're getting the spaghetti meatballs, but when it came to that specific restaurant, my mentality was you can't mess that up. Like, there's no way that I'm going to hate this meal. It's pasta sauce, and meat and it's the most basic Italian meal and I was really disappointed. I have to say though, I have to say of the three places that we ate, and my daughter got spaghetti meatballs at all three locations. Mama Melrose had the most flavorful meatballs of the three locations. So we at Tony's we at tutto Italia in Epcot. And then we ate at mama Melrose, of the three meatballs that we eat, or I ate because my daughter does not like meatballs or meat in general. I enjoyed the meatballs at mama Melrose the most. The sauce there, to me is more reminiscent of like a prego or Ragu. It's just it's heavily seasoned Italian sauce, and it has a lot of oregano. Some people really find that type of sauce palatable and attractive. To me. Simplicity works best in Italian cuisine, when you don't have an overpowering of spices. And that was the same thing with my wife's chicken parm. She and I have very similar palates and that we don't like it when the Italian is like there's too much oregano and there's too much Italian seasoning in it. So for us, that meal kind of kind of fell flat. Some people love mama Melrose, they swear by it. I've talked to individuals that mama Melrose is like their go to dining location. Um, again, you know, almost all of these locations have altered menus. So if mama Melrose is your go to place, just again, please be sure with any of these locations that you are checking the menu ahead of time to make sure that you're not going for a specific menu item. And then you get there only to discover that it's not there and then you have to order $40 eggs. So Hollywood was again aside from Mama Melrose, which wasn't a terrible experience. It just it wasn't the greatest of our trip. We enjoyed our dining experience at Hollywood. Epcot for us was just so sad. And now it's a turn to Epcot. Epcot is my favorite Park I don't know why growing up Epcot for me was my favorite it just was my favorite I some people found like the edutainment like cheesy I loved it like it was my go to like I have I have the feels for Epcot. So it hurts my heart to see Epcot in its current state with Colvin. So that you know too, the world showcase, by and large is is closed. They have the booths for the Food and Wine Festival, which isn't quite the Food and Wine Festival it's this weird hybrid right now. of part Flower and Garden and part food and wine the Flower and Garden merge is actually still out. Which is also like just really strange because it's like food and wine Flower and Garden. There's none of the topiaries are out it. Um, not even all of the you know of the buildings are open in the world showcase. You know, they have specific booths of foods. The one thing I will say I loved about this aspect of the Epcot Food and Wine Festival is they've brought back a lot of the fan favorites. And for me, like it was lobster roll season like I had a life altering experience when I had that lobster rolls every several years back. And I have dreamed like I still dream of the lobster Roll over in America, they the roll wasn't as toasted and buttery as it was for my first memory, but it was still spot on really good. So I have to go there and order several of those. And like if that's where if you don't have the dining plan, you just have to sort of be of the mind that you're going to shell out, you're going to be shelling out money. So whenever food and wine is going, you know, this is this is the one again, getting back to the original discussion on the topic of how has life changed with the dining plan, since the demise of the you know, the dining plan. You just have to be of the mindset that you're you know, you're not going to be able to leverage your snack credits in food and wine. We always will save up during food one a lot of at least my snack credits, and then we'll just go to town like we'll have one day where we don't get a lunch, we just go to town and use snack credits so that we don't have to bring home like 40 candy bars. So for us, you know, we didn't go as hard as we normally do in food and wine because we knew that we would really want it to like something if we were going to order it. So we got our favorites. I also had not had a chance to try the Regal Eagle smokehouse. So we wanted to be sure that we popped in there, we met up with one of my cast member friends who we always try to connect with whenever we come down here from Pennsylvania. And he had wanted to try the smokehouse as well. So we went there. And we got a you know, we got the brisket. And you know, just various foodstuffs. The barbecue was excellent. Um, if you haven't had a chance to go to the Regal Eagle smokehouse that was kind of a like that quick service for us had always been a throw away in America and it was actually really gross. I mean, I think the only reason we would ever really go there was for my daughter to get her hot dog her hot dog fix. Um, but now that went from being location that we're gonna walk but we went from walking by all the time to you know, that that's that's probably going to be our I'm gonna be honest, it's probably gonna be our new go to in in terms of quick service we like that we like the fish and chips, fish and chips was closed. But we did eat in the pub to get our fish and chips on, that restaurant, just the flow the flow of it is always different, like the atmosphere of that restaurant versus others is a little bit different. Whereas in England you know people really embrace the part of that culture where you know, people will sit and have a few pints so getting seated was a little bit more it was the only place that we ever really waited because some of the other patrons were really enjoying their their meal there and they were taking some time so we were seated there 20 minutes later than then our reservation so standing in the sun of the world showcase baking with our masks on for 20 minutes wasn't fun was not fun over waiting to get into rose and crown but by the time we got in I have to say I have to admit despite the fact that I think I was dripping sweat like profusely at that point we need to get into rose and crown um I looked over Linda afterward we had both of us had our fish and chips and we looked at each other and said listen you know all things being equal definitely worth it the fish and chips there is very good you know it's it's it's one of our it's one of our favorite in terms of like the meals over in Epcot we love it there we did not do a lot of dining in Epcot. I did talk about the character experience that we that we had there. But we did dine at tutto Italia. tutto Italia top to bottom is our favorite Italian restaurant in all of the parks. I've gone to Italy several times for me it is the most authentic in terms of its its closeness to what true Italian cuisine is really like we've gone to Via Napoli will take to Tutto Italia overview Via Napoli any day. Come at me! some people are No Grand Floridian cafe was empty. We were the only family gonna fight me on that one and say no, via Napoli is you know that's, that's my dog in this fight. For me. Having traveled to Italy, I'll tell you Tutto Italia every single time for us. servers are always great. It was very empty. of all of the restaurants that we ate in tutto Italia was very, very quiet. eating breakfast for almost the duration of our meal for Grand Floridian cafe. But the meals were excellent for the restaurants that we experience. Normally, I will have and in future in future iterations of this podcast, I'll have other reviews for you. But we did not do a lot of Epcot. And again, I think this goes to a separate but you know related topic of Epcot is a really weird park right now. Um, it's blown up. There's lots of construction barriers, it's very hot in the park, there's never been a lot of shade. So for us having the masks on, I mean, and if you saw us to like you, like we Damn near had, Darth Vader apparatus n ourselves, we had cooling ators, which we were wetting to ake sure that they were doing heir job. We had the neck fans n, we had you know, we had the asks on which were a nice reathable polyester. So we idn't do the heavy cotton mask. nd in spite of that, and you now, trying to drink as much as e could, Epcot was just really, eally hot. So we did not do a ot of Epcot and the hours of pcot itself did not least idday did not lend itself to eing very mask friendly. So the ark itself opens at 11 o'clock. nd that 11 to two window is ust very, very tough to do. And n the especially in the world howcase. Normally, you would be ble to pop into various shops, nd enjoy the AC so that the orld showcase was a lot more oable. In this case, you could ot do that because most of the hops are closed. None of the one of the International orkers are there. So it's cast members who have been reallocated who are doing a really great job to By the way, like the Spirit, the Spirit of the world showcase is very much still there. But it's just it's a shell, the the world showcase itself is just a shell of what it was. So this is really disappointing for us. So we didn't spend a lot of time doing Epcot or we would do Epcot at night and then by that point, we were gravitating towards the ride. And at that point there's no wait like you can just you can ride Soarin' in as many times as you want. Test Track had a little bit of a way and frozen Ever After was a pretty steady 30/35 sometimes 40 minute wait, so you can get on those rides with relative ease. So at that point in the evening we had to Epcot days in our 12. day stay. we did more of the rides because we knew that we were going to frequent the park because for us if you're going to use a park reservation pass, we just found it so much so much more we were taking so much more advantage of that limited Park pass because you can't park hop, of going to one of the other parks. So we were trying to use our park passes for something else other than 11 o'clock to nine at Epcot, there's no fireworks. So for us, you know Epcot just did not quite have the magic that it normally holds. We did not eat in Animal Kingdom. We did not have a single meal in Animal Kingdom. And I wish that I could really give you a reason other than the park hours were just weird for us. We don't eat early dinner, and Yak and Yeti is one of our favorite restaurants. But I did not want to eat dinner the only restaurant I could or the only reservation I could get for Yak and Yeti was at four o'clock and I did not want to eat dinner at four o'clock the park closes at six so. I've never been like a giant fan of the canteen over in Pandora Some people love the pods I'm just not a fan of the pods so we kind of skipped that one. So whenever we had an animal kingdom day we would try to jump over to some of the resorts and enjoy the food there we went to Polite pig over at Disney Springs which was awesome, really good barbecue we got that we got the sampling we're for two people we ordered you know basically the brisket, the chicken, the pork it was outstanding my wife and I shared that and then my daughter got some mac and cheese over at Polite pig but we did not we did not do any food at Animal Kingdom. That said you know animal Kingdom's got really great food and I wish I could give some of the you listeners a better idea of what the food is like there. You know in a future podcast and all of this has kind of gone away and park fingers are stored. I'd love to just do a podcast itself on you know the the food options at Animal Kingdom my thoughts on some of them. But we we avoided that as far as the the resorts, go We hit up Kona, I always make I always make the biggest mistake of at Kona dinner. I never ordered the right thing. I screw up all the time. I'm sure a lot of people like the chicken there, but I just I ordered the wrong thing. I didn't really want the chicken. I don't know why I ordered the chicken at Kona and the food at Kona is just outstanding. We miss ohana. We love ohana. ohana is one of our favorite meals. I understand why ohana cannot run right now. I mean part of it is there's also no demand. I mean a lot of these restaurants. And when you go to the various resorts and you just see the parks, there's not enough people to staff all of these restaurants and they just they can't open everything. There's not enough demand right there. But we we did enjoy Kona. Normally I'll head over to come to Kona and we'll get to Tonga toast and my wife loves those pancakes there. We did not do that we opted in instead for the Grand Floridian cafe, which is Low Key. For those of you who don't know, hands down. One of my favorite restaurants on property for breakfast, lunch, dinner. The food there's just to die for it's to die for. And for us, we ate twice at the Grand Floridian cafe. So we had breakfast. Breakfast was really weird because we didn't know what was going on. We thought maybe there was a natural disaster that we missed out on. No one was in the restaurant. We had a breakfast reservation at eight um, and no one was there. We basically dined by ourselves but even dinner when we were there for dinner, low key not enough people know how great the Grand Floridian Cafe is. And we enjoyed I would tend to say that was one of our favorite meals. We did hit up the Wave, we did not do chef Mickey's over at the contemporary, but we did go to the wave it at the contemporary again, one of our hidden gems people just don't go there enough the people who know about the Wave, know about the wave. And they're probably nodding their heads right now as I'm saying that it is one of the most enjoyable dining experiences you will have in terms of the quality of the food. And you know, just the speed of service there is just it's top notch. We went over to Key West, but we had never been I know there's gonna sound weird, but we'd never been to Olivia's. So we had a chance to because we had a longer trip. And that was another animal kingdom day. So we finished up an animal kingdom early. And we said hey, listen to it over in the neighborhood. Let's go over to Olivia's we got a reservation there and really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it. Some people think it's the end all be all of meals on property. I don't know if I share that assessment. But I love my meal there, I really liked it. I got it. I got the chicken and it was very good. The fried chicken was very good. As was as was the desert, as was the desert the keylime. Very good. So I'm trying to think of the other resorts that we did. So we did Grand Floridian cafe, we did the wave. We did Olivia's, we did Kona, we had an opportunity to do, I'm missing. I'm missing one. I'm looking over people that are sitting here watching me do this podcast, I can't remember the other one. But dining at the resorts again, are very, very different from what you will know. So my advice to you, when it comes to dining on property is make sure make sure that you check the menu ahead of time. As far as budget wise, we actually we saved a lot of money by not having the dining plan because we did inherently changed the way that we ate on property. We did not have the bigger breakfasts that we normally will do and will normally have like those big character breakfasts and then be stuffed and then try to find a way to eat midday. But we will and then you know come dinnertime we just don't have anywhere to put the food. So with this, we would eat smaller breakfasts, we would go and buy those wonderful chocolate croissants. My daughter would have like a bowl of cereal. So we would almost like I have, you know save for Topolino's and, you know, having, you know, maybe one more breakfast where, you know we went to Grand Floridian cafe most of the time, we were just having a real easy quick breakfast and then having a full lunch and a full dinner, so we wound up saving a lot of money. And then you know the thing, the thing about the dining plan, depending on what tier you get, if you get if you get the dining plan, a lot of times you'll you'll leverage those snacks. But for us, whenever we get the deluxe dining plan, we always feel so put off by snacks like the the idea of snacks, just sickens you you're just so full from your meals, because you get the you know, they get the appetizer, the entree and the dessert. And usually you've had a full character breakfast that morning, and you've like thoroughly engorged yourself on breakfast, the last thing that you want to do on top of that is have to separate snacks at various times of the day. So for us, you know, and we would have had the deluxe dining plan, I think we wound up saving a considerable amount of money, even buying snacks out of pocket and us going a little crazy than one day at Epcot and just buying our food at the Food and Wine Festival. But for people who are saying, you know, what is this experience going to be like post dining plan, if you've gone to restaurants before, the experience, other than just limited options doesn't really change. Like what I would tell people is, you know, branch out, you know, go go with some restaurants that you haven't tried. For us, that was the great thing. You know, we've always felt that like with the dining plan, you know, we we find ourselves gravitating towards the same old, same old because, you know, the the other ones can't be good, because no one's no one's booking this dining, no one's we got to get ohana, we've got to get chef Mickey. So when we have the dining plan, it's almost like we've always felt compelled to compete with the other guests to make sure that we were in the coveted places, just so that we could go there with this, you know, like the world was kind of our oyster. And because the crowds were so low, I think it gave us the liberty to look at every restaurant on property that was open and available. And really just try some different restaurants and some different options, and not have to worry about, you know, pricing out the meal and is our meal choice going to justify the cost of the dining plan itself. It was, dare I say liberating, to not be worried about the dining plan and trying to leverage the dining plan for every single solitary cent. So we wound up really enjoying our, our experience without the dining plan. But you know, just it's like everything else. No, no, what you want to do before you before you go, don't make the mistake that we made and go to a restaurant expecting certain entrees, only to be devastated when the the menu item that you've been salivating over and dreaming about for the last few months is not there. So I don't know we're getting we're getting a little get a little long in the tooth here with this some with this podcast. I don't know. You know, I mean, we're gonna play with, with format, and we're gonna play with time, but I, I don't know how long these are generally going to be. But I would like to have some some guests on. And I would like to have you meet, obviously my partner in Disney and in life, Linda, and have her come on tonight, she is putting our daughter in bed. So she kind of bid me good luck on this first podcast, and then went up to the room to put our daughter to bed because we just got back and we are we are Disney tired. So I'm really excited. I hope that you enjoyed and hope that this little discussion of Disney dining was enjoyable. And I'm going to try to do these on a weekly basis. So next week, I do want to, you know, talk about, you know, I get and get get caught up with some news. But I do want to talk about the overall experience at one park in particular, which is Hollywood Studios. And I do want to address some of the issues that I think are really hot button topics, specifically boarding groups and the boarding group. Again, it's a real controversial topic, but boarding groups remains to be one of the most discussed things of you know, how is it done? Um, I'm not a fan of it. And you know, we're going to talk about that in length next week. But I also want to talk about, you know, some strategies to really maximize your time at Hollywood studios, given all of the recent changes and of all of the parks. It really is the one park that you have to have a really good plan going into it. So next week topic of discussion for our next podcast is definitely going to be focused on that one thing of how to maximize my Park pass at Hollywood Studios without fastpasses and how do I get on Rise of the resistance and enjoy all of the new rides in in my one day. Thank you so much everybody for tuning in. I thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for sticking with me for this first podcast. And it was the the first of many, and I hope that I hope you enjoyed it and I will catch up with you next week. Thank you