Dole Whips: An admission by G

Those two words have either jump-started your salivary glands or caused you to double check your search engine filters.  For those unfamiliar, Dole Whips are the spectacular combination of soft serve (most often Pineapple flavored) ice cream and Pineapple juice.  These delights can only be found in the smallest handful of locations on this planet, the greater percentage of which are found on Disney property.  Mine waits for me at the Magic Kingdom, just over the bridge in Adventureland and is one of the most important appointments I keep in the year.  This sounds silly, I know, but I learned the hard way one year when I failed to stop by.  A mistake I have not repeated since.

I walked past the counter that year, several times in fact, always looking up at the peacefully inviting sign which reads “Aloha Isle: Refreshments”.  And each time I had either just eaten and was quite satisfied or on my way to dine with no intention of spoiling my appetite by prematurely engaging in my love affair with this frozen treat.  Thus, I missed it.

In this world, in my experience, you are either actively engaged in an emotional relation ship with the Dole Whip or you are not.  Certainly, there are those who can dabble and enjoy, then walk away, never to give it thought again, and there are those who don’t particularly care for them at all.  Then there are those of us living in shame, afraid to admit our shortcoming.  We often find ourselves at the gas station, our thoughts drifting from the display on the pump, instead recalling the sound of the machines as they work their frozen magic, the cold perspiration on the cup in our palm, and the bite of the first drips of citrus as it caresses our tongue sending serenity to every inch of our nervous systems.

Observe any given snake-like line, wrapping itself neatly around the side of the Aloha Isle and respectfully out of the thoroughfare, and you may see one or two people breathing strangely or gently dancing on the balls of their feet.  Look closer, however, and you may notice my category, identified by an intently focused look, an inexplicably warm smile, and beads of sweat dripping from the brow.  We are less easy to spot in summer, but sweat just the same regardless of season, temperature, or time of day.

In subsequent years the Aloha Isle became a destination.  As hordes pushed past to line up for a Jungle Cruise one way and to press themselves into small gaps from which to glimpse a parade going the other, I gently and inconspicuously sidle up to the counter and try, with great desperation, to not appear the wolf in tourists clothing that I truly am.  Having had a great deal of practice, I may even appear calm to the unwitting passerby.  Take a closer look, though, when next you fix, and observe just how far away you are from those machines and the Cast Members as they graciously pass your ambrosia along, hoping, I am certain, to retrieve their extremities intact after delivery.  Disney knows we’re out here and has been kind enough to consider the safety of their Cast Members in a fashion not too dissimilar from banks and their tellers.

Of course, there is no true cause for concern.  The truth is, like reverse Kryptonite, I start feeling better the moment I’m through the turnstiles, trotting down Main Street, turning left past Casey’s, and crossing the two bridges, breathing a sigh of release upon the mere sight of the sign.

Aloha, indeed.

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What Brings G Back: The California Grill

For many years the first thought that surfaced upon a mention of Disney World was Space Mountain.  Watching the people come and go in the parks and their various states of joy, exhaustion, or misery leads me to believe that is about par for the course.  Further discussions with the uninitiated reveal much the same result.  Rides.  For kids.

The first year we discovered the Dining Plan (it was actually the Silver Plan at the time), was the year I truly fell in love with Walt Disney World as an adult.  I had spent many years working in a variety of restaurants in the urban sprawl I call home, and developed a taste for finer foods, and suddenly Epcot’s World Showcase became my mecca.  To say that the dining plan opened this door is an oversimplification and will be discussed further in a later post.  For now we’ll set that, as well as the wealth of amazing flavors around the World Showcase Lagoon, aside and focus on what became and still stands as my favorite restaurant anywhere.

The California Grill sits atop the Contemporary Resort, fifteen floors up, behind walls of windows that provide amazing views all the way around.  The food is billed as internationally inspired California Fusion and the menu adjusts to reflect fresh ingredients.  There is an extensive wine list, both standard and reserve, bearing a distinct focus on California (it’s a theme, right?  The California thing?) vineyards but does offer vintages from several other locales from around the globe.  And yes, dear readers, there is a fully stocked bar to fill in the gaps.

I must first admit that while I have dined here every single year since we discovered it, I cannot seem to steer myself away from the same dishes every time.  If, however, these flavors are any indication (and I have it on good authority that it is) everything offered is nothing short of magnificent.  Here is my typical meal:

  • Gin & Tonic
  • A bottle of Pinot Noir
  • The Cheese Board (I promise you there is magic in it’s pairings)
  • Sushi (Yoshi, the genius behind these incredible rolls, changes the name and presentation of my favorite every so often, but I have never been disappointed)
  • Oak Fired Filet (Perfectly cooked with a light Teriyaki BBQ glaze.  I shudder even thinking about it)
  • Whichever desert seems the least chocolatey (I do love chocolate, but it always seems so heavy when I reach this decision)
  • Coffee, black (Whatever their blend, it is always perfectly balanced to follow these culinary dreams)

We always make our reservations about 45 minutes prior to the fireworks going off at the Magic Kingdom.  During the show, the interior lights are dimmed and the soundtrack is piped throughout the restaurant, guests are also invited to take their cocktails with them to the outside observation deck.  Either choice is special and has become one of our most romantic times.

What brings all of this together is the experience itself.  Reservation check in happens on the 2nd floor of the hotel, followed by an escorted elevator ride to the top.  We are always given a pager and invited to the bar but can only think of one occasion where we were not sat immediately upon exiting the elevator.  The atmosphere is elegant yet subtle and very warm with a show kitchen at its heart.

And here I start a special paragraph on the staff, many of whom we have gotten to know on a very basic level as they are there every year.  From the check in to the seating to the waitstaff to the management, these people are incredible.  Fun if you like, almost invisible if you prefer, but always timely, friendly, and knowledgeable.  Their recommendations have never failed me and the conversation never dull.  My glass is never empty and my table never cluttered.  Like so many of my fondest memories of Disney World, it is once again the people who elevate an already amazing restaurant to a magical experience.

We never miss this one and I spend the intervening days between visits dreaming of Yoshi’s flawless sushi.  I’m thinking of starting her fan club, let me know if you want in.

Details:

  • The California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Two points for those on the Dining Plan, estimated at $60 per person otherwise
  • Reservations strongly suggested
  • Perfect spot for fireworks viewing
  • G’s favorite restaurant in the universe…don’t miss the sushi
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Introducing: G

Like most kids who grew up in the South, I first visited Disney World at a young enough age that I have no concrete memory of the trip.  I have memories of the several other trips I took throughout my childhood and teen years, the last of those occurring in 1994.  Many of them are a blurred together but most of them include a distinct focus on long lines, lots of walking, and tons of cheeseburgers.  Go, go, go.  Gotta see it all.

Then I learned a secret.  That’s not a vacation, it’s a tour.  Now, tours can be fun and educational and if you’re the type of person that loves rushing around so you can go home and tell everybody ALL the things you did and saw, then by all means tour.  There are tons of books and websites out there that will provide great tips for this kind of trip, but this is not one of them.

For me a vacation is a time to relax, a time to be with my family, and in this app-happy world of constant connection and ‘checking-in’ its a time for me to unplug.  The only television I watch is the occasional ESPN before bed.  My phone stays at my bedside table and I only check voice mail at night (I do return important calls but work hard to keep them brief).  In many ways I’m not only getting away from my work and the metropolis I call home, but I’m also taking a break from the person I am at those places.  Few things are more refreshing to my soul than getting away from ‘me’, it allows me to regroup and objectively examine my life.  It also tends to make my troubles seem much less daunting.

Most of what I write on this site will be my personal experiences at Disney World.  A description of what my days are like and my thoughts on them.  They are by no means a concrete travel plan, what works for me may not work for you.  My hope is that anyone daunted by a trip to Disney will find some encouragement to truly relax and enjoy this magical place that I and my family have come to love so dearly and to reassure everyone that there is a way to do so without rushing from place to place at a break-neck speed from dusk til dawn only to finally crash in a bed and do it all over again the next day.  Me?  I’ll be on my balcony with my wife, likely sipping red wine and watching the monorail go by.

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Pinky’s Mellow past times at the ‘World’

You’ve huffed and puffed and you’ve saved pennies and conquered planes, trains, automobiles and small countries and now you’ve arrived!!!   So now what?  Here are some mellow activities at the World!  SO much fun!!  SO little drama…

  • Character photo ops!  This one takes a little time but is so worth it and you’ll have souvenirs to boot.  If you don’t go to Disney very often – you’ll want to pick and choose your favorite characters as you come upon them and not just jump into any old line for a photo.  The most fun about this little Disney hobby is trying to find obscure or unique characters and getting a photo with them!  (think Star Wars weekends, DeVine at the Animal Kingdom, Main Street U.S.A. characters, or go on a Villan hunt!)
  • Pressed Penny machines!  I’m not sure what it is about scoping out these little penny machines that is so enticing…. but there it is.  They are found in all parks and hotels – many with limited edition images or unique celebration images.  Start collecting and soon you’ll have an entire book of tiny little souvenirs and you’ll be wanting to go back for more (to finish your collections of course).
  • 101 pictures for your photopass!  Thinking of getting a photopass?  Stop at every photopass cast member that you see and get a photo or 5 taken.  Strike a silly pose, strike a mod pose, think Madonna in Vogue.  You’ll have lots more pictures on your photopass to play with once you get home and hey, its just fun! (ex. All dressed up for the California Grille?  Stop by the Magic Kingdom and get some photos taken in front of the castle after dinner ….or you know, Pirates of the Caribbean…)
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Introducing: PinKy

For me, the Mellow Mouse is about keeping your Disney vacation… a vacation.  There is nothing vacation-like about waking at the crack of dawn, throwing clothes on your sleepy children (or yourselves), cursing about your misplaced coffee cup and pushing out the door with a granola bar in one hand and a highlighted park map (or screaming toddler) in the other.

Here at the Mellow Mouse we encourage meandering, finding those unique and special Disney moments that if you’re running through the front gates of the Magic Kingdom at 60mph you’re not going to catch.

Have you ever seen the character water art that cast members draw on the sidewalks/main thoroughfares in the evenings?  You have to catch them quick or they dry up and poof!  They are gone.

Have you ever sat below the “tap dance studio” on Main Street and listened to the class in progress?

And truly if you haven’t had your picture taken with the Mayor of Main Street or Councilman Dewey Cheatem, you’re missing out on wonderful one-on-one time with delightful characters (and look!  no lines!).

There are hundreds of unique and magical moments that Disney offers to those who don’t bulldoze through their vacation at breakneck speeds.  Relax – enjoy yourself.  You’re on vacation.  If you have unique magical moments at Disney we’d love to hear about them!

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