Sara’s Snippets – June 18, 2014 – My Favorite Counter Service Locations

Greetings fellow Mouse Fans!

Returning to my series on making the most of your Disney Dining Plan, let's move on to Counter Service locations. There are so many great options for a quick meal at Walt Disney World and it is so much more than just burgers! Here are my favorites both for flavor and for value. 

Magic Kingdom

Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe – Located on the edge of Tomorrowland, this place has one of the best deals around in terms of getting the most bang for your Disney Dining buck. The Half Chicken and Half Rack of Ribs Combination Dinner with Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans is both an enormous portion AND delicious! There was more than enough food for my family of three last week in this one meal alone. (We were leaving room for dessert!) But even if you aren't trying to save space for more food later, this meal is plenty for two adults to split. Which frees up a counter service credit to use for another meal to split! Plus, this location offers a toppings bar featuring onions, mushrooms, cheese sauce and more, turning an ordinary burger and fries into a much more exciting meal. 


Katsura Grill – This tucked away spot in the Japan pavilion is one of the best kept secrets in Epcot. With a large menu including everything from Sushi to Teriyaki Salmon, the portions are big and the food is really good. A friend swears by the Chicken Curry but my favorite is the Tempura Shrimp Udon. Take your meal outside and dine under the lanterns while listening to the nearby waterfall for a perfect evening meal. 

 Animal Kingdom

Yak & Yeti Local Foods Cafe - I hear a lot of talk about Flame Tree Barbecue at Animal Kingdom and while it is a good option if you like Barbecue, I prefer Yak & Yeti Local Foods Cafe. (Not to be confused with Yak & Yeti Restaurant, the table service option.) Seating can be a bit of an issue at this location but if you are willing to cross traffic, there is seating by the river just across the way, where peace and quiet can be found.  I am big fan of the Beef Lo Mein or the Honey Chicken. 

Hollywood Studios

Backlot Express – Ok, I'll admit that I struggled to pick a favorite location at this park. Its just not my favorite for food! But when I am in this park around lunch time, I always go to the same place – Backlot Express. With plenty of seating indoors and outdoors, as well as a decent menu, this is inevitably our choice. I like the Angus Onion Straw Cheeseburger with Horseradish Sauce but the Buffalo Chicken Nuggets are tasty too! 

Tomorrow we finish it out with Table Service locations. 

Be well and make magic wherever you go!

Sara Varney
Travel Planner

Katsura Grill is located right behind this building in the Japan Pavilion. Photo courtesy of Disney®


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How I celebrated Father’s Day at Disney World (aka…Three Dads, a Cast Member and a Grateful Daughter)

You can’t pick your family, but somehow you end up where you belong. I heard that tonight on a tv promo for a movie and it really struck me as truth, especially after the day I had in reflection of what Father’s Day means to me and the men who have had a hand in shaping my life.

Many of you know part of my story… I was adopted as an infant and several years ago I was able to communicate with my birthfather & say thanks for the opportunity to live this crazy life. I hope to meet him someday in person and I always think of him on Father’s Day.

The man who I call my father adopted me when I was a few months old. His name was Richard, but he will always be my Daddy. I am his only child and in his eyes I was his little princess. Well, let’s be honest here… more like a Merida type princess who would be more the type to be out skinning her knee instead of a Cinderella type roaming the castle sewing clothes. OR WAIT! I’ll even take it to the Princess Leia…being a little opinionated, preferred pants over a dress, and was adopted too… it is the end of Star Wars Weekend so why not!  (we will take on the Disney Princess or not debate on at another time)… but I digress.

My Daddy served in the Pacific theater in WWII as a Navy recon photographer, returned to take over his father’s insurance business until he retired.  I’m still amazed he worked just one business his entire post war life.  I think I am now on career number 4.. or so.

I learned many of life’s lessons from him and he is responsible for my entrepreneurial spirit as well as for my love of travel and all things Disney. It first started with frequent drive trips where we would pack into a car and drive around a state each year and explore the history, culture and fun the state had to offer. Take Oregon for example… anyone been to a  ghost town, a Shakespearean festival, a vortex with a house of mystery, a beach, a Crater Lake, an amusement park and a zoo all in one trip?  That was a typical summer for me.

Then one year I received a gift from him that had 3 record albums (kids – those are what cds/MP3s/.wav files were in the olden days…) that had songs and a picture book of three Disneyland attractions… Haunted Mansion, Country Bears and I think It’s a Small World.  I wore the Haunted Mansion one out playing it over and over.  A few months later he took me to Disneyland for my 7th birthday.  We stayed at one of the hotels across the street space themed I think and I remember the hotel shuttle was decorated with a face on the front of it…  I have pics somewhere in boxes & I may have to dig them out someday and detail that trip. (ok.. ok… its on the list for another time…)

Anyway …

I lost my Daddy to Acute Myeloid Leukemia in 1994… 20 years ago this August. He was 70 at the time but he was always an 8 year old in his heart and mind when it came to enjoying life.  If he was here today he’d be racing me to whatever attraction we had for the first fastpass of the day. I always want to remember that childlike wonder and spirit and do my best to remember age is in the mind… and yes sometimes in my knees, but we can work around that if needed. 

When my husband took me to Walt Disney World for the 1st time in 1996, we discovered they were selling paving bricks that you could commemorate people, special occasions, vacations, etc. in a few words and they would be included in pathways in various spots around the Seven Seas Lagoon. I fell in love with Walt Disney World and decided this would be a perfect way to always remember where it all started and would be reminded of my Daddy on each trip to follow. So I purchased a brick and it was placed on the path between the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian.

Fast forward to Father’s Day 2014…
I decided to go find the brick I purchased 18 years ago. I knew I could get a map of the locations, but when I archived the brick numbers, I did a great job cause I couldn’t find them. I tried looking online to see if there was a lookup of any kind and even went down to the club concierge who said she knew nothing about the bricks except they stopped selling them years ago. Next,  I called my husband in Seattle and he lovingly searched archives, old boxes, every place we could possibly think of to help us get the numbers so I could find the brick. Nothing.  So…I set off in the heat of the day to see if I could get lucky and find it on my own.


I searched for almost 2 hours in the heat of June reading the stories brick by brick of the hundreds of family memories of weddings, anniversaries and family trips of people I didn’t know, yet felt the joy of each one representing a little piece of magic that makes up the big picture we enjoy today.  Anyone who knows me also knows I don’t last long in the heat. Apparently my body functions as a personal space heater at all times, so eventually I had to give up and just spent a few minutes thinking about my Daddy. The man he was, and thanking him for the gifts he gave me. Then I decided I would go to the Magic Kingdom and ride some of the rides we enjoyed together in Disneyland those many years ago.

On my walk to Grand Floridian to catch the monorail, I stopped to make a phone call to dad #3. My stepfather Rodger is my last remaining parent that had a positive influence in my life and makes me smile and laugh every time I get to talk with him. He is retired now but taught me the value of hard work and responsibility from a very early age. We share a love for football and wine and the simple pleasures of the company of great of friends. I treasure our relationship so much yet I don’t see him as much as I would like, so my Father’s day gift is a weekend in Seattle so we can catch up. I was hell on wheels for him thru my teenage years so the least I can do is buy him a beer now and then to try and make up for it all. THere is a story about the first time I took Rodger to Walt Disney World… Ill tell that one next year….

First stop upon arrival at the Magic Kingdom?  Haunted Mansion of course!  It was fun closing my eyes and catching memories of when my Daddy and I rode the attraction together and I couldn’t help wishing he was here to ask those burning questions… was I scared when I rode with him? If so what scared me most? What did I like about it? Did I fixate on the Ballroom scene then as much as I do now?.. etc.. etc.. etc..


When I exited the ride I saw looming dark clouds starting to head my way, so thought maybe I’d head back to the hotel to get some work done. As I passed the firehouse I thought… maybe it’s worth a stop at City Hall just to see if they have a resource I could call this week for brick numbers.

I walked in and was greeted by Marie from France. I had already had my mind ready for the bad news that my quest was likely futile, so told her right up front it was quite possible was I was looking for likely wasn’t possible, but was worth a try.  When I asked about the bricks and the maps, I received the look of “Im sorry but…”  and when she finished her sentence, I was about to say thanks and walk away. She could have said… have a magical day, but instead she looked at me and said…” let me see something…” and she disappeared behind the backstage door.  A few minutes later she emerged and said…  if you can give me a little info I may be able to look them up…”.  I think my heart skipped a beat but I still wasn’t going to get excited as the info she needed like the address I lived when I purchased it, was so long ago I wasn’t sure if it was enough to do any good. Marie went to a terminal and went to work.  Several minutes later she returned and said “I didn’t find one…  I found FIVE”

My eyes welled up in tears. Just as they are again as I write this. Not only did she find the number of the brick for my daddy, but she also went to the additional effort and found the other four my husband and I purchased over the years to commemorate other important moments at Disney World. Our Anniversary, a special trip or two with friends, and another I purchased to always remember my mom when I lost her 5 years after my dad in 1999.



I tried to say thank you… but my voice simply couldn’t make it thru the emotion. I was simply not expecting a miracle after a long day of searching and the additional effort Marie went to made true ‘Walt style Magic’ for a grateful daughter to celebrate Father’s Day in the best possible way given the circumstances. As she wrote down the brick numbers I made use of the tissues she handed me.

A few minutes later… the emotion turned to joy and I asked for a cast card to be sure she was recognized for her efforts.

Merci Beaucoup Marie.  
You are a shining example of what I have come to expect from Disney cast. You could have easily let me walk away and moved on with your day when you weren’t sure about the bricks, but you took the extra step and it meant the world to a daughter in search for a lost memory.

If a cast member ever goes the extra step for you that makes a difference in your visit… please stop by Guest Relations and ask for a cast recognition card. That extra effort should always be rewarded and maybe you will bring a tear to the eye of someone else.

And thank you Walt Disney – who I think of as a grandfather –  for creating a world where daddy’s and daughters from generations past and generations to come to create and share memories and remember beautiful memories as time passes.


So where is the brick?
Of course as things sometimes go, a huge thunderstorm and downpour began just as I boarded the monorail and has continued until it got dark…. So guess what im doing after my meetings tomorrow…

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Sara’s Snippets – June 12, 2014 – Port Orleans French Quarter

Greetings fellow Mouse Fans!

I am just back from a birthday trip to Walt Disney World. We stayed at my favorite moderate resort – Port Orleans French Quarter! I love this resort for so many reasons. 

French Quarter is the smallest of the moderate resorts, meaning that even the furthest rooms from the main building are still only a 5 minute walk. (Compared to Riverside which is more than double the size!) The resort has a very peaceful feel to it and is beautifully themed with wrought iron, fountains, gorgeous landscaping, and clever street names. ("Rue D'Baga" anyone?) 

The dragon-themed pool is a hit with kids and grown ups alike. And tucked away from the activity at the pool is a hot tub! 

Another reason to love this resort are the activties on offer. Every evening features outdoor movies and a campfire complete with toasted marshmellows. The pool has games and contests in the afternoon. And romantic carriage rides are available! 

Last but not least is the food. While French Quarter is also the only moderate resort without its own table service restaurant, it more than makes up for the lack with a great food court. The Sassagould Float Works food court features many offerings for breakfast lunch and dinner including pasta dishes, cajun dishes such as jambalaya, burgers, fried chicken and more. But most importantly – they make fresh beignets throughout the day! These little pillows of fried dough dusted in powedered sugar are to die for. 

I left only 24 hours ago but I am already counting the days until I can return to Port Orleans French Quarter!

Be well and make magic wherever you go!

Sara Varney
Travel Planner

My son enjoying his toasted marshmellows at French Quarter (Copyright Sara Varney©)

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Alaska….. story for the last day.

Alaska.  It looks like I have time for one more post underway.  I will make other posts when I return to "the office".  I just want to share one of my many great moments on my cruise.  

The other night my youngest daughter was exhausted so I took her back to the room with my mom while everyone else went to the evening show.  The goal was to get her in bed early for a good night of sleep and I planned to read a book.  While I was talking to my mom I glanced out our verandah window and saw a "whale tail" just dipping back into the water. So I did like anyone else would do and yelled WHALE….. while tripping over everything in our clean stateroom.  

When I got to the verandah with my mom and daughter what we saw I might never see again in all my life.  If I had to guess in the 20 min that passed I saw about 25 killer whales blowing from their spouts, waving their tails, and rolling on their sides.  Some were close and some were far.  I had attended the naturalist's briefing on whales so I knew that the Orcas would travel in large groups.  I was able to see some of the distictive white spots on the dark black to confirm what type they were.

I can't say how awesome and amazing and just "wow" this was.  This is one example of the great things that we saw and experienced this week.  What I loved about it is that it was completely spontaneous.  As we sail back to Vancouver I want to shout to everyone I know BOOK ALASKA!  It's time to go back to normal routine at home and after 9 nights away I think we are ready.  I can honestly say that I while I wanted to try Alaska I had no idea that I would want to do it again.  I will do it again.  I may do it many more times.  I just can't express how fantastic the adventure is in Alaska!

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Port Adventures

Alaska!  The port visits so far have been very good.  When I look at picking port visits I like to look for something I have not done before.  For this trip I also needed to find ones that everyone, all ages, would enjoy.

Yesterday we visited Skagway. For this visit we went on a catamaran to a nearby town called Haines.  From there we went  in 4X4 vehicles up the mountains.  Halfway up we stopped for fresh, hot cookies and hot chocolate.  On the way back down we had Halibut and smoked chicken.  I had a great time driving the 4X4 because I had never done this before.  The views were fantastic and the kids had fun zooming down the mountain.
In Juneau we went to the Mendenhall Glacier.  We had two hours at the Visitors center which was the perfect amount of time to go Nugget Falls (an hour walk round trip) as well as look at the center.  From the Visitors center we saw mountain goats and bald eagles in the viewing scopes.  We also saw bald eagles from the bus on the way to the glacier.  
My mom does not get around as well so she did not go in the 4X4.  This was a good decision because the ramps to and from the catamaran were steep and I would be difficult to manage.  The trip to the glacier was perfect for everyone.  My mom was able to hang out at the center while we did our hike.  
When I return I will go into more detail about both of these towns because we also had time to walk around the towns in addition to the port adventures.
You may want to do other adventures than what I have done but I hope that you will find adventures that are best for your family when you take on ALASKA!
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Endicott Arm

ALASKA!  Wow.  Yesterday was a fantastic day on the Disney Wonder.  The itinerary had us sailing into Tracy Arm to sight see as well as see the glacier there.  At around noon the Captain announced that due to safety reasons and the large amount of ice in the water he would not be able to make the attempt to go all of the way to the glacier.  So, he changed the itinerary and we were able to go into another area that usually restricts big ship traffic.


IT WAS AMAZING!  We went into Endicott Arm (yes there were jokes made by my husband that this should be Tracy’s foot).  This body of water is fed by Dawes Glacier.  There was ice in the water all along the Arm and seals were on the ice as well as swimming.  The mountains on the sides went up so high you had to be on the top decks to see the peaks.  We spent hours on the verandah while the top decks (especially forward) were very full.  The good news is that after 2-3 hours of standing the decks cleared and I headed up to the bow just in time to reach Dawes Glacier.  I would consider this a good tip.  When you reach the glacier is when you want to be outside.


I should mention that I was in the Navy and for two years was a “ship driver”.  I was amazed at the turn the Captain made in this narrow passage.  The best part was right as we were turning to leave……… a big ice chunk slid off the right side of the glacier and BOOM! Thunder.  It was one of the coolest things I have ever seen.  Behind the fallen ice was a color of blue that I have never seen.  The water the entire way up Endicott Arm was an aqua green.


On the way into and out of Endicott Arm we saw many whales on both sides of the ship.  WHAT A GREAT DAY!  I hope tomorrow I can tell  you about my adventures in Skagway and Juneau.  I hope that reading about my adventures helps you decide if you are ready for ALASKA!

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Sara’s Snippets – June 5, 2014 – My Favorite Snack Options

Greetings fellow Mouse Fans!

Ok, I promised you snacks and I am a woman of my word. (I got distracted by the new Tinker Bell meet and greet yesterday - because Tinker Bell!) Here are some of my favorite snack options as well as where to find them – best of all, they all count as one Snack Credit on the Disney Dining Plan!

All locations: Mickey Bar! I love this simple yet scrumptious vanilla ice cream, chocolate coated treat. Eat quickly as they melt!

Animal Kingdom:

Jalapeno Pretzel w/ Cheese Dip- Beastly Kiosk – Discovery Island (Pretzel is snack credit, cheese dip is $1 add'l)

Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich – Discovery Island Ice Cream

Hollywood Studios:

Frozen Coke – Peevy's Polar PipeLine – Echo Lake


Chocolate Macaron Sandwich – L'Artisan des Glaces  - France

Kakigori – Kabuki Cafe

Magic Kingdom:

Citrus Swirl – Sunshine Tree Terrace – Adventureland (No Dole Whips for me, thankyouverymuch)

Lemonade Slush – Cheshire Cafe – Fantasyland

Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich – Plaza Ice Cream Parlor – Main St USA


Tie-Dye Cheesecake – Pop Century

Beignets – POFQ – Snack Credit for 3 beignets only

Snack well and make magic wherever you go!

Sara Varney
Travel Planner

Never to cold for a Mickey Bar!





It's never to cold for a Mickey Bar! (Copyright Sara Varney)

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Sara’s Snippets – June 4, 2014 – Tinker Bell’s Magical Nook

Greetings fellow Mouse Fans!

I have a special place in my heart for a certain spunky pixie so I was very happy to hear that Tinker Bell has a new home in the Magic Kingdom. She is now welcoming guests for a character meet and greet in the Garden Theater, inside the Town Square Theater on Main Street U.S.A. 

Upon entering the Garden Theater, guests are magically shrunk down to pixie size and transported to Tinker Bell's Magical Nook. FastPass+ is now available for this character meet!

Be well and make magic wherever you go!

Sara Varney
Travel Planner



Photo Courtesy of Disney®

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Renting Bikes in Vancouver

Vancouver!  What a fantastic day and a half running around this melting pot of a city.  Today I want to tell you about just one of our adventures here.

Today after breakfast we left the hotel and took the bus (more on that later) to Stanley Park.  We got off the bus right at the end of the "city" before the park entrance.  On this street are TONS of bike rental stores.  We just went in one that we picked at random and asked them to set us up.  Within 10 minutes we were off on 5 bikes all different sizes with helmets and bike locks.  
The weather was perfect and we just followed the flow of bikers towards the path that goes all around the park.  The views were amazing with seaplanes taking off from the water, mountains sticking up from the background, forests on the inside of the island, and the beach off the sea wall.  
After we were just under half way around the park we cut to the inside to visit the Aquarium.  Here we were able to get a bite to eat for lunch.  We spent about two hours here looking at the whales, dolphins, otters and exhibits.
We finished our ride around the park and then headed back to the rental store to return the bikes.  The total cost of the bike rental was just $15 per person.  Not bad for a 5 hour adventure.  Due the the great weather and it being a Sunday we did find the path a bit crowded but we would do it again in a heartbeat.  When I return home I will give a more in depth report on Vancouver but I hope this is enough to get you thinking about what a great port you can sail out of if you decide to take on ALASKA!
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Sara’s Snippets – May 29, 2014 – Making the Most of the Dining Plan

Greetings fellow Mouse Fans!

With the popularity of the Dining Plan (especially with the Current Free Dining Offer for most stays 8/31 – 12/13/14), it seems like time to focus on food. How do you get the most value for your Dining Plan credits? What are some of the most delicious and filling options? This what I will be covering over the next few weeks. 

But first, an overview of the Dining Plan. Disney offers three Dining Plans – the Quick Service Dining Plan, the Disney Dining Plan, and the Deluxe Dining Plan. 

The Quick Service Dining Plan includes two quick service meals and one snack per person, per night. Guests on the Quick Service Dining Plan also receive one resort refillable mug per person. 

The Disney Dining Plan includes one table service meal, one quick service meal and one snack per person, per night. Guests on the Disney Dining Plan also receive one resort refillable mug per person. 

The Deluxe Dining Plan includes three meals (either quick service or table service) and two snacks per person, per night. Guests on the Deluxe Dining Plan also receive one resort refillable mug per person. 

The Disney Dining Plan is the most popular of the offerings, and is the plan I have in mind as I write these blogs. Your milage may vary. 

First up next week: Snacks!

Be well and make magic wherever you go!

Sara Varney
Travel Planner

Photo Courtesy of Disney®



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