Category Archives: hotels

Mother’s Day brunches delight moms at Walt Disney World Resort

If you and your family are planning to be at Walt Disney World Resort this Mother’s Day, May 10, why not take Mom out to a bountiful Mother’s Day brunch, Disney-style? Several eateries are hosting lavish, hearty buffets to pamper mothers visiting the Mouse.

Pluto greets young guests at Garden Grove. (courtesy of WDW Swan & Dolphin Hotel)
Pluto greets young guests at Garden Grove. (courtesy of WDW Swan & Dolphin Hotel)

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel‘s Garden Grove is the perfect venue for families with kids of all ages, as it comes complete with character interactions under a whimsical, 25-foot oak tree centerpiece. From 7-10 a.m., a special Mother’s Day breakfast menu includes hand-crafted bacon, open-faced crab sandwiches, potato gratin Dauphinoise, and yogurt mousse parfaits. Little ones will be happy with the scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and Mickey waffles–and, of course, seeing their favorite Disney characters. (Chip and Dale, Goofy, and Pluto will be in attendance.)

Pluto captivates a happy guest at Garden Grove. (photo courtesy of WDW Swan & Dolphin Hotel)
Pluto captivates a happy guest at Garden Grove. (photo courtesy of WDW Swan & Dolphin Hotel)

Additionally, a special Mother’s Day brunch menu, served from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., features herb-crusted prime rib, quiche, and green bean almondine. There are also a variety of other options at the different buffet stations, including Florida Red Snapper Piccata, and smoked salmon.

 

Pluto is a star performer at Garden Grove's Mother's Day brunch. (photo courtesy of WDW Swan & Dolphin Hotel)
Pluto is a star performer at Garden Grove’s Mother’s Day brunch. (photo courtesy of WDW Swan & Dolphin Hotel)

Both Mother’s Day dining experiences at Garden Grove are $35.99 for adults, $19.99 for children (ages 3-9), and free for kids under age 3. For reservations, call 407-934-1618.

 

Oven-roasted filet of beef stars on the menu at Todd English's bluezoo. (courtesy of WDW Swan & Dolphin Hotel)
Oven-roasted filet of beef stars on the menu at Todd English’s bluezoo. (courtesy of WDW Swan & Dolphin Hotel)

You can also celebrate Mom at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel by dining at Todd English’s bluezoo, where guests will receive a $25 gift certificate and a rose for every two adult entrees purchased on Mother’s Day. To make reservations, call 407-934-1111.

 

Minnie signs an autograph to the delights of fans at Chef Mickey's. (courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort)
Minnie signs an autograph to the delights of fans at Chef Mickey’s. (courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort)

Captain’s Grille at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort features a nautical setting reminiscent of an old-fashioned New England yacht club. Drop anchor there on Mother’s Day (7:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m.) for a brunch your whole crew will love, featuring a carving station with Roasted Top Sirloin, an omelet station, breakfast selections (including French toast, scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, pancakes, and Mickey waffles), brunch selections (including clam chowder, peel-and-eat shrimp, baked whitefish, crab cakes, and grilled asparagus), and bakery selections (including pastries, breads, muffins, brownies, and cookies). Book online or call 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463).

 

Mickey gets a hug from a young guest at Chef Mickey's, where character interactions are part of the fun. (courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort)
Mickey gets a hug from a young guest at Chef Mickey’s, where character interactions are part of the fun. (courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort)

Mom and her brood can join some favorite Disney friends for a fun-filled feast at Chef Mickey’s on Mother’s Day at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Served from 7:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m., Chef Mickey’s Mother’s Day Brunch features Donald Duck, Goofy, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Pluto.

Minnie Mouse makes a new friend at Chef Mickey's, Disney's Contemporary Resort. (courtesy of WDW Resort)
Minnie Mouse makes a new friend at Chef Mickey’s, Disney’s Contemporary Resort. (courtesy of WDW Resort)

 

Breakfast selections include scrambled eggs, cheese omelets, roasted potatoes, and smoked salmon. Brunch selections include beef sirloin, seasonal salads, BBQ roast chicken, vegetable lasagna, and steamed broccoli with cheese sauce. Book online or call 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463).

 

Mickey greets families at Chef Mickey's, with plenty of time for photo opportunities. (courtesy of WDW Resort)
Mickey greets families at Chef Mickey’s, with plenty of time for photo opportunities. (courtesy of WDW Resort)

At The Wave…of American Flavors, also at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, you can make your mom’s special day even more magical with a Mother’s Day Brunch (7:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m.) that includes a carving station (bone-in-ham with rum raisin sauce, and prime rib with rosemary au jus), and an omelet station, as well as many more buffet items like grits with smoked cheddar and bacon, pork chops with cinnamon apples, chicken with wild rice pilaf, chimichurri waffles, and grilled cheese sandwiches. There are also plenty of bakery selection (including fruit danish, muffins, bread, and croissants) and lots of desserts to appeal to your mom’s sweet tooth. Book online or call 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463).

 

Chef Mickey's offers a bountiful buffet for families on Mother's Day. (courtesy of WDW Resort)
Chef Mickey’s offers a bountiful buffet for families on Mother’s Day. (courtesy of WDW Resort)

 

Celebrity chef Cat Cora gets rave reviews for Kouzzina at Disney’s Boardwalk

Celebrity Chef Cat Cora opens first signature restaurant at Walt Disney World Resort

All photos by Gene Duncan, courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort

Kouzzina is Greek for “kitchen,” and there have been some great things brewing in the kitchen of Celebrity Chef Cat Cora‘s first signature restaurant, Kouzzina, since its opening in September 2009 on Disney’s Boardwalk at the Walt Disney World Resort. Cora, the first and only female Iron Chef on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America, recently hosted Around the World in 80 Plates on the Bravo TV network and has authored three bestselling cookbooks.

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Breakfast and dinner are served daily in this casual family restaurant, where the decor is rustic, with wooden floors and wooden tables, so it feels as if you’re sitting in a comfortable Mediterranean farmhouse. Entertainment is provided throughout your meal via the open kitchen with oak-fired ovens, hanging copper pots, and flaming pans.

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Cat Cora’s Mediterranean family recipes have a prominent place on the menus, as well as other flavorful dishes that celebrate Cora’s Greek heritage. The beverage menu contains Cora’s special cocktail recipes, as well as her private label (Coranation) wines from California.

Celebrity Chef Cat Cora opens first signature restaurant at Walt Disney World Resort

Kouzzina may be your best bet for tucking into a hearty, flavorful, and interestingly unique breakfast at WDW Resort before spending your day with the Mouse. If you’re staying at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, it’s right at your front door, but it’s also within easy walking distance of Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts and Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Hotels. When you’re finished with your meal, you can just head for the back door of Epcot, the International Gateway entrance.

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I love the Stacked Kouzzina Breakfast, which features two poached eggs, kalamata olive toast, artichoke spread, and sweet potato hash with your choice of bacon or chicken sausage. All of Kouzzina’s egg dishes are prepared with Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil, so you get a real health benefit (especially if you’re watching your cholesterol intake) while indulging in delicious food. The kalamata olive toast is a real standout, especially when paired with the artichoke spread. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the tastiness of the sweet potato hash. The Stacked Kouzzina Breakfast is definitely composed of comfort food, but it has a decidedly Greek flavor, which really livens up each dish.

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Also on the menu is such dazzlingly different breakfast fare as House-cured Salmon, served with capers, pickled sumac onions, feta cream cheese, oven-roasted tomatoes, and warm Pita bread; Country French Toast, consisting of grilled fig and anise bread with apple-fig compote; and Breakfast Skillet with eggs, Pequillo Peppers, Nueske’s Bacon, onions, potatoes, Greek cheese, and a topping of Arugula.

Celebrity Chef Cat Cora opens first signature restaurant at Walt Disney World Resort

Service is warm and friendly, to the point of the servers allowing substitutions to each menu item, so you could customize your meal. You get the feeling that you’re a welcome guest in their cozy home and that, if something were available in the kitchen, they’d be happy to provide it. As is customary with WDW Resort restaurants, careful attention is given to guests with allergies and modifications are gladly made in order to accommodate food intolerances.

Kouzzina’s signature blend of press-pot coffee will perk you up enough to see you and your mouse ears through your morning in the Disney Parks. Tea drinkers will be thrilled to find a nice selection of both black and herbal teas.

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For dinner, don’t miss the Sagnaki appetizer, flamed Greek cheese with lemon and oregano. Not only is the dish a savory delight, but also a breathtaking sight.

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As a piato, or entrée, consider the slowly braised lamb shank served with oven-baked Gigantes Beans and Lamb Jus or perhaps the Briami–oven-roasted vegetables with oregano, topped with Greek cheese and served with herbed orzo pasta. If you can’t decide, maybe you should go with the Kouzzina Trio–tasting-size portions of Greek-style lasagna, chargrilled lamb burger, and cinnamon-stewed chicken with orzo.

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Vegetarians and vegans will find plenty of choices on the expansive menu. And, if you have a sensitive palate, you can order your sauces on the side to control the amount of spice on your dish.

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For glyka, or sweet endings, save room for hot loukomades (Greek doughnuts drizzled with warm honey and cinnamon), a slice of baklava, or chocolate Budino cake with seasonal sorbets.

Celebrity Chef Cat Cora opens first signature restaurant at Walt Disney World Resort

And, of course, there’s also ouzo, the national drink of Greece, to finish off your evening meal. Opa!

The Fine Print: Kouzzina by Cat Cora will be closing September 30, 2014. Reservations can be made up until then. Be sure to try it before it closes! A new restaurant concept, Trattoria al Forno, will open in its place in December 2014, and Disney Mouse Calls will review it then.

 

@ Nancy Pistorius

Healthy dining and fitness options abound at the Walt Disney World Swan Resort

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Photos courtesy of Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort

It’s tough to eat healthily at a theme park or even at a resort connected to a theme park. Time is at a premium and even if you head to the parks with the greatest intentions, carefully planned out healthy meals soon give way to grab-and-go snacks like Mickey ice cream bars (well, they do contain calcium, right?), Dole whip floats (hey, now you’ve got both calcium and fruit juice), and popcorn–who can resist that powerful aroma floating all over the park?

Guests staying at the Walt Disney World Swan have a surplus of healthy dining options available to them throughout the resort and next-door in the Walt Disney World Dolphin (also a Starwood property).

Before you even hit the parks, start your day with a healthy breakfast at the Walt Disney World Swan’s Garden Grove. I had the pleasure of dining there on my last visit to Walt Disney World, and I think my buffet meal there ranked among the top healthiest meals I’ve ever had in my life. One of the buffet stations featured a “Superfoods Collection,” consisting of dishes made from powerhouse ingredients rich in nutrients and antioxidants so diners could feel recharged. Ingredients included blueberries, oranges, apples, tomatoes, spinach, yogurt, oats, nuts, broccoli, dark chocolate, cinnamon and honey. There are also freshly-squeezed “shots” of juice smoothies on the buffet–blended for their detox and antioxidant properties. (All I know is that they tasted amazingly delicious.)

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You can also get a bowl of assorted seasonal berries, a seasonal fruit salad and several different fruit juices à la carte. (Try the fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice–it tastes as if they just picked the orange off a tree that morning in the resort’s grounds.)

Speaking of fresh, you can’t get much fresher food than the sushi at Walt Disney World Swan’s Kimonos, voted the top sushi restaurant in the area by Orlando Sentinel readers. If you’re not awestruck by the freshness of the sushi, then you’ll swoon over the presentation. Each dish resembles a work of art.

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The other 15 restaurants and lounges on property offer healthy options, as well. Even The Fountain at Walt Disney World Dolphin, which specializes in burgers and sandwiches, as well as sweet treats like homemade ice cream, malts and shakes, offers a healthy option as a side dish (a fresh fruit salad) in their Kids’ menu.

If you need extra exercise after hoofing around the parks all day, the Walt Disney World Swan is a fitness fanatic’s dream, with five pools (including two lap pools), two health clubs (containing LifeFitness strength equipment, free-weights, a stairclimber, treadmills, life cycles, and elliptical crosstrainers), four lighted tennis courts and jogging trails. You’ll find that travel needn’t be broadening, after all.

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And if a hectic visit to the theme parks has left you feeling stressed out, relief is just across the way in the luxurious Mandara Spa at the Walt Disney World Dolphin. Swedish Massage, Balinese Body Polish, Reflexology, Hot Stone Therapy, Deep Tissue Massage and Exotic Frangipani Body Nourish Wrap are just some of the services the Spa offers. I’ve been pampered at the Spa on two different visits, and was very pleased with the caring quality each masseuse brought to my treatment.

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Traveling to Walt Disney World Resort can be more fun than you can possibly imagine, but it can be an overwhelming experience, too. Take a break from the sensory stimulation overload at the restful Spa, fitness centers, pools, and restaurants (with their healthy eating options) at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, just steps away from the magic at Walt Disney World.

© Nancy Pistorius

 

Just steps away from the magic at Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort

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Photos courtesy of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort

Situated midway between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme parks and directly across from the exciting carnival entertainment, gourmet restaurants and nightclubs near Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, the Walt Disney World Dolphin (part of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel, a Starwood property) exudes “location, location, location!”

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But the proximity to the Disney theme parks is not where the magic ends. If you want a truly magical Walt Disney World experience, there’s no better place to stay than the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel (and its sister property, the Walt Disney World Swan). Room amenities include Wi-Fi, make-up mirrors, two bottles of water per day (perfect for hydration when hitting the theme parks), “Shine” by Bliss bath products, and delicious Tazo tea, as well as Starbucks coffee. Special advantages include free transportation to all Disney theme parks and attractions, plus the Extra Magic Hours benefit, in which one of the four Walt Disney theme parks opens one hour early or remains open up to two hours after regular Park closing time for hotel guests. (Especially in these early days of FastPass+, where park guests are only allowed three fastpasses per day at just one theme park, those Extra Magic Hours are nearly essential to enjoying all the rides you want if you’re park-hopping during the day.)

The resort was designed by internationally acclaimed architect, Michael Graves, and is topped by five-story dolphin (the fish, not the mammal) statues. (I was thrilled when I saw them, as I’ve long been a fan of Graves, and own several of the iconic pieces that he’s designed for Target.) One of Graves’ themes is water, and this is amply demonstrated with majestic fountains in several scenic locations throughout the property. The most visible fountain, located on the Crescent Lake side of the Dolphin, cascades nine stories through five seashell-shaped troughs into a 54-foot clamshell.

The expansive grounds of the Dolphin Hotel include a man-made white sand beach (complete with oversized hammocks for lazy days) and more than three acres of water fun, including a Grotto Pool with waterfalls, a water slide, lap pools, a kiddy pool, a (luxuriously warm) spring pool, and four whirlpools. There’s no excuse for not relaxing!

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If you’re into more strenuous activities, there’s also a health club that offers free weights, stationary bikes, and stair machines, plus there are miles of jogging trails surrounding the resort and the neighboring Disney properties and theme parks.

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I got one of the best Swedish massages of my life (from a masseuse called “Joy”–and she truly lived up to her name) at the Dolphin Hotel’s Mandara Spa. The atmosphere in the spa is one of complete tranquility. So, if you’re frazzled from the frenetic pace of visiting the theme parks, take a break at the Spa and say, “Ahhhhh.”

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There’s no need to leave the hotel complex if you’re got a case of the munchies. Featuring 17 restaurants and lounges, the resort offers something for everyone, from the most passionate foodie to a guest seeking quick service before hitting the parks. (There’s even a 24-hour cafeteria–Picabu.)

Down on the lower level, the Fountain serves up delicious sandwiches, custom-grilled burgers, salads, and delectable ice cream (both hand-dipped and soft-serve) treats. If you want fantastic service, ask for Blanca or Kate.

Over on the Swan side, Kimonos offers authentic Japanese sushi in an intimate atmosphere. Dark teakwood, colorful kimonos hanging on the walls, and karaoke are hallmarks of this gem. The servers are friendly (especially Myong K) and treat you like family. There are a number of gluten-free items on the menu. If you’re not fond of sushi, the egg drop soup and shrimp tempura platter are both amazing.

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No need to fret if you can’t get reservations at a character breakfast inside the parks–Garden Grove (Swan) offers evening dinners and weekend breakfasts featuring beloved Disney characters.

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If adults in the family want to get out for a good meal without the small fry, they can drop the young ‘uns (ages 4-12) off at Camp Dolphin for fully-supervised programs, including arts and crafts, Disney movies, board and arcade games, and even dinner. (Cost is $10 per child, per hour.)

Besides restaurants inside the resort, there are also Disney shops, a candy store filled to the brim with retro sweets, and even an art gallery that features visiting artists.

A hotel is only as good as its staff–and members of the Dolphin’s staff are fantastic, from the front desk employees at check-in to the guest services workers (a shout out to Renee) who answer the phone when guests have a question. Even the hotel engineers are friendly and helpful. You will feel like an honored guest throughout your stay. And that, in itself, is indeed magical.

© Nancy Pistorius