The girls and I headed to Epcot at Walt Disney World, me in an Electric Convenience Vehicle… an ECV… and they walking.
I always had my camera equipment and we carried our yellow Mickey ponchos for the inevitable afternoon thunderstorms.
As we wended our way around World Showcase, we went inside The American Adventureto listen to the Voices of Liberty, an amazing a Capella group that sings beautiful songs about America… and a couple of Disney tunes thrown in. (Not quite sure where the other voices are coming from, but they vanish around 2 minutes in.)
America Gardens Theater
When you walk out of the The American Adventure (which we had been in dozens of times so did not go this day), across the way, is the America Gardens Theater. I have to show you several pictures because they will be relevant later in the story.
Because I had the ECV, we were led to the Handicapped Section. It was about 8 rows from the stage and I was on the far left of the benches.
It being June in Florida, it was damn hot. I tend to get to places early (movies, shows, parties, etc.) and this was no exception. Waiting, it was suffocatingly hot. While we always carried water, that Kakigōri booth in Japan, which is next to The American Adventure, beckoned. We needed something cold!
Kakigōri, a Japanese treat, is a sort of snow cone, or if you know Hawai’i Shave Ice, it is similar to that as well. Besides the syrups they add (your choices), some people enjoy cream in theirs. (Blech!)
Not long after we were sitting in the flippin’ hot sun, the girls were sent on a mission to get the Kakigōri cones. I love cherry, and when they have it, grape. Yum! We three sat eating our snow cones, waiting for the show to start.
It finally did.
Michael Flatley Lord of the Dance
The show began with an amazing display of Irish dancing, men and women, moving in unison, the legs kicking while the tops of their bodies were stock still. It was delightful fun!
Midway through the show, a soloist came out and began singing the most lovely ballad… her soprano voice soaring into the air around us.
Then the feedback started. A blaring eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee that was the strangest thing ever! Disney is meticulous with their sound systems, it was bizarre having feedback.
People were looking around. Why hadn’t the sound people fixed it yet? Crazy!
Then I see a Cast Member wending his way through the crowd… in a hurry… was everything okay? Holy crap, he was heading… towards… me?
“Ma’am, can you get off the ECV’s horn?”
I looked down and my bulging fat belly was leaning on the red horn button, causing the horrid “feedback.”
I leaned back and, miraculously, the feedback stopped.
People everywhere were staring. Right at me. I was filled with embarrassment.
And then I started laughing.
The girls and I got the sillies, thinking about me causing all that ruckus. It took every bit of control to not howl with laughter through the rest of the performance.
I’d been writing reviews of meals for a long time, publishing them on Disney websites (for free). I got great feedback, so kept going.
One of the folks that read my writing was Susan Shumaker. She and her partner Than Saffel were working on a book on vegetarian dining at Disney World and surrounding areas. They asked me if I would like to collaborate by eating in a slew of restaurants they couldn’t get to because they didn’t live in Orlando and had to make trips back and forth to taste test for themselves. I jumped at the chance!
I was in a poly relationship at the time with a woman and my former transman partner (who had not yet come out). We scheduled 3 weeks to hit all the restaurants on our list, staying in different Disney Luxury Resorts chosen randomly. Even though I was the one reviewing/writing, all three of us were fed for free. And, except for breakfast, also given fine wine, per course, at lunch and dinner.
I was the only one of us three eating vegetarian or vegan; they were meat eaters… and were served meat dishes throughout the tastings.
All of us loved red wine and drank copious amounts. (A separate post in the works.)
“Memories! Like the corner of my mind.”
Meeting the Chefs
It was a matter of course for the chef to come to the table to ask what my food preferences were. (No green/yellow/orange/purple/jalapeño/etc. peppers. Not terribly spicy. Love mushrooms.) We 3 had eaten (and paid for it) in most of the restaurants, so knew many chefs ahead of time. Sometimes, they’d sit with us and we’d talk about food and wine. Fun!
Sitting here almost 20 years later, I cannot recall even one time I was disappointed by food made by a Disney chef… on either coast. And I’ve eaten in Disney’s Fine Dining easily 200 times.
Restaurants We Visited
We did not just eat in fancy restaurants and I did not eat just at Disney restaurants. We ate at restaurants in different Disney Resorts, from Value Hotels to Moderate ones, and of course in the Deluxe Resorts. When I ate off-property, those places were ghastly! No vegan food at all and Stouffer’s Veggie Lasagna was almost always the meal I was given. I ate at about 8 different locations off-property, but close to Disney World. I got to see some fun shows the tourists flock to, but the food sucked.
Where it did not suck was at Walt Disney World!
Whispering Canyon Cafe, Wilderness Lodge Resort
We had breakfast at Whispering Canyon. Endless family style food. I was a vegetarian, so didn’t want the sausages. It was no problem at all. They asked what each person wanted to eat and if they wanted meat but were sitting with vegetarians, the meat was served on a separate plate. The food at that restaurant was yummy!
Flying Fish, Boardwalk Resort
Besides being a lovely restaurant, food at the Flying Fish was awesome. I wish I had a picture of the foods I’d eaten at each place, but I do not.
At a separate time, one of my friends having dinner with us was a Supertaster. He sat naming the ingredients in his dish… spices, too! We asked the chef to come over and test him. Amazingly, he was spot on with everything that was in his meal. The chef was impressed. I was stunned.
Artist Point, Wilderness Lodge Resort
Artist Point was my go-to restaurant, even having my entire family eat there with me several times. The food was fantastic and their wine list was a delight. I remember sitting in Artist Point for hours, slowly eating course after course, then having a dessert made especially for us. One of our favorite desserts was dark chocolate wafers with a dry Cabernet.
The chef got to know my poly partners and me and never made the same vegetarian dish twice. Always delicious! When I was eating for the vegetarian book, the chef made especially awesome dishes for us all. (One thing I remember about almost all of my meals was the pine tree-like rosemary sticking up from one mashed food or other.)
I haven’t been to Artist Point in at least 10 years, but know if I sat down there tonight, the meal would be amazing.
Kona Café, Polynesian Resort
Kona Café used to be the best place to get coffee at Disney World. The coffee beans were from Kona, Hawai’i and they really did make the most delicious coffee.
Researching right now, the space is actually a “casual dining” restaurant! With a sushi bar! The coffee is all but a footnote on the menu. I am sure it is still the best coffee in the World.
Cítricos, Grand Floridian Resort
I’ve been to Cítricos only a handful of times. They serve seafood and Tuscan Italian food, which isn’t my favorite. It’s a gorgeous restaurant with great service and am sure my veggie dish was good (as I said I can’t think of one meal I didn’t like anywhere on Disney property.) and I don’t remember anyone complaining about their food but me. I do remember having Italian wine and missing the California wines I was used to.
Yachtsman Restaurant, Yacht Club Resort
The Yachtsman Steakhouse, obviously, serves steaks. Huge, giant slabs of beef. I cannot remember what I had, but do remember using a menu to hide Zack’s plate that had a pool of blood underneath his steak. Blech. Carnivores love the place and I might even like it now! I do have my steak medium well and eat it with ketchup. (I know… why bother?!? Kind of what I said for a long time as a vegetarian!)
Maya Grill, Coronado Springs Resort
I loved Maya Grill! And had a crush on Beatriz, the chef at the time. Beatriz took me back in the kitchen a couple of times, letting me photograph her hands as she prepped for the dinner crowd. One of the things she made was chimichurri, a dip I slurped up hungrily… until I saw it was made with green peppers. Then I couldn’t eat it anymore. Isn’t that silly? I know! But it just messed with my world view of hating peppers.
Mexican food is easy to make vegetarian and when we were food tasting for the book, my dinner was delicious… and very different from the other restaurants.
California Grill, Contemporary Resort
Ahhhh, now the California Grill. I’ve eaten there dozens of times… as a vegetarian, vegan and carnivore. Never ever ever have I had to send something back. As the name suggests, the cuisine is California-oriented, and it is delicious.
If you are lucky enough to eat here, you must ask for Walter. He opened the restaurant and is still there 22 years later. He is worth waiting for, I promise.
Besides the food, the restaurant overlooks the Magic Kingdom. In the picture above, you can see the fireworks over Cinderella Castle and how lovely Space Mountain is covered in lights. While watching fireworks from inside is nice, I prefer the catwalk outside. In the olden days, very few people knew about that 15th floor perch and I took friends out there to impress them. And they were impressed!
Used to be you could just go up for the fireworks, but now you must have reservations to be allowed on the elevator up. So, make reservations! Eat dessert and coffee if your budget is on the small side (you do not have to tell the podium folks what you are going to eat… keep it to yourself!) or dinner if you’re wanting to spend some money on magnificent food and wine. Reservations around firework time are harder to get, so we usually made reservations either far far in advance or about 6pm and just eat several courses slowly. Tip your waiter damn good if you stay at the table for 4 hours!
There was a Dessert Chef we knew up there at one time and we’d sit at the small area overlooking the making of the desserts. Watching them being made is magic! Incredible soufflés, wondrous crème brûlée and then the most creative desserts for kids! From rice cereal sushi to bowls of dark cookie dirt with gummy worms hidden inside.
For the food review, I know we had an amazing time, a window table overlooking the Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon, with peeks at the Polynesian. That meal I can remember like it was yesterday. Exquisite.
I last ate at the California Grill with my daughter Meghann her family and my mama. We had a beautiful time! And yes, Walter was our waiter. As he was for Meghann’s honeymoon meal 10 years earlier and the server for many, many of the great meals I had on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort.
It was pure luck that I was able to go around the World and eat and drink so well for 3 weeks. We had so much fun! I think everyone should be able to do the same.
When I was 16 years old, I used to wander over to the Contemporary Resort at Disney World to lay out in the sun on their beach, something that isn’t possible anymore because of alligators. But, then, Disney was still young and the gators hadn’t yet infiltrated the lakes.
I was fat, but wore a tube top and a bathing suit bottom that went up to my belly button, keeping my midriff exposed to the sun.
These were the days before we knew about skin cancer and using sunscreen. I had my trusty bottle of baby oil that I slathered on every couple of hours. (Tanning at home, I used Crisco.) Just reading it, I’m checking all my freckles and moles!
No one ever checked to see if I had a room key or asked if I belonged on their beach. That would never happen today. Because no one cared, when I got hot, I’d dive into one of their two pools, swim around (I’m a great swimmer), get cool, then go back to my spot on the beach.
One time when I was in the pool, there was a woman sitting on the side hollering, “Barbie! Barbie!” and I answered her, asking, “Yes?” I swam over to her and she was calling one of her twin daughters, also named Barbie… we laughed, then introduced ourselves. It took less than 2 minutes before we were fast friends. After we were done swimming, I took them on a guided tour of the Magic Kingdom (the only park open then) and they took me to dinner. Barbie’s mom and I corresponded for 10 years, talking on the phone a lot, too. They lived in Canada, so never saw them again. I think about the family often wondering whatever happened in their lives.
Frozen Orange Daiquiri
But, what about that Frozen Orange Daiquiri?
While I lay on the beach, servers wandered around asking if people wanted something from the bar (including snacks!). Can you imagine that happening today? No way in the world would they traipse in the sand selling drinks. But then, it was awesome.
The first time I had enough money to buy something to drink, I asked if there was a virgin anything cold and the server said, “We have Frozen Orange Daiquiris,” and I probably said, “Yes!” way too loud, but she toddled off to the bar to get me that drink.
I swear she floated back, my drink balanced on her tray, my mouth watering as she came upon me like an angel of Frozen Orange Daiquiris.
It was served in a clear plastic cup with an orange slice on the rim.
It was exquisite.
Sipping the thick icy treat, I found using the orange slice as a scoop to be more efficient as well as yum-MEEEE! I asked the server for a few orange slices when I ordered the next drink and she brought me a bowl of them!
This became my special treat and even when I didn’t feel like laying out in the sun, I’d go to the Contemporary Resort, sit at the Sand Bar and order one Virgin Frozen Orange Daiquiri after another. With a pile of orange slices to dip, use as a scoop, then peel the orange from the rind with my teeth.
I can taste it even now, feeling the searing sun on my back, slurping the icy drink off the orange slices.
Where Are They Now?
I have not figured out why, but no one seems to make Frozen Orange Daiquiris anymore. They make Peach, Mango, even an Orange-Banana, but where are the unadulterated Orange ones? I’ve ask experienced bartenders to make me one and usually get a look of confusion. I’ve probably only had 5 in the last 40 years. And even those didn’t taste like I remembered.
Yes, I am aware that the atmosphere of the burning sun, the white sandy beach, being on Disney property, the server wending her way through the lawn chairs, the piles of cold orange slices create a memory that can never be recreated, that no matter how many Frozen Orange Daiquiris I have, none would ever taste the same.
I’m salivating remembering the tart sweetness over the decades.
Let’s bring the Frozen Orange Daiquiri back to a drink everyone asks for!