It’s that time of the year again, where Disney goes all out for the holidays. From Mickey’ s Very Merry Christmas Party, to Epcot’s Holidays Around The World, and the newest events at Hollywood Studios, there is no stopping the fun.
One tradition the Disney Parks have each year is their yearly holiday special. Christmas Day on ABC was where they always showed the parade and the occasional concert, with some Make A Wish style moments thrown in to celebrate families who run non profits, reunite from deployment in the military, and have defeated the odds despite whatever life has thrown at them. It’s a well loved tradition that keeps families glued to the TV, and I got to experience it first hand.
Thanks to my bestie Amanda, who works for the company, I was able to score a chance to be at a taping for one of the many specials Disney has set out to present this year. She was given a time to show up and a comp ticket for me, with no other info on what we would see or do. Contrary to popular belief, Disney doesn’t film the special live, but a few weeks ahead of time. Usually, they only open the filmings to cast members, which are people who work for the company, before they allow guests to join in too.
Once we got to the stage, our M.C. Cam explaimed more about what we will see and do for the couple hours we would be there for. He went on about the directors cues, when we should applause, and just kept the crowd entertained in between takes. We were also told that we were there to see the Descendents perform holiday medleys of their hit songs from the movies, with Raven Symone and Isaac Brown from “Raven’s Home” stopping in to film transition segments for the special. It was also explained to us that our special will air on Disney Channel December 2, with multiple reruns throughout the month.
Although I am not a fan of the Descendents, I did fall in love with Sofia Carson, her voice is incredible and her attitude brilliant, always smiling and having fun with what she does. She sang two songs, multiple times. Her first song was “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and her second song featuring her fellow villian friends “Chillin’ Like A Snowman” a play on the song made famous from their movie “Chilln’ Like A Villain”
Even Olaf makes an appearance, because why the heck not?
But what got me hyped was Raven making an appearance. From her Cosby Show days to That’s So Raven, I feel as though I grew up with her, and with the success of Raven’s Home, it’s exciting to see her continue on entertaining a whole new generation. Along with her co-star Isaac, they kept the audience pumped, even for us 90’s/2000’s babies who could…and did… recite her That’s So Raven theme by heart.
“You all are old. I love it!” She said as the crowd laughed.
Be sure to look for me and Amanda amongst the crowd during the Disney Parks Holiday Celebration, starting December 2nd on the Disney Channel.
Volcano Bay is Universal Orlando Resort’s third theme park, and what has said to be its best one yet. Themed after inspiration of tribal explorers (also known as Waturi) from the Pacific Islands and packed with the latest technology known as TapuTapu that holds your spot in the queue lines and unlock special surprises throughout the park, Volcano Bay has something for everyone. With 18 different attractions, including the Krakatau Aqua Coaster and the Kokiri Body Plunge that sends you 125 feet down a volcano via a trapped door, the park boasts it’s fair share of thrills, but what about the food?
From the park’s inception, the food offered in the park was prided as some of the best quick service theme park food on property. And they weren’t kidding. During the summer, there was a brief moment when the menu was changed to a basic burger and hot dog menu, and everyone flipped out. Thankfully, most of the 60 or so menu items that opened the park to high reviews have come back, making this foodie one happy girl.
Using a Universal Quick Service dining plan, as mentioned in an earlier post, I was able to sample some of the park’s finest foods. Armed with a meal credit and a snack credit brought some tasty results.
Waturi Blend Ice Cream
Because in paradise, rules are meant to be broken, so why not opt for dessert first? The Waturi Blend Ice cream is a rainbow colored soft serve delight, packed with tropical fruity flavor that will get you in the tropical mood. Strawberry, Pineapple, Orange, and Blue Raspberry blend in such a way that reminds me of an everlasting gobstopper, where the flavor and color change each lick. Plus, it’s totally Insta-worthy. Not to mention delicious. You can find the ice cream stand in the front of the park closer to the Wave Village Concierge Hut.
Jerk Shrimp Mac and Cheese
Although it is a bit of a hike to get to, I managed to make the trek to Whakawaiwai Eats to indulge in what I believe has to be the park’s finest culinary masterpiece.
Amongst the menu of longboard pizzas and grab and go salads lies the Jerk Shrimp Mac and Cheese, a spicy shrimp Mac and Cheese made with real big chunks of shrimp and spicy seasonings. It’s very creamy, the white cheese strikes a balance between the hot and cheesey, I never thought I would rave over Mac and Cheese as much I have here at Volcano Bay. It’s a far cry from the typical burger and hot dog fare many waterparks opt for. A nice spicy surprise, and a fairly big portion to boot.
Volcano Bay has slowly been reintroducing their menu items that have been taken away during the summer, and more surprises await. From burgers topped with tropical slaw, hot dogs nestled in pretzel buns topped with pineapples and bacon, and a long surfboard shaped BBQ chicken pizza, things are far from boring in the land of the Waturi. So grab yourself a dining plan and explore the bay. You’ll be glad you did.
Ever since I moved in with RJ back in my college days, he would always do this cute thing on my birthday where he would make me a cake with what ever he could find.
Usually around the time of my birthday, it would be a tough week when it comes to pay. The rent is due in a few days after all. But somehow, someway he would make it work out so I wouldn’t have to celebrate my birthday alone. Even when I was with Bill, RJ would do a little something for me since Bill never had the means to celebrate. It was RJ’s way of saying thank you for being a friend.
It all started back in 2009 when we decided to have a small birthday party at the Providence roller derby game I am convinced to this day that the party was cursed, given not many people showed up and that I dropped the cake on the way home. After coming home and assessing the damage of the cake, RJ decided to get a little creative with some food we bought at the local Bodega. Thus, the River Rat cake was born, banana chip eyes, cookie ears, and a mini marshmallow tail.
The following year brought a home baked version we dubbed the “PMS River Cake” which was Funfetti cake with a strawberry jam river meant to mimic a river seen in the Strawberry Shortcake cartoons, complete with a bath toy or two to complete the ensemble.
This kick-started a tradition that has lasted many years.
Sometimes, we would make do with Swedish Fish and a Tastykake Chocolate Junior, while other years would bring Ben & Jerry’s smashed into a plate of waffles, but no matter how he did it, and no matter how bad it looked, it always put a smile on my face. Just to know I’m loved and that I can have something to laugh about makes these ugly cakes worthwhile.
Since today is my birthday, I woke up to see half of my Shopkins collection piled on top of an orange Halloween Funfetti cake. Glad to see the tradition lives on. I hope this lasts forever.
Every once in awhile, there’s that one place you always walk past that you pay no attention to. Whether it’s that little cafe in the shopping center in your hometown or at a theme park you visit frequently. That place for me up until recently just so happens to be the Monsters Cafe at Universal Orlando resort.
As to why I always skipped it is beyond me. I love horror movies, but this place was just never on my radar amongst my obsession for all the Harry Potter stuff.
In my last Mandy Eats post, I talked about the food that I purchased here and it was delightful. But unlike my usual Mandy Eats posts where I talk about the food, this time around, I will talk about the atmosphere.
As you’re waiting in the queue line, you are greeted with the massive light bulb straight out of Dr. Frankenstein Laboratory. Although the menu is typical theme park food, the setting just get you into a mood of nostalgia. Everywhere you look, there’s memorabilia and movie posters of sci-fi and horror movies past.
The restaurant is divided into four areas, each has its own special theme. The windows are wrapped in decals that help set the mood for each room. Certain items are taken straight from the movies and hung on the walls for all to see. Yes, that really is the Bride of Frankenstein’s head.
On the back of the menu lies brief descriptions of each room and the themes that surround it. Although I had my dinner in the room considered the mansion, one of my favorite areas had to have been the Sci-Fi room.
With my best friend and Trekkie Amanda in tow, we have stumbled upon an epic nerdy paradise.
The overall attention to detail is stunning and the service is spectacular. And the food, is to die for. Needless to say, I’m kicking myself in the butt I haven’t discovered this gem sooner.
The Monsters Cafe is Quick Service dining plan Friendly restaurant located across from the Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon ride in Universal Studios. it is also the home to the Scareacter dining experience during the Park’s Halloween Horror Nights event.
Hurricane Irma had to have been the craziest storm I have ever wittnessed ever since Hurricane Sandy hit almost five years ago. The overall energy and magnitude of the storm was enough to stop a city that revolves around theme parks and attractions for two whole days, often unheard of in recent memory.
So how did I do?
Well after RJ and I ventured into the feeding frenzy that was Walmart and stocked up on mostly dry goods in the event out power would be lost for weeks on end, we braved it out with junk food and scary movies, waiting for the moment when power would go out.
Oddly enough it never did.
Seems like we had it easy, right?
Take a look at this. Yes, that pole/tree/whatever the heck it is has impaled the roof of my building.
Which resulted in some flooding.
Which resulted in the loss of several blankets, as well as my stove and toaster, which became waterlogged after a kitchen cabinet of all things sprung a leak.
Compared to most, we made it out easy. But the clean up process has been insane. Workers have been on my roof since about 9pm last night non-stop, drilling and chizzlimg away at the cracks and placing new files. Once the big work ends outside, the inside work begins. From killing off the water damage to replacing my stove, the whole process could take a few weeks.
Despite my constant griping due to lack of sleep or nutritious food, I am thankful to live in an apartment complex that has treated me good thus far.
Unless you have been living under a rock, Florida has been placed into a state of emergency due to a category 5 hurricane making a B-line through the center of the state.
After the events of Hurricane Harvey that hit Texas with a vengence, the typical laid back partying type have turned into the preparers of impending doom, stocking up food and water and just about everything else you could imagine. Stores are empty and there have been bum rushes of people grabbing cases of water like crazy parents buying the latest Christmas toy.
I spent the last 3 days trying to track down water with the only success being out at Walgreens across from work, my two hands only managing to snag one since I have no access to a vehicle (luckily, a good friend I was meeting up with managed to get me a ride home.)
All this disaster stuff has made me numb. This isn’t my first go-around with a hurricane. My first major one from memory was Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which became the catalyst for my move here to Orlando when the schools I worked at got shut down for a few weeks. I have also dealt with Hurricane Matthew, which became a dud of a storm, which results in mad trust issues.
My family back up north has been worried about me, so much so to the point where they’re calling me every other hour. Part of me doesn’t know if I should give into the hype and panic or just wait it out and treat it like a normal rain storm.
I will tell you now, my anxiety is through the roof trying to prepare for this. With RJ’s help, I have managed to obtain enough supplies to last me for a few days and then some. I have had a few anxiety attacks the last few days and he has been there with me the whole time.
But when it comes to evacuating, forget it. Without a car and up to date medical records for the cats that are required by shelters, that leaves us staring at the belly of the beast. My friend offered to come get us, but I want to stay in my own home, which is as far inland as you can get here in Florida. They don’t call my neighborhood Florida Center for nothing.
As I sit here awaiting the storm, I am reminded that life is something one must never take for granted. The storm is just one thing life throws at you to make sure you’re paying attention. I’m ready for the best as well as the worst. Whatever happens happens, but we won’t know for sure until Monday afternoon when she finally blows over.
To my family, friends, and followers, please know that whatever comes out of this, I wanted to express my gratitude for all of you. I will do my best to keep you posted on what’s going on…the best way I’ll be doing this will be on the Facebook page. For now, I’m ready to ride this thing out.
Okay Irma, show me whatcha got…just please play nice.
Universal Orlando Resort consists of three theme parks, a shopping district, and five hotels chock full of foodie possibilities. I’m always on the hunt for the craziest of what theme park food has to offer. But it comes at a price, as any venture to a theme park would. In a world of $11 hot dogs and $4 sodas, where can you turn to if you want to experience the best of the best when you’re on a tight budget? Why Universal, of course.
That’s where the Universal Dining Plan comes to play.
For a flat fee, you are issued one meal of your choice from any quick service restaurants and one snack from any snack cart, candy shop, or ice cream parlor. In addition, you also get beverage options, and this is where the different price plans come to play.
The $28.99 plan includes one meal, one snack, and a Coca-Cola Freestyle Souvenir Mug with Unlimited Refills for the day. You can also bring back the cup on your next visit and pay a fee of about $8 to get unlimited refills again.
The $22.99 plan, which includes the meal and snack, replaces the cup with two beverage credits. That means you get a drink with your meal and a spare drink you can use for your snack. Today, I took this plan out for a spin and took it upon myself to find the most interesting things you can get with a dining plan.
Usually when I get the dining plan, I find myself in the Three Broomsticks or Mel’s and I wanted to try something new. Both places are awesome, and I plan on doing reviews of them later on, but this place always struck me as one I should pass. Little did I know I was missing out on awesomeness. I will be doing a full on review of this place in my next post because the detail and theming is something I could write forever about. But if you’re big into classic sci-fi and horror movies, and love to dine amongst real life props from said movies, Monster’s Cafe is your geeky haven for curing the hangries.
The Speciality Smokehouse Burger (valued at about $19 after taxes) is a burger topped with pepper jack cheese, pulled pork, cole slaw and pickles, served with fries and a small chocolate or vanilla milkshake (which I didn’t get since I was afraid it would kill off a snack or drink credit, which I found out later it doesn’t.) It also includes your first beverage credit, which I got a Coke Zero.
The burger was sloppy goodness that brings you back to those days at a family BBQ, the monster mash up of a pulled pork snadwhich and a burger made way for a sweet and smokey meal.
My only complaint was that the bun disintegrated underneath, which involved the aide of crispy crinkle fries and a fork to get the job done. Oh the humanity! All in all, this was a tasty meal worth getting again on a future visit.
The (Second) Beverage
I found myself at Islands of Adventure, wandering around Hogsmeade while looking for my next beverage to try. Some of the drinks that we would classify as beverages actually count as snack credits on the Dining Plan, like the Fishy Green Ale and the Butterbeer, as well as the bottled versions of the pumpkin juice and gillywater. But, you can easily get some of the bottled drinks with the proper drink credit from the tap at Hog’s Head which is attached to The Leaky Cauldrun.
The Pumpkin Juice (valued at about $5 after taxes) is a sweet non-alcoholic beverage fit for any autumn loving, pumpkin spice consuming wizard or muggle alike. It’s consistency is that of apple cider with a pumpkin spice kick to it, and the best part is that it’s offered year round. Both sides of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter offer this drink, so no matter if you find yourself at Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley, rest assured you can satisfy your pumpkin craving.
After taking a ride on the Hogwarts Express back to Diagon Alley, I had a hankering for some ice cream. I originally wanted to go to some of the Ben & Jerry’s places on property so I could go and grab some Jimmy Fallon ice cream “The Tonight Dough”. But to my dismay, I found out most of those places were closed since it was almost the end of the day. I decided to venture back to Diagon Alley to check out Florean Fortescue’s. I heard they had some pretty fun flavors there that would be perfect for a fun foodie experience. Florean’s is usually open late while some of the shops and restaurants within Universal close an hour before the park does. If you have a last minute craving, it never hurts to check Diagon Alley.
Upon entering Florean’s, you are bombarded with a variety of ice cream flavors and consistencies, from soft serve to hard packed, and even potted cream. Flavors range from your basic vanilla and chocolate to some crazy flavors like Apple Pie, Earl Grey and Lavender, and the one I chose, Chocolate Chili. Yep, you read that right. And it tasted exactly how you think it did, very chocolatey and pretty spicy. The combination of the two reminded me of Mexican hot chocolate.
For the Dining Plan, a waffle cone and ice cream or a cup of ice cream (valued at about $7.50 after taxes) is considered a snack credit, any toppings are considered extra. I wound up getting my sprinkles for free because they ran out of my flavor ice cream and had to pull some from the back, which was too frozen for them to scoop out right away. Needless to say, it was well worth the wait, and the sprinkles were an awesome touch to an already magical day. (Thanks Kristen.)
So…is it worth it?
Let’s look at the breakdown from today by the numbers, shall we?
Meal and Beverage- $19
Second Beverage- $5
DINING PLAN+TAX -$24.49
Savings of $7.01
Keep in mind these prices are approximate, as I didn’t get the final prices for some of my items and was only going by the prices on the menu without the taxes. But when you look at the numbers that I used, it’s pretty obvious that you can save quite a bit of money by using the Dining Plan, so much so that you could almost count it as snagging some free ice cream. The savings do add up the more expensive your meal is, for instance, a Chicken & Ribs platter over at The Three Broomsticks can go for almost as much as the Dining Plan itself. Also keep in mind that some items within the menus at the restaurants don’t count as part of Dining Plan for some reason or another, usually ice cream sundaes or large family size meals fall into this category. Easiest way you could know for sure is the check the menus for the universal Dining Plan logo or ask a team member for assistance.
All in all, this plan is definitely worth it if you know you’re going to eat something more than just a hot dog and chips. The plan won’t do so well if you stick to the lesser expensive items, because in some cases you actually make out better buying a la carte. the Dining Plan gives you the freedom to try what you want and eat what you want without worrying about shedding out more money than you have to. This little card is a foodie’s right of passage.
You could get the Universal Dining Plans in child and adult forms at any vacation planning window, guest services, quick service restaurant, and several kiosks located through property. I got mine at the dining kiosk near the entrance of Universal Studios next to On-Location (the photo shop.)
There’s a whole new world to explore. Hope you brought your appetite.