In the Shadow of the Mouse

Secrets of a theme park obsessed local who lives next door to Mickey, with annual passes to every Central Florida park

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is fun with big bucks or on a budget

f8The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival rolls into town on September 25 and runs until November 16. If you’re familiar with the event, you know that it revolves around food and drink. Normally the kiosks are in World Showcase, but this year they’ve taken over Future World, too.

Technically the event is included with your Epcot admission, although you’ll need extra money to enjoy some food and drink. Is there other special fun you can take advantage of without paying anything over your admission cost? Sure! Here are some examples:

Marketplace Discovery Passport: Pick up your free passport and use it to help you plan your dining at the kiosks. Then have it stamped at each of your stops for a customized souvenir.

Back to the Basics: On Fridays, you can learn from the experts at informative talks on a variety of subjects. It’s a great educational opportunity, and it also gives you the chance to relax in the air conditioning. That’s a welcome respite in Florida in a part that’s name is often called an acronym for “Every Person Comes Out Tired.”

The Ocean Spray Cranberry Bog: The bog is back! It was missing in action in 2014, but you’ll once again get a chance to talk to growers and enjoy a free Craisins sample.

Eat to the Beat concerts: The concerts don’t require an extra ticket, and seating is first come, first served. See acts like Christopher Cross, Rick Springfield, Starship, and Styx alumnus Dennis De Young.

f9Of course, if you have some money to burn, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival also boasts some amazing extra-cost activities. Party for the Senses is among the most popular offerings. It runs select days in October and literally turns you loose in a culinary playground of gourmet food and wine stations. You get to enjoy live entertainment while you nosh and drink to your heart’s content. It doesn’t come cheap; admission is $169, or $199 if you want a reserved table. Want to go whole hog and have your own bar and artisan cheese selection? Pony up $319 for a VIP experience in the Wine Lounge.

With this year’s The Chew tie-in, you can also sign up for “What’s Cookin’ With…” and meet a celebrity chef like Cat Cora or Jamie Deen. The chef changes each week and this brunch event runs $129 per person.

You can find the full range of premium options on the official Epcot International Food & Wine Festival website.

If you’d like to try something a little different, the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin Resorts offer the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic for one weekend each year. This year it runs on October 30 and 31, allowing guests to sample food and wine at a variety of booths. That might sound a lot like Epcot, but the big difference here is that you can buy an “all you can eat and drink” wristband. That makes it a tremendous bargain because you don’t have to make difficult choices as you visit tempting booths with creations from the Swan and Dolphin Resort chefs and restaurants. The resort is conveniently located right between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

You can also start the party early with one of the special pre-event classes on topics like wine blending, drink mixology, and pasta making. They’re great fun, as you can tell by the video below. Full details are on the official Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic website:

Yes, you can spend a fortunate on food, but my downfall is also the merchandise. This year, there are lots of Figment goodies mixed in among the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival merchandise offerings. He’s even on the annual passholder’s T-shirt.


That might be a good thing; I always feel like I gain at least five pounds each festival year. Now I can divert part of my food budget to merchandise with my favorite little purple friend.

Characters at sea: Carnival Cruise Line features Dr. Seuss favorites

b4You may be a big fan of Grinchmas at Islands of Adventure, and other Dr. Seuss characters like the Cat in the Hat and Things 1 and 2 who hang out there all year ’round, but did you know you can also celebrate Seuss at Sea on Carnival Cruise Line?

The Carnival Fun Ships have plenty of fun for adults, but they’re also kid-friendly, with activities and adventures for the younger family members. Seuss at Sea brings storytelling, parades, crafts, and other activities to the Carnival fleet. Best of all, it also includes everyone’s favorite Seussian meal: green eggs and ham. Sign up for the Seuss breakfast and you’ll dine on the title dish while you meet Sam I Am himself, along with other characters.

I was recently on board the Carnival Paradise in Tampa, and I can personally attest that green eggs and ham is delicious. If it looks a little too adventurous for you, don’t worry. There are plenty of other, more conventional options, like waffles, pancakes, and French toast, as well as a hearty steak and eggs breakfast. No member of the family will go hungry, no matter how fussy. Since the green eggs and ham is serve on English muffins, I added some of the Bearnaise sauce that’s normally part of the streak option and created an impromptu version of eggs Benedict.


The breakfast isn’t just some Seuss-themed food plopped randomly into a restaurant. The decor is whimsical, In Seuss-inspired colors, and there’s even an ice sculpture of the Cat in the Hat himself to greet you:


The food is quite creative, too. For example, both the pancakes and the strawberry parfait are make to resemble the Cat’s distinctive red and white striped hat:



Even the servers get in the fun. performing a little dance number:


Have your camera handy, as the characters all come by for photos while you’re dining. In addition to Sam I Am, I met the Cat and both of the Things.




The Dr. Seuss/Carnival partnership extends beyond just having the characters and activities on board. Tampa Rays baseball star Evan Longoria recently came on board the Carnival Paradise to read Dr. Seuss’s new book, “What Pet Should I Get,” to a group of youngsters. To see how his appearance benefited homeless pets, check out my latest article in my Doggone Orlando blog:

Kevin Bacon kicks off Ice Cream Challenge at Give Kids the World Village

Actor Kevin Bacon challenged a youngster to an ice cream eating contest at Give Kids the World Village, and the results were predictable: little Ethan beat him hands-down. It was all for a good cause, with the kick-off of the Ice Cream Challenge, a fund raiser that dares people to go head to head in ice cream eating contests. The winner is the one who eats the most ice cream in six seconds, and the loser has to donate $6 to Give Kids the World Village in Kissimmee. Of course, the winner is free to donate, too, and you can donate more if you wish; Kevin Bacon fans know why all the sixes are involved. Take a video of the challenge, post it to YouTube, and tweet it using the official hashtag: #GKTWChallenge

Here’s the full video of Kevin Bacon kicking things off:

Bacon has a charitable foundation,, that supports worthy causes. If you’re not familiar with Give Kids the World Village, it most definitely meets that criteria. It was founded as a place where kids with life-threatening illnesses could forget doctor visits and hospitals for a while as they enjoyed theme park vacations. The resort itself is also packed with fun activities, including a pool, rides, and weekly holiday celebrations that bring Christmas, Halloween, and other holidays to the young guests at any time of year. To take a tour of the resort, check out the video below:

If you’re up for the challenge, tackle some ice cream, then go to this web page to send in your donation:

Summer is the perfect time to cool off with ice cream, and this is the perfect way to do it. It’s a lot more comfy than pouring a bucket of ice water over your head, and your donation funds what’s literally the vacation of a lifetime for deserving kids and their families.

I met Paula Deen an Orlando nail salon

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love living next door to Walt Disney World, but one of the challenges, especially in the summer, is sharing my space with the mass influx of tourists. Everything from the theme parks to the grocery stores all the way down to the nail salons is packed with humanity during the peak season. My favorite nail salon is pretty much a walk-in place; in theory, you could make an appointment, but in practice it wouldn’t buy you much so your best bet is to just take your chances at what you hope is an off-time.

I decided that my toes needed a touch-up today and managed to catch a brief break in the crowd. It was the usual tourist circus, but little did I know that I was also about to run into Paula Deen and that she’s apparently a local.

There was only one open pedicure chair when I arrived, and it’s adjacent to the back of one of the couches in the waiting area. Two little kids, maybe three and five, were sitting there with a man (presumably Dad), and immediately spun around to stare at me in fascination. Living in Orlando, I’m pretty immune to kidlet antics, since virtually every restaurant is like a daycare from Hell all summer long. Besides, they were totally silent as though watching feet get primped was the most fascinating thing on earth. Either they were budding foot fetishists or just bored out of their minds.

Daddy, however, was not as mannerly at handling his boredom as his offspring. With the position of the couch, the kids were by my feet and he was by my head. He promptly whipped out his phone and started watching something with lots of screaming and loud explosions at full volume, without benefit of earphones. Uh, no. I’d finished my work early and was all about relaxing with a blissful hot stone pedicure as a treat. I didn’t feel like having it accompanied by a Michael Bay soundtrack.

Being from the south side of Chicago, I have no problem confronting rudeness head on. However, I thought it might be more fun to fight fire with fire. I brought up Amazon Prime on my phone, cranked my New Age playlist, and set it on the arm of my chair as close as possible to Explosion Boy. I told the man doing my pedicure, “I hope you don’t mind, but I want to relax so I have to drown out the rudeness.” Explosion Boy actually took the hint and turned it off, albeit with a sidelong glare.

I thought the rest of my pedicure would be uneventful, but little did I know that Paula Deen would soon come flouncing in the door. I should have realized she was going to put on a floor show when she bustled in, stared right at a man performing a pedicure on one of the women in a line-up of pedicure chairs that takes up the whole wall, and asked, “Do you do pedicures here?” Dude just rolled his eyes, and I couldn’t help saying, “I sure hope they do, because if not, I’m a little worried about what that guy is doing down there to my feet.”

Paula was soon ensconced in a chair a couple of seats down from mine. She then proceeded to boisterously complain that the salon was much too quiet. I’m not sure what she meant, as it had the usual buzz of low conversation among some of the people getting services, while others were simply kicking back to enjoy a bit of bliss. She proclaimed several times that she was from the South and that it’s just not the same here. Apparently she’s not good with geography and is also totally unaware that Tampa is home to the world’s largest Confederate flag. She yelped, “Hasn’t anyone here seen ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ or ‘Steel Magnolias?'” When no one spoke, she said, “No, huh? Well, that’s what a salon is supposed be be like.”

I still didn’t realize that I was in the company of Paula Deen herself, though, or her spiritual twin at the very least, until she asked the man doing her pedicure, “Who owns this place?” He responded, “Why, you want to buy it?” and she said, “Lordy, no! It’s Asian owned, right? I just wanted to know if it’s Asian owned because nails are your people’s thing, right?” I thought I was going to fall out of my chair; at least she didn’t says “Orientals.”

Presumably in an effort to change the subject before TMZ swooped in to see if Paula was wearing yellow face, the man said, “Where are you from? Georgia?” I swear I almost wet my pants when the Southern Belle said, “No, from Miami.” She must have realized how ridiculous that sounded because she swiftly added, “Miami is like the real south. I moved here to Central Florida, and it’s not the south at all. I’m moving back to Miami as soon as I can.”

The woman next to her made the mistake of making some sort of innocent comment, and Paula proceeded to talk her ear off for the duration, pausing only to boisterously exclaim, “I want to cheapest pedicure! Be sure to give me the cheapest one.” Vegas was naming her the odds on favorite in the “Clients Who Don’t Leave a Tip” category.

Alas, once she started chatting with her neighbor, I couldn’t hear her gems of wisdom anymore. It was time for my hot rock massage, so I drifted into sweet, sweet oblivion. I’ll admit I was a little sorry that the floor show was over, though. From Paula’s conversation, I gathered that she actually lived quite close to me, although she was counting the days until she could return the Confederate confines of Miami. It’s usually the tourists who provide all the entertainment, but today I got to enjoy Paula Deen live and in person with a routine better than any HBO comedy special.

Photo credit: “Pedicure 1” by Stoive – Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –