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Orlando report (2/12) - Disney, Universal and more

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We just came back from a week at Disney and Universal. The main purpose of the trip was to go to Harry Potter World at Universal. But, C thought that since we were down there, we should go to Disney as well since neither of us had been.

I'm a bit of a grinch so Disney didn't really thrill me. But, I could see the logic. I was pleasantly surprised when DIsney far exceeded my expectations and disappointed that Universal fell far short.

Disney. The food at Disney was delicious. I had done a fair amount of research before hand because I thought that even if I had to park food, it might as well be as good park food as it could be. We stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and overall, I really liked it. I think it's because it didn't seem as over the top Disney.

We had a car which made things a lot easier. Especially bc we only had 3.5 days at Disney and wanted to maximize everything.

A note about our food choices. I had read that the portions were big and they weren't kidding. The portions were ginormous. And, since we weren't staying somewhere with a fridge, I didn't want any leftovers. I also didn't want to overeat so that I wouldn't get sick on the roller coasters, esp since we were riding them multiple times in a row.

Dinner at the hotels.

California Grill - our first dinner and it was excellent. Service was gracious and efficient and the view was lovely. We shared a sashimi plate drizzled with yuzu and sitting on a bed of seaweed and daikon. I could have had 2 of these plates to myself and called it a day. The fish was fresh, had a great variety (not just tuna and salmon), and was expertly cut. Other sushi appetizers arriving at other tables left me wanting to order another one and I showed unusual restraint. Our main course was the cast iron seared bison with the truffled mac and cheese. Again, delicious and cooked perfectly. The whole dish was incredibly balanced. No dessert since we were hitting the MK park post dinner.

Jiko - Great meal. We sat at the appetizer prep area bar. Basically, it's a bar but instead of a bartender, the chefs making the appetizers were behind the bar. There were two brick ovens behind there too. It was really nice to chat with them while we were waiting and eating. Anyway, we started off with the Crispy Beef "Bobotie" Roll. No idea what to expect and this was an untraditional form. It was an african egg roll. Expertly fried with nicely spiced meat. We also shared a roasted beet salad which was fine but the beets were overly salted. I thought the goat cheese was good with it, but not really necessary. For the main course, we split the pork tenderloin and were very happy with it. Lastly, dessert. It was a coffee cup shaped out of chocolate mousse and other goodies. Very pretty and it hit the spot. The app chef sent out a special dessert (this would have been my choice but C wanted chocolate) the parsnip creme brulee. This was fantastic. The parsnip flavor came through, the texture of the crisp top and the soft interior was so pleasing. The whole dessert was just brilliant.

Sanaa - Again, another excellent meal. It was just too bad that the enjoyment of the meal was ruined by a shrieking child. It was brutal and non stop. The staff were so gracious but they really couldn't do anything but try and get the table out. Unfortunately, the table felt no such urge and proceeded to order dessert and coffee. They had a leisurely meal at the expense of all the other diners. I was especially intrigued by Sanaa because of the combo of african and indian fare and it didn't disappoint. We split an appetizer trio of small cold salads. These weren't lettuce based but were more of the components to go on top of the salad. Roasted beet, watermelon and watermelon rind and chickpeas. For the main course, we ordered two entrees because we couldn't decide between two of the curries. One was a chicken curry, the other was lentil based. With both, we wanted to try the 5 grain pilaf. The curries were really nicely seasoned and had enough spice. There was no dumbing down of the heat level.

Boma - We had the breakfast buffet and it was fine. There were much fewer african offerings then dinner but this was our last meal at Disney. The dinner buffet, when I walked through to look, seemed really promising. But, I couldn't figure out a way to get another dinner in.

Food in the parks.

Magic Kingdom - loved the Dole Whip soft serve ice cream at the Aloha Freeze stand. I think I read somewhere there is also one at the Polynesian resort. Anyway, I liked the pineapple/vanilla swirl and got this twice. C got the orange/pineapple swirl and the second time, he got the orange/vanilla swirl in the pineapple juice. Incredibly refreshing and different.

Animal Kingdom - Yak and Yeti sit down restaurant. Overall, pretty good and really good for park fare. We split two apps and an entree here. Lettuce cups and fried green beans. Both were fine. I wanted to love the fried green beans but the tempura batter was a bit too thick and heavy for me and the sauce was a bit sweet. But C loved it. For the main dish, we split a seafood curry over rice. This I did love. Again, nicely spiced and seasoned.

Hollywood Studios - Brown Derby Cafe. We split a cobb salad because this is where they invented it. A bit overdressed for my taste but the salad was beautifully chopped. We probably also had an app but I just can't remember what it was. For dessert, we split the grapefruit cake, which I loved.

I'm going to have to post later on Universal and our two meals in Orlando.

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  1. Great Report and doing the research you did led to the success. You picked some of the greater Disney Restaurants.

    I'm glad you had such a good time.

    1. Epcot - totally forgot about our lunch at the countries area. I found Epcot a bit odd and dated. I wonder how they chose the countries to be displayed? Regardless, we ate in the sit down restaurant in Morocco. This was our weakness meal at Disney. It was good but the service was definitely not on par with the other restaurants. We shared a salad (weak and the greens were old) and the lamb shank with couscous. This was tasty. It was fun watching the belly dancer perform and kids dancing with her.

      Also, for Jiko (report in OP), we also had a taste of the seared tuna app. The weakest dish out of all dishes we ate in Disney. Pre-cut pieces of tuna that were a bit too cold and thick. Not worth wasting an order on this app when there are so many other interesting choices (naan and spreads, I'm looking at you.

      1 Reply
      1. re: beetlebug

        Like a lot of Disneyworld, I suspect that several of the countries got picked based on someone's willingness to sponsor an attraction there. IIRC, the Moroccan government did play a $$ role in the development of the Morocco area of the park.

      2. Universal report

        I found the food and service at Universal, Citywalk and the hotel to be far weaker then Disney. It was all kind of mediocre and what I thought Disney was going to be like.

        Universal Islands of Adventure - I have to start with Harry Potter World. I am a huge HP fan and this was the main purpose of the trip. I was wildly curious about the pumpkin juice and the butterbeer. I had read that the butterbeer was on the sweeter side so I first tried a frozen version of it. I loved this. It was a tad too sweet even frozen but I perservered. C also tried the regular version and it was too sweet. He liked it bc it reminded him of a melty root beer float.

        For the pumpkin juice, we got a fresh one from the Hog's Head bar. I also really liked this. Refreshing with a bit of christmas taste. I didn't try the bottled version.

        Mythos - this restaurant supposedly won the best restaurant in an amusement park award. I don't know how they got this award because this was pretty mediocre and standard. It doesn't help that I was impressed with the level of food quality at the Disney parks that I just ate in. We split a salad (unmemorable) and the fish tacos. These were three tacos with a side of potato salad. Fine but nothing special.

        Universal main park

        We ate at Lombards. Again, this was fine. We split a salad and the fish and chips. I will say, the fish was expertly fried. Crisp and piping hot with a moist interior. I didn't like the breading though. It was too thick. I could appreciate the fry job but thought that the batter ruined it.

        The amount of candy throughout Universal was kind of staggering. Sweet shops everywhere. But, no ice cream really.

        Citywalk. We ate at Emeril's and again, it was fine. We split the mushroom pasta and I would have loved this but it was too heavy on the cream. We also split Emeril's salad and this was overdressed. For the entree, we had the lamb shank special and this was pretty good. Properly braised lamb shank where the meat falls off the bone. The biggest disappointment was the banana cream pie. We had gone to Emeril's in NOLA over 10 years ago and swooned over the banana cream pie. I LOVE cream pies. But, this one. It was heavy and dense. I was so sad over this dessert especially because there were other desserts that were appealing and this didn't come close to meeting expectations.

        Lastly, we stayed at the Portofino hotel. We had gelato a couple of times and it was good. Generous portions but standard flavors.

        The one meal we had was brunch at the main restaurant. Standard brunch fare. Competently executed. It was convenient and I have no complaints. Especially since we were headed out to the airport and wouldn't have found time to go to a place off site.

        2 Replies
        1. re: beetlebug

          I think you're feedback is fair and accurate, though individually your experiences seem better than the overall tone of disappointment in Universal that led this thread and this post. It seems that you had lower expectations of WDW and were pleasantly surprised (you picked VERY well from their many restaurants) but had higher expectations for Universal and were let down.

          The main difference I see is most of your Universal options were park food and at WDW it was hotel dining - those are almost entirely different audiences and needs each is addressing.

          That said, the best of WDW dining (hotel based) is a better option than that of Universal if for no other reason that WDW has 26,000 hotel room and Universal less than 3,000 - so WDW has more diversity to spread its quality over, but trust me there are A LOT of bland, boring and disappointing options at WDW as well.

          Mythos used to be a very adventurous dining experience but it didn't sell as well as the standard stuff you see here - it wins its awards because most folks hve the memories of what it used to be plus when talking theme park restaurants the design weighs heavily and it is a beautifully designed room.

          1. re: YosemiteSam

            Fair point. Although I did eat lunches in three parks (Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios). I think many of my experiences were tied with the excitement of going to HP world. While that met and exceeded expectations, and I liked both frozen butterbeer and fresh pumpkin juice, all other expectations got a bit out of whack. Although, the real disappointment was probably Mythos because of the giant sign in front of the restaurant, proclaiming its #1 status. The room was very interesting to look at.

            On a side note, has anyone tried the other two ciders at HP World? One was a pear cider and I forget the other. I just wasn't thirsty enough when I was in that area of the park.

        2. Last but not least. We had two great meals at the Rusty Spoon. We ate there on two of the nights post Universal since there were shorter park hours and no night hours. It was so fabulous the first time, we went back our last night in town. I did really want to try the Ravenous Pig. Not just because of hounds' reports, but I loved the name. But, our energy level was low and we were hitting a lot of traffic on I-4.

          So, we both loved the Rusty Spoon. The service was gracious and unrushed and the food was outstanding. It was so hard to narrow down our appetizer and entree choices. Everything and I mean everything, just sang to me.

          For appetizers, we shared the devilled eggs and the Lake Meadow salad (Tender Spinach, Escarole & Local Cress with Lake Meadow Soft Cooked Egg & Sauteed Chicken Livers tossed with Warm Bacon Vinagrette). We both could have polished off the eggs by ourselves, they were that good. I also really liked the salad but it was slightly overdressed for me (I am a minimalist salad dressing person) and for some reason, I thought that fried capers would have sent that salad over the top. I did love the liver and soft cooked egg over it.

          For the entree, we split the special pork chop. This was a bone in chop and I forget the sides. It was a hair overcooked (we had requested medium rare), but the seasoning and flavor of the pork made that an easy thing to overlook. It was just delicious porky goodness.

          Lastly, for dessert, I'm blanking on what we ate, but I liked it.

          The second time we went, I wanted to try the items that I hadn't been able to order the first time around. Our appetizers were sronger then the main dish but that's because that pork chop was just so mind blowing.

          For the apps we split the carpaccio and the grilled squid and octopus salad. I would have liked more squid and octopus but I'm greedy that way. I liked how both dishes had salad greens with the main components and they complemented each other well.

          For the main, we split the hand cut linguini with smashed peas, lemon & herb ricotta, toasted breadcrumbs & wilted greens. This was a taste of spring to me especially since we don't see peas until late May, early June. The dish was a tad bland to me. But I suspect it's because we had such flavorful appetizers and again, back to that pork chop. The pasta dish was very delicate and delicious but it would have been better if we ordered the pasta for the appetizer and the appetizers as the main.

          No dessert because we were too tired and full.

          This is a gem of a place and you Floridians are lucky to be able to access such seasonal fare that I have a hard time getting in the NE.

          For those coming from out of town, downtown Tampa is really hard to navigate. There are street closings (the whole street was closed for valet parking) and one ways. The address also didn't come up in the gps. The hostess guided us verbally, on how to get to the validated parking garage and there was no way we could have found it ourselves.

          If you are here on vacation, it's definitely worth a detour, especially if you are staying at a Universal property. It's only about 10 miles from Universal. (I think 20 miles from Disney?)

          http://www.therustyspoon.com/

          1 Reply
          1. re: beetlebug

            I'm really glad you enjoyed the rusty spoon. So do I. I think they have grown a little bit since first opening and I hope they continue to create wonderful dishes.

          2. Great to read your report bb. The friends who've been helping me plan also highly recommended both California Grill and Jiko. I ruled out Jiko because it was pretty far away from where we're staying (The Polynesian) and California Grill was fully booked (it was a first choice). I'm really excited to hear about the soft serve, and hope you're right about there being on at the Polynesian.

            2 Replies
            1. re: LulusMom

              Hey, didn't I meet you on the Paris board?

              1. re: whs

                I travel entirely too much ...

            2. beetlebug, thank you for the detailed report! I'm especially glad you had the grapefruit cake. It's probably my favorite dessert in the parks, surpassing even Dole Whips.

              and LLM, yes, you can get self-serve Dole Whips at Captain Cooks in the Polynesian. No floats, though - just the ice cream. We didn't go to Magic Kingdom the last time we visited, so we stopped in at Captain Cooks for our DW fix. Beware of the aggressive ducks on the patio...

              www.mousechow.com

              1 Reply
              1. re: MouseChow

                Thanks MouseChow. Maybe we'll be evil and have soft serve ice cream for lunch each day!