Posts filed under ‘Kosher’

FastPass+ and My Kosher Experience

Photo Courtesy of Disney

So, there is a ton of hullabaloo around about the FastPass+/My Disney Experience/Magic Bands “situation” in Walt Disney World. Some positive. Some negative. I have to say that I have only used the My Disney Experience on the PC so far in preparation for my brief trip next month, but I haven’t used my Magic Band just yet.

There were some things that I thought would get me excited about the new system. I didn’t need a change when it came to attractions, but the idea of having a saved area for parades and nighttime spectaculars was intriguing. However, the idea of possibly FastPass+ing a counter service meal was what really perked me up.

First of all, in case you don’t know, there is one designated counter service location in each of the four parks that you can walk up to and ask for a kosher meal. In the Magic Kingdom, that would be Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café. In Epcot, it’s the Liberty Inn at American Adventure. Disney Hollywood Studios has the ABC Commissary, and Animal Kingdom has Pizzafari. There are a standard list of various kosher meals that they keep handy (frozen) for anyone who walks up and asks.

Now, if you have experience of getting this kosher meal at any of these locations like I do, you know the drill. You request the meals, the cast member explains the deal of the “sealed packages,” and then you wait. And wait. And keep waiting. People behind you keep getting their rapidly prepared fast food and slide by you wondering what you are waiting for. Around 10-20 minutes later, your food has arrived, and the last 30 people who were on line behind you have finished their lunches. I’m not really complaining, but the kosher Disney traveler should budget their time accordingly just in case they were expecting the fast food timing at a fast food location.

In comes FastPass+. Whoa, what if you could FastPass+ your kosher meal and just have it ready for you when you arrive? Amazing. That could save time for another ride or two, or a good jump on getting a spot at the parade. And no standing at the counter getting cramps in your ankles waiting. That would totally be worth my while.

Officially, the whole FastPass+/MDE/Magic Bands thing is still in the testing phase, but more experiences and tinkering have been becoming more available as the months go on. And we have the first possibility to book a counter service meal via FastPass+: the much desired Be Our Guest restaurant in Fantasyland.

I was very much looking forward to giving this a try to see if a special meal can be ordered by FP+, even though it is not at the usual kosher counter service site. After giving this a go through, I can tell you that at this point, one is unable to do so. I booked a FP+ lunch… just ordering a soft drink. I figured it would be good to get a look at the place and to see how the counter service FP+ system was working.

Hopefully, at some point in the future, we will be able to book a FastPass+ lunch for a kosher meal – at the usual kosher counter service sites or anywhere – and get a bit closer to the experience the rest of the Disney guests have…

…of course, we will still need to deal with all the double wrapping.


April 7, 2014 at 10:43 pm Leave a comment

My Latest Kosher Disney Experience: Biergarten – Part II

We arrived late Thursday night/ early Friday morning at the Boardwalk, and after waking in the morning I sent my family to the Studios while I pick up my race packet at Wide World of Sports. As the day came to an end, my kids & I took a Friendship boat back to our room while my wife was finishing up her pre-Shabbat spa experience at Mandara across Crescent Lake. I knew that this would be the last time to secure the kosher meals, since the actual 24-hour mark would take place during a time I would no longer be able to call it in.

Usually, I would call the Dining line to get this done, but since I was staying on the Concierge Level, I figured I would give this Concierge perk a whirl. I sent the kids to the lounge for some Sprite while I sat at the Concierge desk and placed my orders with the Cast Member. She called Disney Dining herself with me present just to make sure we got it right. All seemed set and we entered Shabbat with the only concern in my mind being whether I’d make it through all 26 miles on Sunday.

(On a side note, while this Concierge Cast Member was friendly and helpful for this task, she was completely the opposite when we brought up the blaring horns of the Friendship boats outside our window into the late Extra Magic Hours at Epcot. Other CM’s were very helpful, but she made it seem like we were deranged for not enjoying the privilege of listening to that pleasantly loud sound as our children lay awake well past their bedtime.)

Fast forward to Marathon Sunday: Both my friend and I finish the marathon in good time and running to the finish line. After eating lunch with my family in Epcot – microwaved ziti & eggplant parm from our room with soda from Club Cool while sitting at the outdoor tables at Fountain View – I went back to the room to shower & change and meet back in World Showcase.

However, when I got to the room, I had a surprise voice mail on my phone…

“Hi, Mr. Haller, this is the Chef at Biergarten. I understand you require eight kosher meals. We need to know what your food requests are so that we can prepare the meal for you on time. Please give me a call back at…”

I got this message at 3 pm – only three hours before the ADR.

What the heck happened to the orders I placed? If I call it in now, will it be too late? They say they usually need many hours to thaw the meals. If it wont work out, will we be able to get a refund? If it will work out, what do I tell him since I no longer have everyone’s orders?!

I called the Chef, and he was the most pleasant CM voice I encountered that trip. He assured me it wouldn’t be a problem – the 24 hours thing is an “exaggeration” of how much time they need. So, I gave him our orders to the best of my memory.

Crisis averted. But this experience taught me a few lessons:

1. While Disney requires 24 hours notice for kosher meals, the actual people preparing the food do not.
2. The differences in kosher menus given to me by the CM on the phone is a computer issue, not a dining establishment issue. (See previous blog post.) The Chef assured me that any restaurant in World Showcase that has kosher meals has access to the same kosher menus.
3. Make your kosher orders prior to 24 hours, but it may be good practice to call the dining location directly to confirm they got the orders.

So, after cleaning up and getting dressed for dinner, I walked back to World Showcase and, after taking in some attractions and enjoying the entertainment, we met our friends in Germany. We were seated approximately 10 minutes after arriving.

Next time, I’ll share the actual meal experience…

August 14, 2011 at 11:21 pm 8 comments

My Latest Kosher Disney Experience: Biergarten – Part I

Back in January 2011, I had a new kosher dining experience in Walt Disney World. Prior to this visit, the only kosher experiences I’ve had were counter service meals and character breakfast buffets. But this trip was different. This wasn’t just a bring-the-kiddies-to-watch-Dad-act-like-one-of-them trips. I’m running a marathon. My first marathon. A Disney marathon. This was unlike any trip I had taken before, and it deserved something different and special.

So, I decided that I was going to set up a post-race, celebratory dinner in Epcot.

Why Epcot? Is it because of the unique international culinary cuisine of World Showcase? Nope. The dining experience of World Showcase is fairly lost on the kosher park-hopper. (Don’t get me started on my rant about World Showcase changing from the international, multicultural attraction is was in the 1980’s to the “Food Court Around the World” it is today. Maybe for another day…) No, it was because my family and my running buddy’s family would be spending the day in Epcot after crossing the finish line, and location was king for this meal.

So, a few weeks prior to my trip, I called the Advanced Dining Reservation line for WDW to make a dinner reservation for two families – four adults and four kids. Since the cuisine doesn’t matter – table service kosher meals are all the same no matter the venue – I was most interested in having something to wow everyone, and the only attraction in a table service restaurant in Epcot I could think of is Chef Remy at Les Chefs de France. The Cast Member on the other end of the ADR line reminded me that Sundays is the rodent chef’s day off, so I no longer had any real preference as to where to plant ourselves for our “feast.”

However, when discussing our other options for dinner venue, something unexpected happened. The Cast Member started telling me the differences among the restaurants regarding the kosher menus. Differences? There’s a stash of kosher meals in a freezer and they thaw out what you order within 24 hours of your reservation (which is why kosher meals are the only meals in the parks that have a full penalty for cancelling within 24 hours). Why would there be differences? For example, she told me that while San Angel Inn in Mexico had the Honey Glazed Chicken, Ginger Glazed Salmon and Lasagna meals, Rose & Crown in the U.K. had those three meals plus Brisket of Beef. This made no sense to me, but I assumed it was a computer thing and not an actual food or restaurant issue (evidence would come later to prove my thinking correct). I decided not to force the issue and I’d play along.

I asked the helpful Cast Member, “Okay, which table service restaurant has the most options available for our kosher menu?”

The answer?


You got it. Of all places, Germany was the place where kosher-eating Jews can have the widest selection of kosher meals. So, eight Jews were going to descend on the Bavarian Village in the Germany Pavilion and have glatt kosher meals served to them by Deutschstämmige servers while celebrating with the traditional Oktoberfest band. Insert your own comment about the irony.

And so the ADR was solidified. Dinner for eight at Biergarten in Epcot for our post-marathon celebration. However, I didn’t leave my orders for meals yet for two reasons:

1. I needed to get everyone’s requests.
2. Just in case I would need to cancel, I didn’t want to leave my credit card with Disney just yet.

All I would need to do is call in our orders at some point before the 24 prior mark and we’d be good to go.

Stay tuned…

August 2, 2011 at 10:48 pm 1 comment

Shabbat of Magic

Considering how much the Disney Parks are my passion, I actually don’t get to go there as much as one would think. Finally, for the first time in three years, I made it back to Walt Disney World. I picked up my family and we went for Marathon Weekend. This weekend was filled with new and interesting – and emotionally explosive – experiences, and I’ll be sharing with you some of those.

I’ve been visiting WDW since February 1981, but a Shabbat stay is a rarity. I had only been there once over Shabbat: 1998, with my wife. We stayed officially “off property” at one of the Downtown Disney Resort hotels. It was lovely – we were able to walk all along the Disney West Side and Marketplace during the day (but not through Pleasure Island because one couldn’t get on the island without admission back then) and we could see some fireworks off in the way distance from our balcony Friday night. Fabulous… but not on property.

This was going to be the weekend when I stay within the lovely confines of the magic. I made my reservations a while back when the discounts for this time period were first announced. The arrival of discounts pretty much assured one thing for us:

Deluxe resort.

Typically, during the week, I really don’t care where I stay on property. I love having easier access for transportation (boat right up to entrance to Magic Kingdom from Wilderness Lodge, walk to Epcot & Studios from the Epcot resorts, etc.), but beyond that, I’m cool with just staying anywhere inside the magic. However, I am a firm believer that if we are going to be staying at a resort over Shabbat – Disney or otherwise – it’s worth making sure that resort will enhance the day. But which one?

Animal Kingdom Lodge? Too isolated.

Wilderness Lodge? Just did that last trip.

The three monorail resorts? Would be great, but can’t really hotel hop on Shabbat (unless you use the monorail – see a previous post). Also, the discounts weren’t as great for those.

Deluxe Villa resorts? Not necessary.

That left Beach Club/Yacht Club and Boardwalk. Since Stormalong Bay was going to be under construction, I figured I’d save that spot for another trip in the future.

Boardwalk Inn for us! But I decided to step it up a bit and ignore something that I had always believed:

Concierge Level is not worth it, especially for the kosher traveler.

Why ignore the above statement and splurge, you ask?

1. With the discount, the additional cost was not as outrageous as usual.
2. It can make Shabbat easier and more pleasant with the lounge available.

So, that was it. Done. We’ll see if I made the right decision.

The family and I arrived at the Boardwalk on Thursday night… actually, Friday at 2 a.m. We were quite impressed with the room, and then I opened the curtains and looked out on our balcony. Whoa. Big smiles.

Want to see our balcony? Look at this picture of the Flying Fish Cafe sign:

You see that large balcony just above the upper right hand corner of the sign? Yeah, that was us. Room 4216. We had quite the view of the entire Crescent Lake and Boardwalk. Aside from the horns blowing from the boats during the day, it was absolutely perfect.

Here’s the western view from the balcony:

Back to the point: Shabbos. We took the boat back from Hollywood Studios to the Boardwalk to prep for candle lighting. Our concierge got us a microwave so we could warm up our dinner that we brought with us. (I was told on the phone that the Innkeeper’s Lounge would have a microwave for us to use there, but no such luck. We did grab some soft drinks and beer from there.) We set up a table out on our fabulous balcony and had a wonderful Shabbat dinner to the sounds of the background music and light hustle of the crowd below. We took a nice, post-dinner stroll along the Boardwalk, watched some street performers, and then moved back up to the Innkeeper’s Lounge to watch Illuminations from the balcony there. While we could only see the top of the fireworks and lasers, it was a nice “kiss goodnight,” but the wind chill was picking up so we quit midway through the show.

Saturday morning, I woke up first and “went to shul” on the balcony, while the wife and kids went to the Innkeeper’s Lounge for kiddush & breakfast. (Club Level pays off!) While the pastries and bagels were not certified kosher (believe me, I checked), the cereals, yogurts and drinks were. [Always check for yourself, since things may change without notice.] I was concerned about getting into the lounge over Shabbat because guests require electronic key access to get in (a no-no for sabbath observers), but there was almost always a concierge cast member there letting guests in without the need of swiping a card.

Afterwards, we decided to take a morning walk all around Crescent Lake. We walked up to the International Gateway entrance to Epcot to try to catch a glimpse of the Half Marathon. We watched the football fans in jerseys lining up by the ESPN Club to get tables for the NFL Playoff games. We stopped by the Beach Club, and the kids planted themselves in the sand to play for an hour. We toured Stormalong Bay and checked out Beaches & Cream. We congratulated those wearing their Donald medals proudly. We enjoyed the Boardwalk scenes, sounds and smells (I love sniffing by the funnel cake stand).

After lunch in the room, we just relaxed by the pool. The theme of the pool there is quite fun, and it was well worth a stop there. They had an activity for kids at 2:30 by the pool, which kept my kids occupied for a while I rest my legs in anticipation for the coming run.

We strolled around the hotel and enjoyed the theme and exhibits of the lobby, and finally we relaxed back at Innkeeper’s until it was time for havdalah.

Disney’s Boardwalk Inn provided us the absolutely most wonderful Shabbat experience. We were able to both relax and be entertained the entire time. The comfort level was perfect for Shabbat. There was plenty to see and do within walking distance, and the Innkeeper’s Club access just gave us that additional comfort level that I was hoping for. My first Shabbat experience on property was top notch, and I cannot wait to do it again… albeit at a different resort. Not because the Boardwallk was deficient in any way, but rather because I’d love to have a equally magical experience of a different flavor in the future.

Before this weekend, I felt that the kosher guest didn’t really need to make a point to visit the Boardwalk, as it is mainly a dining location. (Unless you want to have a night out at Jellyrolls?) However, I have found that this spot serves excellently as an attraction for Shabbat if you can stay at any one of the Crescent Lake resorts.

Plus, I maintain that it would be the perfect location for a dedicated kosher dining location!

January 23, 2011 at 1:20 am 4 comments

Giving thanks to the Disney parks…

Happy Thanksgiving!

What shall I be thankful for? Too many things to count, thank G*d, but let’s keep it with the theme here.

While visiting the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT Center in the 1980’s, we didn’t really think about how we were going to fuel up for and during the day. We were a “commando-style” family to the max. Stopping for lunch was a no-no, and taking a break during the day to swim or nap was heresy. As a family who kept to a kosher diet (albeit with some leniencies that I’ve dropped over the years), the Disney dining experience just wasn’t happening for us. So, our food-for-fuel consisted of a big breakfast at the hotel (likely cereal & bagels), a snack during midday (Mickey bar, popcorn, etc.), and something for dinner. We’d pick up some nosh at a counter service spot that was deemed kosher enough for us, and made do (or we had more popcorn, ice cream, etc.). Again, food was for fuel purposes only in the Magic Kingdom – not for the nutritional value, and surely not for the culinary experience. It worked well for us and we liked it. We never felt we were missing out at all.

Decades go by, and I find myself in Anaheim for a conference, and my wife and 1 ½ year old daughter come along for a Disneyland experience. Because she is so young, she doesn’t “get it” as much as we’d hoped. So, we think out of the box: why not a character meal? It’s expensive considering we would be able to eat much at all, but two things convince us to give it a go:

• Breakfast is the easiest way to go for the kosher traveler
• My daughter is the biggest fan of Minnie I could imagine

So, off to the PCH Grill at the Paradise Pier hotel. Total success! The smile on her face was incredible. It was an experience that was totally new for me, let alone her. I was convinced of the character meal dining experience.

So, what is new at Disney World when I go back in 2005 after a long hiatus? Kosher meals! Happy day! We did kosher meals for character dining at Crystal Palace in 2005 and Tusker House in 2008. What a great experience, and we even had hot kosher food. We also enjoyed the “luxury” of counter service kosher meals to get us through the day. While I didn’t miss this at all as a kid, as a parent I am grateful.

Is the kosher dining at WDW and Disneyland anything close to the dining experience the average Joe has? Absolutely not. As anyone who keeps kosher in any capacity knows and understands, that would be a luxury that is rare on any kind of vacation. But to have that option available makes the experience that much more enjoyable. The food isn’t Victoria & Albert’s, but it beats popcorn for lunch and ice cream for dinner. And the character meals are now a “must-do” for us on any trip to a Disney park.

So, I am thankful for kosher dining at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

(If there were to be a kosher resturaunt with freshly cooked kosher food on property, then expressing my gratitude wouldn’t be possible with words alone.)

November 27, 2009 at 1:07 am Leave a comment


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