I apologize for being away for so long. To start, I received paying work that took me away from this site. Then, I got pregnant after trying for so long to have a second child. It was a harrowing experience from start to finish. But in November 2019, we welcomed another son, Pasquale, named after my father this time around. Soon, I’ll share more about that story. We’ll laugh. We’ll cry.
But first we have to tend to the matters at hand now. The Motherland is in crisis, one that we never could have imagined, and it seems like something out of a horror film. Rather than simply cry as the statistics roll in about the Italian people dying of COVID-19, which is caused by a novel coronavirus, I will try to share stories that describe what’s happening there. When I can, I will try to lift spirits. In the meantime, my own community in the United States is facing the same dread. I’m in Bergen County, New Jersey, near Teaneck, which is the hot spot for the virus in this state. I think few people have recognized our new reality and the significance of what is happening. Our lives are changing forever.
Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples in Italy, is famous for its thermal spas. The history of the thermal waters and their healing powers is remarkable and goes way back to the dawn of the island.
Today, tourists from all over the world flock to Ischia to take advantage of the water, mud, steam, and various available therapies. As a result, it is one of the world’s capitals for wellness vacations.
You don’t have to be sick or injured to enjoy these offerings. The thermal spas are also a way to unwind and relax. However, those who are pregnant or have heart conditions should refrain. And children are discouraged from going in the thermal waters. Most of the spas have non-thermal pools for families.
Discover the best thermal spas in Ischia, Italy:
Located in the town of Lacco Ameno, Negombo is situated in the Bay of San Montano. It is one of the most picturesque and relaxing beaches on the island. The thermal pools are mostly carved out of the cliffs overlooking the bay, so it is truly an opportunity to be one with nature.
This thermal park always wins with me. It’s by far my favorite of all the big name thermal spas in Ischia. I have recommended it to friends, who have returned to tell me things like, “Negombo is heaven on Earth,” and “I want to just live there.”
What makes the place so special is the natural beauty. Rather than cut down trees and knock down rocks to create pools and spa treatment centers, this place fit those things into the wonders all around it. All the pools are great, but one of the most memorable is the one for your feet and circulation. You walk, Japanese-style, on rocks through naturally hot water and then you walk through a similar pool with ice cold water. The intention is to stimulate blood flow. While shocking, you will feel great afterward.
Poseidon Thermal Gardens
Poseidon may be the best known thermal spa in Ischia. While it is stunningly beautiful, it always takes second place with me. The flowers and plants speak to the island’s nickname of Isola Verde (Green Island), but its pools are the standard ones you’d find anywhere. Located in the Bay of Citara in the town of Forio, this spa gets more sunshine during the summer months. Therefore, you may find yourself lingering well into the evening, which makes for great ROI.
What I enjoy most at Poseidon is taking a nice soak in one of the thermal pools and then napping on the comfortable lounge chairs. I also appreciate that extra bit of sunshine because I like reading when lounging. There’s plenty of light. At Poseidon, I can always find English newspapers, magazines, and even books.
Castiglione Thermal Park
This thermal park is the most family friendly and affordable. While I don’t go to the thermal parks as much as I used to since my son was born, I would pick this one over the others for a family outing. It has a nice “sweet-water” pool. That’s how Italians refer to a traditional pool for family fun. It does not contain thermal water even if it is salt water (some of them are). And admission to this park tends to be cheaper than the others.
Still, it is lovely and the pools are just as refreshing and relaxing as those at the other thermal spas. Located in Casamicciola, Castiglione offers beautiful views all around the park. You might also find yourself lounging under a chestnut tree, which are typical in Ischia.
Water is life. In Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples in Italy that is the home of my ancestors and husband, the thermal waters have healing properties and support the island’s main source of income, which is tourism. In other words, water is really life there. Discover how people came to learn of the island’s healing powers:
History of Ischia’s Thermal Waters and Rise as Tourist Hot Spot
January 1, 0700
The Euboeans, a Greek tribe, settle the island we now call Ischia. They discover the island’s volcanic origins and use the thermal water from the springs to treat the wounds of injured soldiers, according to Ischia Review.
Ischia’s Thermal Waters Help Make the Island Italian
January 1, 0800
6 AD – The Romans discard Pithekoussai, which was the name the Greeks had given to the island, for the name Enaria. The island gets traded to the Neapolitans for Capri, its neighbor. Eventually, during this period, the island receives its name, Ischia. The Romans build “thermae” or baths on…
1918 – Marie Curie visits the island and studies the composition of Ischia’s thermal waters. She says the water is radioactive and contains radium, radon, thorium, uranium, and actinium, according to Napoli Unplugged.
Ischia’s Thermal Waters Make It a Top Destination for Wellness
June 6, 2019
Today – Ischia’s thermal waters and the famous spas that allow tourists to take advantage of its healing powers have made the island one of the world’s best destinations for health and wellness vacations.
Meditation is something on which I should rely. After all, I’m a neurotic Italian American mother. I worry about my family, health, money, work, and what we’re going to eat for dinner. My brain never shuts off.
Many people can relate, not just Italian Americans. However, when we say, “family,” it usually extends to grandparents, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, your mother’s third cousin on her father’s side, who you call zio, and all the rest. The pressure to succeed, to have enough money to support the family (whoever needs your help), to work harder than everyone else, and to constantly feed each other literally and figuratively can be downright overwhelming.
As a child, my father insisted we take Tae Kwon Do classes as a means of learning self-defense. One of the first tasks we had to take on was “clearing our mind” and meditating. The master had us sit “criss-cross-applesauce” style on the floor of the gym. We had to put our hands palms up on our knees and breathe deeply. Then, we had to think of nothing at all.
Even back then, I could not grasp the concept. There was too much stuff taking up space in my mind back in elementary school. Things have only gotten more cluttered up there ever since. In fact, now that I’m 40, I’d need a big rig to haul out everything taking up space in my brain. I probably have one whole quarter of it focused on whether to make eggplant or zucchini for the side dish for lunch tomorrow at any given moment. Forget about all the space occupied with worry about affording a college education for my son.
In any event, Mother Nature can sometimes help me at least make a little room for peace up in there. This little video that I posted on Instagram is an example of one of those moments. It’s from summer 2018, and I suddenly realized that the sound of the waves in Ischia, which is off the coast of Naples in Italy, was calming. I recorded it, so I could have a slice of meditation, which always seemed impossible. Nowadays, whenever I need peace, I can let the waves wash over me, even if only in my mind.
Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples that is the home of my ancestors and husband, is a food lover’s paradise. Americans often consider food, such as pasta and pizza, as “Italian.” That’s definitely accurate, but each region of the country is known for its own particular dishes. Ischia is no exception. When in Ischia do as the Ischitani, and eat this:
Coniglio all’ Ischitana
Undoubtedly, the most famous dish in Ischia is coniglio all’ Ischitana, which is rabbit in a white wine, tomato-laced sauce. This is always surprising to visitors, who imagine seafood as the only viable option on an island. The truth is that wild rabbits were in great abundance in Ischia. In addition, the island’s beauty lies in its great dichotomy of the sea and mountains. As a result, much like its landscape, its cuisine nods to both.
If you want to sample rabbit, you can do it at many restaurants on the island. But you should call ahead and alert the staff because the chef needs to get a fresh rabbit and take the hours necessary to cook it. Less adventurous eaters might want to avoid the organs and stick with the meat. However, Italian children often fight over who gets to eat the kidneys, and the eldest usually stakes claim to the brain. They say it will make you smarter.
The best way to enjoy rabbit is at the home of one of the natives. If you can find people on the island, who are friends or family of yours, they will make the traditional Sunday meal of rabbit. The sauce from the rabbit will also be used to coat bucatini pasta. An invite, however, must come with a warning; the Ischitani will kill the rabbit in front of you to prove it is fresh. Avert your eyes. There’s no going back after the Easter bunny gets slashed in front of you. It could ruin the meal, and it’s truly too delicious to miss.
Obviously, an island surrounded by sea is going to have the best seafood you will ever eat. Literally, I’ve watched fishermen pull up an octopus from the sea, bag it, and hand it to a consumer in one fell swoop. It doesn’t get fresher than that. My first stop on every trip to Ischia is for either mussels or clams. But I also savor octopus, which is especially good with potatoes or in a cold salad. Never say no to the fried calamari, which are almost never rubbery like you often find in the United States.
Shrimp, fried or as the star of the sauce in a pasta dish, offers deeper flavor. Part of the reason is Italians cook shrimp and fish with the heads on them. This can be quite shocking to some Americans. My sister-in-law made my brother remove the heads before she would eat shrimp at my wedding in Italy. The look may be a turn off, but the taste will have you going back for seconds. Give it a try even if you don’t like seafood in the States. It’s a really different taste, much milder and even sweeter in some cases. Just beware, that the whole fish you are eating requires lots of cleaning and careful attention as you’re eating. You could end up choking on a bone.
To start, I have to give credit where credit is due. Naples is the home of pizza’s invention. You will find the ultimate, best pizza there. However, Ischia is a province of Naples, and there are plenty of people from Naples living on the island, who have brought the tradition with them. As a result, you can get the next best pizza in Ischia.
My sister-in-law and her friends from Italy famously ordered one pizza pie each when they were visiting the United States many years ago. They ended up with a hotel room overflowing with pizza, far too much for the few people eating. The opposite is true in Italy. Pizzas are single serving dishes, cut into four slices each. They are artisanal and made to order.
You can find some unique pizzas, such as the one above made with ricotta, mortadella, and pistachios, which is on the menu at Ischia’s La Rosa dei Venti. Or you can delight in the simplicity of the Margherita pizza, which is made with rich ingredients, including tomatoes plucked right from the vine, basil from the garden out back, and fresh mozzarella made in nearby Naples.
Tomatoes in Ischia are juicier and have more depth of flavor than almost any I’ve ever eaten. The only other times I’ve experienced the same high quality tomato is when I’ve eaten them in nearby Naples or from my father’s garden. There are so many ways to sample these on the island, especially if you’re there during the summer months.
My favorite way is either atop bruschetta or crusty Italian bread. Usually, the tomatoes are coated with salt, olive oil, basil and sometimes oregano and garlic. For a kick, you might add red pepper flakes or fresh hot pepper diced and with some seeds. This is the breakfast of champions or at least my peasant people dating back to when they were up at dawn to feed chickens and tend to the grape vines and other fruits and vegetables in their working garden. Nowadays, it’s often a Sunday night snack (after the huge family meal at lunch).
Well, I’d certainly be remiss if I sent you to Italy and did not tell you to eat pasta. The natives sometimes eat pasta for lunch and dinner. Although people have been more cognizant of how carbs can thicken the waistline, Italians relish their pasta dishes. In Ischia, you can find a number of solid pasta dishes worth trying.
My absolute favorite is linguine with white clam sauce. But you might also enjoy pasta alla Genovese (with beef and onions), pasta e fagioli (known as pasta fasule by Italian Americans), or a creamy Alfredo-like sauce with ham. My in-laws often eat pasta with a simple tomato sauce and fresh ricotta.
The healthier among us might opt for pasta and chickpeas and pasta with lentils, both of which are commonplace on the tables of Ischitani at lunch just ahead of the daily siesta. My husband and his friends dive into plates of pasta with sea urchin during the summer. Truly, there are as many variations on pasta as you can imagine.
Nearby Naples is famous for its mozzarella di Buffalo and fior di latte. This not even remotely close to the fresh mozzarella found in the United States. There’s more of a bite to the taste. You don’t refrigerate it. Instead, the mozzarella is placed in its own milk and sits on the counter.
Most often, you eat it sliced right out of the bowl. It might be paired with crusty bread and salumi, such as prosciutto. Or you might sample it in a Caprese salad with tomatoes, basil, salt, and olive oil. Once it is more than a day or two old, you are likely to use it for cooking in pasta dishes, pizza, or eggplant parm.
I can’t sing the praises of gelato enough. It is the most soothing, delightful treat ever. Period. The creaminess of soft-serve ice cream with the all-natural ingredients make gelato a miracle in a cone. The photo is of the flavors of nocciola (hazelnut) and fior di latte (flower of milk) and it is the stuff my dreams are made of. You’ll find a variety of flavors, including Kinder Cereali (based on a popular candy bar), Nutella, green apple, cantaloupe, and stracciatella (vanilla with frozen chocolate swirls throughout). I bet you can’t concentrate on the words right now. Understandable.
Morals have gotten a bad rep over the years. Puritans have used “morality” to make judgments on people’s sexuality, culture, and lifestyle. They used “family values” to describe judging innocents for getting divorced or listening to music with foul language. In doing this, the words “morals” and “family values” became perverted. Then, the very idea of having morals or family values became associated with young women sporting rings promising abstinence before marriage and often hypocritical men telling everyone else how to live.
That’s not what I’m talking about. I don’t care with whom you sleep or if using the F word is therapeutic for you. Scream that sh– from the rooftops, and you could still be a good person in my book. Instead, this is about teaching our kids to do the right thing even when it’s hard. It’s about how we treat each other on a daily basis and what it means to be a good citizen. This is the kind of stuff we used to learn by the time we were 5 and 6 years olds. Somehow, we’ve lost our way. Maybe we just need this reminder:
Thou shalt not tell a lie. No one spends much time talking to their kids about Honest Abe or George Washington and the cherry tree. Whether that story is history or fable, it teaches the lesson of honesty. Today’s politicians are hardly helping the case. Clearly, Hollywood’s finest can’t be trusted with teaching people to be honest.
So, it’s up to parents to call out their kids when they’re lying. In addition, grown-ups have to be honest themselves. You have no choice but to be the role model for your kid. No one else is taking on the job.
Frankly, this should be no problem for modern parents. There’s so much talk of being proud of your “genuine self.” If you want your kids to live their unique truth, then you should teach them to be honest all over the place.
Life is hard, and it will only keep getting harder. We have an obligation to teach our children kindness. After all, that is the way to overcome the inevitable hardships they will face moving forward. This means that you should monitor your kids’ social media activity to ensure they are not bullying anyone.
Talk to them about how they interact with their peers. Remind them to respect their elders by saying, “Please,” and “Thank you,” when appropriate. If they misbehave, don’t let them get away with it. Explain why they were wrong. Of course, follow through with consequences.
Teaching kindness will help your child better understand empathy, which is key to leadership. Like all the other suggestions on this list, kindness is essential to improving the outlook of the world’s future.
Take a good look in the mirror. If you call your spouse names or scream at your kid all the time or simply ignore those in pain, you are a role model for mean girls (and boys). Stop. Smile. Just be nice. It’s that simple.
Love Thy Neighbor
Kindness is all about treating people – whoever they are, from wherever they come, whatever they look like – with dignity and respect. Kindness could mean saying, “Hello,” when you see someone you know. It could be about taking the time to avoid hurting someone’s feelings and containing emotions, such as anger and jealousy.
Loving thy neighbor is more than that. This is about taking action. Check up on the elderly person next door during the snow storm. Call your friend who is having a hard time. Sit with your mother at your father’s bedside. This kind of love is about your family but also your community, the people you don’t know as well but live and work with you. If you see suffering, extend your hand. Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. Do right by someone in need. You’ll never regret it.
Recently, cheating has been in the news. As a writer, I have covered a number of cases involving people cheating on exams and stealing the work of others and passing it off as their own. Back when I was in high school 20 years ago, I saw this kind of stuff on a regular basis. Even back then, I knew it was wrong and never did it.
There is a fine line people have to walk between being competitive and wanting to win at any cost. Cheating is problematic for a number of reasons. For starters, it blows the idea of teaching honesty right out of the water. It is inherently dishonest to cheat. Also, people who cheat to get ahead actually cheat themselves the most. After all, your achievement is fake and you know it, even if no one else does.
Most importantly, cheating teaches kids to take shortcuts. They never learn the value of working hard themselves to arrive at a certain goal. In addition, they never experience failure, which teaches resilience and makes adulting a lot easier. Tell your kids to just say no to cheating.
Avoid Greed and Jealousy
This is one of the toughest to execute. For one, everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses. It’s really hard to avoid that trap. After all, you want to provide your kids with everything you didn’t have and more. Frankly, nothing is cheap anymore. So, it becomes even more of a vicious cycle.
The way to get around this is to constantly remind yourself that material wealth is not the equivalent of providing your child with a good life. Sure, you need money to survive and live decently. But you don’t need to seek riches or buy your kid an iPhone at 3 years old or even 13 years old. That’s why saying no is a must. Also, you have to teach children they cannot have everything they want.
When the green-eyed monster rears its ugly head, you must talk to your child about his or her insecurities. What prompted this reaction? How do you control jealousy? If they never learn this lesson, it will destroy them. To help alleviate jealousy, you can work on building your child’s confidence. It’s no easy task, but helping them find their talents, recognizing their best characteristics, and loving them for who they are will all help.
Teach your children about those who have less. Help them learn to share with others. This could be done by teaching them to allow other children to play with their favorite toys or having them join you in donating food to a shelter, for example.
Certainly, every parent – including me – will stumble along the way. Don’t worry about it. Just correct yourself and move on. What’s important is to aim to teach these morals to your children from the youngest age. Keep trying and we will undoubtedly create a brighter, kinder future.
Disney magic was real to me. Flying off to Neverland on Peter Pan’s Flight at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. was the highlight of my father’s year when I was a kid in the 1980s and 1990s. Therefore, we made the journey from New Jersey to the Magic Kingdom annually. One year, we even took the Disney cruise on the now, long defunct Big Red Boat.
As a mother, I have been taking my son to Disney World every year since he turned 1. As a result, I’ve become a regular viewer of various blogs and vlogs and podcasts dedicated to our happy place. As a former professional travel editor, I couldn’t help but notice the transformation from being kid-centric to being Millennial-centric in both the marketing and the feel of the place.
Don’t get me wrong. My son still has a blast every. time. we. go. But keen observers will notice the transformation that has taken place over the years through slight shifts. Do you see what I see?
Less Magic, More Booze
There was a time – back in Walt’s day – when alcohol was not served in the parks. This was supposed to be a family place, so it wasn’t deemed necessary. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t drink. But I’m Italian. My people have wine with every meal from a young age. I’m no Prohibitionist. Certainly, those who are paying good money for fine food at restaurants, such as Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom) or Monsieur Paul (Epcot’s France pavilion), should be able to have a glass of wine with their meal. Seriously, what would the Germany pavilion be without beer?
However, nowadays, there are hordes of young people in their 20s and 30s “drinking around the world.” They are drunk by the time they get their margaritas in Mexico. No one does anything to control for the drunks. Frankly, I’m not that comfortable with the boorish behavior taking place in front of my 7-year-old. Worrying about explaining what’s happening with the grown ups is not the stuff of magical vacations.
No Food for Kids
Okay, this isn’t entirely true. Of course, there are kids’ options everywhere. But we almost always splurge for the Deluxe Dining plan. My husband and I are foodies. What we’ve always loved about Disney is that we can enjoy our sophisticated dinners while our son enjoys the meal, too.
But there have been fewer kid-friendly foods on the menus at signature restaurants. In some, there were only one or two options. They almost always included grilled chicken and a vegetable, such as broccoli. My kid would eat the grilled chicken and leave the broccoli. The appetizers have always been an issue for him. He’s a picky eater, so I’m not blaming Disney entirely for this. But the portions in early 2019 were so tiny. He would have his measly strip of chicken and a minimal scoop of ice cream for dessert and be done. We would have to use our snack credits or pull out the Goldfish crackers to satisfy his hunger. Considering, children ages 3 to 9 pay $27.98 per day for Deluxe Dining, they should get a little more value.
I learned a little secret on our last trip. You can actually request chicken nuggets and fries at most places, but it’s not on the menu anymore. If you don’t know people on the inside, you may never figure this out. (Although, I must admit that Artist’s Point, which is now a character experience and not a signature restaurant, actually included on the menu, “chicken nuggets upon request.”)
Some of this is probably in deference to parents griping about unhealthy menu items. But the emphasis on the food and experience is now adult-centric. My son used to get reusable straws in the shape of Mickey Mouse, fun menu items, and a bevy of cute desserts at every stop. This time around, there were no extras for the kiddies.
Different Character Interactions
For now (and I believe for only a little more time), my son believes we are visiting the characters in their home and not that they are real people with a life outside of Goofy’s head. This is probably the number one motivating factor that makes me want to go to Disney every year at this particular time in our lives. The character interactions range from being outrageously awesome to completely stinky. This was the same when I was a kid.
The difference now is the number of adults interested in character interactions, too. We stood in line for Donald Duck outside the Mexico pavilion at Epcot. Groups of adults stood in front of us, replete with Donald hats and autograph books. Hey, they spent the money to get in just like everybody else, so I don’t begrudge them the interaction. However, Donald spent 15 minutes kissing, hugging, taking selfies, and drawing in the books of the two grown ups in line in front of us. Then, he took all of 4 minutes to take a photograph with my son and sign his book. The two kids behind us, who were a little younger than my son, had even less time with the duck. They were done by the time we gathered our stuff and met up with our family members, who were sitting to the left of the line. C’mon!
Speaking of the autographs, Disney is frequently having characters refuse signing autographs. The Green Army Men and some Star Wars characters are among those not signing autographs and they had in the past. Back in 2017, some outlets reported Disney was eliminating signatures at character dining experiences and would instead hand out cards with the signatures. There was backlash to this idea, and my son was able to get signatures at most of the character dining experiences we had.
At the Artist’s Point dining experience, your napkin ring is a card in the shape of an apple featuring the signatures of Dopey, Grumpy, Snow White, and the Queen. The characters did sign the book but the implication was that they rather they didn’t.
In some cases, the decision is practical. This is true for characters, such as Baymax and Olaf, who don’t really have hands for writing. In Olaf’s case, you might receive a card with his signature on it.
You might be thinking this is small potatoes. But for a kid who believes he is talking to the real-life Mickey Mouse that autograph is special. His book full of signatures is a coveted and beloved item. Some people use a frame or pillow case for signatures to create a unique souvenir. What’s sad to me is the characters were once trained to perfection. Part of their training, in fact, includes learning the signature of their character, so each one would look exactly the same.
New Stuff Ain’t Always for Kids
I get it. You have to have a few roller coasters for the adults. Disney has always had a handful, including Space Mountain and Splash Mountain. But many of the new rides are thrillers. Flights of Passage in Disney’s Animal Kingdom is an example. It’s spectacular, and my son has ridden it twice. But it’s not for little kids, nor is it for kids who might have fears traditionally associated with those their age. My nephew, for example, cried throughout the ride. And littler kids wouldn’t even be able to ride because of their size.
We’re still learning what’s to come with Star Wars. Of course, that was a smart investment on the part of Disney. But how many 6 and 7 year olds are true Star Wars fans? My son hid under the bed when we were watching The Force Awakens. He likes the robots – BB8 and R2D2 – but he doesn’t know much about the series. Few of his friends in the first grade do. So, I’m not sure how into the new section of the park they will be.
The Disney Touch Is Gone
That brings me to the most important point. Disney was once the pinnacle of hospitality. It was the gold standard of businesses. The idea was to constantly innovate and train the staff – err, cast members – to be as damn near perfect as possible. Other companies sent their people to Disney to study their best practices. Ultimately, this attention to detail was the magic for little kids.
Children, who already easily suspended belief, walked into a pristine set every time they stepped onto Main Street U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom. There wasn’t even a shred of paper on the floor. The characters catered to them. They hugged them. They signed autographs. They jumped up and down – or at least Tigger did. Every inch of the entertainment was aimed at the children. That’s what parents loved about it.
All sorts of free Disney magic took place in front of your eyes, thanks to the exceptional cast members. Now, a cast made up largely of college kids, who can be paid next to nothing and have no experience, has created less-than-stellar experiences. And you can’t even walk into the bathrooms because they are often so disgusting. Certainly, Disney has lost its way some.
Blogs, Vlogs, and Podcasts Aimed at Grown Ups
I’m an avid fan of the blogs and vlogs geared to Disney tourists. Few of the most popular ones, such as Disney Unplugged and the Disney Tourist Blog, include parents. They are supremely popular, and I’m certain they have pull with Disney. Their fans are numerous and are unafraid to share their opinions. But they rarely talk about families and their trip planning.
This is not a criticism. It’s just a fact. I still consult their opinions and enjoy their content. But I don’t always relate to it. I believe their popularity and the following inflates their opinions in the eyes of Disney itself. They are influencers, no doubt. The voice of parents with young children might get lost.
Ultimately, families will still enjoy their trips to Disney. I know we do. But there’s some tarnish for the kids. Much of the experience I recall from my childhood are long gone. While there’s no question that Disney still attracts adults and children alike, it’s not as kid-centric as it once was.
You have one more weekend to enjoy the Epcot International Festival of the Arts 2019 at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Don’t miss your chance. This festival is probably the most underrated in the World. Its publicity pales in comparison to the more popular Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and the upcoming Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival.
Each is worthy, but the Festival of the Arts holds a special place for me because it coincides with our annual trip to Disney. But it also offers a piece of old-school Disney philosophy. It brings me back to a time when Epcot was about bringing educational cultural experiences to its visitors. When I visited in the 1980s and early 1990s, it was still EPCOT, the experiential prototype community of tomorrow.
You will be inspired by seeing the artists demonstrating their skills and looking at the final product while the ink is still drying on the artist’s signature. Frankly, in a world driven by technology and business, we are quick to ignore the arts. But they give us life and ideas and purpose. They make everything else possible. By the way, Disney only exists because of Walt Disney, the artist.
Like the other festivals, there are food booths with signature drinks and little plates, all presented in an artistic manner. While the food items can be kind of expensive, many of them are included as snacks on the Disney dining plan.
At Italy’s Arte di Mangiare booth, you might enjoy the sweet-and-sour balsamic glazed pork ribs and sweet potato fries. The Deconstructed Dish offers a smooth strawberry cheesecake that is as pretty as it is delicious and a deconstructed BLT with pork belly, tomato jam, and soft-poached egg. Still, the standout for me was barbecue chips topped with lobster, bisque cheese sauce, and pickled jalapenos from Refreshment Port at World Showcase.
Of course, you can also enjoy the live entertainment. There are live statues, singing, dancing, and regards to Broadway. In fact, you can see the performers, who have brought Disney films (many of them animated) to life on stage. They sing all the hits at the Disney on Broadway Concert Series. You won’t be able to help yourself. You’ll be singing along by show’s end. It’s a promise.
Eataly Flatiron is a little piece of Italy in New York City. Italian Americans in the Tri-State area have long had reminders of home. I can think of three delis and two bakeries serving authentic Italian food items in the area near my home just outside of Manhattan in New Jersey. Everyone knows you can find the real deal in the specialty stores and restaurants on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. And, once upon a time, Manhattan’s Little Italy was authentic, too.
But Eataly lives up to its sophisticated reputation and brings to life the idea of the dolce vita in a way these other venues do not. This is not just shopping. This is not just eating a meal at a restaurant. This is an experience for the senses. You can visit Eataly Flatiron at 200 Fifth Ave. (like I did) or Eataly Downtown at 101 Liberty Street on the third floor in New York City. There are other Eataly locations in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
If you plan a visit, expect to spend an entire day there. You arrive and walk into Caffe Lavazzo, which is a typical coffee bar, the kind you might find in Roma. (I would have said Napoli, but it lacks both sfogliatelle and baristas shouting to you in dialect, guaglione!)
While the pastries hardly match the ones I find in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples that is home to my family, the ambiance of the place is spot on. You feel as though you are back in Italy. For one, many Italians flock to the place. Everyone who visits us from the Boot insists on stopping there at least once. Two, it is all about taking the time to start the day peacefully, which is an entirely Italian idea.
My Americans get up and go. My Italians linger at the table and won’t turn on their brains without a sip of espresso, some people watching, and salutations among friends. A sweet bite is never discouraged either.
An Italian Market Experience
When you are done with your breakfast, you keep walking deeper into Eataly, and you realize these little cafes, bars, and restaurants are tucked in the nooks and crannies of a giant market. Here, you’ll find Italian ingredients of all sorts, books, and household items that are hard to pass up.
My husband and I were salivating at the array of cheeses and deli meats, including prosciutto crudo, prosciutto cotto, and salami. There is one area with pre-cooked items, where we picked up a thick slice of porchetta slick with oil and rosemary. It made for an unforgettable sandwich on ciabatta bread with arugula and mayo when we returned home.
Deli Meats and So Much More
Honestly, you won’t know where to turn your attention next. Walking around Eataly is a whirlwind for food lovers like me. Along with my husband, I spent much of the morning browsing and picking up must-haves, such as polenta, which I thought would remind my father of his childhood, and seasonings for my cousin who is always in the kitchen. I fell in love with the household items sporting Italian phrases and symbols. If I had a million dollars…
The Stuff of an Italian Home
Costly But Worth It
Indeed, the one criticism of Eataly is the price of everything. Nothing is cheap. While you get what you pay for and the items certainly live up to expectations, you can’t justify regularly doing your grocery shopping here, even if you live nearby. The prices of menu items in the restaurants in and around the market stalls are similarly high. We spent more than $200 on groceries (of which we didn’t buy that much), our meal at one of the restaurants, and our travel to and from New Jersey (we are close to NYC and I used to commute daily for work). In other words, the day was expensive. That’s exactly why we have only done this once – and we were celebrating the tenth anniversary of our vow renewal in the United States.
A Worthy Meal
We ordered the fried antipasto, which included calamari and shrimp with a delicious mayonnaise-based dipping sauce. Many don’t realize Italian devotion to mayo. In fact, many of my relatives in southern Italy make their own mayonnaise from scratch rather than buying it in the grocery store.
Each of the restaurants surrounding the market has its own theme. We went to Il Pesce, the one focused on pesci or fish. You can also go to a pasta bar, where you can pick fresh pasta and its topping. You can bring the freshly made pasta home and put your own sauce on it, too. There’s another place with a meat-lover’s menu. Pizza is available, too, of course. And there’s a restaurant on the roof, which promises to be ultra romantic and is the site of events, such as wine tastings. We didn’t make it up there, but I understand that it is SERRA ALPINA by Birreria, a “winter greenhouse” pop-up restaurant on the roof during winter.
Get Thee to Eataly
Overall, I would recommend going to Eataly at least once. You can even take cooking classes there. Certainly, it will hold you over until you can afford a trip to the real Italy. However, be prepared to empty your pockets. In English or Italian, good stuff ain’t cheap.
LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester is an obvious winner with little kids who seem wired to explore, create, and build. What I wasn’t expecting was how much fun the adults in our group ended up having. Truly, this is a destination the whole family can visit together.
While I would never spend the exorbitant amount of money it costs to host a birthday party there, I was thrilled to invite my family for a group outing to the place in honor of my son turning 7. He and my 6-year-old nephew are big fans of LEGO Ninjago, and so this trip spoke to their passion. They had the chance to pose with life-size LEGO replicas of Lloyd and Master Wu.
My 9-year-old niece was quick to join them in the Ninjago play area and Wu’s dojo, where they climbed the walls. She and my son also sang karoake and got their dance on in the section devoted to LEGO Friends (the line aimed at girls).
What was less expected was my nearly 39-year-old brother’s fixation with the center’s racetrack. There, visitors build their own cars out of LEGOs and then race them on a few different kinds of tracks. You are testing both the speed of the vehicles and your engineering deft. The boys – young and old alike – couldn’t get enough of flying LEGO bricks as the DIY cars hit the end of the bumpy racetrack.
Building a tower as tall as the house – or at least trying to – is another favorite pastime around here. At LEGOLAND Discovery Center, the kids were able to do that and then turn on the “earthquake” table, which shakes the tower to its core. Sometimes, it falls. Sometimes, it keeps standing. It all depends on your mad LEGO skills.
Still, the highlight of the trip were the two indoor rides. Kingdom Quest has riders shooting a laser gun at LEGO targets to win points. Meanwhile, Merlin’s Apprentice is a smaller scale version of Disney World’s Dumbo Flying Elephant ride. You soar into the sky with your ride mate. You go as high as your pedaling allows.
We also enjoyed a 4-D film featuring your favorite LEGO characters. When we were there, the film focused on Chima, the adorable warrior animals of LEGO. But the movie changes all the time. At one point, it featured Ninjago, and there are others. What is neat about this experience is the rain and bubbles, which actually appear to come out of the screen and fall onto you.
There are numerous photo ops in this place. Besides the life-size LEGO creations, including a police car and other vehicles on which you can sit, there are photo props into which you can stick your face. What will really impress you, however, is the miniland. At the Westchester Center, you’ll find LEGO replicas of famous New York (and New Jersey) landmarks, such as Giants Stadium, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and the George Washington Bridge.
Those who are interested in grabbing a quick bite can find some kid-friendly, small meals at the newly renovated coffee shop, which serves Starbucks. And family photos with LEGO backgrounds are available for purchase. It’s a little overpriced (as these things usually are), but we did get two bigger sized prints, one in a plastic LEGO frame and another in a cardboard frame and two keyrings. Try to get out of the center without allowing your kids to see the gift shop. It’s a LEGO fantasy in there, and they will try to force you to buy something no one needs – more LEGOs.