Anna Coronation Dress

The coronation dress is a striking design and Anna is one of my favorite characters, so it was a lot of fun to bring this one to life!

This one was several days’ work between the box pleats and hand-painting the design on the fabric. But from the looks on all the little girls’ faces at the Magic Kingdom, it was worth it! I loved chatting with all the little girls who were enchanted by meeting “Anna.” A highlight was when I heard someone call out, “Excuse me, Princess Anna!” and turned around to find a breathless father holding his 4-year-old, who had insisted he catch up to me and had to run to do so! She was too shy to say much, but I spoke with her a bit, and she was beaming.

I used Simplicity pattern 1215 for the skirt. The bodice that came with the pattern was a lot shorter than I wanted, so I got Simplicity 6480 and modified it to have the sleeves from the 1215.

For the skirt detail, I made stencils out of thin, plastic cutting boards (something like this). I freehanded the design on the bodice instead of using the design that came with the pattern (which was significantly different from the movie’s design). I used fabric paint for both the skirt and top. The fabric paint has a nice sheen to it, so it makes the design sparkle like in the movie.

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The necklace is made out of oven-baked clay. I recommend using a bezel or metal for the eye, as it would be more durable than clay and will be better suited to hold the weight of the pendant on the ribbon.

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I used velvet for the bodice, satin for the skirt materials, and wore a hoop skirt under it. I think a crinoline would look better under the satin, but the hoop is much cooler in Florida weather!

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I had to meet my other favorite princess while dressed as Anna! She talked about how constricting formal dresses can be, but I told her mine was quite comfortable!

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Satu’li Canteen (April 2017) Hearty Salad Base

I went to Satu’li Canteen tonight for my first time since the base changes. When I started to order the “hearty salad” base with no feta, the cashier asked if I was vegan and said they had to bring out a coordinator for that modification (the “no boba” on the first order with the grain and rice base went through fine, but I guess anything more than that requires a coordinator).

The coordinator came out with the iPad that shows feta and honey as ingredients. They said that the honey is in a sauce that they toss the veggies and quinoa in, but they’d make up one with all the veggies and quinoa but no honey (and no feta) and it’d just take a few extra minutes. As always, I got the charred onion sauce as it is the only vegan one.

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The salad was very nice! I really enjoyed the cauliflower, tomatoes, and the beets and other veggies that are mixed with the quinoa. It’s a little surprising at first because all the veggies are cold, but they are cooked with grill marks and look like they’d be warm. They are very tasty though! It’s a nice option as an alternative to the grain and rice base I usually get.

It’s too bad we can’t order the hearty salad with the mobile ordering system (because there’s no option for “no feta” and “no honey” on it), but at least I can still order the grain + rice with no boba through the app (my other go-to order). It wasn’t super busy tonight, so the wait wasn’t too bad, but waiting to order plus waiting for the modification will add some time to your dining if it’s busy. If you’re in a hurry, go with the potato base or either of the rice options and use the app to skip the line.

It seems like they’ve really gotten the tofu figured out. The past several times I’ve been it’s been fantastic (not too hard like it was occasionally in the beginning). One of my favorite quick service meals in all of the parks!

Meria (Brave) Dress

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Pixar has been an inspiration to me with the way they used technology to revolutionize animated films and have consistently created well-developed characters and stories.  Brave is a lovely story about family, and Merida is a heroine who grows and learns over the course of her story.

Matching the color of her dress was very hard! Realistically, her dress would have been made from wool, but being vegan (and living in Florida), that wasn’t an option. Linen was my fabric of choice, but I soon learned that finding the perfect teal color in any fabric was going to be a challenge. I like the teal linen I ended up with, but it is a bit lighter than most of Merida’s pictures. In the movie, her dress changes colors a lot depending on the lighting. It ranges from blue to green and light to dark, with dark teal being the most predominant in pictures. My fabric photographs less teal and more blue, but it really is teal! For the faux underdress, I used a barely-off-white linen. In retrospect, a more delicate fabric for the faux underdress would have been prettier.

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I used the McCall’s M6817 pattern and had to do several alterations to it. If I did it all over again, I’d do even more changes to the pattern to make the dress more authentic.

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Modifications to the pattern:

First, very obviously, the pattern has a contrast fabric at the bottom and decorative trim, which Merida’s dress doesn’t have. This pattern is more like the dress worn by Merida at Disney World than Merida in the movie (more Renaissance and less Medieval). I wanted movie Merida, so I made those changes right off the bat. I simply bought an extra 7/8 yard of the main fabric and didn’t buy a contrast for the bottom, or decorative  trim.

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There are some problems with the sleeve puffs in the pattern, as far as accuracy is concerned. Well, first of all, for complete accuracy, the off-white material showing through should be from the underdress. This pattern uses a faux underdress, only having the off-white in the places it shows through. I like the faux underdress for 2 reasons: Less money on fabric, and Florida’s heat.

The big problems with the sleeve puffs are their size and the manner in which the shoulder one is attached. First of all, the shoulder one should be *much* smaller. If you look at Merida’s pictures, that top one is barely poking through. The other problem (and I’m going to do my best to describe this) is that the way it was attached, it pokes straight out along the horizontal plane and doesn’t mimic what an underdress poking out would look like at all.

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What I did to fix it (after installing it according to the directions and not liking it) was to make it like the elbow ones, where it’s basically a piece of the off-white fabric connecting two pieces of the teal fabric on either side. I made it closer to the size of the original puff, though, which made it a lot larger than I would if I remade it entirely again (but I don’t have enough teal fabric to re-make the top sleeves again, so it’ll have to do).

All I did to correct the shoulder puffs was to cut off the top portion of the (teal) top sleeve, and then use that as a pattern to cut the off-white (plus a small seam allowance for attaching the puff to the top sleeve). I then attached the faux sleeve ties to the off-white, attached it to the top of the top sleeve, and then attached the whole piece to the armhole of the dress. I would recommend taking off no more than 2 inches from the top sleeve for the off-white part. I made the shoulder puff several inches long, and it’s much bigger than Merida’s shoulder puffs are.

Similarly, the ruffles around the neckline that are supposed to simulate the neckline of the underdress are much larger and poofier than hers appear in the movie. After attaching it as the pattern indicates, but not being happy about how much it stuck out, I simply lowered the placement of the trim so that less of it stuck out from under the teal and trimmed the excess.

The dress itself also ended up HUGE, which I guess is common with McCall’s patterns. I ended up taking several inches off in alterations. But better too big than too small!

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I had a fantastic time being “Merida” for the night. Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is by far my favorite event and being able to dress up makes it the absolute best.

December 2017 California (Disneyland and Los Angeles)

Day 0 – Wednesday, December 7th
This was our first time departing on an evening flight. It was nice being able to leisurely pack all day instead of getting up at 4am for a morning flight. Arriving in Los Angeles at 10pm made the initial trip to the hotel much more pleasant since there was less traffic than arriving at noon.

This was my first time flying on Jet Blue, and it was nice, but not as great as Virgin. We had row 1 (bulkhead), which had ample legroom (enough room to get out of the window seat without the aisle person getting up). The bulkhead also allowed me enough room to do some much needed stretching in front of my seat. I found the seat bottoms to be harder than Virgin, but much softer than Delta Business. The seats appeared to have very little recline. If they’d reclined more, I would have thoroughly enjoyed Jet Blue. Our aircraft was an A320, which appeared to not have closed captioning (however, I read that the A321s do).

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We used Hertz LAX because of their “ultimate choice” system, which lets you pick your rental car. They have all the cars in the lot with the keys inside, and you can take whichever one you want from the class you paid for (or from a higher class for more money, of course). I liked this because it allowed me to find the car with the least odor (of about 10-15 cars in our section, only one had a mild shampoo smell–the others had various overpowering scents). Unfortunately, it wasn’t completely smell-free. But it was among the least offensive rental cars I’ve had lately. I wish they’d stop spraying them with such strong perfumes and scented cleaners. The car was a dark gray 2017 Nissan Sentra that had fantastic visibility.

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Montebello. It was absolutely perfect. As of our stay, they still had the Garden Sleep System in the queen guestrooms (and some king rooms, but I booked a 2 queen to be safe). The shower was very hot and great pressure for California. The room was mostly quiet, especially overlooking the golf course instead of a road or parking lot.

Day 1 – Thursday December 7th
Breakfast was at Stuff I Eat in Inglewood. I love their fresh, healthy take on soulfood. I got my usual, the Sumthin’ Sumthin’ with an extra side of Mac n Cheese. Jacob had the Soul Food Platter (without the yams).

 

The main event for this day was Universal Hollywood. It ended up being a perfect day to go because it was not crowded at all. Even Hogsmeade didn’t feel crowded! It was so refreshing and relaxing enjoying a theme park that wasn’t crowded for a change (I can’t remember the last time our parks in Orlando felted uncrowded). This was the first year Universal celebrated Christmas in the Wizarding World, and we got a great view of the Hogwarts castle projects–twice! I said, after the first viewing, that the trip was worth it just for that (it was too crowded at UO to even get onto the main street of Hogsmeade to view it). The decorations are subtle and fit nicely with the setting, and the projection show perfectly captures the wintry charm from the books. Other than Hogsmeade, we watched all 3 of the live shows they offer. We’ve seen the Animal Actors show before (and it’s basically the same as back home), but the Waterworld stunt show and Special Effects show were new for us. We both preferred the Special Effects show. The stunts in Waterworld were impressive, but the story was too dated, undeveloped, and cheesy (even for us!). I’d love to see the show rewritten slightly with the same great stunt work. We also did the Walking Dead permanent haunted house, which marked our first haunted house together (Jacob’s never joined me for HHN). Since is wasn’t busy, the haunted house was very different from the procession of HHN–they send you in in small groups timed in such a way that you don’t encounter the group in front of you. It was much more fun having to explore our way through the maze instead of just following along behind the stream of people in front of you at HHN (obviously, they need to do it that way at HHN or else the lines would be even longer).

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Next stop was Donut Friend. Best doughnuts I’ve ever had. What more can I say?

Dinner was takeout from Ramen Hood. I prefer takeout from there because seating is limited and it’s very hot, loud, and crowded in the market (too hot to eat if it’s not a very cold day/night outside, and this December had highs in the 80s in Los Angeles). It is packaged with the broth separate from the fillings and holds up to travel (easy to reheat in a hotel microwave). We parked in the attached garage for $2 and took our ramen back to the hotel. We watched the Psych movie premier on USA while eating our ramen.

Day 2 – Friday December 8th
Breakfast for today was Pomegranate. Jacob got the Crab Cake sandwich, which was fantastic. Their housemade (mushroom-based) faux seafoods are amazing and definitely what to get if you go! I got the Creamy Mushroom Pasta, which was okay, but not better than pasta I make. I wasn’t crazy about the particular mushrooms they used or the somewhat chunky sauce. The quiche and pumpkin sides were okay, but they have other offerings that are much better.

I finally got to have my Stawberry Shortcake, and it was worth the wait! When the server asked if we’d been there before, I mentioned how I lost my last desserts from there (see last January’s triplog for the bus incident), and as we were leaving she gifted us a chocolate berry mousse cup, which was also delicious (amazing chocolate mousse).

 

We attempted to go to Griffith Observatory today, but by the time we got there at 1:15 (with them opening at noon), all the parking near the Observatory (at $4/hour!) was taken. I was coming down with a cold and wasn’t up for the hike up from the parking lot near the Greek Theater, so we spent a little time in the nearby park area, then left. We ate our gift dessert at a picnic table, found an adorable gathering of bees at a water fountain, and saw a bunch of other wildlife (tons of woodpeckers!).

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We tried a new place for dinner, Gracias Madre, and it was okay, but not great. I really enjoyed the mashed potato enchiladas and the sides of kale and beans it came with. However, the tamal was terrible–the texture was all wrong and the filling was one-note. Neither of us could eat it or the side of spicy, pickled vegetables that came with it. The only thing we ate from that plate was the beans. The mini chimichanga from the happy hour menu was good (but a little greasy) and the nachos from the same menu were also good (but not remarkable).

 

Day 3 – Saturday December 9th
Today, we tried out The Basement, which is an escape room that is acclaimed for having very high set quality. We really appreciated the design and the way they integrated all the puzzles into the theme (no combination locks there!). We ran into a few practical issues due to the immersive themeing, though. The first was that they used smoke effects in a small space, and with my respiratory issues and Jacob’s asthma, we were severely hindered by it. I wasn’t sure what their rules were regarding leaving the room for a moment and coming back (they didn’t have the usual rules/safety spiel that most places do, opting instead for a themed intro video), and in hindsight, I should have used the release to let us get some fresh air, but instead we just persevered (and suffered for it). The other problem for me was that the sound effects, while immersive, were much too loud. So loud in fact, I couldn’t hear the hints over them. They were kind enough to eventually momentarily cut the sound to play the hints so we could hear. We did a room that’s supposed to be 2-8 people with just 2, and that made it quite difficult as well (one aspect in particular would make me inclined to say there should be a 3 person minimum). Nevertheless, we did appreciate their design quality and would be interested in going back some time to do another room with a larger group.

After the escape room, we had brunch at Crossroads Kitchen. I’m really hoping their dinner offerings are better, because brunch was quite disappointing. The kale salad was great–finely chopped kale with a tasty dressing. However, our entrees were mediocre-to-bad. Jacob’s chick’n sandwich was fine, but not any better than the ones he whips up as a snack from frozen Boca patties. My mushroom crepe was a disaster. I should have got a pic of in unfolded because there was only filling for about 1/2 the width of the crepe, and it was mostly a few pearl onions and maybe 2 pieces of mushroom. The sauce had an odd sour flavor to it. Overall, terribly executed.

 

For dessert, we went to Sakuraya mochi in Gardena for some authentic red bean mochi, and it was fantastic!

Next stop was some serious nerding out in Torrance, stopping by the high school and the house used for establishing shots in the Buffy TV show. We were true Hollywood tourists for a moment. It’s cool that you can totally recognize the buildings even though they are situated differently than they appear in the show.

 

After that, we headed to Redondo Beach Pier for some wildlife watching. I really enjoyed Redondo; it was a relatively quiet and accessible beach (free parking the day we went!). We heard some sea lions and saw lots of birds. We walked along the shore and up to Veterans Park (basically just some trees and benches) and saw a lovely sunset.

Dinner was at our favorite restaurant, Shojin. I love the atmosphere there and their sushi rolls are so good. We got an orange chick’n appetizer, that was nice, but not spectacular, and a pumpkin soup that was really nice. We got our usual appetizer of the stuffed shitake mushrooms, which was fantastic as always. For rolls we got the crab cake hand rolls (new favorite!!) and two baked scallops. The apple crumble for dessert was okay, but I much prefer their cakes at Pomegranate (need to remember to stick to desserts and Pomegranate and skip them at Shojin). I also found my new favorite tea, the Choco Latte Rooibos from American Tea Room.

 

 

 

Day 4 – Sunday, December 10th
I decided to try for the Griffith Observatory again today, and I’m so glad I did! We got there at about 9:50 for the 10am opening, and there were parking spots available at the Observatory! They had lots of fantastic exhibits and the location and building are stunning. We watched the movie in the Nimoy Theater about the addition to the building, saw the Tesla coil, and did lots of exhibits.

 

Lunch was at By Chloe, where we feasted on our favorites: meatball subs, kale Caesar salad, spinach dip, and pesto pasta. I really wish Chloe Coscarelli would open a new restaurant in Orlando! I love her recipes!

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Then we picked up more Ramen Hood to-go for dinner and headed to the Grand Californian. They had recently renovated the rooms, and I love the new design! The orange grove and Chip and Dale theme is really cute and the new bathroom design is very modern. We got lucky with a DVC-side first floor room again (I love the convenience of the first floor and the partial view of the excitement of Paradise Pier from that side of the hotel).

 

This was the first time that we’ve been that the pool wasn’t closed, it wasn’t raining, or wasn’t freezing–even though it was a little chilly by the time we got there in the late afternoon. We rode the waterslide once, and as soon as I hit the frigid water, I hopped out, and went back to the room to change! Then we spent the rest of the evening lounging around the pool area in the plush recliners. So luxurious!

 

We watched World of Color from the terrace of the GCH, which is one of the nicest perks of the hotel (in addition to being right next to the parks and of course the lovely ambiance). The terrace is directly above our room (seen below in the pic).

 

Day 5 – Monday, December 11th
We tried a lot of new things with our park days this visit. First of all, we went to the park that didn’t have extra magic hours (mainly because we wanted to see Mickey and the Magical Map, which was only playing on Monday (not Tues or Wed). So, we started at Disneyland. It was actually a bit less crowded than when there are EMH, and we got to sleep in an extra hour. Win-win. We rope-dropped Peter Pan, but it was still insanely busy. It was nice to finally see the differences in the West Coast version! We saw all our favorite shows and did our favorite rides.

Another change this time was the new MaxPass, which lets you book your Fastpass from your phone instead of physically going to the kiosk. It also includes PhotoPass photos, but that’s not as good of a value as it would be at WDW where they have significantly more PhotoPass opportunities. The MaxPass was great and convenient, but really not necessary, so I wouldn’t do it if I were on a strict budget, or if they raise the price. The great thing was we were able to book a Radiator Springs Racers FP while we were still in DL and then do it on the way out of the park. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out quite as planned, as the line happened to extend out into the street, so we skipped it (but we were able to make another from the room for later that night). We also got physical FastPasses for World of Color, where we watched from the far left side on the tier closest to the water. When we got there, all the great spots were taken, but we were happy with the off-center view from that less crowded spot.

 

There weren’t as many great vegan options in the park this year as we’d seen in the past. The gumbo’s recipe changed and it wasn’t as good. The beans and rice I’d always enjoyed from Rancho de Zocalo weren’t as good. Lucky Fortune Cookery now only has 1 vegan option, a Thai curry, and I wasn’t in the mood for spicy. The chocolate dipped sorbet is still just as good though!

Day 5 – Tuesday, December 12th
Another big change this time is that we didn’t do back-to-back park days. This was a great change! We spent the day exploring lounges and terraces of the hotel we’d never been to before and rested up from our previous adventures. The gingerbread house of the year had the adorable Chip n Dale theme, and was really cute!

 

We drove out to Los Angeles for lunch again at Pomegranate. Definitely don’t wait until noon to leave Anaheim because you’ll end up encountering rush hour (that starts around 3pm) on the way back. Next time, we’ll leave by 10 or 11 AM to be back before rush hour. I got the lobster roll this time, and it was amazing. The crab cake sandwich was just as good as before too.

 

I wasn’t sure what the “cold case” and “hot case” items were, so here’s a pic as an example (although, they’ll change daily/seasonally). Some of the cold case items are really large and a great value as your “side.” We got a 4-hot-item combo to-go. We got turnip gratin, eggplant lasagna, crispy polenta, and roasted rosemary roots. The roots were the best by far.

 

For dinner, we got takeout from the local Loving Hut. I got a veggie lo mien that was okay.

Day 6 – Wednesday, December 13th
Second park day! We started at DL again, and rode Holiday Haunted Mansion as many times in a row as we possibly could. I’ve found the best strategy for DL is to go first thing in the morning, and then by about noon, head out, because the crowds are absolutely unbearable. Then spend the rest of the day lounging around the resort. Go back at night for the nighttime shows if you can bear the crowds, or if you manage to get a FastPass or two (but beware, the nights are crazy packed).

We got takeout from Thuyen Vien for dinner. It was okay, but I didn’t love it.

We watched World of Color from the bridge going toward Ariel’s Grotto and Paradise Pier. While it’s quite off-center, I really enjoyed the seclusion and quietness of the bridge. I think I’d stick to this spot in the future to avoid the crowds.

Day 7 – Thursday, December 14th
This was our first time doing an evening flight home, and it was great being able to leisurely check out and see some more sights before heading home. After leaving Anaheim, we had lunch again at Stuff I Eat. This time, we changed up our orders and found new favorites! I got the Enchilada Pie (mild, no salsa), and Jacob got the veggie burger, plus, of course, a side of mac n cheese. Have I mentioned how much I love this restaurant?

 

After lunch, we toured the Getty Museum, which had lovely grounds and lots of wonderful fine art. My favorite exhibit was a European decorative arts display that was basically a history through furniture, and was absolutely fabulous. We enjoyed the museum, and I’d like to visit their other location, the Getty Villa next time I’m in Los Angeles.

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We had our traditional farewell to California dinner at Shojin. This time, there was a special appetizer of matsutake mushrooms that we tried, in addition to our usual baked scallop roll. We also tried the purple treasure, which was very good, and of course the new favorite crab cake hand rolls.

The flight back was a JetBlue 320 again, which was really pleasant.

California Grill May 11, 2017

TLDR: Fireworks view is the best outside of Magic Kingdom. Food and service are good, but not the best on property.

FOOD
California Grill has a brand-new vegan menu. I specifically asked about the curry we had last time, and that was still on the online menu when I booked, but it is completely gone now. The only vegan option now is the “unplugged,” but now you get to pick your 4 items instead of the chef surprising you. I like the change of getting to pick your items, because last time I got the unplugged, I was not happy with 2 of the selections, and would not have picked them if I’d been given a choice. What I don’t like about the change is that our options of appetizer and salad are gone, and essentially rolled into the “unplugged,” which means vegans can only get an entrée, which means that the bills for vegan tables are going to be significantly less than non-vegans, which I think leads to the servers dreading vegan tables instead of welcoming us like any other guest.

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We got to try 6 of the 6-8 vegan dishes in our 2 “unplugged” dinners. Six of the selections are marked vegan. Two additional looked vegan to me, and looked very good, so I asked what made them not vegan. The server asked the chef and reported that they’re not marked vegan because of potential cross contamination, but they could make them vegan for us upon request. I’m glad we asked, because one ended up being my favorite. We tried the Crispy Tofu Steak (requested vegan), Carrot Ginger Puree (requested vegan), Vegan Fried Rice, Vegan Beet Salad, Vegan Black Truffle Selezione Pasta, and Vegan Bahn Mi Flatbread.

Of the dishes, the ones I’d definitely order again are the Carrot Ginger Puree and Crispy Tofu Steak. The ginger flavor of the Carrot Puree was subtle and complemented the carrots well, and the root vegetables served with it were roasted to perfection. The tofu steak had a nice flavor and mix of ingredients.

The Fried Rice was good; it tasted *exactly* like my fried rice at home. While I am a very experienced cook, I expect something a little more exotic at a fine dining restaurant. The Black Truffle Selezione Pasta was good, but the truffle oil was a bit overpowering to the other flavors, and I had a hard time finishing it because of that. The rice and pasta were comparatively large portions, and made for a very filling meal.

The beet salad was mostly beets, and very good if you like beets. We shared the one portion and it was enough (I couldn’t quite eat that many beets by myself!). The Flatbread was essentially a couple crackers with a tiny bit of the listed toppings—not impressive flavor- or presentation-wise.

One complaint I have with the food is *everything* was garnished with cilantro. A garnish is supposed to complement the food not just in appearance but in taste, and cilantro just didn’t make sense with every dish. But I was able to remove it easily enough.

Dessert options were fruit or an allergy-friendly chocolate-coffee torte that “would take 20 minutes to defrost.” We’d actually had the chocolate cake before (we took it to go while it was still frozen and ate it at our hotel later that night after it thawed). We chose not to wait for it/take it to go this time. I wasn’t crazy about it before because I don’t like coffee, but it’s a good option for coffee-chocolate lovers, if you don’t mind the wait (maybe tell your server at the beginning of your meal if you intend to have it, and that way they can defrost it while you eat your dinner). It’s kind of odd to have a frozen dessert (instead of freshly prepared) at a fine dining restaurant, but since it’s a special allergy-friendly dessert, it kind of makes sense.

SERVICE
I’ve been to California Grill twice now, and both times, I’ve been less than impressed by the service. Our server this time was very nice, at least, but we still went without drinks for very long periods of time, and our experience wasn’t as smooth as I would expect from a premiere restaurant.

AMBIANCE/VIEW
You can’t beat being at the “top of the world.” The view from inside the restaurant before the sun goes down is breathtaking, and the fireworks view is unbeatable outside of Magic Kingdom. Since it’s one of the more expensive restaurants on property, and secluded from other parts of the resort by being on the top floor, the atmosphere feels a little less “resort casual” and a little more formal, which makes an occasion feel that much more special.

There are two terraces for viewing the fireworks, and they are both lined with speakers. The music is piped in, and it’s LOUD—you don’t have to worry about not hearing like at some other locations. Even if people around you are talking, the music drowns them out. You have a birds-eye view of all the fireworks and can relax and enjoy the entire show. Even outside of fireworks times, the view is spectacular. It’s worth spending a little time after your meal just enjoying the terrace.

I can’t emphasize how fantastic the view is. We ate here on the final night of Wishes, and it was the perfect send off to my favorite show.

SUMMARY
While the food was good yet underwhelming, the view and ambiance would persuade me to come back again. If you’re considering going, I’d suggest trying it at least once, especially for a special occasion. Expect to be impressed by the view, and merely satisfied by the food.

California January 2017 Yosemite and Disneyland

12 Days in California December 2016-January 2017

Day 1 Wednesday, December 28th, 2016: Flight from MCO to LAX

Airports were exceptionally busy from holiday travels, but the Delta flight was surprisingly pleasant. The line for bag check was wrapped around and through the terminal, but fortunately we got to use the Sky Priority line for business class, which was significantly shorter. I was amused when I asked someone tending the line if it was the correct line for business class and she kept thinking I was confused and couldn’t possibly have a business class ticket. Granted, the other passengers in the Sky Priority line weren’t wearing their Hogwarts pajamas, like I was.

I was thoroughly impressed with the service and incredible vegan breakfast option on the business class flight. I had requested the Vegetarian (Vegan) VGML meal through Delta’s website when booking. As the attendants were taking orders, I heard them asking other guests if they wanted an omelette or oatmeal, so I assumed we’d be getting oatmeal for breakfast. We didn’t place an order; the attendant just confirmed with us that we’d requested the vegan meal and moved on. I was completely surprised when they delivered our gorgeous plates of tofu scramble with spinach, roasted potatoes and asparagus, a bagel with jam, and a bowl of fruit. It was one of the best tofu scrambles I’ve ever had, and I can’t believe it was on an airplane! It had a great flavor of turmeric with a hint of cinnamon, and the spinach was well cooked and made for a very healthy meal. The potatoes were creamy and rich with a hint of garlic.

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In addition to the meal, the in-flight entertainment was great (lots of new movies–we watched Captain America: Civil War, which I enjoyed), and the service was very attentive. If I fly Delta again, I will definitely book business class.

We hailed an Uber from the rideshare pickup platform on the 2nd floor of LAX. Traffic is so bad in LA that our ride from the airport to the Enterprise car rental was nearly 40 minutes. The rental car wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we walked to Grand Central Market for lunch at Ramen Hood. Along the way, we got to sight-see in the downtown area. I particularly liked the library, which was in a gorgeous historic building.

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Ramen Hood was delicious as always, but was incredibly busy. The whole market was packed, and Ramen Hood’s bar was full. We opted to wait for seats at the bar, which took and while and resulted with us on the end, which was very uncomfortable with people constantly bumping into us. I’d love to see them move to a different, larger location; they seem busy enough to be able to!

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After getting our car, we checked in to the Westin Pasadena. Pasadena is a great location for me; close enough to LA, but with a more suburban feel… and close to Donut Friend! The hotel is modern, stylish, and has great views. Our room was on the 12th (top) floor with a view of a historic church across the street and mountains in the distance. The room was smell-free (MCS approved), which is my first priority in a hotel. As far as mattresses go, though, I was let down by the Westin Heavenly Bed. It’s a pillowtop, but is much too firm for my taste (a pillowtop over a cement slab is kind of a waste of a pillowtop). I managed okay with my “pillow fort”™. The showerhead was also disappointing, as I don’t like the wider, rain-type showerheads. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant stay.

Dinner was at Shojin, which was impressive as always. We got shangri-la hot tea, stuffed shiitake mushrooms appetizer, kiss of the spider woman, crunchy tiger, and baked scallop rolls, and tempura banana chocolate mousse with creme brule for dessert. The crunchy tiger is a new favorite for me (after the baked scallop, of course), but the kiss of the spider woman was a little too acidic from the yuzu chia for my taste.

Notes for future planning:
An Uber from LAX to downtown is about $35.
Ramen Hood is too busy until late lunch.
Pasadena is a fantastic location from downtown, but the Westin’s bed and shower leave something to be desired.
The Enterprise at 445 Figueroa is conveniently walkable to Grand Central Market. First car was a very smelly Hyundai, but they kindly swapped it on our second day to a scentless Chevy Spark that I really enjoyed driving.

Day 2 December 29: Marine Mammal Care Center and Hollywood

Our first stop was back in LA for mochi. Fugetsudo doesn’t have as many of the non-traditional sweet mochi as kogetsudo does, but I enjoyed my red bean mochis nonetheless.

We visited the Marine Mammal Care Center, home to pinnipeds in need of medical or rehabilitaory care. There were several seal lions and a few elephant seals. Some yearling sea lions were just about ready to be released back into the wild. We talked with the volunteers there and learned about the animals and the work the Center does. I took a harbor seal home with me (a plush one, of course!), along with t-shirts and postcards. The views from the hilltop center of the Pacific Ocean were impressive. We saw lots of cranes and cargo ships at the harbor.

After MMCC, we went to Stuff I Eat for lunch. It reminded me a lot of our Dandelion Café back home, but with Soul Food cuisine instead. Everything was made from scratch and was so fresh and healthy. I had the Sumthin Sumthin, which is a somewhat southwest-inspired bowl that is full of flavor. Jacob got the Soul Food Platter. Everything on the platter was delicious, particularly the mac n cheese, potato salad, and tofu (but especially the mac n cheese!). We also got a biscuit and gravy, which was okay, but I think it may have been gluten-free, and I prefer my biscuits with gluten. Jacob liked it though.

Next stop was Griffith Park, which is a huge, mountainous park in LA. We only did a little hiking because it got dark pretty early (around 6 or so). The views of the city from the mountain are spectacular. We saw the Observatory from a distance, which is also a great view from the park.

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Since we were kind of near Hollywood, we stopped by the Disney Studio Store Hollywood. We got lucky and they’d recently had a pin flip, and the new PTD was an adorable Lilo pin, so we get a berry sorbet and the Lilo PTD. There were lots of character performers outside like always. We saw Batman hanging out with the Joker, and a Wolverine who resembled Hugh Jackman with an uncanny likeness.

We were still a bit full from lunch and the sorbet and were ready to head back to the hotel, so we decided to get to-go from Little Pine and eat it later at the hotel. The Mushroom Bouginon was spectacular. Every element of the dish was delicious and paired well with every other. The tangy sour cream perfectly complemented the rich sauce and creamy potatoes. The Mushroom Crostini was also excellent. The fresh basil flavor and tasty maitake mushrooms were wonderful. They had a new mushroom ravioli dish that was very good, but not as good as the other 2. The truffle and garlic flavors were a little overwhelming in the sauce and could have used a little more acid to cut through them. The spinach filling and pasta itself were excellent, though.

Day 3, Friday, December 30: Los Angeles to Bakersfield

We decided to try public transportation for the long trip from Los Angeles to Yosemite to spare ourselves from the drive. It turned out to not be better than driving. The Greyhound bus was a disaster and the train was overly crowded from Fresno to Bakersfield (Bakersfield to Fresno was okay though).

We started the day at Pomegranate to get desserts, but unfortunately, I can’t review them, because the bottom of the to-go bag gave out and they splattered on the ground. 😦

However, lunch at By Chloe was fantastic. I had high expectations and they were met. We got the Spinach Artichoke Dip, Mac n Cheese, Meatball Sub, and Kale Caesar. The artichoke dip was incredible. Thick, full of delicious artichokes, and a perfect sauce with a tiny bit of heat. Every component of the meatball sub was perfect and pairs well together. The meatballs were full of flavor and the 3 sauces were excellent. The Caesar had a great dressing and was full of fresh, healthy veggies. I’ve made Chloe’s recipe for mac n cheese before at home, and this one was similar. Nice and mild with a subtle cheesy flavor.

After lunch, we returned the car and began our journey up to Yosemite. The first leg was to Bakersfield on a bus. Note to self: Never ride on a Greyhound again. I won’t go into details, but it was terrible. Hopefully the train the rest of the way up will be much more pleasant.

The Bakersfield Hilton Garden Inn was fantastic. On the 4th floor, they had the Garden Sleep System and fantastic shower pressure/temperature. We did laundry and used the business center.

Dinner was at Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar, which was a good option, as before. I was still pretty full from lunch, so I just shared bites of the ramen bowl and had vegetable gyoza.

Day 4, Saturday, December 31: Bakersfield to Yosemite

The train ride from Bakersfield to Merced was okay. It’s better than flying coach but not as nice as a train with cabins would be. I think driving to Mariposa for the YARTS is probably still the best option.

We had a nice, long layover between the train and the YARTS, so we walked through Merced and ate at J&R Tacos. We were in a residential neighborhood and the houses were all super cute. The vegan options at J&R were plentiful, but on the bland side and lacking variety. However, it was great to have a very filling meal for lunch.

The YARTS ride up to Yosemite was pleasant. The bus wasn’t very full, and we got to move around for great views (starting at the front, then moving to sides for view of the Merced river).

We checked in to a fantastic room at the Yosemite Valley Lodge (Maple 3521). It had a private balcony and views out to the mountains and trees. It also had a heater, which our previous room didn’t. The corridors were internal, so they got noisier than the previous building we’d stayed in (Willow). The beds are all very hard, but options are slim inside the park, and it’s worth it for the convenience. No smells in the rooms and plenty hot, running water, so we make do.

The hotel was hosting a free family-friendly New Year’s Eve party where they had cute games and prizes and snacks like chips. It was a really well done event and we enjoyed playing the games. We won a raccoon, mountain lion, and a snowman clay set. They also had an adults-only party starting at 9pm, but we were long in our room by then.

We ate at the food court for dinner. We only needed a light snack since our lunch was so filling. I got a plain salad from the cooler with Newman’s Own dressing and we shared the vegetarian soup of the day was vegan black bean and corn. Before bed, we had hot tea out on the balcony. It was so nice to be away from the city, and today we finally felt like we were on vacation.

Day 5, Sunday, January 1: Touring Yosemite

All the tours we went on were absolute highlights of the trip. We were on the 10am Valley Floor Tour; their first tour of 2017. The tour was very informative and takes you to sites that are unreachable without a car, like Tunnel View, which was spectacular. After that tour, we went to the Majestic Hotel Tour, which was also fantastic. We learned a lot about the construction and history of the hotel.

Lunch between the tours was again at the food court. This time, there were no vegan options at any of the stations (besides French fries that we quickly scarfed down). It was difficult, but we eventually got someone to come out and they made us pasta and marinara and veggies. It was decent. A good amount of veggies and carbs to get us through the day.

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We watched both movies at the Visitor Center. The :00 one was a bit more like a traditional documentary, talking about the origin of National Parks, and the 2nd had beautiful footage of the park.

That evening, we went on the Night Prowl tour. Another fabulous tour. It was a walk in the dark without artificial lights, with the narration focusing on wayfinding. I particularly liked the solo walk portion. Being in the beautiful, expansive park at night without artificial light was such a unique experience. It was a bit overcast to see too many stars, but we did see a few. The guide (same one as for the Hotel tour) was informative and fantastic.

Day 6, Monday, January 2: Touring Yosemite

Today, we walked to Mirror Lake. The path was covered in ice, which made for a long, treacherous walk. The stream along the way, and the lake were beautiful, though.

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Lunch at the food court was our best yet. The vegetarian soup of the day was Chickpea and Tomato, and it was delicious and filling. I wanted orange juice, so we went to the Village Store and found it. They also have fresh vegetables, fruit, and lots of non-perishable food items there.

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We had dinner at the Majestic Hotel dining room, and it was very good. The chef was able to modify the vegetarian option of a stuffed acorn squash with lentils, wild rice, and broccolini to be vegan (I’m not sure what mod they needed to make; I assume butter in something). It had a great variety of texture and flavor and nice presentation.

After dinner, we recreated our Night Prowl from the previous night. This time, there weren’t many clouds in the sky, so we got a great view of the stars! So many stars! It was lovely standing surrounded by trees looking up at the full, bright sky of stars.

Day 7, Tuesday, January 3: Snowy morning and back to Bakersfield

We woke up extra early to lots of snow falling in front of our window. We headed out right at dawn for a final stroll through the park. It was snowing the hardest I’ve seen yet, and I had a blast running around in the snow up and down trails and catching snowflakes (and generally being covered in it from so much falling). We walked out to Yosemite Falls and around to the meadow that views Half Dome. There was hardly anyone around, and it was peaceful and exhilarating at the same time.

We took the first YARTS out of the park to our train station. We were supposed to have a half hour layover, but the bus was running behind, so we made it with just about 10 minutes to spare. Not having much of a layover made the back-to-back bus and train rides a bit tougher than on the way up. We didn’t eat before leaving the park, so waiting until our arrival in the evening was tiring (in addition to having gotten up at 5:30am for packing and snow play). We were excited to get back to the comfy Hilton Garden Inn and to have a big meal.

Timing: Check out 8:45, on internal bus 9:00, arrive at YARTS stop in Half Dome Village 9:26, YARTS arrive 9:30, YARTS at Amtrak 12:41, train depart 12:51.

Day 8, Wednesday, January 4: Bakersfield to Anaheim

We woke up in Bakersfield and had already decided we weren’t getting on that bus again, so we got a Lyft to the Enterprise airport location and rented a car that we’d take down to Los Angeles. We got a Ford Focus that was odor-free. We took CA-14 instead of I-5, so it was a little better, but it’s still a rough drive with all the mountains. We stopped at Get Fresh Cafe in Lancaster along the way for a break. It was a decent option along the road. I really liked the pasta salad that came with the sandwiches.

When we finally went got back down to Los Angeles, we first stopped at Donut Friend, and then made our way south to Stuff I Eat. Yum! I got my usual Sumthin Sumthin and Jacob his Soul Food Platter.

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We returned the surprise Enterprise rental and picked up our reservation from MCar. It was much smellier than the first time we rented from them and very offputting (we tried 2 cars, and the 2nd was better, but still bad).

The Grand Californian welcomed us “home” and we were surprised with our first time in the ground-floor partial-theme-park-view room! Complete with hidden Mickeys. 🙂

 

Day 9, Thursday, January 5th: Disneyland and California Adventure

It was a bit cold and rainy the first day, so the camera didn’t come out much. We got to see Frozen at the Hyperion, the Paint the Night Parade, and the holiday World of Color: Season of Light, which is one of my favorite versions along with Celebrate. Plus lots of Haunted Mansion Holiday, along with meeting Jack and Sally.

Day 10,Friday, January 6th: Disneyland and California Adventure

Jacob had been sniffly since the beginning of Yosemite, but by this day, I had caught full blown flu and couldn’t get out of the hotel bed. Fortunately, the beds are very comfortable at the Grand! We managed to get out and try Tana Ethiopian nearby in Anaheim. It was good (Ethiopian can’t be bad!), but no Nile.

Day 11, Saturday, January 7th:

We checked out of the GCH today and went to Universal. I was still very weak, so we got a wheelchair and Jacob pushed me around the park. We got to ride the Studio Tour, which was really cool seeing sets and the nostalgia of Jaws still existing on that tour.

Day 12, Sunday, January 8th:

We checked out early, returned our car, and got back to LAX for our flight. We flew on Virgin’s premium economy offering that was very comfortable. The first (bulkhead) row had enough legroom to stand and get out of the row, and the seats were comfortable (for airplane seats).

Vegan IllumiNations Dessert Party at Bonsai Terrace

I hosted an all-vegan Illuminations dessert party at Epcot in December of 2015. It was an incredible experience, and worth every penny. Watching Illuminations from a private location while snacking on custom vegan desserts is a fantastic way to celebrate any occasion, and I highly recommend it.

Synopsis

There were a few hiccups during the planning process (my assigned event manager wasn’t the best communicator), but the event night couldn’t have gone better. We had a scare early on when they thought they didn’t have the plate for my gluten-free guest, but shortly after one cast member told me they didn’t know what I was talking about, another came out with her plate. So I’m not really sure where the miscommunication came in, but it was resolved quickly.

A chef even visited us (I’m not sure if they visit every group, or if it was because ours was all-vegan, *or* because we had a GF person with additional intolerances whose meal was momentarily lost). The chef was fantastic and told us how he made everything earlier that night and what was in it (everything was sweetened with agave, for instance). We asked him for the recipe of one item, which he said he’d send to my event coordinator (but I never got it 😦 ).

I designed my own menu, but you can also leave things up to them if you choose. I had a few things in mind that I really wanted. I requested a re-creation of the blood orange cupcakes from Terra at F&W 2014 (it’s different from their normal vegan cake and icing that I don’t care for; it has a tofu icing that is super smooth and creamy), a cherry cobbler with whipped cream, a chocolate eclair (so they made chocolate eclair jars), and the last item was a lemon berry trifle jar. The original menu offered also included a chocolate bundt cake, but I removed it figuring that the 4 desserts would be enough, and the chocolate bundt would be redundant with the chocolate cupcake, which was the right call, because there was more than enough! But a bundt should be an option as well.

My GF guest had a special alternative of berry cake jars, spice cake jars, and a packaged allergy-free brownie. She liked the berry cake jars best, while I preferred the spice cake ones (she had me try bites of hers. :D). I could definitely tell a difference between her cake texture and ours, and while it tasted good, our gluten texture was better. She’s been GF a long time, so she doesn’t have a comparison to gluten cake anymore, and she thought they were fantastic.

I also really wanted a Mickey incorporated somehow, so I requested a “hidden Mickey.” When I first looked at the dessert table, I thought they’d forgotten my Mickey request (no big deal). But then I unscrewed one of the jars to take a picture and there was the cutest screen printed Mickey head on the top of the dessert! He was hidden! That made my night.

There were so many desserts, we couldn’t finish them all! I was expecting one of each item per person, but it was more than that. It was pretty much all you could eat… and then some. Even for our GF person; the server there brought her out extra jars of her special top-8 free desserts. The jars came in handy, since we were able to screw on the lids and take the leftovers home. :p

Personally, I found all the desserts but the cupcake to be much too sweet for my liking. Everyone else enjoyed them (they agreed they were really sweet and even our boys who can demolish an entire Chef TJ meal weren’t able to finish them–I think because of sugar overload).

Presentation wise, as you can see from the pics, the jars aren’t as spectacular looking as the cobblers and cupcakes, but they are very convenient for taking home! Everyone had different favorites. Mine was definitely the cupcake. I prefer a tart cherry pie to a sweet one, so I didn’t care for the cobbler, but others loved it. Both of the jar desserts were very good, but there was a lot of icing that again was very sweet so I enjoyed them but could only eat a couple bites (but again, the jars were favorites of some other guests). If I were to do one of these again, or if I had advice for someone who’s doing one, I’d request that they go a little easier on the sweetening. I think we all could have eaten more of them if they’d been a little less sugary. Although, I don’t think it’d be possible to finish, regardless. There were so many! Because of that, I’d also go with fewer than the 4 options for the group. I’d probably go with just 3 different desserts (which would cost a little bit less, too!).

Food Pictures

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Planning Process

The first step is to reach out to Disney Catered Events. From there, you’ll be contacted by a Conversion Services Manager, who will get details about your event from you (number of people, dates, location, etc.). After those initial details are settled, you’ll sign a catering agreement and give them a deposit (mine was $250, but that may change based on the size of the venue).

Next, you’re assigned an event manager who will work with you from that point on to plan your menu and coordinate the event. I explained our dietary restrictions to the event manager (all vegan and one person vegan + gluten free), and I made suggestions of menu items I wanted, as mentioned above. We discussed several menu options and their pricing.

Once you decide on a menu, you’re sent the BEO (Banquet Event Order), which lists your menu, per person cost, times and decor for the event, the number of people who need park admission, etc.–basically all of your party’s details. Make sure to review it carefully and be certain it lists everything exactly as you want it! Feel free to make changes if necessary before signing–this is your event contract. Along with the BEO, you’re also sent the “estimated” final bill (estimated, in case you add anything else on later), and you pay the remaining balance (less your deposit) when you sign and return the BEO.

After that, your event is finalized, but you can still contact your event manager if anything else comes up before the event.

Venues

There are two main costs associated with the dessert parties–the venue rental fee and the food cost (with minimum food and beverage expenditures specific to each venue). The venue rental fees are static, but the food cost varies based on your menu selections. You can go as low (as long as you meet the minimum) or as high as you like. For a menu similar to mine with the 4 desserts listed above, plus coffee and teas, you can expect $30-$40 per person (obviously, prices can change and will likely go up over time).

There are venues for dessert parties all around the World Showcase at EPCOT. Their capacities range from 10 to 150 people. If you have a small group, there are two venues that hold a maximum of 10 people: Bonsai Terrace in Japan and UK Pubside in England. Because of their smaller maximum capacity, they have the lowest venue costs and food and beverage minimums. They also happen to be two incredibly unique venues with spectacular views. Other small party venues I was offered were Vikings Landing in Norway and Parisian Point in France (both of which hold up to 20 people), and Kazbah Point in Morocco. Of those, my favorite is Parisian Point, followed by Kazbah Point. From there, the sizes (and prices) go up. Germany, Italy, and France have popular large party venues.

Fireworks View from Bonsai Terrace

The Illuminations globe is docked just to the right of the view from the Terrace. So, when the globe comes out, it’s right in front of you, which is really cool. Another fun thing about the Terrace is that it’s elevated. We were able to see the Magic Kingdom fireworks going off in the distance, and when they set off all the flares on the water during Holiday Illuminations, you have a fantastic view of all of them from the raised platform at Terrace. The view from the majority of the Terrace is completely unobstructed (just dodge the couple trees, as you see in the pictures below).

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Concerns

I had a difficult time communicating with my event manager. Initially, he proposed an entirely gluten-free menu, and didn’t seem to understand that I wanted the whole menu to be vegan, but not gluten free (in fact, I wanted gluten/wheat for our cakes!). However, with persistence, my desire for gluten was eventually communicated. I had another surprise when he told me everything would be soy-free, but the cupcake I requested had a tofu icing when it was at Food and Wine Fest. So I reiterated that I wanted it to be like the one from F&W, and after a few more emails, he told me the chefs would recreate that recipe (with the tofu!).

There were a few other communication issues like that, so I was a bit worried prior to the event, but everything came out as expected on the day of the event. If you have difficulties with your event manager, just continue to politely explain your desires and everything should work out.

One piece of advice that’s common among large events that rely on a BEO is to make sure that everything you want is on the BEO, because if it’s not on there, you may not get it. So be sure to make sure your BEO is accurate.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience that I’ll definitely consider doing again for another special occasion.