Monday, April 8, 2013

Dining: Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano

As with everything at Disney, telling the story is vital to creating the magical fantasy that make Disney so special.  So much of that story is told in the minute, often subtle details.  As Disney claims, however, “everything speaks”, so – though you may not have known it – even the restaurants have a story to tell.  And, that story sometimes involves a backstory. 

Such is the case with Mama Melrose’s Ristoriante Italiano.  Legend has it that Mama Melrose found her way from a Sicilian village to somewhere beneath the shadow of the Hollywood sign for the same reason so many others have ventured to southern California – in search of stardom.  However, whether for herself or for her starving fellow actors, Mama soon began recreating her father’s Italian recipes.  Before long, she had opened her restaurant in a vacant backlot warehouse.
Regardless of the reason given, this is one Disney guest who is glad Mama left stardom behind for her ultimate recipe for success.  (I couldn’t help adding that pun.)  Located around the corner from MuppetVision 3D, right behind the Streets of America in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, this restaurant offers a great variety of Italian dishes that are sure to please even those guests who consider themselves Italian food traditionalists. 
Open for lunch from noon to 3:25pm, and dinner from 3:30 to 10pm, Mama Melrose’s offers a great atmosphere to accompany the fine dining.  As with any other dining location throughout WDW, Mama Melrose’s offers a menu full of fantastic selections.  However, my favorites include the Mama’s Antipasto for two (Italian meats and cheese), Seafood Arrabbiata (shrimp, muscles, calamari, fish, whole wheat pasta), and Chocolate Cannoli Cake (it has Nutella!)   
Worth mentioning is the kids menu.  As many parents may attest, though Disney offers decent meal selections for kids, there are times when the kid’s menus at Disney dining locations seem to be limited to burgers, pizza, and the like.  There are some notable exceptions, however, and Mama Melrose’s is one.  Whole wheat spaghetti and Chicken Parmigiana are wonderfully tasty options that you won’t find in so many of the other locations.  The Spaghetti and Meatball Cupcake is a pretty cool treat for kids too.  This chocolate cupcake features spaghetti (frosting), a meatball (chocolate), marinara sauce (strawberry) and cheese (white chocolate) and is surely to elicit a reaction much like the one pictured below.  Needless to say, your kids may find this to be a nice change to some of the meals they may have eaten as well. 
Finally, I suggest that anyone who desires to try this treasure do so by also purchasing the Fantasmic! Dining Package.  This way, you will not only find yourself filled with delicious Italian fare, but will be able to enjoy Fantasmic! in a premier reserved location.  That alone is highly worth it!  
Have you tried Mama Melrose’s?  If so, what are your thoughts?  What are your favorite dishes?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Attractions: Garden Railway

The mere mention of Walt Disney World conjures thoughts of princesses and pirates, mountains from space or mountains from Nepal, fireworks and parades, adventure, fantasy and tomorrow, the sounds of Main Street and the scent of popcorn, and of course – the world’s most beloved characters.  Each of them launching an assault on the senses that engages your imagination, emotions, and memories.  In fact, there is so much to take in, that it is often very easy to miss what may be among the best attributes of WDW – detail.  The reality of missing the trees for the forest happens as we rush from one attraction to the other, all while trying to make it to our next meal reservation, or avoid spending our last dime on another souvenir.   Yet, along with all the other amazing things that urge us to rush along, WDW offers some of the most amazing opportunities to stop and appreciate simple beauty.  And, more often than not, those moments are as awe inspiring, momentous, and enjoyable than any attraction, parade, meal or fireworks show.
Nestled alongside the Germany Pavilion in World Showcase is – in my humble opinion – one of the greatest of such opportunities.  The Garden Railway is, in essence, a microcosm of WDW itself.  A world unto itself, surrounded on all sides by reality (of sorts) yet completely oblivious to its presence or its influence.  A neat little world of orderly beauty and function.  Complete fantasy, yet enough reality to allow relevant connections to the memories, thoughts, and dreams of those who stop to gaze upon the unknowing inhabitants of this miniature world.   
It is also fitting that a small, simple, rail themed attraction, serves to capture the spirit of WDW.  After all, it was a miniaturized railway that helped start Walt down the path of creating attractions.  Inspired by Walt’s lifelong love of trains, the Carolwood Pacific – a 1/8” scale, live steam train – ran along a 2,615 foot track through Walt’s backyard in Los Angeles.  It was while on a train trip from New York to California, after losing the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, that Walt had the spark of inspiration for Mickey Mouse.  I guess you could say that Mickey was born on a train.  And, if it was all started by a mouse, then the WDW connection to railroads is deep and significant.  Knowing this, is it any wonder that a train is the very mode of transportation that carries guests on a tour around Disneyland and Walt Disney World; or that a train of the future – the Monorail – carries guests around the 7 Seas Lagoon, or from the Magic Kingdom to EPCOT?
Aside from the significance of trains, this small, unique attraction is awe inspiring because of its simplistic beauty.  I love to stand along the rails and imagine what it might be like to live in this world.  Or, to visit for a time.  What might it be like to step out of one of the shops and stroll in the courtyard behind the Spanish style church?  Or tend to a small garden outside a cottage?  Or picnic along the tree line in the hills?  Or camp alongside the river near the bridges?  Who owns that castle on the hill?  Might it be possible to buy one of the farmer’s pigs to feed my family?  I wonder if I could purchase tulips for my wife from the owner of the greenhouse?  Most importantly, I wonder if the cottage and farm near the tunnel is for sale!  After all, it’s just down the line from the village and from the church.  And, in that might be the greatest feature of this attraction.  It achieves the very thing EPCOT was meant to.  It sparks the imagination of all those who dare to step away from the main stream hustle and bustle of the “World” and dream of what could be or what might be. 
So, the next time you are hurrying through the World Showcase, rushing to ride the Maelstrom in the Norway Pavilion, or to make your reservations at Le Celier in the Canadian Pavilion, or killing time before your Soarin’ fastpass brings you back to Future World, stop for a moment and dream about what could be or what might be if we only had the presence of mind to enjoy the simplistic beauty offered by the hillside community of the Garden Railway.      
In the meantime, step out of reality and take a ride on the rails through this great attraction.  
For more on the Carolwood Pacific, check out this great video