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

The Chew airs episodes filmed at Epcot Food & Wine Festival this week

The Chew filmed a week’s worth of episodes at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival last week, and they air on ABC, starting on October 12, at 1 p.m. ET. Turn in between the 12th and the 16th, and you’ll recognize many of the locations, as well as some familiar faces like “The Festival of the Lion King” cast members and even Mickey Mouse himself.

The Chew co-hosts weren’t just on hand for the show. They also hosted the October 8th Rockin’ Burger Block Party, one of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival special events. There’s one more party still to come, so if you’re thinking about signing up, go here for more details.

The co-hosts met with the media after the October 8th filming (which was for the October 15 show) to answer a few questions. Check out the video below for their thoughts on food, travel, and more:

If you’d like to know what’s coming up in the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival episodes, here are the full descriptions, including guest stars. All of these episodes of The Chew should air at 1 p.m. ET on ABC, although schedules are always subject to change:

MONDAY, OCTOBER 12 – “THE CHEW’S FAMILY VACATION” Carla Hall makes a delicious Norwegian roasted salmon & ranch potato galette; Michael Symon visits The Land at Epcot to check out the center’s hydroponic gardening program and makes a meal with its vegetables; Mickey Mouse and Goofy stop by to say hello.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 13 – “MAKING MEAL MAGIC” Alfonso Ribeiro (ABC’s “AFV”); Mario Batali and Michael Symon square off with their recipes for angel hair with Brussel sprouts, bacon and walnuts and shrimp Fra Diavolo over linguine.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 14 – “EASY FIVE STAR FEAST” Mario Batali visits Iron Chef Morimoto’s new restaurant at Disney Springs, Morimoto Asia; Bellamy Young (ABC’s “Scandal”). For more on Morimoto Asia (HIGHLY recommended) and other great Disney Springs eateries, check out this article.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 15 – “TRY SOMETHING NEW!” Clinton Kelly and Carla Hall visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom; the cast of “The Festival of The Lion King” performs. This is the show after which the video interview was filmed.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 16 – “YOUR PERFECT PARTY PLAN” The perfect party snacks and cocktails; “The Chew” co-hosts stop by the Rockin’ Burger Block Party; a look back at some of the show’s favorite moments at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival from Walt Disney World.

Rockin’ Burger Block Party adds designer burgers to Epcot Food and Wine events

Who doesn’t love a burger? Better yet, who doesn’t love trying a wide variety of burgers, from a pan-seared branzino patty topped with pecorino cheese, blood orange, raisin, onion jam and dried proscuitto to a shrimp and scallop burger topped with spicy Thai slaw and cilantro lime mayo to a chicken and duck burger topped with butterkase cheese, braised pork bellu and sweet Thai chili sauce?

If those descriptions are making you drool, book a reservation at one of the two remaining Rockin’ Burger Block Parties at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. This event, which is new for 2015, is packed with designer burgers and all sorts of alcoholic libations to top them off. In addition to the burgers, there’s finger food and a host of sweet endings, like cinnamon roll fireball bread pudding with cream cheese glaze, snickerdoodle-crusted apple custard crisp, and Valrhona chocolate ganache brownies. As if all there weren’t enough, a DJ spins tunes to keep you entertained throughout the evening.

The two remaining Rockin’ Burger Block Parties run on October 8 and November 5. If you opt for the October date, you’ll meet celebrities from The Chew. The first party featured Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods,” Here’s his presentation:

Zimmern also chatted with the media, as you can see in the question and answer session below:

Want to see what you can eat firsthand? Check out this video slideshow, then call 407-939-3378 to book your spot. General admission is $99 for all you can eat and drink, and $119 gets you a reserved table. If you want to go all out, book the Nosh Pit for $199, with special food and drinks.


Disney Springs gets official new name, has excellent eateries

Downtown Disney officially became Disney Springs on September 29, but many of the news stores and restaurants are already open ahead of the overall Disney Springs project completion, slated for 2016.

If you’d like to see the official name change, the full ceremony is in this video:

Raglan Road

Even when it was Downtown Disney, the area has always been home to some wonderful dining options. One of my favorites is Raglan Road, the venerable Irish pub that features cuisine from celebrity chef Kevin Dundon, with comfort food and Irish dishes like fish & chips, Guinness-infused stew, and bangers & mash. Raglan Road is also showcasing locally sourced seasonal items, meaning you’ll find something new, like Port Canaveral seafood or locally sourced pork, depending on when you visit.

Raglan Road has been at Downtown Disney for a decade now, and it looks poised for a long run at Disney Springs. Below, hear from Raglan-Road co-owner Paul Nolan as he talks about his restaurant’s 10 year run and what’s ahead:

The Boathouse

Along with the old, there’s plenty that’s new. This past summer, I had the great pleasure of dining at The Boathouse, a restaurant that makes perfect use of its waterfront real estate at Disney Springs. Not only does it feature hearty food with an upscale flare, served with a nautical backdrop, but it also runs amphibicar tours at the adjacent dock. What’s an amphibicar? The video below answers that question with a live demonstration:

As you can see, they’re classics. Meanwhile, if you dine at The Boathouse, your choices include fresh seafood, hearty steaks, and burgers, a special take on mac and cheese, and an absolute must-do dessert: the S’mores Baked Alaska. I’m a fan of both of those desserts, and I can attest that melding them together creates a cooling taste treat like no other. Here are a few Boathouse dishes to whet your appetite.




Yes, that dessert is every bit as wonderful as it looks and yes, it’s best to bring a group as it’s a massive mountain of chocolaty goodness. Of course, that seafood was pretty darned delicious, too.

Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar

One of the newest Disney Springs additions is Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, another dining spot with a waterfront location. It’s heavily themed to Indiana Jones’s pilot, with memorabilia lining the balls and tasty tapas and specialty drinks stuffing its menu. Below. you’ll see Chef Bill Brown describe the food:

Morimoto Asia

Near Raglan Road, The Boathouse, and Jack Lindsey’s, you’ll find the newest of the Disney Springs restaurants, Morimoto Asia, named for Iron Chef Morimoto. The Iron Chef himself was on hand for the opening, as you can see in the ceremony, where he event serenaded the gathered crowd:

Chef Morimoto also have a tuna carving demonstration and couldn’t resist a little clowning around:

His restaurant features Asian cuisine from places like Japan, China, and Thailand, but all with his signature flair. I normally hate Asian shrimp in general and shrimp tempura in particular, but his was such a heavenly departure from the norm that I had two helpings and returned for dinner to have some more later in the week. Don’t expect the usual batter-heavy dish with teriyaki sauce on the side. The lightly battered shrimp has its own sauce, and it would be a sin to add anything else.

As you can tell, it’s a hard choice deciding on where to dine when you visit Disney Springs. I can’t even choose a favorite myself, since it depends on what I’m craving on any particular night. If you’re a local and want a nice meal or you’re a tourist who needs to escape from the theme parks for a while. Disney Springs is already a nice option for dining, entertainment, and shopping and getting better all the time.

Halloween Horror Nights vs. Mickey’s Halloween Party: Videos show the difference

The two major hard-ticket Halloween events in Orlando are Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida. Both are Halloween-related, but that’s where the resemblance ends. The Disney event is a light-hearted family romp through the holiday, with trick-or-treating and friendly characters, while the other is all about terror, and characters like Jack the Clown are anything but amiable (although, to be fair, Jack commits his murders with a jovial attitude).

To give you a general idea of the difference, let’s do a video comparison. First, let’s look at Disney’s brand-new Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular show. Yes, it’s packed with “bad guys,” but in the upbeat Disney sense that’s very kid-friendly, with only brief moments of darkness:

Now, let’s take a peek into the Asylum in Wonderland 3-D haunted house at Halloween Horror Nights. Unlike the chipper Alice and Mad Hatter you meet in the Magic Kingdom, their counterparts in this haunted maze, along with other Wonderland characters, are anything but kid-friendly:

At Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, the characters are all over the park for meet and greets, many of them in cute Halloween costumes. You also get to see a huge gaggle of them in the Boo to You Parade, where even the Haunted Mansion ghosts are friendly. The only thing I find to be even mildly sinister is the Headless Horseman, who always kicks things off:

And here’s Jack, the jovial Halloween Horror Nights icon, who loves little children…or at least murdering them. Don’t worry, he’s an equal opportunity offender. He’ll pretty much torture and decapitate anyone he can get his hands on:

As you can see, these two events, which both run on select nights through November 1, have a very different tone. I love both of them for different reasons and love the fact that the Halloween season in Orlando spreads out for more than a month.

If you like your Halloween partying to be mild, opt for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. If you go for all-out wild scares, then Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida. Can’t decide? Do what I do and opt for both!

Epcot International Food and Wine Festival preview spotlights culinary delights

temp2The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is just around the corner, officially starting on September 25 and running almost two months before it shuts down on November 16, but I had an opportunity to sample some of the cuisine ahead of time. I’m always a big fan of the event, and this year, for its 20th iteration, I assure you that Disney has outdone itself to up the ante once again.

Some of my favorite items at the preview included the Mixed Grill Burger and the Chew-approved Seared Grouper. The burger features a fried egg on top, which appealed to my inner child who loved fried egg sandwiches. The grouper has a coconut sauce with a pleasantly sweet flair.

I also enjoyed the Scottish smoked salmon, which is served on top of a potato pancake, and the Tuna Poke, which was delightfully fresh and flavorful. Granted, you can get sushi-grade tuna at many restaurants, but sometimes it has that fishy undertone that lets you know it’s not as fresh as it could be. The Tuna Poke had no such issues, and I’ll admit I might have had two (or maybe three) servings.

temp4Dessert was a Bundt cake trio, and my favorite by far was the Drunken Blue Velvet with Cream Cheese and Sugar Daisy. At a time when red velvet is thorough played out, this blue version was a refreshing change, and I loved the treasure hunt of digging up the cream cheese in the center.

Of course, I also indulged in the Chew Lab Liquid Nitro dessert. It was a treat to watch as well as to eat, especially for a chocoholic like me.

This year the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival broke free from its usual confines in World Showcase to expand with kiosks in Future World. It has the usual seminars, presentations, special dinners, and parties, but this year features some new events and options. In the video below, Marianne Hunnel talks about some of them, like the VIP option, which sounds like a great way to experience the festival without worrying about the crowds or hustling to the Eat to the Beat concerts early to get a good seat. You’ll find full details on the official Epcot International Food and Wine Festival website.

I also chatted with Citricos Sous Chef David Barrette about this year’s food offerings. If you’re a fan of Disney dining, you know how wonderful Citricos is (it’s one of my favorite upscale Disney restaurants), so he knows his food!

The festival is included with your Epcot admission ticket, but of course the food costs extra, as do some of the presentations and seminars.

Halloween comes early to Central Florida: Disney, Universal, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens

temp3Forget about Christmas creep. If you’re in Central Florida, your Halloween season officially starts on September 15, the day that Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party kicks off for 2015. It’s a hard ticket event at the Magic Kingdom that runs on select nights through November 1.

Don’t be fooled by the name, as this event isn’t just for kids. Adults can don costumes, too, and are welcome to join in the trick or treating.If that’s not enough of a sugar rush for you, the eateries sell special Halloween themed treats that are only available during the party (candy corn flavored ice cream, anyone?).

The party also features a special parade, fireworks show, and brand-new villains show this year, as well as costumed characters for unique photo ops. Get your tickets early on the Mickey’s Very Merry Halloween Party website, as many dates sell out.

me3Just three days later, Universal Studios Florida gets in on the act with Halloween Horror Nights, which also runs on select nights through November 1. If Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is suitable for all ages, Halloween Horror Nights is strictly for those old enough to be thoroughly terrorized.

Jack the Clown is back this year, along with a number of venerable icons celebrating the event’s 25th year. 2015 bring an unprecedented nine haunted houses, along with scare zones throughout the park and roving chainsaw maniacs who bring the terror right to you. Jack also has his own show, in addition to the usual romp with Bill and Ted.

Halloween Horror Nights is a hard ticketed event, with single night and multi-night options. The official website has full details of all the different ticket types, as well as Express Passes (highly recommended if you visit on a peak night).

The following week, Howl-O-Scream kicks off at Busch Gardens Tampa. It’s another event for the older, more scare-proof crowd, and this year the park brought in Blair Witch Project producer Robin Cowie to kick things up a notch. In addition to the usual seven haunted houses (with Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge as the new entry this year), Howl-O-Scream also has an interactive card game. You can buy your card packs in the park.

temp144Like Universal, Busch Gardens Tampa offers a skip-the-lines pass for purchase, and it’s a life-saver on the most crowded nights. Howl-O-Scream also offers the Fright Feast Buffet, where you can dine while you watch the Fiends show, then enjoy the haunted houses an hour before the general crowds. All the options are listed on the official website.

SeaWorld Orlando waits until October to celebrate the Halloween season. The park’s Halloween Spooktacular starts on October 3 and runs on weekends through the 31st.

In addition to trick or treating for goodies like Tootsie Rolls and Airheads, kids can party with Penelope the fish, make crafts, dance, and generally enjoy the day and evening (the event runs from noon to 7 p.m.). The Count even has his very own Halloween themed show for the little Sesame Street fans in your family (and for adults who remember Count Von Count fondly).

temp145Most of the Halloween Spooktacular activities are included with a regular admission ticket, but this year SeaWorld Orlando has added an extra cost option for those who love the park’s orcas. The Dine With Shamu Halloween Spooktacular Brunch gives you a ringside sea to see the orca pod while dining on a buffet featuring seasonal items. Prices start at $28 for adults and $16 for kids and include a family photo and cookie decorating kits. Event details are the SeaWorld Orlando website.

After all that Halloween fun, you’ll no doubt be ready for Christmas, and that kicks off plenty early in Central Florida too. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party kicks things off on November 8, just one week after the Halloween decorations go into storage, followed by festivities at all the other parks and the Gaylord Palms Resort…but that’s another story. Stay tuned!

Great Irish Hooley videos highlight beer tasting and annual celebration

If you read my article about the Great Irish Hooley at Raglan Road, the Irish pub in Downtown Disney, you might be tempted to go this weekend. It runs through September 7, with food, drink, dancing, and music going on throughout Labor Day weekend.

If you’re on the fence and need a little more convincing, check out these videos on the four craft beers that were created especially for Raglan Road. You can taste them at 1 or 5 p.m. every day of the Great Irish Hooley, and take it from me, they’re delicious! I especially recommend the watermelon beer and the stout, although the IPA is wonderful too:


Raglan Road is about as authentic as you can get, down to the bar and other inside accouterments that came all the way from Ireland. Co-owner Paul Nolan is an Irish native himself, and he takes great pride in his pub and in the Great Irish Hooley. Here him talk about it in this video:

Even if you can’t make it down over Labor Day Weekend, Raglan Road has great food, drinks, and entertainment every day of the week. The Great Irish Hooley is just the icing on the cake (or would that be the malt vinegar on the fish and chips?)

Party at Raglan Road: Great Irish Hooley runs thru Sept. 7

temp11There’s always a party at Raglan Road, the venerable Irish pub that’s been at Downtown Disney for the last 10 years, but on Labor Day Weekend things are getting kicked up a notch with the Great Irish Hooley.

The fourth annual Great Irish Hooley runs through September 7th, with music, dancing, good food and drink flowing all through Labor Day Weekend.

This year, Raglan Road has added something new: beer tastings at 1 and 5 p.m. on each day of the event. Rye River Brewing Company created four beers especially for the Great Irish Hooley, so your taste buds will savor some unique brews (hint: my favorites are the watermelon beer and the hearty stout).

Beer tasting is just one small event in the overall festivities. A variety of bands will take the stage, both indoors and out, throughout the duration of the Great Irish Hooley. If you’d like the full entertainment schedule, you’ll find it on the official website.

temp13The Raglan Road Irish dancers are on hand, too, so be prepared for some lively stomping. The event is family friendly, and your children might even get a chance to go up on stage and show off their own dance moves.

Raglan Road is never a boring place, whether there’s a special event like the Great Irish Hooley or whether it’s just another night with the usual entertainment. It’s a great place for food and drink; I’m a big fan of Chef Kevin Dundon’s hearty Irish fare, and the restaurant is now offering some locally sourced seasonal specials. Right now, you can get delicious Florida seafood, and I hear tell that local pork might just be up in the fall.

It’s easy to get to Raglan Road, especially now that one of the parking garages is open at Downtown Disney. I strongly urge you to go to the Great Irish Hooley if you get a chance over Labor Day Weekend. I was there for a special party on the first night, and the craft beers were all wonderful, the bands were lively, and the dancers were as talented as ever. Even if you can’t make it out by September 7, there’s entertainment every day, as you’ll see if you check out the schedule on the Raglan Road website.

temp21Granted, you can pay for Epcot admission and dine around the world (and I highly recommend doing so, especially since the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is just around the corner), but you don’t have to go through all that trouble if you want to enjoy some ethnic cuisine immersed in an authentic atmosphere. Parking and admission is free at Downtown Disney, and Raglan Road is open daily for lunch and dinner, so try it out any time.

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.

Pitbull takes up residence at Madame Tussauds Orlando

286Pitbull visited Orlando to play a concert at Universal Studios Florida, but now you can see him permanently in Orlando…or at least his double. A brand-new Pitbull model was unveiled at Madame Tussauds Orlando as the second addition since the wax museum opened at I-Drive 360, along with the Orlando Eye wheel and the Sea Life Aquarium, on May 4.

Earlier this month, Disney Channel Ross Lynch welcomed his likeness. Then Pitbull stepped up on May 29 to meet his doppleganger, complete with a tuxedo donated by the superstar rapper. I love the fact that he couldn’t resist tugging the figure’s ear. Many guests do the same when they see the celebs at Madame Tussauds due to the eerie likeness.

If you’d like to see the full video of the unveiling, it’s captured on the video below. Pitbull was suitably impressed by the figure that was created after artisans took 300 measurements and spent long months crafting it down to the finest detail, just as they do with all their wax likenesses:

Expect more unveilings in the future, as Madame Tussauds Wax Museum is most definitely not a static attraction. New celebs and other prominent figures are added all the time to locations around the country and the world.

Want to see the Ross Lynch unveiling? Here’s the video of the teen heartthrob meeting his match: