Disney with Toddlers: The Do’s and Don’ts and Next Times (because you can’t possibly pack it all in and please don’t try)

Disney with Toddlers

Ok full disclosure here, I’m from Orlando so I know my way around Disney World. This was not a novice attempt. However, maybe because I’m from Orlando, I’ve never been a Disney nut. I like it, sure, but have never been cuckoo for the culture, just never really bought in, and was certainly never one of those people who dreamed of one day taking their kids to Disney. That is, until my daughter started donning Princess gowns on a daily basis, making several “costume changes” per day and renaming Cinderella the much cooler and far superior, “Pissy-Ya-Ya”. And my son, well he loves Pooh and he is my little Zen baby Pooh. So… how could I resist?

This will not be one of those hipster bloggy posts about eschewing tourist attractions with “the littles” for more remote, authentic experiences. No, I will not be blogging about hiking through Icelandic forests and huddling in igloos with my 3 year-olds or traipsing around Amsterdam with two toddlers. I’ll save that stuff for when they don’t need a stroller and can actually remember some vivid details and maybe even write them down. So, yeah- I loved our time with the Mouse. I loved it so much, I’m already plotting and scheming for the next visit. It is an easy fun-loving place to take kiddos.

clearly i have succumbed
You know, just hanging in the lobby, having a coffee in mouse ears- like you do. Clearly I have succumbed. 

There are two things about a trip to Disney with Toddlers that make it especially magical, at least for us. The Disney characters (and the priceless reaction and joy on kids’ faces when they meet them) and down time at the Resort (pool, sun, laughs, food and drink- you know- the good stuff). But more on that later. Let’s get to the exhausting part. Yes, it’s overwhelming- case in point, my daughter developed a stutter while at the Magic Kingdom which she dropped directly upon returning home (big sigh of relief). She was so in awe of the Princesses that she was quite literally rendered speechless upon introduction and did her best at standing perfectly still and giving some great side-eye. When we managed to get 10 feet away from said Princesses, and she became speechful again, she presented a pretty impressive Disney stutter.  It seems that her mouth could not catch up to those firing synapses set off by the dizzying array of multiple Princesses and characters. My boy on the other hand wasn’t overwhelmed in the least and put on a few knee slappin’ dances for any of the characters and Princesses that would watch.  It was awesome.

Tinkerbell and Side-Eye
Tink and a Toddler giving serious Side-Eye. 

A knee-slappin' dance for Tiana
A knee-slappin’ dance for Tiana. She was very nice- we took up way too much of her time with these moves. 

Stutters, side-eyes and knee slaps aside, if you find the right place to stay and don’t go overboard (literally and figuratively), you’re kind of Golden. This is an unbelievably super kid-happy (duh right) and- wait for it- adult-happy place to be too. So off with my shunning of all things touristy and gimmicky (who am I kidding- I love a gimmick and a touristy roadside attraction), ok- off with my built-in bias against Disney because it seems too easy, I give already- let’s go.

The planning commenced a mere two months before our trip. While most all Disney go-ers know that the only way to properly plan your Disney vacay is to do so 6 months in advance (these Disney people don’t play, kids- they will beat you to the punch every single time if you are not on your game) so that you can book the best rooms and most importantly, snag both the Anna and Elsa FastPass and the coveted table at Cinderella’s Royal Table (because an advance rezzie there is pretty much as easy as breaking into Fort Knox), Yours Truly was NOT on point. While I’m a self-professed planning junkie, I do like to mix it up and occassionally do things on a whim- you know a fly by the seat of my pants kind of gal (thank you Pretty Woman Kit, because of you I will forever use that phrase), so while we started this journey a little late to make that meeting with the Frozen girls happen face to face, we managed to get in a few sister sightings plus steal a last minute booking at Pissy-Ya-Ya’s joint. Boom.

Cinderella's Royal Table
Last Minute Rezzie at Cinderella’s Royal Table for the Win!

So, ladies and gentleman, kids of all ages, a few things to note while visiting the Mouse with little ones:

Do try to book your stay as early as possible. The obvious advantages here are getting the most out of your stay- first pick at the resort or lodge of your choosing, dining rezzies at your favorite spots and the coveted and hard to get FastPasses (I’m talking to you, Anna and Elsa).

Don’t go in for the dining plan. It won’t save you much if anything at all, is designed to be kind of confusing and wont cut it at the end of the day anyway, if you’re like us and love to eat. Just pay as you go- much easier and without a real price break, it’s pointless anyway. You’ll end up with a surplus of Rice Krispie bars (long story- just trust me).

Don’t try to do it all in one day. No matter how hard you try (and believe me, the New Yorker in me had her Gunner Mom out in full force “we will be the first in line when those gates open”, there will be dozens if not hundreds that have their shit together way more than you. So don’t sweat it. Plan to be at the park early(ish) if that suits you and your kiddos and do mornings at the parks. Then come back to your room, rest, nap and spend the afternoon into the early evening hanging at the pool, beach- whatever your lodging has to offer. These were my favorite days- when I didn’t try to overextend us all and just resigned to being back at the resort to chill by 2:30. We enjoyed movies on the beach, poolside games, roasting S’Mores and just plain old good summer pool time. The best.

Do rent a stroller from a local stroller company (we had good luck with this one) if you do not bring your own. You will definitely need one and the strollers at the park are really uncomforable. In regular life, we rock a double stroller with the twins but single strollers were the way to go. If one kiddo was tired, the other could stay with Mom or Dad in the park, etc.

Do give props to the Princesses: they are pretty badass. I was actually starstruck by our Belle. She actually made me feel the same way I felt when I spied a real live Geisha late one night in Kyoto. Ok… maybe not quite, but I was pretty shocked at my reaction to the Princesses. I actually caught myself yelling out loud (to who, I’m not sure), “It’s Tiana, Tiiiiiaaaaannnnnaaa!!!!”, as she magically appeared one afternoon in Liberty Square. It was not that way in the 80s when I was a kiddo at Disney. Those Princesses were not a “thing” yet. We just had Cinderella and Snow White making the rounds, the mobs of people young and old waiting in line for hours just to snap a photo with them, did not exist. The frenzy over these gals has gotten a little crazy pants, but I will say- those Princesses deliver on all things Princessy, it’s game on for the Disney Princess set. I was kind of bowled over much to my feminist women studies chagrin. It is the future of all things marketing and monetary for Disney, I guess, but still I was impressed. Aurora- not so much, but Belle- wow she’ll take your breath away.

we met pissy-ya-ya
We met Pissy-Ya-Ya. What. Is. Happening. Bewildered, Bemused, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo.

Do make it a real vacay for the adults too. Even if this is not going to be a peaceful vacation filled with R&R, you can still make the most of it by going in for a nice hotel with easy access to the parks so you wont spend tons of time on a bus and can enjoy a nice resort, pool, restaurants, etc. There are lots of value options that seem lovely but for me, I would rather pay a bit more for a little luxury and convenience. We stayed at The Villas at The Wilderness Lodge Resort and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It feels kind of like summer camp. There are outdoor movies at sunset where you can lie in lounge chairs with the fam and take in some of Disney’s classic animated flicks, roast marshmallows, play poolside games and well- relax, isn’t that what vacation is for anyway?

The upscale restaurant at The Wilderness Lodge is aces- Artist Point, and it’s neighboring cozy lounge is a bit of a secret as you can order off both the full Artist Point menu and the more abbreviated (and less expensive but still good) bar menu. The Whispering Canyon Cafe is a little more boisterous and rowdy, but fine and fun with the kiddos. There’s a poolside snack bar and straight up bar (Yes!) and a casual cafe in the hotel as well. We loved it and also loved the easy boat ride to the Magic Kingdom.

Downside: you are not on the monorail line, so it’s a bus to EPCOT. We took a cab to the Polynesian which was $7 as opposed to 2 boats which would have taken way too long with two toddlers. There’s no monorail service to Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom so no big loss there.

A few friends swear by The Polynesian Resort as well. The Contemporary Resort isn’t that exciting for the little ones. The pools and lobbies at The Polynesian and the Wilderness are more fun and vibrant. Fort Wilderness is a good option if you like something a bit more rustic but still within a boat ride from the Magic Kingdom. Otherwise, there are dozens of other hotels and options that require bus transport to all parks.

A few other highly regarded and less expensive options are the Pop Century Resort for retro fanatics and the All-Star Movie Resort for Toy Story fans, this one boasts a Fantasia-themed pool. Both are farther from the Magic Kingdom than the big resorts located on the lagoon, and require a bus ride but if you don’t mind the commute, a stay at these value resorts can be just as fun and much more affordable. Another popular resort technically on Disney property but not owned by Disney is the Hilton Bonnet Creek. Also a bus ride, this is a great hotel with nice rooms and a great pool including a lazy river- and who doesn’t love a lazy river.

Don’t Do The Following:
That silly ass Luau at the Polynesian. I was warned against this but something about a Luau at the Polynesian had me at Aloha. I couldn’t resist and booked us a crazy expensive dinner at an absolutely terrible dinner show. Look, just because I myself am a show person does not mean that I am a snob about these things (ok, maybe I am- I couldn’t help but watch The Beauty and the Beast show at Hollywood Studios and think how badly I wanted to take a crack at it to zhush it up), I enjoy a good cheesy dinner show but you have to go whole hog here and I’m not talking about the spit-roasted pig. The show is a mess, they don’t even do a Hula or anything close to it until an hour and a half in, it’s boring and misguided and we left early. The food is borderline gross too. Avoid at all costs. Next time, we’ll head over to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review at Fort Wilderness. The word on the street is that this shindig is camped up in all the right ways.

Where to Eat:
Let’s get down to the important stuff first and foremost- food. While Disney is not known for its revelatory food, it is getting better and better. For us, the most fun part of our trip was dining with the Characters, so those are obvious choices. Beyond that, there are some good places to eat well.

Magic Kingdom
1. Cinderella’s Royal Table: this is a must. It is expensive but they put on a great diddy up there, you get 5 or 6 Princesses traipsing through the castle happily signing autographs while you eat and posing for pictures for your agog littles. Pissy-Ya-Ya, I mean Cinderella, greets everyone at the entrance and it’s all very fun and fabulous. I would go again it was such fun.

2. Crystal Palace Character Dining: we loved this too. Lunch with Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood bunch. It was just pure awesomeness to see the look on my kids’ faces as the giant furry characters came by giving out hugs and autographs. Food’s not bad either.

3. Be Our Guest Restaurant at the Beast’s Castle: we loved this too. An elaborate dining room plays host to a pretty decent meal but the Castle is the thing. There are two smaller dining areas here as well. We pretty much loved it. We visited Belle at Enchanted Tales with Belle (one of the best things going at the park for little kids, snag your FastPass for this one) right after lunch which was great planning (if I can pat myself on the back here), as the kiddos were pretty enthralled with the castle and wound up to meet Belle.



This is my favorite park. I’m biased because my best friend landed in Orlando in the 4th grade from Morrocco because of Dear Disney’s EPCOT. Her dad runs (still to this day) the Restaurant Marrakesh in the Morroccan Pavillion. I have always loved the cheesy and oh so wrong but oh so right World Showcase. Drinks around the world anyone? We used to start in Mexico (start at La Cava del Tequila) and work our way around to Canada. There’s even a boozy ice cream parlor in France. Try the Ice Cream Martini at the L’Artisan des Glaces. See below for more on Drinks around the Fake World.

1. Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Banquet: I think the food here in Norway is hit or miss but the real draw here are the Princesses.

2. Restaurant Marrakesh- like I said, I’m partial to this place because it’s like family to me. I have years and years of memories built up in this joint. And what’s not to love- belly dancers, couscous, a palatial setting- it’s awesome.

3. Monsieur Paul- formerly the Bistro de Paris, this is still Paul Bocuse’s place. It’s always good and I’ve always been a fan. It’s a little more buttoned up than most of the Disney restaurants, but it’s awesome. Request a table by the window to view Illuminations from the comfort of your seat, wine in hand. Chefs de France is the more casual but still great choice in France.

4. San Angel Inn Restaurante- I love this place in Mexico. It’s beautiful in a theme park sort of way, great ambience as you dine along the river with a view of Aztec ruins. Food is good, and strong margaritas make for an enchanting experience. Ask for a table on the river.

5. Teppan Edo- like a refined Benihana. I love a Hibachi joint, the service here is always great and kids love it.

6. Via Napoli- a new and authentic Neopolitan pizza restaurant, this place is great. Perfect for lunch as you make your way around the World Showcase.

Coral Reef at The Living Seas- if your kiddos are really into sea life, book a table here to dine in a giant aquarium. The food and service here are really spotty so don’t dine here unless your kids are crazy for an aquarium. Much better choices to be had in the World Showcase, especially the standouts listed above.


Disney’s Hollywood Studios:

1. Sci-Fi Dine In Restaurant- I love this goofy place. You eat in cars. The food’s just ok, but it’s mostly burgers and shakes, so it’s all good.

2. The Brown Derby Restaurant- if you’re in for a better than average meal in a nice setting. Glam. Well as glam as a theme park can get. This one books up far in advance.

3. 50′s Prime Time Cafe- fun if you’re into getting yelled at and teased, Ed Debevic’s style. I’m ok with it. The setting is cute and quaint, like June Cleaver’s kitchen.

4. Hollywood and Vine- Disney Jr. Character dining. Food is meh but who cares if your kiddos are really into Sofia and Jake.


Animal Kingdom:

Yak and Yeti- pot stickers, Pho, stir-fry- ok, I’ll bite. This may be a little out there for the littles, but if they’re adventurous give it a go.

Tusker House- Character dining with Donald and supposedly good food.


Standout Resort Dining: 

1. Artist Point at The Wilderness Lodge Resort- we loved this place, a stellar Northwest-centric wine list and excellent food.
Fun Fact- you can dine in the cozy lounge next door to Artists Point and order off the same menu. Not accepted on the Dining Plan but who’s doing the Dining Plan- waste of $$$.

2. Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge- people dig the food here. I cannot speak to it as I haven’t been but it is widely well-reviewed and goes out on a limb a bit farther than most Disney cuisine.


On the List for Next Time: most of this revolves around Character Dining. At such a young age, the chance to eat and spend time with the Characters was really the most magical of experiences for all of us.

The Pirate and Pals Fireworks Voyage- I was silently laughed at when I called in to reserve this a mere two months in advance. Because Disney “cast members” go above and beyond to be nice and accommodating, the gentleman helping me couldn’t outright laugh at me, but I could hear him chuckling silently on his end of the line. You need major advance planning for this one. This cruise includes a booze free (constantly reminding myself- “it’s all about the kiddos”) pre-party with Smee and Captain Hook with games and treats, a cruise along the Seven Seas Lagoon to view the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom and a special greeting from Peter Pan and The Lost Boys upon disembarking.

Pirate Adventure Cruise if my little boy is still into Pirates as much as he is now. This is a cruise during the daytime that takes you on a treasure hunt around the Disney lakes and lagoons. There are 4 different adventures to choose from.

Anna and Elsa- we will book ahead next time to reserve our FastPasses to properly meet these ladies.

Chez Mickey- now it was our hotel concierge’s turn to silently laugh in my face upon my request for a lunch or dinner reservation at the Contemporary Hotel’s Character Dining event at Chez Mickey sometime over our 4 day stay. “No chance in hell”, he so wanted to say, held his tongue and politely let me know that that would not be possible. Fist clenched and waving in the air- next time.

Donald’s Safari Breakfast at The Tusker House- no time to give love to the Duck this visit, so next time will have to do. A good start to a day at The Animal Kingdom.

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review at Fort Wilderness- I’m always up for some hokey cowboy humor and BBQ. Sign me up.

Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Banquet Hall- more dining with more Princesses, this time at Epcot in Norway where the Frozen ride will open next year. Win. Win.

Wonderland Tea Party- lunch at the Grand Floridian with Alice and the Mad Hatter. They keep this lunch small so that kids get some really nice time with the Characters, which is great.

Hollywood and Vine- a meal with the Disney Jr. characters- Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins and Jake the Pirate reign supreme here. My kids dig these guys, so we’ll try for it next time.


What to Do at the Parks: ok, enough about food. Wait, did I really just write that? Can there ever be enough about food. The answer is a clear no. But let’s talk about rides and stuff for a minute. Here’s my input:

Magic Kingdom:
The * next to the ride notes a need for a FastPass, but you can wait times on your “My Disney Experience” app as well to see if you will really need a FastPass. From my experience, we found we needed one for the starred rides below.

*Enchanted Tales with Belle- do not miss this with small children. It’s almost like a Mommy and Me type of class, it’s so interactive. The kids all play “roles” in the tale that Belle tells, it’s charming and lovely. Our favorite experience. (FastPass!)

*The Jungle Cruise- still the best ride at the Park in my book, and my daughter’s favorite too. (FastPass!)

*The Pirates of the Carribbean- duh. (FastPass for sure)

*Peter Pan- still so magical and fantastic. (You definitely need a FastPass for this one.)

*The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”- I wasn’t nuts about this one but the kiddos loveed it.

*Seven Dwarfs Mine Train- our kids were a little small and scared to ride this, we’ll do it next time. (You definitely need a FastPass for this one

*Anna and Elsa- get your FastPass 6 months in advance for a chance to meet these two. If you cannot get in to see them, they are in the afternoon parade and the Frozen show over at Hollywood Studios.

The Parades! Both the afternoon and the Electrical Parade are magical and really excellent. If you have any FastPasses left, use them for prime viewing. If not, there are usually viewing spots near the Castle.

Tomorrowland Speedway- I’ve always loved this and so did my kids. Big hit. We rode it early to avoid lines.

Prince Charming Regal Carousel- as magical as it always was. I could ride this thing over and over and so could they, do it early in the day before lines form.

The Haunted Mansion- my daughter was too scared to go on this, my son loved it. I’ve always been a fan.

Dumbo- so cute, tried and true. We rode this several times. There’s a great little waiting area now too with a playroom for the kids.

Mad Tea Party- still really really fun if not nauseating. Ride this one early and save your FastPasses.

It’s a Small World- does it get better. Not much. (no FastPass required- ride this early in the am)

Walt Disney World Railroad- take the train around the park. It’s not really all that interesting, but my kids love trains so it’s all fun.

The Enchanted Tiki Room- I’m a sucker for this show. I love a bunch of animatronic birds.

The Country Bear Jamboree- again, a sucker for animatronic banjo and washboard-playing bears, come on- who isn’t.

PhilharMagic- a great 3D movie featuring some of the best tunes from your favorite Disney movies

Barnstormer- a roller coaster for the minis. My little girl loved this, my son was scared.

Casey Jr. Splash ‘n Soak Station- bring a change of clothes so your littles can run around in this cute circus-themed soak station.

Swiss Family Treehouse- so fun, I’ve always loved this.

Tom Sawyer’s Island Adventure- what’s not to love- running around a pseudo-wildnerness. All good.

If You’re Running Out of Time, skip these:

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin- I wasn’t crazy about this. None of us were to be honest. It’s just alright. In fact here is a great depiction of the way it made my husband and son feel:

Under the Sea- Meh. You could skip it if time does not permit.

The Magic Carpets of Aladdin- just like Dumbo, we didn’t do this. Not a must.

Astro Orbiter- fun but again, the same Dumbo-like experience, just a little faster. If your little one is really into rocket ships, this would move itself to the Must List.

Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor- an interactive show, fun if you have the time.


For the Adults or creatures of Disney World nostalgia:

The Carousel of Progress- I have always loved this hokey animatronic show

The Hall of Presidents- the kiddos would probably hate this, but I like it.

and all of the “thrill rides” that the kiddos were too little to ride:
Space Mountain, The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain


There aren’t a whole lot of rides for the kiddos here. There are a few great rides that they’re not big enough for- like Test Track and Soaring but there are a few to visit with your little ones.
In Future World, don’t miss:

Spaceship Earth
Turtle Talk with Crush
The Seas with Nemo and Friends
Living with the Land
Ellen’s Energy Adventure

But mostly, it’s just about walking around the World Showcase and seeing the different entertainment and/or movies in each Pavilion. My favorite movies:

France: “Impressions of France” landscapes of France set to Debussy and Saint-Saens. Pretty pictures and pretty music- a nice respite from the rest of your day.
Canada: “O Canada”, narrated by Martin Short (reason enough to see it).
Animal Kingdom:
*Kilimanjaro Safari- get your FastPass for this one
*Kali River Rapids- also need a FastPass
DinoLand U.S.A.
Finding Nemo
The Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch
Festival of the Lion King
The Tree of Life
Hollywood Studios:
This is a really cute park, back in my day it was called the Disney MGM Studios and I filmed an episode of Teen Win Lose or Draw here as a contestant. I lost. The studios also lost out on the chance to become real working studios as was originally the mission. Disney quickly realized, like Florida’s Universal, that there was a lot more money in the making as a theme park than as a working studio, so that went South. Now it’s just a theme park, but it’s cute and fun.

For the kids here, it’s mostly about the shows. There are some fun rides for adults like The Tower of Tower and The Aerosmith Rock ‘n Roller Coaster. You can do a Child Swap and use a FastPass to avoid the line and ride these rides. This allows you to skip the line and leave the kiddos with your hubby or partner while you ride and then switch. You don’t really need a FastPass for anything here except the Toy Story ride, so make use of them for the Adults.

For the kids:
*Toy Story Ride- you will need a FastPass
Frozen Sing-A-Long Celebration- cute stage show with clips from the movie to sing along with. We loved it. I was belting for Jesus. The Beauty and the Beast Live On Stage- this one needs some sprucing up but my kids still loved it.
Lights, Motor, Action- a really loud but very good car stunt show.
Disney Jr. Live on Stage- a great stage show packed with the Disney Jr. characters. For the Doc McStuffins set.
The Voyage of The Little Mermaid- the little ones love this show
The Indiana Jones Stunt Show- kiddos are less into this but it’s still fun


SIDEBAR: Booze-loving Adults, please read on:

Drinks Around the World at EPCOT: I’m clearly deviating from the “with toddlers” part of the post title, but when in Rome… or in EPCOT, one really must partake in drinks around the world.
If your toddlers are in tow for this part of the adventure, you may be reduced to “Sips Around the World” in order to maintain any modicum of parenting skills. Share your drink, take a few sips and be on your way to the next fake country.

1. Mexico- La Cava del Tequila- for Tequila buffs, this place boasts over 70 bottles of the stuff. Sip from a shot, enjoy the Giant Pyramid and move along.

2. Norway- take a sip of the country’s famous Aquavit. It’s not for everyone, but that adds to the fun.

3. China- don’t go traditional here, avoid the chilled plum wine and go straight for the mango-ginger margarita (or the green tea-plum wine slushy).

4. Germany- Beer Here. Duh. Don your German pilsner in an oversized souvenir mug to really seal the deal, again- when in Rome… or fake Bavaria…

5. Italy- this is the time to sit down and order up an darn near-authentic Neopolitan pie. After all of those sips, you will be really happy about chomping on a pizza and washing it down with a proper glass of Italian vino.

6. United States- this is the most boring of all the World Showcase choices. I’m not sure why, it’s always been really boring. They need some animatronic cowboys or something in there to zhush it up. But in the meantime, grab yourself an American beer or some sort of whiskey concoction. That seems American enough, then press on to your next country.

7. Japan- Sake. ’nuff said.

8. Morrocco- not exactly known for its alcohol, this one’s tough. At this point in your journey, you will likely want a fruity cocktail so pony up- there’s plenty of that here.

9. France- Ice Cream Martinis (see above) or Champers if you’re feeling sophisticated and it’s hard not to, under the shadow of a fake Eiffel Tower.

10. UK- a hearty and proper pour of stout of English Ale.

11. Canada- a glass (or sip) of La Fin du Monde.

Now mosey back to France to dine at Monsieur Paul, lap up the bubbly and take in the fireworks by the window. Good luck with those toddlers. They will likely be standing on their heads by this point.

Cin Cin my good toddler theme park-toting people and the best of luck to you. Mostly, just enjoy. Seeing the Disney craziness through a toddler’s eyes is magic.




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Happy Weekend!

Happy Weekend!

Happy Oscars
Audrey and Grace chattin’ it up backstage at the Oscars, like they do- circa 1956.
(Photo: Allan Grant)

A Happy Weekend to you all dear readers. What are you all up to? My mom is in town- hooray! I took her out on the town to Edible DC’s Drinks Invitational followed by a fancy little dinner just a hop, skip and jump (almost literally) at Rogue 24. I had yet to dine at R.J. Cooper’s DC flagship, and the kids there have still got it. We recently ate at Cooper’s new(ish) Gypsy Soul out here in the ‘burbs, and any menu that boasts the words “sweet Jesus” and “snake oil” and lives up to it, is alright by me. So, I had to see what the fuss was about in the big city. It was surprisingly sparse, we were among just a few diners to sample the 10 course tasting, but we didn’t mind having the place mostly to ourselves. The food was awesome and the kitchen theater dazzling. If you haven’t been, you are seated around the kitchen bistro style so that you have a front row seat to the makings of your meal. We had a blast.

It’s unbelievably cold here, like a frozen tundra. Another snow day over here and freezing temps mean we’ll be homebound most of the weekend. And of course on Sunday, we’ll be watching the Oscars. We are fiercely competitive with our Oscar ballots every year, and of course every year- I win. I have yet to lose in fact and have an over 10 year winning streak (humble, not so humble brag- I am such a dork about these things). I am a bit less prepared however, this year. I still have not seen Whiplash, American Sniper or Selma. Print out your official Oscar Ballot here (I like to go old school and print them out, but you can vote for your favorites and play digitally too.) The Glitter Guide has its own printable Oscar ballot too which is honestly no different but just a little prettier, nice if you’re having the gals over (I’m looking at you Amy Rutherford).

My picks to win the major categories:

Picture: Birdman- I have mixed feelings about this movie, but mostly it left me thinking about it lots, and interested. It’s not a perfect movie but it is so insanely interesting, I love the way Inarritu lets the camera tell story and the small intimate, quirky world that is peeled away. I really dug it.
Director: Alejandro Inarritu for Birdman- I fell in love with his Amores Perros when I first saw it, the guy is so good. Though I think Richard Linklater will be a close second.
Actor: Michael Keaton- I have to root for Michael Keaton in the Best Actor category, the ultimate badass. Always a Keaton fan, the guy is always good (Mr. Mom anyone?  -one of my all-time favorites). He deserves his turn at the podium and that performance- fabulous. You know Eddie Redmayne’s gotta be like, (fist clenched and shaking in air) “Keaton!”. I mean really, the guy plays Stephen Hawking, you’d think that’s a shoo-in, but then… there’s Keaton (and all the others really), but everybody’s rooting for a Keaton comeback. Of course, I could be very wrong about all of this and Bradley Cooper will win.
Actress: Julianne Moore- done and done.
Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette’s got it in the bag
Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons- though I haven’t seen Whiplash, I know he kicks some ass and has some crazy chops.
Cinematography: Birdman
Original Screenplay: Grand Budapest Hotel
Adapted Screenplay: Whiplash

Can you tell I get really REALLY into this? Your picks? Do tell.

What I’m Drinking:

Mom’s in town and she likes a bright, crisp and clean Chard, just like her daughter. I recently discovered Hoopes Vineyards’ Chard at a Dinner Lab DC dinner and immediately ordered up a case. Made in the French style, this vino shows its California fruit beautifully with tropical notes of pineapple and mangos true to its warm climate, but also boasts bracing acidity and a great minerality and zesty lemon bite- not something you get from your typical Cali Chards. It’s lip-smacking and delicious. And what I love even more about it- its owners. Lindsay Hoopes now runs and manages the winery that her dear dad started up in the 80s, she grew up in Napa, fled to see what life was like on the other side of the Valley only to come back- really, who wouldn’t? Her dad, Spencer is a farmer by trade and has always made wine true to its earth. Anne Vawter now resides as Hoopes’ winemaker and they are churning out better stuff than ever. It’s small, it’s family owned and it’s true to its land and fruit. If you’re in Napa, give Lindsay a shout and make yourself an appointment to taste through their wines.


Bubbly, of course. It is the Oscars.

In Other News:

Get your Oscar Buzz cocktail on.

This Oscar-worthy cocktail is nice too if you have a thing for St. Germain.

This Is What It’s Like to Survive 93 Days as a Hostage of Somali Terrorists“. My friend Jessica’s Buchanan story, “Impossible Odds” is serialized in the current Reader’s Digest. An unbelievable, harrowing and inspiring story of a woman’s strength and will to live, I am constantly in awe of her and so happy to know her.

Oliver Sacks’ beautiful and heartbreaking essay on discovering he has terminal cancer.

Gahhh! The final Mad Men trailer is released.

This kid is absolutely killing it. Give it a few seconds then sit back and enjoy the fierceness.

One of my favorite things I saw this week- a hungover Jimmy Fallon recounting the riduculous SNL afterparty. You have to watch this.

I love this bleached maple knife strip. Although, if you’re at all handy I’ll bet you could make this for next to nothing.

Red wine risotto from Venice blogger Skye McAlpine- this is right up my alley, thank you for posting Anna!

Tina Fey’s return to TV via Netflix. Woohoo.

How to host a dinner party with kids. What do you guys think about this? We usually just let our kids run around until they are tired and want to hit the bed, but they’re still really little.

Anna Watson Carl of The Yellow Table has recently returned from a long jaunt in Sicily where she learned how to cook this pistachio-encrusted tuna at this fabulous hotel. Both are on my list.

Happy Chinese New Year from my wild-hearted pal, Cristy Candler. She is a hoot and has graced the stages of Broadway, the covers of several Yoga magazines, the pages of Anthology, is a fierce animal activist and lover, and a crazy ass party girl. She’s a character and I don’t know anyone like her, not even remotely. Thanks for the nice reminder Cristy that this is the year to “develop a wild heart”.

“How Hypochondriacs Say I Love You”.

Hot Dudes Reading- one of my favorite new Instagram feeds- thanks Lindsay!

I love the looks of this: broiled citrus and ricotta crostini. Must make.

25 things to give up for Lent or just plain give up.

Always the Francophile and lover of type and letters, this glossy clutch kind of rocks my world.

Need some chic little black hair ties with a gold detail? Check these out at J.Crew- 3 for $3 with the code SHOPPINGTIME

While we wait out the deep freeze here in the Mid-Atlantic, we can dream of Caribbean getaways with private plunge pools.

And in that dream, we’re wearing these slip-ons.

Still wanderlusting? Need a destination? Domaine has a silly little quiz to figure out where you should go next.

These cut-out booties are pretty cute too. A good crossover boot into spring, I love the socks to keep your ankles warm.

The 100 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language. Says who? Some blogger. I don’t know, these are all a bit flowery for me, I guess that’s the point. I have always had a thing for the word Halcyon though. What’s your favorite word?

If you have a tiny baby girl or know of someone having one, this giant heart dress is pretty darn cute and on sale. I’m snatching it up for a pal of mine.

2 unknown Cézanne sketches found.

Have a fabulous weekend! Cin Cin ya’ll. Pop the bubbly and enjoy the Oscars.


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Present-ing: What Winos Want

Happy Weekend!

Highway to the Moon


It’s February. It’s cold. And it seems like a great time to hit the open road. A few of my creatively inclined girlfriends and I are heading out to Virginia wine country for a mini escape and creative retreat. Translation: lots of wine drinking, cooking and eating of good food, laughs and by virture of the company- creative inspiration. So looking forward to this retreat. I think it’s so important to set aside a bit of time, even if it’s a day or an afternoon to retreat and re-energize. I’ve been getting back into yoga lately which has helped to clear my brain a bit, a much needed benefit.

I look forward to sharing some of our trip with you all. The Virginia countryside is so beautiful and inspiring. If you have not been- put it on your list.

I hope you all are off to some fun-filled adventures as the skies start to open up and make way for an early spring (fingers crossed), despite what our Groundhog friend had to say about it all.

What I’m Drinking:

Most likely, I’ll be sharing a bottle of RDV’s Rendezvous Left Bank Blend with my creative group of gals. It’s official- the reviews are in and after all of the heavy weights officially weighing in, (I’m looking at you, Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker) the critics are crazy for RDV, Virginia’s little bastion of world class Bordeaux-esque vino. I have visited dozens of Virginia vineyards and I can honestly say, there is nothing like this place- both for the wine and the actual winery and vineyard- it’s just awesome. They really are turning out some amazing juice, so much so that one of the head honcho winemakers who blends for 4 out of the 5 first growth Bordeaux houses jumped on board the RDV team after one sip of its juice. Killer stuff, I’m looking forward to bringing my pals and seeing what they think.

In Other News:

My friend Lindsay was telling me about this- homeless camping out for the upper class at New Orleans’ Galatoire’s. What the what?

2 bronze sculptures found may be the handiwork of Michelangelo?

How to fall asleep in under 1 minute. Can this really work?

By now we’ve all heard that Harper Lee will release a new/old book this summer- HOORAY! In the meantime, a few thoughts on why we need more people like Atticus Finch in the world.

I’m digging this dress.

Look Linger Love’s office- that tile and that desk! I like her blog too.

I love this bathroom redo, black hex tiles- my favorite.

The most unusual sound in the Swedish language?

Have you ever made preserved meyer lemons?

I’d love to have one of these numbers in my kitchen just you know- to jot down grocery lists, menus or sudden inspiration. I don’t know why it seems like so much more fun to me than a chalkboard.

If I could sew, I’d make this quilt for my kiddos.

Pantone’s Spring color chart- my favorite combo is the Classic Blue and Lavender Herb.

Get yourself ready for “Better Call Saul”.

The only 5 90′s trends that really matter. I don’t know, I loved the baby tee/baby doll dress combo myself- choker required.

This wallpaper is so sweet for a little one’s room.

I’d love to do a bathroom floor in this tile laid out like so. I know, I have a tile thing this week or every week. Tile is awesome.

Cin Cin ya’ll and Happy Weekend!


{Image: Aaron J. Groen}


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Bubbles, Bites, and a Barn (well, sort of)

Bubbles and Bites



Photo by: Studio Mod(ish)

My friend Anna Watson Carl was in Virginia this past weekend to throw a few parties and hop around some vineyards. For one of her events, she and I teamed up to throw a little Bubbly and Bites party at the darling Red Barn Mercantile in Old Town Alexandria (hence the barn). Amy Rutherford invited me to pass around the sparkly wine while Anna lit up the space with her simple and delicious demos- a fail safe recipe for hosting the perfect holiday cocktail party.

I am a big fan of the fab Anna Watson Carl- to me, she is this generation’s Ina Garten. You’ve heard me sing praises on le blog before, but now all the more reason as she has recently self-published (yes SELF-published) her very first cookbook, The Yellow Table- a beautiful and thoughtful collection of recipes tried, tested and savored around her very own yellow table that resides in her NoLita apartment in NYC. I’ve been a big fan of her recipes, her blog and am now thrilled to own a copy of her book, it is currently sitting pretty on my kitchen counter.

But enough gushing, let’s get to the goods. Thanks to all the lovelies who came out to Red Barn Merc. this past weekend, it was such a treat. We served up 5 bubblies, 3 savories and 1 sweet treat to our guests. Anna and I share a similar palate when it comes to vino (we are both Old World-style lovers of the lean and mean food-friendly wines), so I knew my picks would probably drink well with her food- they did. I can’t wait to recommend them to you.



Photo by: Vina Sananikone

Red Barn was the perfect spot for our intimate and cozy gathering and I hope that our guests walked with away with the notion that hosting a fabulous and delicious party can be mostly all fun and no hassle, and all delicious and no disappointment. Anna’s recipes are foolproof (hence my comparison to Ms. Garten) and absolutely delectable- fresh, simple and zinging with flavor. The evening quickly turned from demo to chatty cocktail party- just the way it should be- with a book signing to boot.

Party Tip: A great way to recreate this event in your home would be to set up 4 different stations at your party, providing bites paired with each wine in an ice bucket. A little menu listing at each station with a small tasting note would seal the deal. I would encourage guests to jot down their own tasting notes by providing pretty paper and pencils.



Photo by: Red Barn Mercantile

Bubbles: they really are happy-making.
Without further ado, here it is folks:

How To Host The Perfect Bubbles and Bites Holiday Cocktail Party:

bubbly and bites

Photo by Signe Birck from The Yellow Table
P.S.: that Cranberry-Prosecco Fizz above was not served but is damn good- a great holiday party drink!

Welcome Bubble: Ameztoi ’13 Txakolina Rosado Txakolina ’13

-This one’s my little secret. No secret to the Spaniards, this is the stuff they drink year-round, it is a bit less popular here. I love serving this hot pink effervescent wine when folks arrive. To me, it’s akin to arriving at a swanky tropical resort and receiving a luscious and fruity cocktail garnished with a pineapple wedge and a tiny umbrella (whoever thought up that umbrella thing was genius- I don’t quite get the logic, but I sure do love them). Txakolina is a personal favorite. It’s not a sparkling wine by definition but as it is dosed with a shot of CO2 before bottling, it brings a lively effervescene to the palate. It’s packed with luscious red fruit notes, a bit of salt air from the shores of San Sebastian, a tinge of lime and citrus and great acidity. In a word, it’s mouthwatering. Plus, it’s hot pink- so, it’s stylish to boot. What better way to arrive to a par-tay!

Ametzoi Rosé Txakolina, $24


First Bite and Bubble: Citrus Marinated Olives with a ’13 AV Vinho Verde

-Just because it’s a swanky cocktail party, does not mean you have to break the bank. An effervescent CO2-induced Vinho Verde from Portugal is the perfect pairing with these zesty and fresh olives (recipe here). Both the wine and the dish are simple, clean and packed with zingy flavor. Vinho Verdes are no secret to most wine drinkers, mostly because you can get a killer bottle for under $10 bucks. This stuff is made for food with excellent acidity, a hint of white flowers and lots of citrus.

AV Vinho Verde ’13, $7.50


Second Bite and Bubble: Crostini with Brie and Sundried Tomato Tapenade with The Furst Cremant d’Alsace

- I brought some of this sundried deliciousness home for my hubs to try and he was absolutely bowled over by the flavor profile of the tapenade (recipe in The Yellow Table cookbook). Paired with the melted brie and toasted baguette, it is creamy meets tangy at its best in one magical bite. And seriously, seriously- easy to make. I’m not jesting here, I helped Anna prep here in my kitchen before the event so I can speak to these recipes first hand. Simple and fab. The challenge for me was to find bubbles that would match up to both the creamy and tangy elements of the dish. I settled on a Cremant d’Alsace. Why, you ask? Alsace is another go-to and personal favorite of mine with any grape. The high altitude and cool climate is responsible for some seriously mouth-watering acid-happy wines that are killer with food. The finesse of this particular Cremant also stands up to the creamy element as itself is a bit creamy and toasty with lots of yeasty brioche flavors from the traditional champenoise method it undergoes (the same used in Champagne- *hence Cremant is almost ALWAYS an awesome and delicious substitute that will save some dollars while pleasing some palates) while still providing tight, minerally and acidic bubbles. White flowers, honeysuckle, stone fruits and melon abound from a whiff and a taste of this goodness- it was a happy duo.

The Furst NV Cremant d’Alsace, $25

Third Bite and Bubble: Smoked Salmon Tartare in Endive Spears with Thibault-Janisson’s NV Blanc de Chardonnay Sparkling Wine

-I had to do it- I had to serve up a glass of Virginia sparkling wine with this dish. Mostly because it’s local but also- it’s just awesome (and amazingly inexpensive compared to Champers). For those of you that don’t regularly read le blog, you might be surprised by my choice and confidence in a VA. wine to finish off the savory portion of our evening. But many of you are also probably hip to TJ in that it is indeed the stuff of dreams. Virginia bubbles crafted by French hands in the Monticello appellation where the original Renaissance man, TJ himself once planted his own grapes- it’s all just too good. This wine is elegantly made in the tradional champenoise style just like Champagne (Janisson also produces an excellent French Champagne) that produces a delicate yet fizzy lifting drink fit for Kings (and Presidents- as it is an White House fave). It was perfect with our Smoked Salmon Spears (recipe here)- an awesome twist on a Salmon Tartare without the whole raw thing for those that may be skeeved out by rawness at a cocktail party. This is one of my favorite things ever- a yummy mix of capers, shallots, lemon juice and zest, chopped smoked salmon, salt and pepper- it’s a pretty perfect bit. You can also serve on a serving spoon- Anna suggests hunting these down at a restaurant supply store but the endive gives it a fun crunch as well.

Thibault-Janisson NV Blanc De Chardonnay, $25

Fourth Bite and Bubble: Pecan Rosemary Shortbread Bars with a NV Bianca Vigna Prosecco Brut

-Because generally speaking, a brut Prosecco drinks a trifle sweeter than a brut Champagne, I thought this slightly sweet but biting bubble would be a great match to Anna’s savory sweet rosemary shortbread cookie. It was- this might have been my favorite match of the evening. I’m not one to grab for a bottle of Prosecco but this bottle is special. It drinks like a cool and arid day on the Italian slopes. It’s got loads of acid and is flush with fruit, flowers and a hint of fresh herbs- a great glass from a small producer churning out great fruit in this 100% Pinot Blanc. And the cookie- let’s just say I polished off the remainder of the leftovers from the party in bed that night while I caught up on my Top Chef- I couldn’t have been happier. The cookie is aces for me not because I have a sweet tooth but because I have a slightly sweet tooth. I like lots of salt and savoriness in my sweet- this my friends may be one of my all-time favorite cookies… ever. Anna warns that it is loaded with butter (no wonder we all loved it so much) the rosemary really sings- it’s perfection on a cocktail plate. Brava Anna!

Bianca Vigna NV Prosecco DOC Brut, $13
Cin Cin ya’ll and Happy Cocktail Party-ing!

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VINO POPS: the Rosé edition (of course)

vino pops- rose4

A Lavender and Rosemary-Tinged Rosé Pop to enjoy at whatever-o-clock during these dwindling dog days? It is nearing the end of our dear summer afterall and what better than a little pink booze to go with your herb infused popsicle? I mean really.

I have been intrigued by the array of boozy pops out there so I decided to make some of my own. Of course my first batch had to be rosé- it’s always rosé in this house, come rain or come shine so why not in a sunshiney ice pop? It’s pretty dope, I must say.

A little lavender/rosemary simple syrup, a bottle of rose, popsicle sticks and an ice cube tray are all you need.

You can of course make traditional-shaped pops as well but there’s something fun and festive about these little squares, they are especially fun to (quickly) pass around on a party tray as your peeps arrive- it’s rather like checking in at a tropical resort. Not a huge commitment, just a few choice bites before you get down and dirty with that craft beer or glass of vino at your bbq.

Here’s What You Need:

What You Need

1. A bottle of good rosé, something you would drink alone. It doesn’t need to be expensive, if it’s from Provence and it’s $10, you’re probably good to go.

2. An ice cube tray (I prefer these jumbo cube silicone trays- love these) or popsicle molds.

3. Popsicle sticks

4. 4 sprigs of rosemary

5. A tablespoon of dried lavender buds

6. 1/3 cup of sugar

7. 2 cups water

*You will have some of your delicious Lavender Rosemary Simple Syrup leftover. Do what you will with it. I made some non-alcoholic popsicles using 1/3 simple syrup and 2/3 water- delicious. It also makes for a great gift in a cute little jar. Nothing like bringing homemade herb-infused simple syrup to someone’s door. But I digress… back to the pops at hand.

Here’s What You Do:

1. Make your simple syrup

- Put the lavender buds, rosemary sprigs, sugar and water into a big pot.

- Bring to a low boil, then turn down to a simmer for 2 minutes

- Remove from heat and let your syrup stand for 10 minutes

- Strain

- Ta-to-the-Da!

2. Pour 1/3 part rosé straight from the bottle and 2/3 simple syrup into each ice cube or popsicle mold.

3. Freeze for at least 6 hours so they can set.

Vino Pops Tray

4. Stick a popsicle stick into each mold (unless you are using a Popsicle set in which case you would have already done this). I actually stuck my sticks in after the pops had been freezing for about 2 hours (just a little easier) but you can wait until they are finished as well.

5. Serve

6. Cin Cin & Enjoy!


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A Holiday Dippity Doo (and Easy Too): Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Rods

Dark Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Rods

On a recent action-packed trip to NYC (no work and all play- hooray), I managed to squeeze in a little pre-Christmas party prep with one of my best girls, Meghan Frank. It was the first time I had visited her in her fab Park Slope abode with her hubby and we had such fun catching up and prepping for her annual birthchristmukkah party. Her birthday is around the holidays- Happy Birthday Meg!- so she always throws a big blowout. I couldn’t stay for the party (sniff) but making these pretzel treats with her was maybe just as fun.

Meghan’s become quite the domestic and I was super impressed with her homemade New York cheesecake cupcakes as well as her ambition to make these little salty sweets. All of this from a girl who is a full time, hard-hitting television journalist- seriously folks. These pretzel rods are so easy to make and pretty too, that I had to share. This is one that the kids would love (and clearly the adults too).

Cholate-Dipped Pretzel Rods

Here’s What You Need:

2 Bags of Pretzel Rods
3 bars of good quality dark or milk (or both) chocolate
Pistachio Pieces
Sea Salt
Coconut Flakes

Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Rods2

Here’s What You Do:

1. Break your chocolate bars into pieces
2. Place in a saucepan and slowly melt over low-medium heat (or just microwave in a bowl)
3. Dip each rod into the melted chocolate using a spoon to smooth out the chocolate


4. Decorate with whatever topping and decorations you like (some we just sprinkled with sea salt- yum!)


5. Et Voilà- just lay on parchment paper until dry.

et voilá

Enjoy! Do you have any favorite holiday treats that you love to make? Do tell.

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Present-ing: What Winos Want

Present-ing- What Winos Want

A few last minute ideas for the wino in your life- what we really want. Forget the fancy decanters- real winos know we can just use a well-shaped flower vase- and don’t even think about buying us one of those ridiculous Jurassic-sized wine openers, wine keys only please.

1. A dated wine stopper, so we know exactly how long that bottle’s been in the fridge. $60

2. A beautiful champagne bucket. Faceted and rose gold elements don’t hurt. $235

3. A stylish wine tote. Double bottle please. Not only do we never show up empty-handed, but we usually can’t choose between bottles. Two is always better than one. $19

4. An old school wine mag subscription. Sure we all read Punch (it’s great!) but it’s nice to get an old school paper magazine in the mail once a month too. I’m partial to Wine & SpiritsFood & Wine and Bon Appétit, also never bad ideas.

5. Grower champagne. Any self-respecting wino will flip over a great bottle. Some of my favorite growers include Eric Rodez, Vilmart & Cie, Guy Charlemagne, Egly-Ourliet and Pierre Moncuit. Pony up to your favorite wine shop and ask your local merchant for a good recommendation. If you trust them and they know their stuff, they’ll deliver. Pricing varies but you can get a great bottle for around $40.

6. Shatterproof wine glasses. The proper way to picnic (or bbq). Wine tastes better from a proper glass, there may be no hard evidence to prove me right on this front, but we all know it’s true. Solo cups just don’t cut it and who wants to haul around a bunch of glassware anyway. GoVino makes the best and most stylish shatterproof stemless-ware around, with a thumb notch to boot. $12.95

7. A vintage champagne bucket. For the old school wino who prefers their bubbly served up from a French 20th-century chiller. My personal favorite- you cannot go wrong with this gift. $60

8. A stylish and functional wine key. Those overgrown rabbit ears are for hobbyists. Real winos use the tried and true wine key to pop their corks. Whitney Adams has given the key a stylish update with a gold dip. $18

9. A grape varietal chart. Because real winos never stop brushing up on their grapes. $25

Cin Cin!

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