Thursday, June 16, 2016

Maryellen's Trip to Disneyland!

Happy birthday to the happiest place on Earth!

My family is full of Disney fans. Even the few people who can't sing along with virtually every song, recite lines of dialogue from every movie and destroy all challengers at Disney Sceneit? love visiting the parks whenever we can, which definitely isn't as often as we'd like it to be. Too bad things like distance and money make catering to your inner child difficult, right?

A couple weeks ago, my dad and I managed to sneak away to Disneyland for a few days, and I brought someone small and vinyl along with me! Part of this is because I like taking dolls along when I visit places to take pictures of them outside of my house or backyard and to give this blog a bit of a traveling toy blog flavor, but the other reason is I was on a mission to find and eat Chris' Cold Pie. You might remember I tried to make it as an introduction to Maryellen last year, and it didn't go so well.

I also brought her along because Disneyland is still celebrating its 60th anniversary! As you can see, Sleeping Beauty Castle looks pretty festive for the event. Read on to see some more pictures from our trip!

Disneyland was founded in 1955. When it was announced that American Girl's new historical character was going to be from the 50's, I was kind of hoping that she and her family would visit or at least mention Disneyland in her stories. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and I wonder if I have Mattel neglecting the Disney line of dolls they sold at places like Toys R Us to blame for this. It kind of sounds like relations between the two companies got a bit frosty, and now we're all missing out on getting "Maryellen's Disneyland Playset". Talk about a bummer!

Her stories do mention how family vacations and road trips out of state were becoming more and more popular in the post war years, and while Disneyland is still hugely popular with California locals, there's no question that it's been a must see for people from around the country since the gates first opened. The relatively recently remolded Disneyland Hotel pays homage to this with a wall of pictures in front of the elevators of the Fantasyland tower showing various celebrities who have visited over the years, including President Dwight Eisenhower!

According to Cooking with Mickey and the Disney Chefs, which included the recipe for Walt Disney's favorite dessert, Chris' Cold Pie was sold at the Carnation Cafe on Main Street, USA, so that was one of our first stops when we finally got to the park. (I say finally because our flight was delayed by over three hours! Thanks, United.) Somehow, I'd never eaten at this restaurant before, even though it was apparently a favorite of Walt's because it had a great view of Main Street. As the entrance to Disneyland was designed to look like his adopted hometown of Marceline, Missouri, I can definitely see why taking a seat on the patio watching people enjoy his greatest creation would be a favorite activity of the man behind the mouse.

Carnation Cafe is a sit down restaurant, and like most sit down restaurants at a Disney park, it's a good idea to make a reservation ahead of time if you can help it. It's not one of the most popular restaurants in the park the same way Be Our Guest is in Walt Disney World, but I'd still rather have a set time to be expected for dinner instead of being told I could wait for an hour or two for a slot when I could be doing something like riding rides or braving a queue to see Anna and Elsa.

The restaurant specializes in American comfort food, and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While it doesn't offer any character dining plans or other special packages (as of right now, to the best of my knowledge, because that can always change!), it is one of the first real restaurants in the park, making it a good stop for a first thing in the morning sit down breakfast or for a quick escape if you're not planning on sticking around after dinner. It's also one of the comparatively cheaper restaurants on property, which is definitely nice as an option if you don't want to be spending the big bucks on dinner every night.

The interior of the restaurant is designed to fit right in with the Victorian style of Main Street itself, and there's a gated patio with reserved seating outside. Since I live on the east coast, any Disney trips have usually been to World instead of Land just because it's closer, and it always strikes me as a little funny about how open everything is in Land compared to World. As we all know, Florida is much rainier than California, so they've had to design queuing areas and restaurants accordingly.

I didn't get to take any pictures inside because we were seated on the patio, and let me say you really are right on Main Street. Our table was right up against the fence, which meant there were a ton of parked strollers seated right next to me. I didn't mind, but it's definitely not exactly the scenic view I think Walt might have gotten back in the day. Or maybe he had his own private spot.

Still, it's a pretty patio, and each table had a carnation on it for decoration. How appropriate!

The main appeal of Carnation Cafe for me was that its menu boasts that they serve some of Walt Disney's favorite foods, and I was immediately curious if the restaurant still used authentic, Walt approved recipes or not. Cooking with Mickey also included Walt's favorite recipe for chili, which was far and away his favorite food and apparently was served at the Carnation Cafe.

It might come as a surprise to people that one of the most iconic figures of the entertainment community and American society in general would rather have chili than something more befitting of his tax bracket, but we have to remember that Walt grew up in much different circumstances than his later fame would allow. It definitely makes sense that something cheap and simple like chili would be a comfort food for someone who often couldn't afford much else. In fact, Walt liked it so much that he would bring it with him when he and his family left the country, and would ask waiters at restaurants in Europe to just heat up the can for him and bring it out with the rest of the food when they went out to dinner!

The dinner menu has a sub group specifically labeled as Walt's favorites, featuring meatloaf, fried chicken and a catch of the day. I got meatloaf, which came with mashed potatoes, a roll and mixed vegetables, which was unfortunately mostly squash and thus not something I was overly excited about. My vegetable intake for this meal came from stealing tomatoes off of my dad's salad.

It was a lot of food, and I will admit I couldn't finish all of it. As far as taste goes, it was okay. I can't say I was over the moon in love with it, but I'm wondering if part of that is just because it was a pretty standard meatloaf which was a little cold by the time it got out to me. Nothing outstanding, but definitely not terrible.

My dad got a hamburger, which he thought was similarly just okay. People seem to have pretty hit or miss experiences with Disney park food, but I have to say, I usually really like whatever I get. I often fantasize about getting to go back to the 50's Prime Time Cafe in Hollywood Studios or EPCOT's Teppan Edo, or even just the hot dogs at Casey's on Walt Disney World's Main Street. While I wouldn't turn down a meal at the Carnation Cafe based on this entree, I'm not sure I'd be rushing back just for the meatloaf.

But my starter is actually a bigger source of interest and speculation for me, and might definitely be encouraging me to rush another Disney themed blog post into production! You see, they do have chili on the menu, and even refer to it explicitly as Walt's Chili, which made me think this must be the authentic family recipe that was published in Cooking with Mickey. I've been super curious about this recipe for a long time. You see, aside from it being the favorite meal of one of my personal heroes, my brother briefly went through a phase where he was going to be a cook, and apparently tried to make Walt's family recipe for chili. We love chili in my house and have a ton of different variations of it in our arsenal, so I think everyone was expecting to love it, or at least find it interesting.

Unfortunately, the dish turned out to be a disaster! My mom has blamed the recipe, but part of me wonders if my brother - who was probably somewhere around nine or ten at the time - just didn't exactly follow the recipe. He's been known to mix up ingredients sometimes or just play a little fast and loose in the kitchen! My mom says the recipe was totally flavorless, and has always made a terrible face when I've suggested wanting to give it a try myself.

I missed out on it because I was at college when this happened, but decided I would take the risk, order the chili, and see what happened!

As it turns out, either my brother really screwed up the recipe, or the Carnation Cafe has chickened out and replaced the authentic recipe with a generic chili recipe. Don't get me wrong, I love generic chili. It's impossible to go wrong with well seasoned meat, beans and cheese, maybe with a tomato or two in there! So this really hit the spot and I'd definitely order it again. I'm just not sure if it's 100% authentic, this is what Walt Disney would claim as his favorite food, and it's made me all the more interested to give his own recipe a try. The real question there is should it be a Kit hosted post, or Maryellen?

Dessert turned out to be another quasi disappointment. I was already assuming that Chris' Cold Pie had found its way off the menu. It wasn't advertised anywhere online, and all the references to it being available at the restaurant were from several years ago. I'd mentioned in my own post about the pie that it contains a lot of raw eggs, and I can definitely see how this might be a concern for the park in today's day and age from a health and safety perspective. Still, when our waiter asked if we wanted dessert, I was excited to see what our options were.

The answer was... not much. The menu online says you'll have the option of a seasonal cake or two ice cream sundaes, and they were out of the cake by the time we had dinner. This was really pretty disappointing in some ways because there are several ice cream parlors in the park that offer a wide selection of sundaes and treats, and our reservation wasn't that late in the day! The cake must have been pretty amazing if it was all gone by six o'clock! Since dessert is my favorite part of just about any meal, I was totally bummed that not only was I not going to get to eat Disney's favorite pie, but my only option was a sundae I could get just about anywhere in the park.

Fortunately, root beet floats always win me over, even if you don't have pies for me to taste test.

Overall, I was a little bit bummed with the restaurant. As I said, I've had very good food in the past from Disney restaurants, and often think fondly of meals I've had there because the food was genuinely tasty. This wasn't terrible or anything, but it definitely wasn't anywhere close to the quality of food at some of the other restaurants. The Carthay Circle in California Adventure, for example, has had really delicious food both times I've been, with lots of options for appetizers, entrees and desserts. I kind of went in expecting that because it's not like this restaurant has rave reviews online, but I was still a little disappointed that the authenticity of some of the recipes are lacking.

So I still haven't gotten to eat Chris' Cold Pie, and I'm still not sure what Disney's favorite chili recipe tastes like, but that's okay! Maybe this needed to happen to inspire me to give the pie another try, and to hurry up and actually make the chili, since I've been wanting to for literally years at this point.

The rest of our trip definitely did not disappoint. I haven't been to a Disney park in a really long time, so it was a lot of fun to ride the rides, visit the characters, and generally just be in one of my favorite places on the planet. I didn't bring Maryellen with us for the entire trip, but she did come a long for a couple rides, including my childhood favorite!

I was obsessed with Peter Pan when I was a kid. I forced my parents and grandparents to come on Peter Pan's Flight with me over and over and over again during my first trips to Disney World, and it's still a ride we have to go on at least once just for old time's sake. Since I last visited, they updated some of the dark rides to include projected images and LED lights to add a little modern pop to the old classics. Some of it seems a little weird, but most of the new effects actually look pretty cool.

As you can see, we managed to cram in a lot of ride time while we were there!

Maryellen also got to model a Davy Crockett coonskin cap! She, like everyone else in the 50's, is canonically a huge fan of Disney's Davy Crockett series. I wish American Girl would come out with a doll sized version of the hat for her!

One of my other favorite pictures I got was when we came back to the hotel one day after touring sans traveling doll. The cleaning staff at the Disney hotels often do cute things with any toys you have in the room. I remember when I was little, we came back to find my and my sister's toys had TP'd the room! Another time, they were all lined up in the window of our hotel room waiting for us to come back from the park. Another funny one was the last time I went to the park. We came back to the hotel room and were like "Why is the TV on? Who forgot to turn it off?" only to discover the stuffed animals we'd purchased as souvenirs sitting on the bed facing the TV, with Simba's paw on the remote.

This trip, it looks like Maryellen needed a nap after we dragged her all over the park the day before!

One of the reasons we decided to take this trip is because for years, I've wanted to be in the park on my actual birthday. We happened to be in Disney about a month before my 16th birthday, and I begged my parents to let me pretend it was my birthday for just one day on the trip. After giving me a hard time about how it wasn't my birthday, they surprised me by taking the last day of the trip to celebrate my birthday. It's one of my favorite, most special memories, and since the weekend of my birthday happened to be the weekend we could take this trip, I was excited to get to recapture at least a little bit of that magic.

We didn't make a big fuss or anything, but you can get a free button that says you're celebrating your birthday, and both cast members and other guests make a point of wishing you happy birthday. My dad and I had dinner at the Carthay Circle on my birthday, and the waiter brought us an extra dessert as a birthday present! It was a super pretty, very yummy lemon tart, and it was really nice they thought to do it.

We did a lot of other really fun stuff, including great meet and greets with Judy and Nick from Zootopia and Captain America and Spider-Man. Despite us being there on a weekend in May where they were hosting Grad Nites for local high schools, the park wasn't too crowded and we got to do everything we wanted to do at least once, and mostly twice. One of the coolest new experiences is the retooled Space Mountain, which now goes by Hyperspace Mountain and has a new Star Wars plot to the coaster. I don't know if this is a permanent change or not, but it was a lot of fun, even for someone who is starting to feel burnt out on Star Wars.

We also found some fun souvenirs that definitely will work for props for the blog! The first one I was actually clued into by Mini Mad, a great blog about off brand doll sized props and the blogger's custom dolls. As part of Starbucks you are here collection, each Disney park has a unique mug. These mugs are also available as Christmas ornaments, which happen to be almost perfectly sized to be an oversized mug for an AG doll!

I knew there was a Disneyland one, but it turns out they really do have them for all the American parks, so I grabbed a California Adventure mug too. I'd love to get them for all the Florida parks as well someday! The full sized mugs were also really cool, but I talked myself out of buying one because we had limited space in our bags.

What's really nice is that they just have a string looped around the handle to make it an ornament. Undo it, and you have a miniature mug with no weird holes or pointy bits that make it obvious it used to be an ornament. Plus, if you save the string in the box, you can always make it an ornament again down the line!

There's another great souvenir that's perfectly sized for your dolls!

Disney's plush keychains and magnets make perfect Disney plush for 18 inch dolls, so Maryellen now has a Mickey Mouse. They have a pretty standard selection of other characters - the Fab Five, Stitch, Pooh, sometimes Simba! - and all you have to do is maybe snip off the keychain to make them perfect.

There's one more thing I didn't get any good pictures of, but you'll hopefully see down the line: the Build-A-Bear in Downtown Disney has exclusive Disney merchandise, including Mickey Ear Hats for your bears! Which, you guessed it, work almost perfectly for American Girl dolls! They're a tiny bit too big, but look okay on the dolls and are definitely a fun, unique souvenir. I got Maryellen the ears that looked closest to the standard Mickey Mouse Club ears, as the show premiered in 1955 and definitely would have been something Maryellen enjoyed watching. It came with a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, and they also had a Minnie themed set and a Diamond Anniversary set for purchase, along with a lot of tempting Finding Dory stuff.

So, that's the short version of my trip to Disneyland! I'm still bummed you apparently can't get Chris' Cold Pie anywhere in the park anymore, but I had a really fun time with my dad and am really glad we managed to sneak this trip in. Disney has been such a huge part of my life since I was literally an infant, and it's always nice to be able to visit the park with any constellation of my family, especially after we haven't been there in a long, long time.

Plus, I picked up one more souvenir that promises to add some fun stuff to A Peek into the Pantry. Stay tuned!

See ya real soon!


  1. What a great trip! Your pictures of Maryellen are so perfect and unique. I love Disney too! Your love of Peter Pan sounds similar to mine with The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I loved it so much that my grandpa showed up with a pet goat for me named Jolly. My parents of course we're less than thrilled, but that's a different story. Bummer that the restaurant was kind of disappointing, but at least you got to try it! I look forward to seeing Maryellen's ears!

    1. I totally get why your parents would've have been excited about that, but that's a pretty cool present ahaha. I'm hoping to break the ears out when we make the chili recipe! :D

  2. Very cool! Thanks foe sharing!

  3. It looks like you had a LOT of fun!!

    1. We really did! I already want to go back, haha.

  4. That sounds like so much fun!! Happy birthday! I live near Disneyland and it really is a fun experience but I imagine I don't have the 'magic' experience since I've been there so much. Staying at the hotel sounds so cool, and really cute how the cleaners 'play' with the toys. Carnation Cafe is a really nicely designed restaurant but I don't remember the food very well - haven't eaten there since my older sister's 9th birthday I believe. Thank you for the fun pictures and story!

    1. You're welcome! I can't imagine what it must be like living so close to the park, I feel like I'd never want to leave. xD

  5. Loved this post!!! I'm like you, we've always had good dining experiences at Disney World, what I wouldn't give to be able to cook a steak and potatoes like they did at the Canada Pavilion!

    Celebrating a birthday at a park is so much fun, even for adults. We went one year for my husband's birthday, his is in December. I've decided Mrs. Claus has eagle eyes, she was on a float in the Magic Kingdom parade (at night no less) and wished my husband a happy birthday, I have it on tape, great moment. Between your post and Jen's, I am really getting the urge to go...I'd better not let Cassandra see this!

    1. Oh man, that restaurant is to die for! As is most of the food in EPCOT, haha.

      And that's such a cute story! I love when the actors make an effort to make the event really special for people. How cool that you caught it on tape, too!