Be Our Guest…

We like to visit Disney quite often, my daughter loves going there, she considers it her second home. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the Magic Kingdom, as hubby and I would drive up and spend the day during our early years of dating, and living in Miami, it makes for an easy weekend trip.  I will say however, I have never been a fan of the food options at Disney.  I get it, people don’t visit the parks for the food, unless you’re at Epcot, which is an entirely different experience. However, I have always felt that the parks should have more options than the stale sandwiches (I recently had one that was absolutely awful) and the same boring hamburgers and plain salads offered at most of their eateries. The only other place where we have had a decent meal at times is when we have reserved at Cinderella’s Royal Table. Well, someone must have been listening because the dining experience at Be Our Guest, the recently opened restaurant inside of the Beast’s castle, is exactly what I was looking for.  So much so, that on our last trip a month ago, we decided to just call them up on the same day and see if any reservations were available, and sure enough they were, at 10:15 PM.  Well can I tell you, that we grabbed that reservation right away, and the restaurant was completely packed with more people coming in for dinner after us.

Be Our Guest Entrance

Be Our Guest Entrance

The beautiful stained glass window at the entrance.

The beautiful stained glass window at the entrance.

You see, we had already had the pleasure of dining at Be Our Guest on our trip last summer and we loved the entire experience.  First and foremost, the restaurant offers 3 meticulously “imagineered” dining areas, each designed to immerse diners in the heartwarming mystery and romance of Beauty and the Beast.  The first is The Grand Ballroom, which is where they always seat us. It’s absolutely gorgeous, you really feel as if you have actually stepped into the movie, with its high, domed ceiling, the beautiful chandeliers and snow-laced Gothic arches. The second room is The West Wing, which is a bit darker, may even be a bit scary for the little ones but this is where you can catch a glimpse of the enchanted rose. And the third is The Castle Gallery, resembling Belle’s private library, with the enormous figures of Belle and Beast dancing.  As far as I know, you cannot choose which room to dine in, but you are invited to walk around and take a look at the entire interior of the restaurant.

The main dining room

The Grand Ballroom dining room

The gorgeous 12 foot chandeliers

The gorgeous 12 foot chandeliers

The West Wing

The West Wing

The enchanted rose in hte

The enchanted rose in the West Wing

Figurine of Belle & the Beast Dancing.

Figurine of Belle & the Beast Dancing in the Castle Gallery

Now on to the food…

When we first arrived at our table, we saw the beautiful red napkins, folded like roses, my daughter (and I) loved that.  Then came the yummy hot bread rolls (keep in mind we were starving).  Of course my daughter fell for the tourist trap of the Souvenir Castle Goblet, a light-up castle-themed souvenir goblet with choice of fountain beverage, for ONLY $16.99, typical Disney.  I started off with a cup of the Potato Leek Soup and it was one of the best I’ve ever had.  Next came a menu full of divine options, including dishes like Sautéed Shrimp and Scallops with seasonal vegetables and mushrooms served in a puff pastry with a creamy lobster sauce and Layered Ratatouille, oven-baked zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, and caramelized onions sliced and layered on quinoa served with a bell pepper sauce.  Well, we all decided on the Grilled Strip Steak with garlic-herb butter and French fries.  All I can say is that my daughter devoured hers. It was absolutely delicious! Important to note that the kid’s menu also offers items such as Mickey meatloaf, seared mahi mahi and whole-grain macaroni with marinara sauce. This is also the first restaurant in the Magic Kingdom to offer a variety of beer and wine (this has actually caused some controversies with some die hard Disney fans). I’m not a big drinker but who doesn’t enjoy a nice glass of wine with a late dinner?

The menu and the rose napkin...nice touch.

The menu and the rose napkin…nice touch.

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Potato leek soup.

Grilled strip steak with french fries!

Grilled strip steak with French fries!

On to the dessert trolley….where do I start? They all looked amazing!  My daughter of course ordered The Grey Stuff, a chocolate shell, cookie crème topped with Lumiere’s special “Grey Stuff”. We had heard about this and boy are we glad she ordered it, it was really yummy. I decided on a Strawberry Cream Cheese Cupcake, yummy vanilla sponge cake, strawberry mousse filling and cream cheese icing!

The dessert trolley...YUM!

The dessert trolley…YUM!

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The famous light-up castle themed goblet and the yummy desserts!

Well, we almost rolled out of this place, but the best was yet to come. Everyone has a chance to meet the Beast and have their photo taken with him on the way out (too bad Belle is not available too).  Even though our daughter is already a teen, this was probably her favorite part of the night.

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Meeting the Beast!

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Dancing with the Beast…priceless!

All in all, we love this restaurant and will probably continue to have meals here on our visits to the Magic Kingdom.  Next time I think I’d like to try breakfast! But make sure you make reservations WELL in advance, as they are extremely busy all the time.

Have you been to Be Our Guest?  I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on this restaurant?

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Be Our Guest Restaurant
Magic Kingdom Park, Fantasyland
(407) 939-5277

Breakfast
8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Lunch
10:30 AM – 2:30 PM
Dinner
4:00 PM – 9:30 PM (although they take reservations past 11pm)

Winter Garden

For many of my readers currently stuck indoors due to the severe snow storms up north, here is another one of my book reviews that I think you will definitely enjoy…

Winter Garden is another magnificent story from one of my favorite authors, NY Times best selling author, Kristin Hannah. As some of you may already know I have read all of her books and have reviewed a few of them before on the blog (Firefly Lane, Night Road).  I promise, here’s another one that will not disappoint.  And make sure you give it a chance, as this is the type of story where you may find yourself a bit frustrated at first (I did), finding the book a little slow and maybe even disliking the characters. Don’t let that worry you, it is necessary for the story to be told this way, and as it evolves, you find yourself yearning to find out what happens, as it starts to reveal many interesting secrets from the character’s past. Truly beautifully written.

Winter Garden, photo courtesy of Kristin Hannah

Winter Garden, photo courtesy of Kristin Hannah

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah (synopsis)

From the author of acclaimed national bestseller Firefly Lane comes a haunting, heartbreakingly beautiful novel that illuminates the intricate mother-daughter bond and explores the enduring links between past and present.

Sometimes when you open the door to your mother’s past, you find your own future…

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard; the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, these two estranged women will find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. On his deathbed, their father extracts one last promise from the women in his life.

It begins with a story that is unlike anything the sisters have heard before—a captivating, mysterious love story that spans sixty-five years and moves from frozen, war torn Leningrad to modern-day Alaska.  The vividly imagined tale brings these three women together in a way that none could have expected.  Meredith and Nina will finally learn the secret of their mother’s past and uncover a truth so terrible it will shake the foundation of their family and change who they think they are.

Every once in a while a writer comes along who navigates the complex and layered landscape of the human heart.  For this generation, it’s Kristin Hannah.  Mesmerizing from the first page to the last, Winter Garden is an evocative, lyrically-written novel that will long be remembered.

So, pickup a copy of  Winter Garden and grab a cup of hot chocolate, and enjoy a great read.
Have you read any good books lately?  I love suggestions!

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SkinnyPop Rocks!

I know that by now almost everyone has heard of SkinnyPop, creator of the all natural 39 calorie a cup popcorn, but something my husband recently told me made me realize I must share this wonderful product with everyone I know, especially during this time of the year when everyone is looking to get in shape and eat healthier. I am not a huge popcorn lover, I usually only have it when we go to the movies. But about 6 months ago, I was looking for a new healthier snack to munch on, and I came across SkinnyPop in the super market.  Can I tell you that I was a bit skeptic at first, thinking it would taste flavorless and overly dry, as with most “light” snacks. Especially with bagged popcorn which can taste stale or be chewy.  Boy was I wrong.  As the company says “guilt-free snacking never tasted this delicious.”  SkinnyPop is without a doubt the best tasting popcorn on the market. With four varieties to choose from, Original, Black Pepper, Ultra Light White Cheddar, and Sweet, SkinnyPop has a flavor to appeal to nearly everyone (my favorite is actually the Original).

Four delicious flavors to choose from!

Four delicious flavors to choose from!

Most people would think SkinnyPop is either loaded with artificial flavors, sweeteners, or salt but that is not the case. SkinnyPop contains no artificial flavors, no artificial colors, no preservatives, is gluten-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, Non GMO verified, dairy-free (even the Cheddar flavor) and made in a facility that is completely nut, egg, and dairy-free. They only use 3 ingredients: premium popcorn kernels, sunflower oil and the perfect amount of salt.  Nothing else necessary!

Photo courtesy of SkinnyPop.com

Photo courtesy of SkinnyPop.com

Now on to my hubby’s comment.  A few nights after having watched the new Star Wars movie, we were at home munching on SkinnyPop and he told me that he actually preferred SkinnyPop over the heavy tasting popcorn sold at the movies.  He even suggested that I blog about it!! Now I have felt that way for a while (I had even thought of sneaking some in my purse to eat during the movie), but I never expected to hear that from him. I think it’s similar to my Diet Coke addiction, where I can never drink real Coke again, because I find it way too sugary.

So, if you have not tried it yet, SkinnyPop is sold nationwide at most grocery and health food stores.  To find a store near you, use the locator service on the SkinnyPop website at www.skinnypop.com. Oh and some of the flavors are also available in 6-pack 100 calorie bags, perfect for lunch bags too.

Skinny Pack contains 100-calorie snack size bags.

Skinny Pack contains 100-calorie snack size bags.

Have you ever tried SkinnyPop?  I’d love to hear what you think?

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Dazzling Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik, or as it is known, the “Pearl of the Adriatic” is simply breathtaking, and according to playwright George Bernard Shaw “Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik”. I agree with him. While I have had the pleasure of visiting magnificent places along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, the French Riviera, and the Greek Islands, Dubrovnik was simply a place that was still on my bucket list, and I just had to check it off.  After seeing so many glorious photos of this sleepy, medieval town (a UNESCO Heritage site since 1979), I just knew a visit to Croatia was a necessity.  Luckily I was blessed with the opportunity of visiting Dubrovnik recently and it certainly lived up to its reputation, how could it not…beaches, cliff diving, ancient medieval town, beautiful terracotta roof tiles, great food, fantastic nightlife and add a bit of romance. And one of the things I also really enjoyed about this place was that even though we visited during the peak of the summer in August and yes, there were hundreds of tourists everywhere….I could still feel the difference, it’s not quite as spoiled as some of the other destinations like Venice or Mykonos, which was pleasantly surprising.  Entering the city through Pile Gate, there’s still the feeling that not too much has changed.

Beautiful Dubrovnik!

Beautiful Dubrovnik.

More beautiful Dubrovnik!

More beautiful views…

But first I must brag a bit about our hotel, the Hilton Imperial…wow!  Since I am all about the views on my trips, I had researched that certain properties in Dubrovnik offered amazing views of the old town and city walls. After looking into a few, we decided on the Hilton and splurged on a suite which guaranteed the coveted Old Town views, and it did not disappoint…here is what we saw while peeking out our windows:

View out of our suite window.

View out of our suite window.

More views from our room...

More views from our room…

Hilton Imperial Hotel

Hilton Imperial Hotel

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View of our hotel from the city walls (that’s how close we were).

In addition to the views, the hotel offered a delicious buffet breakfast and a number of different amenities, along with a fantastic location just a few steps away from the historic entrance at Pile Gate. There are also plenty of buses and taxis available right outside the hotel, making it easy to get round town and to the nearby beaches.

Dubrovnik’s picturesque city wall surrounds this gorgeous city perched above the Adriatic Sea. Tourists flock here to parade down the old town’s shiny streets, which again, in the height of the summer, can get quite crowded.  But in my opinion, walking the city walls, cannot be missed.  While walking the full perimeter atop the old city walls, (and no, you don’t have to walk the entire perimeter), you will be rewarded with the most amazing views.  Perched up above all the orange rooftops and church spires, you can circle the city and gaze down on it while you take in the ocean and surrounding islands.

The steep stair you must climb to go up to the city walls.

The steep stairs you must climb to go up to the city walls.

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Onofrio Fountain, one of Dubrovnik’s most famous landmarks.

Crowds of tourists walking through the main street of the old city.

Crowds of tourists walking through the main street of the old city.

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The views from the walls.

More beautiful views…

For a fantastic panoramic view of this walled city, take the funicular up Mount Srd to the Napoleonic Fort Imperial, which overlooks the entire city. Scrub surfaced Mount Srd, stands 400 meters above Dubrovnik. It can be also be reached by car (15 minutes) or on foot (90 minutes walk). If you decide to visit the mountain, you’ll be able to enjoy some of the best views over the city.

Taking the funicular up ...

Taking the funicular up …

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The views of the old town are amazing!

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Our daughter enjoying the views on the way back down.

As with most popular European cities, Dubrovnik has its fair share of traditional tacky tourist shops, as my husband likes to call them, along the main drag but don’t be discouraged.  You can also find some places  selling beautiful embroidered tablecloths and linen, Dalmatian wines, spirits (known as rajika), and delicious preserves and dried fruit, all beautifully packaged.  Oh and the old city is a pedestrian zone, so you don’t have to worry about traffic as you wander through the marble-paved streets.

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Some of the beautiful linens sold in some shops, all embroidered by hand.

Beautiful linens sold at Bačan Handmade Products, Prijeko 6

Beautiful linens sold at Bačan Handmade Products, located at Prijeko 6

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Sugar coated lemon and orange peels are sold in certain shops, and packaged in cute souvenir bags.

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My daughter loved these pretty ceramic figurines.

And of course in the 100 degree weather we were experiencing, a long day at the beach accompanied by a sunset cruise, is a must. We chose to visit Banje Beach, because of its location, with beautiful views of the walls of the old town and Lokrum Island which is nearby.  I will say, as much as I enjoyed the beach with the crystal clear, cool water, I wish I would have brought some water shoes, as the beaches here are full of large stones and pebbles and by the time we left our feet were hurting quite a bit.  There is a 2-hour sunset cruise along the Dubrovnik coast where you’ll need your camera to capture the most glorious sunsets while in your own private boat. See the city walls from the sea as well as various reefs, the lighthouse and Lokrum Island. In addition to this cruise, there are many other boat excursions leaving from the harbor, also offering terrific views of the coast.

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Famous Banje Beach with views of the old town in the background.

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Hubby and daughter enjoying the crystal clear and cool water…

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Getting ready to board the submarine ride…

Here we go...

Here we go…

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Views from the sub…

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More views…

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View of Banje Beach from the sub.

While there are many good restaurants in town to choose from (although for the more popular ones make sure you have reservations), fresh yummy seafood can be had almost anywhere.  Take a look at this, right by the harbor:

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Ready for a late lunch!

Fried sardines.

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Fried calamari

And last but not least Dubrovnik is home to several locations used in filming the hit TV show Game of Thrones, which I know nothing about (gasp).  Take a three-hour tour around the Dubrovnik old town to see where most of the filming took place. Upgrading your tour will include an extra one and a half hour trip to Trsteno Arboretum.

Here are a few more photos of our trip for your enjoyment.

Rooftops of Dubrovnik

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Near Pile Gate entrance.

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One of the many side street cafes.

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The famous Clock Tower.

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St. Blaise with its monumental stairway at center, and the Gothic column of Roland right in front.

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The beautiful Venetian looking Sponza Palace.

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Having some of the best pizza at Domenica Pizzeria…yum!

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Enjoying some crepes and gelato at Dubrovka Cafe, which also offers amazing views.

Have you visited dazzling Dubrovnik?  I would love to hear what you enjoyed most…

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Happy 2016!

As I am writing my 100th post on the last day of 2015, I thought it would be a good time to share some inspirational quotes for 2016, which I just know will be a refreshing and fantastic new year!  Here we go:

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And for all of us wanting to get healthy this year, here’s one to remember:

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What are some of your favorite quotes?  I’d love to hear…

Happy New Year!

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Turrónes at Christmastime

As a Cuban-American, every year my family and I look forward to Noche Buena, Christmas Eve.  I have the best memories of Noche Buena growing up. While I love my American traditions, there are things that are unique to my Cuban culture, of which I am very proud of.  You see, many Latin families make a bigger deal sometimes about Noche Buena than Christmas Day. On Noche Buena, we gather our huge families, while enjoying our traditional recipes and celebrate the holiday. However, we never want to overlook the importance of Christmas Day, so of course we meet again on the 25th after attending mass, to open gifts, celebrate the birth of Jesus and of course, eat the leftovers from the previous evening. Noche Buena meals consist of some very important staples, such as, lechon asado (roast pork), rice and beans, yuca and fried plantains. After dinner, we all drink my aunt’s Creme de Vie, a sweet Cuban version of egg nog, (I would give you the recipe but then I would have to kill you…as our family’s recipe has a secret ingredient that I have not seen in any other recipe I have come across. But here’s a similar one). And last but certainly not least, comes dessert, where some eat flan, but most eat turrónes (Pronounced TOO-RON-EHS).  What are turrónes you say? Turrón is a nougat confection, typically made of honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds or other nuts, and usually shaped into either a rectangular tablet or a round cake. Growing up I remember the simple ones made of almonds, nuts and egg yolk (my hubby’s favorite, yema), but nowadays there are many more varieties, from chocolate coated to fruit filled.

My turron selections on Christmas Eve

My turrón selections on Christmas Eve, accompanied by cheese and guava paste slices.

Guava paste slices, cheese and a selection of turrónes, all musts for a Cuban Christmas.

Here are my family’s favorite turrónes for the holidays!

Some of our favorites.

Some of our favorites.

Have you ever tried turrón? If you have, I would love to know which one you liked most…

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Before the Storm…

I have not done a book review in a while, as the Fall season has been quite busy with a lot going on. However, with the holidays upon us, it’s always good to take a break and re-energize before the craziness of holiday shopping and parties begin. I have blogged about Diane Chamberlain before, as I love all of her books, so here I go again (click here for the review of my favorite book of hers).  Some of her books are part of a series or trilogy, as are the two that I am reviewing today, Before the Storm and Secrets She Left Behind.  Once again, I do suggest you read them in order, as it always makes it easier to follow the story line. I simply could not wait to read the sequel to see how the story unfolds, and trust me, you will be just as anxious!

Photo Courtesy of Diane Chamberlain Books.

Photos Courtesy of Diane Chamberlain.

Before the Storm (Synopsis)
Fifteen-year-old Andy Lockwood is special. Others notice the way he blurts out anything that comes into his mind, how he cannot foresee consequences, that he’s more child than teenager. But his mother sees a boy with a heart as open and wide as the ocean. Laurel Lockwood lost her son once through neglect. She’s spent the rest of her life determined to make up for her mistakes, and she’s succeeded in becoming a committed, protective parent—maybe even over-protective. Still, she loosens her grip just enough to let Andy attend a local church social—a decision that terrifies and infuriates her when the church is consumed by fire. But Andy survives…and remarkably, saves other children from the flames. Laurel watches as Andy basks in the role of unlikely hero and the world finally sees her Andy, the sweet boy she knows as well as her own heart. But when the suspicion of arson is cast upon Andy, Laurel must ask herself how well she really knows her son…and how far she’ll go to keep her promise to protect him forever.

Secrets She Left Behind (Synopsis)
One afternoon, single mother Sara Weston says that she’s going to the store—and never returns. In her absence, she leaves her teenaged son alone with his damaged past and a legacy of secrets. Keith Weston nearly lost his life in an act of arson. He survived—but with devastating physical and emotional scars. Without his mother, he has no one to help him heal, no money, nothing to live for but the medications that numb his pain. Isolated and angry, his hatred has one tight focus: his half-sister, Maggie Lockwood. Now the person Keith despises most is the closest thing he has to family—until Sara returns. If Sara returns. . .

So, I hope I have peaked your interest in these terrific mysteries.  Now just pick up a copy of these books, or download them to your e-reader, and enjoy a great read!

Have you ever read a novel by Diane Chamberlain?  If you have, I’d love to hear which was your favorite.My Signature