Friday, September 16, 2011

Victoria & Albert's Chef's Table Review

I’m just bursting at the seams with excitement over writing this review for Victoria & Albert’s Chef’s Table!  Exactly 180 days before our tenth anniversary, I contacted Victoria & Albert’s, hoping to get a reservation and was super excited when they told us we had succeeded.  I was so excited (and also in a hurry to take care of our other reservation requests) that I forgot to ask if the Chef’s Table was available until weeks later.  When I called back, not only was the Chef’s Table booked, but there was a waiting list. Shoot!  Content with having one of the most sought after reservations already, I put the thought of eating at Chef Scott Hummel’s table out of my mind, after adding our names to the waiting list anyway.

One day before leaving, we get a phone call from the restaurant, telling us that there had been a cancellation and that we could experience dinner at the Chef’s Table on our tenth anniversary. Excuse me? Of course I checked the caller ID to make sure it was actually V & A’s calling before demurely responding “Absolutely, ma’am.  That would be lovely.”  A sophisticated diner at the Chef’s Table would never excitedly exclaim their eagerness to eat at such an exquisite establishment.  Inside, I was screaming and jumping up and down like a six year old who was just told they were going to Disney World, which is exactly what I did when I hung up the phone.

Disney 2011 338On the night of our 5:30 pm reservation, we put on our “Sunday Best,” left our little one safe in her room with the super awesome Ellen from Kids Night Out, and boarded luxury travel accommodations provided by Florida Magical Tours, also highly recommended.  Upon arriving at Grand Floridian, we were awed at how beautiful the resort was, and vowed to stay there on a future visit.  A bit early, we were asked to sit just outside the restaurant.  When it was time to be seated, we were greeted by Isreal, a gentle giant, who was pleased to take my camera backpack and inform us of the magnificent meal we were about to have.  After meandering through the restaurant seating area and kitchen we were led to a massive table, placed in full view of the surprisingly quiet, but busy kitchen.  Chef Scott was not available, but left us in the very capable hands of another wonderful chef, who’s name I won’t mention since he hasn’t emailed the recipe for his potato purée, yet.

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A very hungry, Kyle
After reviewing our dining requests, our wait staff offered complimentary champagne to share in a toast with the Chef. Since Kyle doesn’t drink, we politely refused and opted instead for sparkling cider.  Now about those dining requests…my poor husband is terribly allergic to all seafood and most poultry, which I assumed would be a bit awkward a request for the kitchen to handle.  Not so.  We had completely different plates nearly every course served, and I was happy to eat a little bit of his and all of mine with each coming plate.  My family owned restaurants I love to cook and have eaten just about everywhere imaginable, but this meal proved how much I don’t know about culinary arts. I learned a ton, but still claim vast ignorance on the subject.  The chef was happy to explain exactly what it is we were eating, but I was more interested in the preparation and photographing each plate. 

First Course:
Kyle – Amuse-Bouche, Vegetable Roll, Squash Tortellini, Burrata Alla Panna with Jamón Ibérico and Butternut Squash Soup
Lottie – Amuse-Bouche, Soft-poached Quail Egg with Galilee Caviar, Lobster Panna Cotta, Burrata Alla Panna with Jamón Ibérico and Butternut Squash Soup
I’m not a big fan of eggs, no matter who cooks them, but since I’ll always try anything once, I ate the quail egg anyway. The caviar was divine, but the egg left the same funky taste in my mouth that it always does. Palate cleanser, please!  The lobster panna cotta was wonderful, as was the creamy butternut squash soup.  Surprisingly, Kyle ate his vegetable roll and really enjoyed it, as well as the squash tortellini.  His “Manly Man” food preferences didn’t let him enjoy the soup, so I got a double helping.
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Kyle's First Course
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Lottie's First Course

Second Course:
Kyle – Applewood Smoked Buffalo “Waldorf”
Lottie – Maine Lobster, Mango, and Passion Fruit Pearls with German Caviar
Step aside! Manly Man coming through! Kyle loved the buffalo salad.  The “Waldorf” was candied, crushed walnuts on the side. I didn’t get a crumb of his plate.  Again, he happily ate the veggies, while commenting on my passion fruit pearls. He was happy to have recognized something on my plate, but did not want to taste them. Who would have thought about putting mango with lobster? It truly works well together.  The salad was fresh, creamy and crispy.  The touch of saltiness added by the caviar made this a scrumptious salad plate.
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Buffalo "Waldorf"
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Maine Lobster & Mango Salad

Third Course:
Same – Cold “Smoked” Niman Ranch Lamb with Fuji Apple and Curry Dressing
Check out the action shots on this course! Our waiters poured warm apple cider over the plate and cold “smoked” the lamb.  The very best in food entertainment! After the smoke dissipated, the lamb was tender and flavorful.  Curry was made for lamb, and this was the best I’d had.
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Fourth Course (Fish):
Kyle – Vegetable Ratatouille in Calamarata Pasta
Lottie – Sake-Soy marinated Alaskan King Salmon with Bok Choy and Soy Beans
I could end this review here.  The salmon was the best dang salmon I have ever eaten, and that’s saying a lot since my family owned seafood restaurants.  Ahem! I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will return to Victoria & Albert’s Chef’s Table just to enjoy another plate of this fantastic fish.  Yes, I dropped my fork after taking a bite. It was that good.  More vegetables for Kyle, which he wasn’t totally thrilled with, but tasted them anyway and was surprised at how much he enjoyed the ratatouille.  There were Remy jokes bouncing all around, and we both looked under the table to see if he was hiding in the kitchen somewhere.

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Best Dang Salmon Ever!
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Is Remy behind this deliciousness?
Fifth Course:
Kyle – Kurobuta Pork Tenderloin with Corn and Black Berry Succotash
Lottie – Roasted Quail with Asian Pears and Serrano Ham Jus
During dinner, the chefs in the kitchen will pose for photos, answer questions and talk to you while they prepare the meal.  The chef who prepared the quail stopped by our table to see if I was enjoying it since it was his favorite dish.  It was a highly sophisticated version of chicken cordon bleu, and it was delectable. The perfect crispy crunch of the fried quail, paired with the sweetness of the pears and the salty Serrano ham jus made this one of the favorite courses that evening.  So caught up in my plate, I forgot to put my fork in Kyle’s, and it was completely clean before I could get a crumb.  I cook pork and corn together often at home, so his plate was 90% familiar and 100% gone in seconds. 

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Roasted Quail
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Pork Tenderloin
Sixth Course:
Kyle – Marcho Farms Veal with Chanterelle Mushroom Ragout
Lottie – Veal Sweetbread and Shank with Chanterelle Mushroom Ragout
Sweetbreads. Not exactly what comes to mind when you read the word.  There is nothing sweet about them and there is no bread involved.  Sweetbreads are typically the part of the animal that no one wants to eat; varying glands and other organs.  Did that totally disgust you? After a brief, apprehensive pause, I decided to dive into the dish and was pleasantly surprised.  Uneasiness settled with each forkful of this tender, gently fried, delicacy.  Kyle didn’t realize what he was eating until his plate was clean.  With a napkin wipe of his mouth, he shrugged it off and decided that it was time for a bathroom break.
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During this highly encouraged break, Kyle was asked to put his jacket on while we were escorted to the front of the restaurant.  After the wonderful, luxurious service displayed, I fully expected to see leather toilet paper, champagne flowing from the faucets and Mickey Mouse as a restroom attendant, but alas, it was your typical really posh Disney bathroom.

Seventh Course (Main Entreé)
Same – Australian Kobe Beef with Garlic Potato Purée
According to our chef, this particular cut of beef was one of the best cuts on earth.  This is served for an extra fee in the main dining room and the extra cost is easily justifiable.  The potatoes, with fermented black garlic and miniature vegetables were impossibly tasty.   Watching my husband’s eyes roll into the back of his head while he sank into the chair after the first bite was worth the price of admission.  To this very day, he walks past me and says, “…but the potatoes!” and I instantly know what he’s craving.  While I’ve tried in vain to duplicate this, I am still waiting on the recipe, which the Chef insisted was just lots of butter, potatoes, milk, garlic and patience.

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But the potatoes!
Eighth Course (Cheese Plate)
Same – Southern Belle Chevre , Gouda Goat, Colston Bassett Stilton, 24-Month Parmigiano-Reggiano
There’s a farmer’s market near us and I frequent their expansive cheese counter weekly.  So, when the cheese course arrived, I was feeling pretty smug.  Kyle knew absolutely nothing about the items on the plate in front of him, while I had previously tasted each one of the cheeses or a comparable complement.  The Colston was my favorite and the Gouda was a close second. Kyle didn’t like any of them.

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Say Cheese!
Ninth Course
Same – Orange Panna Cotta with Chartreuse-Pineapple Sorbet
The first dessert course was met with sweet sorrow.  We were happy that the meal was ending because we were both totally stuffed, but sad that our experience at V & A’s was coming to a close. Time was moving swiftly, and we hadn’t realized that we had been there nearly four hours.  The pineapple sorbet got big thumbs up from Kyle, though he coyly pushed aside the panna cotta. A double helping would have been my preference, but I was already feeling as if I needed a wheelbarrow to leave.

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Cherries & Pineapple Sorbet
Tenth Course
Same – Mocha Scented Tanzanie Chocolate Mousse Timbale and Chocolate Cocktail
Although we both agreed to steer clear of the alcoholic beverages that evening, I did indulge in the chocolate cocktail at the Chef’s insistence and it was delicious!  Warm, smooth, scrumptious and gone within a couple sips, I was happy to finish off Kyle’s while he awkwardly attempted to annihilate the awesome candy creation in front of him.  We didn’t have leather toilet paper in the bathroom, but we did have gold foil on our dessert; I suppose that is an adequate trade.

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At the end of our meals, I was presented with a long stem rose and our choice of chocolates and fruit cake to take home.  Coffee is offered, but we did not indulge because we were much too full.  At $200 per person, plus tax and gratuity, the Chef’s Table is something you do for special occasions.  We will most certainly return, and bring friends, if we’re lucky enough to get a reservation again.
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Kyle learning about the vegetables he won't eat at home

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ten things to do when you're 10 days away from a Disney Vacation

How exciting!  Ten whole days stand in front of you and your Disney vacation.  That little smile that comes across your face when thinking about it will only get bigger and brighter as you complete this check list.

10. Complete any last minute shopping and finish packing

It’s inevitable that you are going to forget something.  To lessen your chances, write a list of everything you need to pack.  In the case that you should forget something, know that sundries at Disney World cost nearly as much as a sundress from Neiman Marcus.  Knowing that you’ll spend three times as much for the toothbrush you forgot should help you remember to pack yours.

9. Ship non-perishable, consumables to resort hotel

Time to pack up the diapers, juice boxes, snacks and other bulky items that take up valuable suitcase space in a box and ship them to your resort.  Sending them now guarantees that your delivery will get there before you do.  Be sure to include your name, resort hotel confirmation number, and your date of arrival on the box, and on a slip of paper inside the box.

8. Save all reservations times and confirmation numbers, reminders, parade and fireworks times to your smart phone

My husband and I have a shared Google calendar.  All family related events, (medical appointments, community meetings, church events, etc.) go on that calendar.  If I add an event, he sees it and vice versa.  All advanced dinner reservations and the confirmation numbers are put on the calendar.  We also include times for parades and shows we don’t want to miss, as well as little reminders of things we want to do while we are at a particular park.  Sometimes you get caught up in the magic and forget something “small” that you really want to do, like the family’s first Dole Whip. (Yes, I know…trip number 10 and we still haven’t had one, tsk tsk.) Even though you’ll be on vacation, keeping your cell phone tied to your hip at Disney World is a good thing. With so many great apps available for keeping you organized at the parks, why wouldn’t you?  Stay tuned for in depth reviews of several of these apps.

7.  Check out’s Transportation Wizard

Kudos to whoever came up with this idea!  The Transportation Wizard gives you different options to get from point A to point B, and approximate travel times.  This is very handy when you’re not quite sure how to navigate Disney Transportation, especially if you need to make a couple transfers to get from one resort to another.  Even for us seasoned travelers, the route you know may not necessarily be the quickest. Another reason to keep your cell phone handy is that OLP has an iPhone app.  I’m still waiting patiently for the Android app, but until then the browser on my phone will suit just fine. 

6.  Confirm babysitting, special travel & other reservations

Just because we’re staying on Disney property, doesn’t mean we are staying at Disney the entire trip.  There are lots of other things to see and do in the Orlando area, and if you are staying on Disney property, you will need to make other travel arrangements to get there.  Disney Transportation will not take you to Universal Studios, so be prepared to make arrangements should you decide to include other parks in your vacation. 

You may also decide that you need some time away from the kids.  There are a host of supervised activities at some of the resorts, toilet trained kids, ages 3-12.  Check with your Disney resort for more details.  In-room babysitting services are available for children of all ages.  While we dine at Victoria & Albert's (no children under 10 allowed), we’re using Kids Night Out this trip.  Check back later for a review of their services.

5. Check camera equipment

Make sure you’ve got enough batteries, empty memory cards, and other accessories.  DSLR users, consider putting filters on all of your lenses if you haven’t already.  It’s cheaper to replace a filter than a lens, should it get scratched while quickly exiting a ride vehicle.

Take only what you need.  If you over pack remember, you have to carry all that stuff around.

4. Locate all travel documents

My reoccurring nightmare is that my driver’s license isn’t in my wallet when I get to the airport. Make sure all of your Disney documents (reservation number, luggage tags, Magic Express information), personal travel documentation, and other needed paperwork is easily accessible and in a safe location until you leave.  Add these items to your packing list if you think you’ll have a problem remembering.

3. Make boarding arrangements for pets

Plan for your pets vacation from you, whether their stay will be with a friend or family member or at a boarding kennel.  Make certain that their shots are current, and you have records to leave with the care giver.  If you decide to take your pet with you, Disney has some great options for pet care.  Pets are not allowed in the theme parks.  Service animals are the exception. Check out this page for more information on pet boarding at Disney World.

2. Create a countdown sign for the refrigerator

Use a plate and a couple of saucers to make Mickey’s head on a white board or piece of paper, and use sticky notes to count down the last ten days until your vacation begins.  The kids will love running to the fridge every morning to reveal another number.  If you’ve decided to keep the vacation a secret, skip the mouse ears, and just do the sticky notes.  Not knowing what they are counting down to will drive the kids totally nuts, if you’re okay will all their questioning for the next 9 days. Even if you don't have kids, it's a great way to feel like'll be doing a lot of that at Disney.

1. Complete online check in

It really hits you that you’re going on vacation when you complete the online check in process.  This saves you a little bit of time once you get to the resort.  It's a simple process that verifies your credit card and other information.  When you arrive, just look for the “online check-in” sign.  If you have an early arrival, your room may not be ready, but don’t fret.  Go do something fun, and they’ll text you when your room is ready.  More than likely, you’re luggage will be waiting for you.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Most Overlooked Things to Photograph on a Disney Vacation

I'm no stranger to a camera.  In fact, I almost never leave the house without my Canon DSLR.  Photography at Disney can be an amazing thing if you remember to take photos of these overlooked things while on your Disney Vacation.


Dinner at Teppan Edo
I’m not just saying this because I’m a Foodie.  Disney consistently delivers wonderfully excellent food presentations.   Many of my fond memories of Disney vacations are around an empty plate. What better way to remember a wonderful meal than to photograph it before it jumps into your belly? I’m sure the filet mignon with macaroni and cheese from Jiko will appreciate being a part of your brag book, especially since it isn’t on the menu anymore.  Just be sure you take pictures of you and your full stomach, struggling to leave the restaurant afterwards.


Kyle & CJ sadly leaving the park until next year
Often, we get so caught up in taking pictures of things that we forget to take photos of the people we are there with.  Capturing little moments of magic is what will make you stand and stare fondly at your digital photo frame for months to come.  Don’t spend so much time in front of the camera that you don’t get in on the action, too.  Most cameras have self timers that give you enough time to put the camera safely on a table and jump into a photo.  You could even make a friend and hand them your camera.  Better still, PhotoPass Photographers are always willing to use your camera to take memorable photos in one of Disney World’s picturesque places.


CJ's First Birthday
Why would I mention Disney park icons in a post about "overlooked" things to photograph?  So many people take pictures of the icon and miss out on what's going on around them.  Even though we’ve been to Walt Disney World many times, we always take photos of the Disney park icons; Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, Spaceship Earth at Epcot, Sorcerer Mickey’s Hat at Hollywood Studios and the perpetually photographed Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom. Instead of taking a photo of just the icon, make the shot your own by taking it from a different angle, focusing on something else and let the icon serve as a blurred background (bokeh for all you photographers) or include family & friends in unique ways.  Consider including them in a specific poses that you and your family can repeat in subsequent trips.  It’s fun to make a flipbook of the pictures and watch your children grow up in front of Cinderella Castle. 


Disney is known for paying special attention to detail. Take a moment and look up.  Look down.  I’ve seen some pretty cool pictures of the repeating triangles that make up Spaceship Earth, cobweb covered books in the Haunted Mansion queue, the hilarious signs in and around Muppet Vision 3-D, iron containers near water fountains at Animal Kingdom, and the mosaic walls of Cinderella Castle.  You will almost certainly notice and appreciate the details when review photos after your trip.


Downtown Disney
There are some really cool plants and even cooler landscape artists at Disney.  My “Master Gardner” Mom was amazed at some of the plants, trees and flowers she saw on our last trip. Take pictures of them!  The meticulously manicured topiaries are great, but get lower and take a look at the extraordinary plants and flowers. You may even find a little critter or two willing to pose for you!

I happily share photos if given photo credit.  All of the photos on this blog are mine, and have not been retouched with any photo editing software. In my very best Genie impersonation, "It's already a pretty picture! I don't like doing it!"

10 Things to do When 30 days From a Disney World Vacation

This was originally posted on Twitter, but has a new home on "A Whole Lotta Magic" blog!  Enjoy!

10: Diet so you can enjoy the deluxe dining plan & still fit work clothes when you return.

9: Exercise so you can handle staying in the parks from rope drop to park close.

8: Read blog for tips on traveling with little ones. Amy is awesome!

7: Find out ride closures so you can be emotionally prepared to miss a favorite. Toy Story Mania and It's A Small World were down on our last trip.  We didn't think to check before the trip and were a bit sad.

6: Check out 's photos. Even though he uses Nikon, Tom's pictures are amazing! Photos are a great way to get you in the mood for any trip.

5: Plan vacation wardrobe. Yes, I'm OCD about clothes, but the pictures look better when we are coordinated.

4: Double check Advanced Dining Reservations. I just noticed that I left one out! The time & restaurant I wanted was available. Yes!

3: Make sure you have the  app on your phone.  This is an invaluable tool that will help you save time at the parks.  Get it early and familiarize yourself with it.

2: Wait patiently by the mailbox for pixie dust in the form of MYW luggage tags. Always my first vacation photo.

1: Start planning the NEXT Disney vacation! A Disney Cruise next spring sounds great! (Specifically, the April 7, maiden voyage of the Fantasy)

Five Things to Do When 20 Days From WDW

In order to have a successful Disney World vacation, you must have a plan!  As you get closer to your magical vacation, there are some things you must remember to do. 

5.  Read Disney related blogs

Learning from other's personal experiences are a must when planning your own trip.  There are a ton of blogs out there, just like this one, dedicated to planning Disney vacations.  Read them!

4.  Start referring to all meals as snacks, quick service or table service meals - This is just something fun we do around the house to build excitement of our upcoming trip.  It also helps those who may not have a clear understanding of how Disney's Dining Plan works.

3. Buy Crocs, moleskin & cayenne pepper capsules

All three of these items together can make for some happy toes while walking miles and miles in the parks.  Taking cayenne pepper capsules at the beginning of the day, available at your local health food store, can work wonders on your aching feet. Make sure you take them with food, or plan to experience some not-so-magical heartburn.  I am not a medical professional, and am not qualified to tell you what medications to take, but this is what works for me.

2.  Write your packing list.  Prepare to have bulky, non-perishable, consumable items shipped to your resort.

Packing list is a must for us OCD trip planners.  Lists make sure you don't forget anything on the way to Florida, and can help you remember to pack everything for the return trip home.  To keep luggage costs down, consider shipping non-perishable but consumable items to your resort.  Items like diapers, individually wrapped beverages and snacks take up a lotta space in your luggage.  Be sure you ship them together.  I've heard a rumor that Disney charges for multiple package pick ups.

1.  Get the suitcase out of the attic, affix MYW tags and start packing!

With a check off sheet nearby, my suitcases are open and ready for items that we don't need to use everyday.  Just remember to keep them in a safe location so little fingers don't wander in, pull things out and put them into the nearest toilet.

10 Things We Haven't Done At Walt Disney World

We're fifteen long days away from our tenth Disney World vacation, which coincidentally, is also our tenth wedding anniversary.  There are several thing that we haven't done that might suggest we aren't the Disney World fans we claim to be, so we've made it a point to include these things in our "Must-Do" list for this trip.

10. Ride our own personal "coaster" at Sum of All Thrills. - Sum of All Thrills is located at Innoventions in Epcot's Future World.  Through some innovative technology, it allows you to  build and then ride your own thrill ride.  We've consistently missed it just because we normally run to grab Fast Passes for the big rides.  Innoventions only becomes a thought when we need to cool off.  I hear that there is seldom a wait for this attraction, and since we are travelling with a toddler now, we can let her play and swap places to enjoy this attraction while everyone cools off.

9. Visit Tom Sawyer Island - We've seen Tom Sawyer Island while traversing the Magic Kingdom, but never thought to take a peek because we are thrill seekers.  Thrill seekers don't tend to fancy playground areas, but it will be great seeing Disney through the eyes of an active toddler, and this is just the type activity she needs before we head back to the resort for a nap. (See item #6)

8.  Ride Prince Charming Regal Carousel - Since we've got access to an antique carousel because we live a hop and a skip away from Huckleberry Railroad & Crossroads Village, we've always skipped this attraction.  I'm sure there's nothing more magical than riding a carousel in the shadow of Cinderella Castle, so I'm very excited to try this out with our toddler who absolutely loves the carousel at Crossroads Village.

7. See Country Bear Jamboree - Located in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom, Country Bear Jamboree is the musical show that inspired the movie "Country Bears."  We have consistently overlooked this attraction because we weren't fans of the movie, and I've heard that we have missed out on a treat and another opportunity to cool off.

6. Take a mid-day nap - This probably is not what you would expect to be on this list, but in order to enjoy an entire day without having to deal with Grumpy Baby Syndrome, we'll forego going commando this year in favor of mid day naps.

5. Stay at Pop Century Resort - Over the years, we've stayed off site, at deluxe, moderate and value resorts on Disney property, but we've not stayed at the value resort that seems to get the highest marks of all value resorts, Pop Century.  Our little lady will love the larger than life icons scattered around the resort, and I secretly want my own peek at the new Art of Animation resort's construction progress.  I'll can't wait to get out the telephoto lenses for shots of that!

4. See Fantasmic! - For some reason, I always seem to make dinner reservations  during Fantasmic.  Our first day will be spent at Hollywood Studios, and we've got reservations at Hollywood Brown Derby that includes reserved seating at Fantasmic, ensuring that we won't miss it this year.

3. Breakfast at Chef Mickey's - Last year, we were lucky enough to have our resort accommodations magically upgraded to rooms at the Contemporary.  I immediately tried to get breakfast reservations at Chef Mickey's, but we were less than two weeks away from our trip and we were going during Disney's Free Dining promotion, so there wasn't a reservation to be found.  Hubby and I typically avoided character meals, opting instead for quieter dining, but everything changes when you travel with children and grandparents.  It was awful walking by Chef Mickey's every day, not getting to eat there at all.

2. Eat a Dole Whip - Yes, I am very sad to say that we have not experienced the culinary excellence that is a Dole Whip.  Follow us, as we hang our heads in shame, over to Aloha Isle for this cool and creamy, pinapple-y treat.

1. Dinner at Victoria & Albert's - Being a self proclaimed foodie , I am also very sad to report that neither of us have dined at Victoria & Albert's.  We should have done this before starting our family, but now have to pay for a sitter because children ten and under are not allowed.  No worries, though.  We've got reservations on the night of our tenth anniversary complete with luxury travel accommodations from Florida Magical Tours.  Now, if we could just get one more party to cancel their reservation at Chef's Table, it will be all ours!