Posts filed under ‘Travel’

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

So, what is the answer?!

A while back, one Saturday morning in synagogue, the Rabbi got up to the podium and began his sermon discussing the Walt Disney World monorail. Obviously, I sat up in my chair and my ears perked up. This was one sermon I wasn’t going to doze off in.

He tells us about how a friend came up to him and asked him about an issue he had with an upcoming family vacation. He was going to be staying at one of the WDW hotels (he didn’t say which one, to my dismay), and he wanted to know if he was allowed to board and ride the monorail on Shabbat (Sabbath).

I thought that was an interesting question. There was no fare to pay, no combustion engine to turn on and off, no motion sensors in the doors. However, there was a driver (which meant it wasn’t automatic, like a Shabbat elevator). I was so curious to see where this Shabbat morning sermon was going.

However, the sermon then too a different turn. He went on to discuss how we see Shabbat in our lives, what Shabbat means to us as individuals and as a community, blah blah blah…

What is the answer?! You cannot expect me to stick with the rest of this speech without delving into the aspects of the Walt Disney World monorail and Shabbat. Now, I’m spending the rest of the sermon with my mind wandering throughout the WDW resort property, trying to find other interesting halachic questions and challenges that may arise. I’m also daydreaming about staying at one of the Monorail resorts and spending my Shabbat afternoon hotel hopping between the Contemporary, Grand Floridian and Polynesian…

Of course, if I am allowed to.

I can always just ask my Rabbi to find the answer, but this is not going to turn into a Jewish legal essay on the pros and cons of the Monorail as melacha. I guess, if (or when) the time comes for me to spend Shabbat at one of these three resorts, I’ll begin my search for the answer. For now, since the plans are not in my immediate future, I’ll let the enigma remain an enigma.

Because I plan to spend my first Shabbat on Walt Disney World property at the Boardwalk Resort… Want to join me for dinner?

November 18, 2010 at 10:36 pm Leave a comment

What is a Jew to do during the “Very Merry” months at the Disney Parks?

Okay, so it has been a year since I’ve been here. It sure is tough keeping blogs moving. I apologize for being MIA, but I knew I needed to be back right now because of the changing of the seasons. “Now, hang on to them hats and glasses…”

Since Halloween is over, you know what that means in the Disney Parks? Yup, it’s Christmas time. Even though the World Series was still going on, it’s time to get the parties in the Magic Kingdom set up for all those flocking to see the decorations, hear the jingles of “Jingle Bells” down Main Street, and smell the gingerbread concoctions made by the Disney chefs. However, while most of the die hard fans are planning their Candlelight Processional plans, the Jewish Disney parks fan is stuck in the ultimate dilemma.

How does the Jew handle the intense “Christmasification” of the Disney parks?

Halloween doesn’t present as much of a quandary. In Orlando, most of it is focused in the Magic Kingdom, with the full brunt of the holiday coming at you during the hard ticket event – Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. It’s easy to overlook it and still get that typical Disney feel you can get the rest of the year. In Anaheim, you have a similar situation, except for the changing over of the Haunted Mansion into the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay. Aside from those HM traditionalists, it really ain’t that bad.

But Christmas time (which starts right now) is a full fledged onslaught of yuletide cheer and joy to the world. The traditional music of Main Street changes from “Flitterin'” to “It’s a Holly Jolly Christmas.” The characters at meet & greets wear their Santa caps. “it’s a small world” in Disneyland gets its annual “holiday” face lift. Disney Hollywood Studios get overrun by the masses yearning for that best spot for the Osbourne lights. The resorts become pilgrimage sites for Christmas decoration tourists.

It’s everywhere. And as the “Wandering Jew in the Parks,” none of this is meant for you.

Oh, sure. Point out the menorah in the Osbourne lights, the Jewish mother-type Chanukah storyteller in World Showcase, and the brief “I had a Little Dreidel” token ditty in the Candlelight Processional. That is clearly a token for us, but it might as well be scrapped from the holiday menu in the parks. (You’d be better off cutting costs by cutting this, rather than the Lights of Winter in Epcot.)

It is Christmas time here and we all know it. Jews included.

So, what is the Son of Israel to do?

Do we protest Disney’s clear favoring of one religious group over all others? I say – absolutely not. There are too many people out there that need this to make Disneyland/WDW that much more magical and pleasant during this time of year. Plus, it’s a big time money maker for them. Welcome to America. Christmas time is Christmas time – just like it is in any mall or, like my home town, the streets of New York City. It is what it is. It’s here and it’s staying, and I got no beef with it whatsoever.

What does that leave us with? I see three options:

1. Go visit the parks and move along pretending none of the Christmas stuff is happening around you.

2. Embrace the “Christmas-ness” as a thing a beauty, even though it doesn’t have that particular connection to your soul.

3. Avoid visiting the parks from November 1 through the first weekend in January at all costs.

To each his or her own. For me, as a fairly hard core Disney parks traditionalist, I need to pick #3. I need Main Street U.S.A. to have that atmosphere I know and love. I need my picture with Pluto without a Santa cap on. I want to go on “it’s a small world” and hear only one incredibly repetitive (borderline irritating) song – not two.

I want my Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I can’t have it any other way, including a Christmas overlay.

And I am fine with that.

In the meantime, during this “holiday season” of Disney, I hope to reach out to the other Disraelites out there in the interweb so we have something to keep us inspired and entertained as the rest of the Disney fan world is on the phone with Disney dining stressing over which location to book for the Candlelight Processional dinner package. And when the time comes, look up at the windows in the resorts and see if you can find the solitary lights of a menorah.

November 8, 2010 at 10:14 pm 1 comment

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

A wandering Jew in the Magic Kingdom…


Why am I doing this?

I guess most people starting a blog have asked this question of themselves.  As a person who thought a blog would be one of the last things I’d do, one would think I’d already have an answer to that.  I do. Sort of.

I have this mental pathology of being engrossed in thoughts and emotions about the Disney Parks constantly.  Not a day goes by when I say something Disney related.  I live with my iPod in my ears and I’m usually listening to some Disney parks pod cast or audio from the parks.  I admit – I am not well. But, since this problem doesn’t hurt anyone including myself, I have decided to succumb rather than fight it.

My fanaticism can be traced as far back as February, 1981 – my first visit to Walt Disney World, and it was solidified two years later with my first visit to EPCOT Center.  I was hooked, until Feb, 1988 – our family’s last visit together – when it started to become out of the forefront of my consciousness.  Fast forward to 2005, when we decided to have a family reunion in the “World” and it all came rushing back.

I’ve been quite active in the online Disney community over the last two years.  I can be found on forums & heard in emails and voicemails on pod casts. I’m there, but I noticed some people come to the forefront more than others, and there seem to be two reasons for this: either someone dedicates their time (and career) to doing this or someone finds a niche.  Since I cannot dedicate my time too much, I wondered if I had a niche. That was answered for me.

I happen to be a kosher-eating, Sabbath-observant Jew who loves Disney and its parks.  I noticed that at this time of year, Christmas talk dominated the Disney interweb.  In some small corners tucked away on discussion forums, I found some people who searched for a bit of a Jewish touch, so I reached out my hand.  Then, I initiated discussions based around the Jewish calendar about the Disney experience.  All of a sudden, people started contacting me about planning a trip to Disney World as a Jew.  Strangers! “I’m planning on celebrating my birthday in the Magic Kingdom after Rosh HaShana. What’s it like getting kosher food there?”  “How should I do Passover in Disney World?”  “Where is the best place to stay over Shabbat?”  I know my Jewish friends would always come to me for Disney trip planning advice, and it was no surprise when neighbors and friends of friends started to, but strangers? On the internet?  Wow.  I wonder if there is a niche there.

I know that this may be a tiny alcove in the vast online world of Disney and its parks, but why not plant a flag in the uniquely Jewish experience of the parks?  If I reach out my hand and nobody grabs on, fine.  It keeps me busy and becomes my therapy.  But if people are out there longing for friendly discussion or a familiar encounter, I say to you, “Welcome.”  Would I love for this to blossom into a strong online community? Would I ever!  We could have a Friday night dinner meet at Mousefest!  So, let’s see where this goes, shall we?

Stay tuned. Keep those eyes and bananas peeled.

“Thank you, folks, for coming to my kitchen…”

November 25, 2009 at 1:15 am Leave a comment


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