Flying to Australia, New Years Eve

My first trip ever to Australia! Deciding to go “down under” was rather last minute, for me. I flew one way on New years Eve on a relatively cheap $724 (with tax and fees) ticket on United that I found using  Google’s Flight search engine ). Travel hints: 1) it’s cheaper to fly on major holidays when other people don’t want to; 2) try using goggle’s search engine. I find it is among the best for finding the cheapest flights available as priced directly from the airlines themselves — so while not always THE cheapest flight out there, it provides bookings that are a LOT less likely to get you bumped, or to discover upon showing up at the airport that the airline knows nothing about your reservation. And, 3) while Americans can stay in Australia for 3 months without going to the consulate to get a visa the old fashioned way, you still NEED TO GET AN ELECTRONIC VISA! They won’t let you on your flight without it, and it’s much more expensive to get it at the last minute (and can take up to 20 minutes, even in that case). And remember to PEE before landing… just saying.

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[Breaking with tradition, I’m writing this from Korea (as per usual) I never got around to writing it on shortly after arrival… and I’m really looking at this in retrospect I’m posting it with a date that is three months after the fact.]

My friend (the one who had expressed interest in our becoming travel buddies) had gone home to Sydney for a few months over Xmas; while I, at this time, was doing my THIRD extended trip in a row at Disney World. Between 2015 and 2018 I’d spend 18 MONTHS in the Orlando area, doing little else than go to Disney, either daily or weekly …. depending on my mood, health and the weather. All in all, I was kind of Disney’d out (or at least Orlando’d out).

“HOW can that BE?!” you ask… (somewhat facetiously, I assume)

Well, it was mid November, right after the thanksgiving school holiday, and I was once again at Disney World, using up the remainder of the on- year-pass I had purchased in December 2016 (at the time they were offering a deal of 13 months for the price of 12) out of a sense of Jewish guilt (in this particular case, based on the laws of economy taught to me in my childhood, i.e., never wast a dollar), because the pass wasn’t due to expire till late January.  I knew I was bored with it before I had even arrived, but I was saying to myself, “this will be my visit for 2018, one month and then I’ll do something else,” not yet having ANY idea of what that something else might be.

Warning: slightly depressing side bar [Initially the plan had been to then go to New Orleans and spend a few months there; but my beloved friend (in fact the guy I lost my virginity to) who I was going to see while there (he was single, I was single… neither of us had been involved with anyone for a while and we’d maintained our friendship for 30 years, so…), had up and died on me. He had dropped dead in early June while at work… IN A HOSPITAL of all places; he was a doctor, had sat down on a bench (suddenly not feeling well), and died, sitting up. Apparently he hadn’t even collapsed to the ground when they’d found him. Luckily for me, we had spoken only days before he died, talking in part about my plans to go to NOLA the following winter, and talking about me finding an Airbnb in his neighborhood, at least initially. I’d been driving towards Montreal, and the cellphone connection kept dropping while in New York State’s mountains, so we agreed I should call him back once I was settled in (so my last memories of him were recent, and very positive). The day I called him back, I loaded up my computer where Facebook is my default web page, and at the very top was a posting on his wall saying “RIP Peter” with the details of his death. So, while it was now about six months later, I still couldn’t bare the thought of going to New Orleans without him being there… which left me rather adrift.]

So here I was, back in my safe zone, Disney World (a place I now knew like the back of my hand), NOT what I had wanted for myself for this year, and simultaneously being seriously annoyed by the fact that while only a few years previously I could trust that between thanksgiving and Xmas the parks would be half empty, so that I could just jump on rides like the Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion ride with only a 10 minute wait, those days were now GONE. The citizen of Brazil (who had yearly been discovering the joys of a Disney vacation in increasing numbers as their economy became robust enough to allow them to afford to travel) were now there en masse, or at leasts that’s the way it felt, and as their “summer” vacation months encompassed the whole of our Winter months the lull in attendance between American School Holiday was now a thing of the past. As a result, most of my favorite rides (the low key, non roller coaster ones) were no longer rideable unless I were willing to stand in line for 20 minutes, which I was not… and a bit of the joy had gone out of the Happiest Place on Earth for me. (Disney REALLY needs to think about opening up a South American location.)

So I realized that I was not only getting a bit bored of Disney World, but that I felt like I was stuck in something of a semi depressed rut. I was doing things I no longer enjoyed because they were safe and known (never a good thing). So, I decided it was time to make a change.

I fairly spontaneously (for me) decided to, first: check if my friend in Australia was amenable to my suddenly showing up (he was), and then I canceled my reservations with Airbnb for January (ladies and gentleman, here’s an Airbnb user tip… NEVER book an airbnb that has a strict cancellation policy — flexible and moderate are your friends) and I decided to book a ticket to Australia for mid-January (again, Jewish guilt about not wasting the Disney ticket). …

HOWEVER, I discovered (using googles flight search engine) that if I flew on New Years Eve rather than mid January as originally intended, I would save about $400 (Jewish guilt issues resolved!) … explained this to my Australian friend, who a bit less enthusiastically (just being honest here) agreed that it was only reasonable that I should fly in earlier than initially planned (although he started hinting I should explore other parts of Australia without him — hence my trip to Katoomba)… so with the agreement of my friends in Georgia (where I needed to stay for about a week or so in order to reorganize my suitcase, and store what I wasn’t taking) and the ones in Orlando (who would be baby sitting my car) … I was off

[Just a bit ironically, I was initially intending to go Australia, then Shanghai (to see friends and the new Disney park), then Tokyo with my best Korean friend (where I’d again go to Disney)… then home — but I wasn’t booking the return flights till I solidified things with them. And then, before even taking off a distant female friend, so much so that FB wasn’t bothering to show her my posts, who it turned out is working in Shanghai and was intending to go to Australia for travel, was told by a closer mutual friend that I was going to be in Australia TOO and we should hook up. For a while we tried to organize our dates but she was unwilling to commit to anything in advance (in effect because there were other people she wanted to travel with more who weren’t getting back to her) and I’m unwilling to be left hanging on the beck and call of someone who can’t make up her mind because she dangle’s person on hold while hoping for “something better” because she’s too afraid to just travel alone …. so that didn’t happen, and she’s now on the “don’t even think about” list of travel partners.]

So, as you probably could guess from the tips I listed at the start of this… guess who forgot to sign up for her electronic visa? So ya, that was a glitch— but since I always like getting to the airport super early (more than two hours before the flight) I was, with the help of United’s staff, able to do it from my iPhone — and the visa came through in about 15 min after we figured out how to sign up for it — thank the powers that be for smart phones and web pages that work as intended.

Once I was checked in, I discovered that Orlando airport now has this place is near gates 30-50. It newish (I verified that wasn’t there the last time I passed through) — they have Cuban coffee as well as American — I had one called Cuban roast which was very good… it had chocolate undertones you could actually taste … They also have very tasty and BIG cubano sandwiches ready at almost an instant (which is great if your running for a plane). I ate 1/2 at the restaurant and saved half for shortly before takeoff (I remember that on the TV news once they said that medical studies have found that having freshly swallowed food in your belly at takeoff can decrease the risk of strokes during, but haven’t been able to find a link to add here).

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When I got to SF I hadn’t remembered to make a bathroom run before landing, and I ended up NOT quite making to the bathroom after disembarking…  in SF!!! Right when we were starting to land, but not allowed to get up, I realized to late that I really REALLY needed to go… and by the time we unloaded my sphincter, upon just seeing the bathroom sign a few feet away, couldn’t do the job anymore… fech!!

That said, I was very amused to discover that United had me set to depart one gate away from the gate I arrived at!!! Totally saved me from the not quite enough time to make the transfer worries, so I grabbed some Japanese food from the directly adjacent eatery. Upon loading the stewardess’s were wearing these crowns… I asked if we were all going to get one, and she gave me hers…

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And, I was SUPER thrilled to discover I alone in my row, so that I actually managed to get some sleep on the way from SF to Australia.

While flying somewhere between Port Vila and Brisbane

I met and got friendly with a former Harlem globetrotter by the name of Tracy Williams who is 6’7″ so he was having to stoop a bit to make the photo happen.

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…we did the photo and he gave me a signed-photo that says, “To Rebecca, Happy New Year, 2018”

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… he was really hungry and they had no food so I gave him my pack of bison jerky and other high protein/low carb snacks I brought with me was but not hungry enough to eat — and all of it was verboten to bring it into Australia anyway so better it shouldn’t go to waste… I was doubly glad I’d given him the food when some very cute dogs sniffed me all over before allowing me to enter the airport. Australia is the fist country I’ve been to where they large numbers of sniffing dogs on staff and EVERY SINGLE PERSON and their bags gets a full sniff-over before being allowed to enter.

My friend picked me up at the apart and we went to a cafe near where we were going to be staying, and I had Israeli food (Sydney is FULL of Israeli restaurants — who knew?) … not the best shakshuka I’ve ever had, but no bad.

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Some suggestions on how to do a Disney World vacation and not go broke

I’ve had a one year Disney world pass now for two years now, and I’ve sort of gotten it down.

Where to stay:
Pretty much all of the areas that are just off of the DW campus, where the hotels are, are also ‘cheek to jowl’ with Airbnb rentals that are often nicer, and for less money than what the hotels have to offer. ALSO, if you’re someone who cares about a good reliable wifi connection, the reality is that I’ve NEVER found Wifi at a hotel to be anywhere as good as the wifi in a private home, particularly if it’s one where they’re renting you a room in their own home — rather than a property they rent out entirely.

When I first got to Orlando this year I was renting an Airbnb space from a perfectly nice divorced elderly guy. The “home” was actually a double wide/trailer (but from the inside you can’t REALLY tell that) located just south west of the park. I was paying about $34/night for a HUGE air conditioned bedroom with a ceiling fan, that has a walk in closet, an ensuite bathroom that has a shower and a jacuzzi tub, free parking in his driveway, full usage of the kitchen, and located in a gated development with a guard that has a pool and a weight room. My host offers up free coffee from his Keurig (most Airbnb hosts do). Now granted, I could stay at a flea bag motel for around $45 a night, but why would I want to?

For Thanksgiving I drove up to Georgia to stay with my friends up in Dalton, and then came back to Orlando a 2nd time, and am now staying at a different Airbnb in the newly developing (I remember 20 years ago when this whole area was NOTHING but orange groves) west side of campus… in a home that can’t be more than a year or so old. I have a beautiful and comfortable room in the home of a young Brazilian couple again for about $34/night.

Additionally, if wifi is important to you, my experience is the wifi at Airbnb’s where the owner is living in the same space with you are almost always way better than what is offered from the hotels. (AVOID the ones where the owner seems to have 4 or 5 spaces to rent in different locations… I want my owner living IN my house, this may mean a bit less privacy but it USUALLY, emphasis on the usually, assures a much higher standard of customer service, in my experience.)

This year, I’m going to be headed to my friend in GA for Thanksgiving holidays, and then moving to a different Airbnb that’s again just at the edge of the park, but this time a bit north west of it in an area that was all orange groves in 2002 (the first time I came to Disney for an extended stay) but is now housing developments and strip malls … again for about $34/night. And around Disney there’s very little new home building that isn’t part of a development, and all of those include pools and weight rooms, some of the more expensive ones even have golf courses — but those Airbnb’s in those, when they exist, are much pricer as a result, although still less than at a hotel resort with a golf course.

I think Disney is aware of the problem (for them) and is as such upping their hotel game. Currently the ONLY Disney hotels that call to me ‘enough’ for me to be willing to pay their rates, is 1) the infinitely long Wilderness Lodge next to animal kingdom, where every single room overlooks a sort of zoo like area, so you can look out of your bedroom window and see giraffes and wildebeests; and 2) the currently in development star wars themed hotel where apparently the “windows” will make you feel like your on a space ship, your assigned a story line upon arrival that you’re supposed to play out, and all the staff are in costume and character at all times (including some aliens) … THAT would be worth $300/night — but even then I would want to find friends to share the room with.

Shopping:
Disney is impressively expensive. As a rule, I do NOT BUY ANYTHING on campus until I have had a chance to visit the two (and you should go to both) outlet shops that sell discontinued Disney merchandise, and Disney discontinues stuff every few weeks. These shops ONLY carry things that were either available ONLY at DisneyWorld shops (not the Disney stores in malls), or are left over from various Disney Cruises. To give you an idea of the prices, T-shirts that sold for $36.99 on campus are $12.99 at these stores, stuff that was $39.99 sell for $14.99, and items that were $14.99 are marked down to $2.99…. and unless marked “as is” or “all sales final” (in which case the discounts will be steeper, because the merchandise is damaged), all items come with a full refund 30 day guarantee. SO, you can grab that Mickey Mouse jacket that they only had one size too large for you at one store, and then return it to the other one if that branch has it in your size.

While the selection is much smaller, odds are you’ll find at least a handful of items you like, and at those prices, well, the items seem to get cuter. So where allow yourself only one item, (because if you look the prices are essentially 1/3 of what they’d be in the park) here you can get three items for the same price. AND if you think about how much you’d have paid for that “reasonably priced” hotel room located equidistant from DW as your Airbnb — which would currently be between between $70 and $150 night…  (although there are flea bag places going for $45 a night just a bit father off) well…

Like I said there are TWO of these stores, both are in outlet malls in shops adjacent to the food courts (so ask folks where the food court is, as to my experience the teenagers working in those places often don’t know the Disney stores are even there):

One is in the ‘Premium Outlet on Vineland Ave’, located just a bit east of DisneyWorld:

while the other is about 20 minutes north in the ‘Orlando International Premium Outlets’ that are just east of the Universal Amusement parks Campus:

Once I have “satiated” my need for cute Disney stuff…. I currently have six new really cute Disney T-shirts that I picked up last night, as well as some new luggage tags (star wars themed), that’s when I start shopping the parks in earnest…. usually finding I can’t justify their prices, especially having just purchased six new T-shirts.

Food:
Firstly, you CAN of course always bring your own snacks to the park, or eat a good breakfast at home, limit yourself to a light lunch, and then wait to get off campus to eat dinner… There’s no shortage of Denny’s, Ihops, etc., not to mention there are a few Bahama Breeze restaurants scattered just outside the edges of the park, that offer a late night happy hour from 9pm to midnight where they have really good/tasty half price appetizers, where the calorie hit is listed on the menu (I like the fresh crab, shrimp, mango and avocado stack, for about $7.50  @300 calories ).

BUT assuming you don’t want to… one of the best held food secrets of Disney world is that firstly, there are Macdonald’s scattered around the parks, but of course this means getting in your car and driving over there because none of the DW rapid transit goes there.

AND the gas station food: You know that gas station that’s one right near Magic Kingdom? Pretty much every park has one not TOO far outside the parking area, if you willing to walk it. The one next to the Magic Kingdom is the one where they have actual mechanics available to fix flat tires, or swap out dead batteries so that you can at least get home. It, and all the other ones, actually have REALLY tasty hot food for sale, not kidding. These stations on the Disney property (all of them) are NOT offering up your normal gas station food, which you’d have to be a little desperate to eat… nope, these are the same sort of fare at the same sort of prices, but at MUCH higher quality. The wings for instance, are REALLY good, and their nice big pieces of chicken like at a restaurant (my mouth is actually watering as I write this). So, don’t be surprised to see Disney staffers at these places, dressed up in the outfits they wear working for on site restaurants, all of them buying pizza, subs and wings from these places during their lunch and dinner breaks.

Kid’s portions:
While Disney’s sit down restaurants won’t let you do this, the fact of the matter is that if you approach a fast food location and as an adult ask for the child’s portion, the staff will never question you about it… they’ll just assume the child is with a different adult already seated at a table. Even at Hollywood’s canteen, where waiters bring the food to the table, no one has ever made an issue that I opted for the child’s $7 half portion of grilled salmon rather than paying $15 for the adult sized portion.

 

 

 

Eating Healthy at Disneyworld: Low fat & Low carb eating strategies

How to spend 2 months in Disney-world, without breaking your diet, and even LOOSING weight. It can be done, but it will cost you — literally.

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That said, I honestly don’t think it’s possible to do it without straining your pocket book (unless you make all your own meals), and even if you try, you’re going to be eating grilled salmon or a salad for pretty much every meal — and there’s only so much salmon a girl can eat.

Most of what’s available at Disney “fast food” places isn’t all that healthy … excepting the obligatory grilled salmon, salads, and small bags of snacking tomatoes and/or apple slices the menus are geared far more towards the palates of children than the concerns of parents. A lot of self control WILL be required on your part, and you’ll have to INSIST on sit down restaurants, and speaking with the chef when ordering. No really, ask to see the chef. One of the fabulous things about Disney is that if you start off the conversation with your waiter with THESE words… “I have health issues that restrict my diet” they have been TRAINED to not pass go, to not collect $200, and just go get the chef.

So for instance, a few days ago I went to eat at Tiffen’s, one of the two sit down restaurants at Animal Kingdom:
Waitress: “I’ll give you a few minutes to make up your mind”
me: “let me preface this with I have health issues….” and before I could finish my sentence she said:
“Would you like me to send out the chef?”
Me: “Yes please “– happy smile…
He came out and we talked, he has decided to grill the red snapper that they usually deep fry, and is making all sorts of other alterations to the accompanying items, 100% Forbidden/black Rice instead of the Jade blend they would normally use — no oil or carrots added to the (cole)slawed green papaya (carrots are a very HIGH sugar veggie), and no black bean sauce (cause he said that had oil in it too), etc.

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Animal Kingdom/Tiffen’s: Intended for two people, I had enough left over for a 2nd meal.

Normally: This dish would be Crispy Sustainable Fish served with Som Tam (green papaya salad) and Black Bean Sauce served with Jade Blend Rice  — and  I was expecting to pay about $43, based on the price of a similar entree (this dish was from the prix fixe menu), but after a 20% discount they’re giving to all yearly pass holders at certain restaurants, it only cost me $36.64 including tip… so about $18.32 per meal.. not bad.

Where rice in general is a VERY bad idea, and should be avoided… seriously… ONE rice bowl of white rice has as much sugar in it as FOUR crispy cream doughnuts!!!!! Me, I would MUCH rather have the doughnuts.

Black rice, sometimes known as ‘forbidden rice’, while still carbohydrate heavy, is at least a better option — even though it too should be eaten sparingly, as it it contains protein and other nutritional goodies. For those not familiar with it, a one-half cup serving of cooked black rice, contains about:

  1. 160 calories
  2. 1.5 grams of fat
  3. 34 grams of carbohydrates (which is my per meal maximum)
  4. 2 grams of fiber (double the fiber of brown rice)
  5. 5 grams of protein  (the highest amount of protein of all the rices)
  6. 4% DV for iron

P.S., Black rice is LOADED with antioxidants… more than blueberries

Initially I had come in to the restaurant thinking I would get the grilled octopus appetizer, but he immediately vetoed that, informing me that they pouch it in olive oil before grilling it — which makes now think I should be asking about that cooking technique from now on before ever ordering it again.

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So, while there are certain fast food dishes that Disney does pretty well, and going that way will save you money… for the most part they’re not really healthy options from the standpoint of an adult whose only growing in the wrong direction. Their mac and cheese is really tasty, and you can find it topped with lobster, shrimp, and even beef brisket (@Magic Kingdom next to the Carousel, limited hours, usually closed by 8pm even if the park is open till 1am) … And while there’s chicken pretty much everywhere, it’s pretty much either rotisserie or fried; and for those who don’t know… fried is actually the healthier option, assuming you remove the skin. Rotisserie chicken is cooked in such a way that the fat saturates the meat rather than dropping down off the chicken, making the chicken moister but also MUCH fattier. Disney also does REALLY good tomato soup, in any variation of the sort, but again it’s NOT low fat… and last year I gained a good 20 pounds in two months eating all of it…

As many of you know, about this time last year, Jan/Feb of 2016 (after many months expanding sizes but of just not wanting to know the truth), I weighed myself on one of those massive scales outside of a Publix Supermarket (the dominant chain in Florida), and clocked in at 200lb… SHOCK!!! The cause was simple, I tend to eat my feelings and the death of my father, who was also my best friend, shook me hard; and then, the process of going through probate was so emotionally stressful that, as I like to put it, I developed a deep and intimate relationship with both Ben AND Jerry. (Insert laugh) However, after seeing that my weight was almost DOUBLE what it had been in my 20’s was enough to motivate me to start making better food choices.  Then at my checkup in May of 2016, I weighed in at 187 lb (better), but I learned that, rather like a goose being prepared for Foie Gras, I’d managed to eat myself into Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.  I discussed this at length, previously, in my blog post called: A matter of health (feel free to follow the link).

For those who would rather not: brief review, my doctor informed me that my liver numbers were HORRIBLE, and that if I didn’t seriously make some changes they’d have to find me a new one. *GASP* … suffice it to say I was scared, and fear of death is a much stronger motivator than mere vanity. The doctor put me on a LOW fat and low carb diet (the latter being something I’d been mostly doing anyway, because I have been pre-diebetic for maybe 15 or more YEARS), and suggested I give up red meat entirely, and focus on just eating fish. Three months later (after traveling through Canada) I came back for more extensive testing, where I weighed in at 149lb, and the doctors were SO happy with me (and my liver numbers were so improved) that they just said, “you don’t NEED to loose more weight at this point, your BMI is healthy, but keep doing what you’re doing and we won’t need to put you on any medication.” (Normal weight for a woman my age (not considering frame) is 107.8 – 145.6 lbs

BUT, my weight in my 20’s had been about 110 to 115, and everything I’ve read the ideal weight range a woman in her 50’s with my height AND frame is 114-127, so I might not NEED to loose more weight, but as long as I’m not feeling like I’ve been denying myself, and I don’t… I want to lose that last 10. So, after that I returned back to Orlando, where I continued to drop weight until today, albeit at a slower rate (of maybe half a pound a week); at least until about a week ago when I made the mistake of buying my own digital scale, rather than relying on that of whatever Airbnb I happened to be staying with at to time, Murphy’s law. However, that too was good, since having realized I was not only no longer dropping, but actually starting to gain, I did a review of my eating habits and realized I’d been slowly adding a lot of fruit to my diet. I removed that, and quickly went back to loosing weight again.

Currently, I’m at 133.8 lb. I figure I have 10 more lbs to lose to get back to my happy weight — and hopefully ALL my old clothes will then fit again. I’m 5’4″ and have a very slender frame — tiny wrists, and should have a 28″ circumference to my rib cage, but am currently still at 30 inches, so that essentially, right now, I’m still two inches too big in all my measurements. (And as you can tell from the pictures below, there is such a thing as having breasts that are too big.)

So, that said, here are before and after shots of me a year ago, and me a few weeks ago (I have since gotten rid of the oil-slick hair, and am now sporting a pixy short haircut)

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Before and after shots; I tried to find similar angles, and used the size of my head as a point of reference for sizing the photos

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(They might not be the most flattering pants, but tourism I prefer cargo pants where I can load up my pockets rather than lug around a backpack or purse. In those pockets are a full set of keys, an iPhone, a man’s wallet, a backup iPhone battery with all the obligatory cables, and ear phones, and hanging from my belt look one of those microfiber clothes for cleaning my glasses.

So, as to my qualifications to speak about loosing weight while at the parks, the proof is in the pudding and I know of what I speak….

The first rule, while the most obvious, is the hardest to obey… USE SELF CONTROL!

If you’re at epcot for the Arts and food festival and you see options like this, SAY NO!

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It doesn’t matter that you can rationalize that  the serving size is small, the answer is NO! ‘Cause I promise you, at these events you’ll not eat just one… and there’s always the next booth selling something delectable, and the next… and you’ll walk out of there having gorged yourself on a lot of small servings …  I know this from experience.

And of course, the corollary to this rule is that when you see things like, that slice of chocolate cake at Hollywood Studios that’s almost as big as your head,  or that cinnamon bun in the Belle Section of Magic Kingdom, which is about the same size… for those items as well the answer is still a resounding NO!

— and honestly, having had the pleasure of eating both items, I can honestly testify that they’re OK, but really NOT worth the calories… I think that cinnabon at 880 calories actually IS a tastier cinnamon bun.

BUT, and this is a big one, DO NOT DENY YOURSELF EITHER!!!

As a general rule, from day one on this diet I have not denied myself. While it’s pricey, it’s hard to feel your sacrificing your pleasure of food to your diet when you are eating things like Lobster, fresh oysters, shrimp, salmon, crab, etc.

So while I’m saying DON’T buy those deserts, I am not saying don’t have desert. My suggestion is to hold out till you pass a Starbucks on your way OUT of the park (there’s one in EVERY park, usually near the entrance — Animal kingdom being the exception) and buy yourself a cup of plain coffee or tea (decaf) and ONE (and JUST one) of their cake pops — I LOVE the chocolate one with pink sprinkles, as it is by far the chocolatiest of the bunch.

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While for some reason the Starbucks in the parks do NOT include any dietary information, here is a pic of the comparable item sold outside of the parks (and remember to eat it slowly, nibble at it.. savor it). Now think about it, if that TINY (but oh so tasty) pop of gooey fudgey chocolate cake is around 200 calories at $2.25, what would that massive slice of cake have run you?

Now granted, if you have a group of about 6 people you could buy that slice of cake and cut it up into portions for about the same calories… but I travel alone….

I’ll be honest, Last year when I was at Disney, and posting all my food choices to the internet, my friends were making comments like, “do they even HAVE vegetables at Disney?” and “would it kill you to eat a vegetable?

So it’s ultimately about choices… that and asking to talk to the chef.

Epcot’s Restaurants: 

Last year I went to Le Cellier Steakhouse in Epcot’s Canada, and I ordered their Filet Mignon a AAA Canadian Beef Tenderloin, with mushroom risotto, asparagus-tomato relish, sitting on a truffle-butter sauce, with a side of their signature Poutin (french fries, Gruyere, caramelized onions, french onion gravy), and the Crème brûlée for desert.

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Quite tasty, but probably not the healthiest of choices.

This year I did it differently… I ordered the Venison.

Ladies and Gents, if you have a choice between game meats or normal things like beef or chicken, go for the game! Seriously..  Three ounces of venison has 140 calories and less than 1 gram of fat, while the same sized serving of beef tenderloin (offering the same amount of protein), has 179 calories and 7.6 grams of fat, three of which are saturated!!!

Bison steaks are actually a healthier bet even then Venison and I argue tastier than beef steak– but so far I have yet to find it offered in any of the in park restaurants (one of the on site hotels apparently has it); Do NOT however be fooled, the same can not really be said of Bison burgers. Those should be avoided. While they ARE better than beef burgers, they are NOT lower in fat than chicken, which the bison steak is pound per pound. Burgers NEED the fat to bind the bits of meat into the patty shape, so manufacturers will throw in EXTRA fat from the bison, or add in ground beef, into the mix.

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Epcot: Canada: Le Cellier Steakhouse

Also, per normal I SPOKE WITH THE CHEF, and was told that the Venison was supposed to be sitting on this creamy pasta thing; so I asked him if they could switch out that fatty carb for something in the way of green vegetables, and was given a massive plate full of grilled asparagus, mushrooms and Brussels sprouts instead.

Also, as a rule, start off eating the veggies, filled up on them and then get started in on the meat after you’ve taken the edge off your hunger. Again, having filled up on high fiber veggies, I was only able to eat half of the meat portion (and had enough veggies left over) that I was able to get two meals out of it.

Sadly, Canada is one of the few places that has game meat… at pretty much every other restaurant you’re going to have to turn your eyes to either an appetizer (again, talk to the chefs about how they’re prepared)

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Epcot: Italy, Tutto Italia Ristorante: Pasta Fagoli (Pasta and bean soup), a filling nutritious snack to sip slowly while your group is snarfing down pasta

Or, most likely, you’ll have to settle on nice piece of fish with side of green vegetables

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Epcot China: Nine Dragon’s Restaurant, sustainable fish of the day was Orange Roughy

This fish was pan fried and hence probably a little more oil then I prefer. I warned them ahead of time about my issues, and they replaced the rice with broccoli …. Apparently they do NOT have Chinese cabbage here (very sad)

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Epcot France: Monsieur Paul, Black cod (my favorite fish) sauce on the side, refused the bread and the rice

There are a few places around the park where I found Black Cod being served (TRY the on at Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs)… if you have not tried it (otherwise known as Sablefish in the USA, but has different names world wide) it’s light and flaky with a very high Omega 3 fat content. My favorite preparation is the Asian way, marinated in miso for 24 hours or more… but the way Chef Paul did it was also tasty.

And even if you are Epcot for one of the various tasting festivals that draw locals in during the off season, there are “better choices.” Again, ALWAYS look to the fish option, but pay attention to the details…

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Believe it or not even at these food booths you CAN ask them to please NOT add the Lemon-Thyme Beurre Blanc — otherwise known as butter — but make sure you make the request to the person who calls out the orders when you hand them your receipt, and then make sure to repeat it AFTER they say it, LOUD … the chefs are so remote controlled back there that you sort of have to wake them up.

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I’m not going to bother going through EVERY park and talking about food options at each, because basically the same rules hold true.

Opt for a sit down restaurant unless you want to be eating nothing but grilled salmon and salads for your whole stay, and ask to speak to the chef and choose a seafood or game meat (if available), and work with the chef on how they can modify what’s available to meet your dietary needs.

For snacks, there are apple slices and bags of cherry tomatoes at every park sold either at stands or behind fast food counters.

Remember to have ONE serving of FULL FAT dairy a day… while this may sound counter intuitive, there’s a slew of studies that have found that folks who maintain dairy fat in their blood stream actually loose weight faster — I guess our metabolisms have evolved to figure if there’s milk, we can’t be starving, and there’s no need to slow the metabolism even though calorie intake has decreased. Also, studies are finding that from a cholesterol standpoint our bodies process that sort of fat differently, and if you too are a woman you need the dairy for bone health. I STRONGLY suggest ONE full fat cheese stick a day as a late night snack after returning from the parks … I opt for a nice sharp cheddar.

Oh, and least I forget!!!!
DO NOT DRINK YOUR CALORIES!!!! And for G-d’s sake, stay away from artificial sweeteners (no really, if you don’t know about WHY you should NEVER consume these things, read this!)!!!  Get used to drinking unsweetened teas and coffee — its difficult at first, but I promise you after a few weeks your palates will adjust and you’ll grow to prefer it, or of course water is always the best option.

Anh Hong Restaurant; Orlando, FL

Great and affordable Vietnamese food!

Initially I found this restaurant on a Orlando Newspaper’s list of “things you must do in Orlando before you die” which was aimed at locals rather than tourists. It said you HAD to try the Bánh mì at Anh Hong’s restaurant (otherwise known as,’Vietnamese sandwich,’).  These sorts of subs, hoagies or po’boys (depending on what part of the US you come from) have become all the rage recently, and have resulted in mom and pop joints springing up in major cities that have been giving the chains Subway and Jimmy Johns a run for their money nationwide.


There are MANY vietnamese places in Orlando’s ChinaTown area (which is essentially all along Colonial Drive), this would be the one that the Vietnamese go to (I had this on the authority of theVietnamese guy who runs a  grocery store there).
I went there maybe three or four different times, even though it was no where near where I was staying, and took along friends who were locals (who have kept going). The food there is highly affordable, tasty, fresh, and like I said, not geared towards western pallets. The menu extends far beyond the sandwiches to include all of your Vietnamese favorites, such as Pho, etc.,.

Boggy Creek Airboat Tours, near Orlando, FL

A must do: I paid $28 for a 30 minute airboat ride, but since business was slow the pilot kept us out there for over 45min.

Anyone going to central Florida or further south down the peninsula, into the Everglades proper, really HAS to do at least one Airboat ride, it’s obligatory. I did this as sort of a last minute trip before heading north out of the land of Amusement parks (aka Orlando). I had intended to do it since arriving in June, but weather was unseasonably warm this year, and it wasn’t till January that it was finally cool enough for me to be willing to spend a full day in the sun — they were finally having a cold snap that demanded a sweater. I have to say it was very pleasant ride.

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Perhaps it was the location (near Orlando which I opted for over driving an hour away from town) but the ride was more about being out in the sun and the wind, and enjoying the view, than about seeing wildlife — although we did seem some. In the picture below, if you put your nose right up to the screen and look to the left of my shoulder — just to the right of the chain — you can see a  large grey spot which is a smallish alligator (although its easier to see in the bottom right image). I think we MAYBE saw two alligators the whole trip.

The bird in the image to the bottom left is one that is almost extinct (I forget the name). The driver told us that they seeded the swamp with a type of snails that these birds like to eat, and because the boat kicks up the snails from the bottom the birds have learned to follow the boats. All in all a highly enjoyable trip. Personally I think a 45min trip was long enough.IMG_6872