This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look back at its recent WDW vacation! We’re going to take a brief break from our normal routine here on this fine blog series, as we here in Florida are having to deal with Hurricane Irma. In fact, this past Thursday I cut my Walt Disney World stay short in order to drive back down towards the storm and experienced a moment straight out of The Walking Dead. So while we in the Sunshine State are in the process of hunkering down or escaping, we’ll do a quick look back at some things I experienced during my time at The Mouse. This includes my first ever dessert party, my first time riding an attraction that is actually older than me, and a ton of outrageous food. Speaking of which, let’s kickoff the countdown with…
# 6 – The Rio Grande Nacho Challenge at Pecos Bills
For some reason known only to Disney themselves, in the past year or so a whole bunch of “secret” menu items have appeared at the parks and resorts. One of the newer items is the incredible Rio Grande Nacho Challenge at Pecos Bill’s in the Magic Kingdom.
Fist let’s get to the particulars. The cost is $85. That may sound crazy, but I believe there is a lot of value here, and will explain along the way. Pecos Bill currently has an AP discount, so after discount and tax the total was $72.42. The Rio Grande is only served between 3-6PM, and Pecos Bills will only serve four groups per hour. So if you are interested in trying this out, be sure to get there as early as you can to check in and reserve a time.
The picture above shows how the Rio Grande is normally served, while the picture below is what you get if you ask for the toppings to be served on the side. There is a whole bunch of meat on these nachos, and everyone absolutely loved the chicken. The beef crumbles and pulled pork weren’t bad at all, but the chicken was really tasty.
Pecos Bills does the Rio Grande right in terms of presentation, as groups are brought back to a reserved section of the restaurant. There are fun, old timey tin plates and cups for everyone in the group. Two pitchers of whatever drinks you prefer are served with the Rio Grande, but you can ask for pitchers of any other type of beverage once those are gone. We originally started with lemonade and iced tea, but eventually also got pitchers of Coke, Diet Coke, and water.
When it is time for the Rio Grande to be served, a whole cadre of servers descend upon the room, hootin’ and hollerin’. One is even ringing a small cowbell to amp up the excitement. The Rio Grande nachos are put on a table next to your group, along with three different sauces and a plate of hot peppers. One member of our group was a vegan, and the restaurant brought over an off-menu veggie rice bowl for them to enjoy (at no extra cost.)
When we were finished, the group received a certificate proclaiming us the Deputies of the Day. The kids in the group got cowboy hats, and everyone got a sheriff’s star. The whole experience was exceptionally well done by the staff, and everyone left full. Trust me, I know extreme plates of nachos. and the Rio Grande blew me away. Highly recommended.
# 5 – Coronado Springs Construction
When we planned our trip to Disney, we were going to be staying at the official TouringPlans apartment in Celebration, FL. Then, a funny thing happened, the entire apartment complex got condemned last month. Osceola County says it was because of cracking in corner balconies. Len Testa thinks that could be an elaborate cover story for the real problem: ghosts.
Whatever the case, I had to find a backup place to stay. We went with Coronado Springs, because we had an awesome time there last year. Coronado has changed a lot since last September, as there is a ton of construction going on at the front end of the resort. The building we stayed in last year was one of the ones removed for the new 15-story tower that was announced back in February.
When we checked into our room, there was a cool pin set featuring the Three Caballeros as a make good for the inconvenience. Personally, I thought this was fantastic. Highlight of Coronado Springs was once again the impressive main pool area, as well as the food across the board at the resort. I’m now sold that the Pepper Market food court is the best food court at WDW. We had a mix of Mexican items along with more standard fare like burgers and veggie burgers, and everything was terrific. The potato wedges served at the Pepper Market are some of the best “fries” on property and even things like the kid’s mac & cheese was made to order and not just scooped out of a tray.
There were some negatives during this trip, including the red flag when I got into the room via a phone message. The message was from Coronado, and it was sent that morning confirming a room change request for the guests who were staying in the room before us. That’s never a good sign. I’m assuming they wanted a change because the tub/shower was pretty much stuck in the halfway position, so a ton of water came out of the faucet even when you were trying to take a shower. The available outlets to charge phones and other devices was severely lacking. There was an adapter in the back of the nightstand (which you had to pull out to even get to) which was so worn out that the slightest movement of a cord would just unplug your device. Very frustrating. To end on a positive note, Mousekeeping throughout the week was fantastic.
# 4 – Best Friends Pet Care
When the TouringPlans apartment became unavailable for our stay, we then realized we would have to do something for our dog, Sebastian. None of Disney’s on-site hotels are pet friendly (compared to Universal, in which most of the resorts do accept pets) and we had never boarded him before. I knew there was an on-site kennel at WDW, but for some reason I had always thought it was just for “the day” with no overnight stays. Glad to find out I was wrong there. With Laurel Stewart herself vouching for their service, we decided to check Sebastian in to Best Friends Pet Care.
Located almost directly across from Port Orleans Riverside, Best Friends Pet Care offers a “day camp” for pets, grooming, and overnight boarding. It has some cute theming outside with characters from Lady & the Tramp. You can bring food and snacks for your pets, or they will provide it for no extra charge. There are various levels of rooms you can get, including the “VIP” level which has cameras for you to check in on your pet. We did not go that route. Instead we chose to physically visit him every day. Technically Best Friends is open until one hour after the last Disney park closes, but when it is after hours you just ring a buzzer and a Cast Member will come and open the door for you. Best Friends seemed to be meticulous in taking notes about what happened with our dog, and there always seemed to be a lot of staff on hand. During the stay they even emailed us a picture of Sebastian playing around. This was a very nice surprise during our trip and we will definitely be using Best Friends again in the future.
I’m not exactly sure how many different types of animals that Best Friends will take in, but when we were leaving another guest was checking in a pair of Sugar Gliders, which was just about the cutest thing I have ever seen.
# 3 – My First Time on Carousel of Progress
Regular readers of the SATURDAY SIX probably know that I am one of the co-hosts of the E-Ticket Report Podcast. On a recent episode I admitted that I have yet to ride the Carousel of Progress in the Magic Kingdom. Having received plenty of grief since that admission, I made sure to finally check out CoP during my most recent trip. My parents have been taking me to Disney since I was a kid, so I have no reason for never experiencing the attraction, just that it never seemed that interesting to me. It is weird saying that considering the Enchanted Tiki Room, Country Bears Jamboree, and the PeopleMover are in my top ten Disney attractions.
So I bit the bullet and finally stepped into the moving theater and am now kicking myself for never giving the attraction a chance. I loved it. LOVED IT. Realizing the voice of the main character was from Jean Shepherd of A Christmas Story made the attraction immediately go into my top ten on that face alone. I could listen to Jean Shepherd read a phone book (Millenials, Google what a phone book is.)
What an awesome attraction that I probably don’t have to tell you about because apparently I’m the last person on Earth to enjoy it.
# 2 – Chocolate Lovers Kitchen Sink at Beaches & Cream
There’s only one thing I like more than ice cream, and that’s an EXTREME AMOUNT OF ICE CREAM. The original Kitchen Sink sundae is one of my favorite desserts at WDW. Like the Rio Grande challenge, the staff at Beaches & Cream make the experience fun. The overhead lights dim, flashing “siren”-like lights start going off, and your server gives a big spiel about what is in the sundae. The only problem is that there is some stuff in the original Kitchen Sink I just don’t like. I’m not a fan of coffee ice cream, don’t really want pineapple with my ice cream, and I detest mint chocolate chip. Trying to avoid those two ice creams end up making the problem worse, as they start to melt and infect everything else.
Well, turns out Beaches & Cream has a Chocolate Lovers Kitchen Sink which includes: 3 scoops of chocolate ice cream, 3 scoops of cookies and cream, 2 scoops of vanilla, 4 brownies, 4 Oreos, 2 Milky Ways, caramel syrup, chocolate syrup, chocolate chips, chocolate sprinkles, white and dark chocolate shavings, and a whole can of whipped cream.
Run, don’t walk to try the Chocolate Lovers Kitchen Sink on your next trip. There’s also a “Neapolitan” version in which the only ice cream served in the dish is vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. While I don’t think I’ll ever get anything other than the Chocolate Lovers version in the future, at least this would eliminate the disgusting taste of mint chocolate chip mixed with cherries.
# 1 – Happily Ever After Dessert Party
Happily Ever After is one of the best nighttime spectaculars Disney has ever produced. I was looking forward to seeing the show with my family, except one of them has severe anxiety issues when it comes to congested crowds. Last time we were at Magic Kingdom together to watch Wishes, we had to eventually leave our dead center spot to the bridge going to Tomorrowland because they just couldn’t take the mass of humanity all congested in one spot for so long.
So we decided to try the Happily Ever After Dessert Party. The cost was $59 per person. About an hour before the fireworks we could check into the Tomorrowland Terrace. Here they had a whole bunch of small desserts, a build-your-own sundae station, and assorted drinks. We enjoyed a good amount of the offerings including the Oreo Mickey Treat which came with a dollop of what the servers said was “a cousin of the grey stuff.” When the staff found out a vegan was in our party, they came out to see we were interested in the vegan friendly plate. We said yes, and out came a plate with cookies, cupcakes, and more. They also brought a whole pint of vegan friendly ice cream. Other fruits were available at the dessert party area, but this plate was very special to someone who had limited options. Even better was the two year old in our party who immediately grabbed up all the gummi bears and told the vegan, “you can’t eat all these, you’ll get sick” while cramming them all into his mouth. That was one of those priceless Disney moments that will stay with us for the next twenty years.
When we were done snacking, we were escorted over to the reserved Garden Plaza in the hub. For our group, this made the entire package worth. The kids got to run around and have fun, and we all had a ton of space to watch a tremendous show. Not having to camp out for an hour. Not having to be crammed shoulder-to-shoulder between thousands of other people. Not having to watch people try and steal a spot last minute. It may not be for everyone, but for us this dessert party was worth every penny and then some.
Honorable Mention: Fuel Rod
I often joke that the Fuel Rod is “the most expensive way to charge your phone from 47% to 58%.” There are many in the Disney fan community who swear by the Fuel Rod, and love the fact that it is so small. While I think most of them concede the Fuel Rod isn’t that powerful compared to other alternatives on the market (many of them also cheaper than the Fuel Rod), they also like the convenience of just “swapping out” the Fuel Rod at the many locations across WDW.
I think I would like Fuel Rods more if there were a lot more stations in easy-to-find places, but I’ve been told they’ve been slowly adding more. It seems as most of the hotels now offer the Fuel Rod, as I bought mine while visiting family at All Star Movies, and saw a station at Coronado Springs. The Fuel Rod is easy to buy, easy to swap out, and certainly is very small, so if that’s your thing, go for it.
Double Secret Honorable Mention: Mobile Ordering
I’m one of the last holdouts on mobile ordering. I never pre-order food at Publix or any of the seemingly other thousand places that offer it. I’m old school and I still like to place my order dangnabit. However, I thought I would finally try Mobile Ordering at Disney just to see what it was like. Trying to make an ADR on My Disney Experience makes me want to throw my phone into the Seven Seas Lagoon, but I will say that Mobile Ordering my meal was nowhere near as painful. Went through the steps, clicked “purchase,” clicked that “I was here,” and it wasn’t long before I got a notification that my order was ready to be picked up. This was super convenient and I would definitely use it again at a Disney Quick Service, since most guests seem to agonize over a menu that offers five items like they were filling out the beneficiary list in their last will and testament.
So there you have it: Six Magical Memories on our recent WDW vacation! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with goofballs co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde , while fellow Potterheads may enjoy Meg’s work on the Central Florida Slug Club.
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 2017 Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now!
With fires ravaging the West Coast and hurricanes tormenting us the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico, I figured you, Dear Reader, may want a handy map of where to send your Thoughts and Prayers.