Sunday, October 6, 2013

On Engagement, Getting Married, and Being Married

Today is our anniversary.  It's the very first anniversary of our marriage and it's very special.  Naturally, I feel the need to reflect.

While this is our first wedded anniversary, it's also the 7th anniversary of our moving in together and essentially making ourselves into our own family.  I think we both felt pressure from each of our families to get on with it and tie the knot as each year flew by.  What took us so long?  I don't really know.  Probably there were lots of silly things that matter so little now that I don't even remember them.  I remember money was an issue for a while.  I remember government defiance was in there somewhere.  At some point we both came to the realization that none of those little things mattered.  We love each other and were committed to each other and although it was already permanent internally, getting engaged was a banner to display it.

Kevin and I made some unusual choices when it came to our wedding.  Many of them weren't even made by us because we allowed someone else to make the choices.  I'm not sure I'll ever understand the premise of Bridezillas or Say Yes to the Dress because I never grew up believing that a wedding day was quite as crucial as all that.  Growing up in a very large extended family and being the first in a generation with a wide gap preceding, I felt like I was at a wedding two or three times a year.  I probably was for all I remember.  I was also a flower girl for at least two.  Not only that, growing up Roman Catholic, every event was accompanied by a full service and having a family that attended every Sunday, as a younger child I tended to think of a wedding ceremony as just another day at church.  It's a shame too because now as an adult, I want to remember those days for how special they were for the couple and for the family including me, but the memories are since lost in the fog of familiarity of setting.

By stark contrast, Kevin and I had our ceremony in my parents' backyard.  No service, only one witness each, performed by the mayor, and the entire thing lasted only 10 minutes.  I'm glad we did what we did.  Perhaps the preparations were an even greater contrast.  I never shopped for my dress.  I gave my mother a vague idea of what I wanted and she literally found separates at Sears and that was plenty good enough for me.  I never saw the reception venue.  It didn't really matter to me as long as the reception was fairly small (since neither Kevin nor I enjoy being in a crowd) and all our immediate family members were there.  There was no DJ and no dancing (except for when we were forced for the sake of a couple photos) because that's just not our style.  It was low-budget, and simple, and not at all showy, and easily the most memorable wedding I've ever been to, and I'm not just saying that because it was my own.  It was different and totally special for lack of frills. 

As for being married?  I think we were already there when we first moved in together.  After coming home from our outrageously amazing honeymoon in Disney World, it was business as usual.  Although it took some getting used to, I'm finally in the habit of calling Kevin "husband" and it's a title that utterly suits him.  I'm also very amused each time he refers to me as "my wife" when speaking to someone over the phone or introducing me.  Do I regret not doing it sooner?  Certainly not.  Everything happens in its own time.  I'm just very happy that the time came and there is time yet to look forward to.  Sappy sappy sappy.... but true.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

First World Needs

I need a grill.  I really really need a grill.

Now that it's summer, the traditional cook outside season, I feel the primal urge to stoke a fire and smell like smoke while I chew on a hunk of meat.

Last year, Kevin and I bought a small camping grill for the sake of having the odd hot dog.  Neither of us had ever cooked over fire before and we didn't do it very often. Perhaps we were intimidated by the thought of learning without guidance.  Perhaps we felt inconvenienced by the small cooking space. Perhaps we weren't convinced that the cleanup was worth the reward.

In any case, that's all behind us now.  I need to grill.  I want to cook everything over fire.  Everything tastes so much better and in reality there is so much less fussing. Want some chicken? Salt or marinade it and put it on the grill.  Pork chops and tenderloin? Same thing.  Steak? Same thing. Want some corn? Don't even shuck it, just put it on the grill.  I mean, shoot, you don't even have to monitor it half the time.  As a lazy cook, this appeals to me in the extreme.

Now that we have fully embraced this method of cooking, we desperately need to upgrade from tiny little camping grill to a nice normal sized kettle grill.  The camp grill is propane, but I feel confident that we can make the transition to charcoal.

What's next on the menu? Maybe a kabob for Kevin and some shrimp for me.  Is it weird to have a taste for a thick plank of grilled bologna? Nah.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dearly Departed at Cassidy Theatre

I am SO glad I tried out for Funny Girl early in the year.  It was so fun to be a part of a group other than my co-workers and still end up accomplishing something.  It was also incredibly refreshing to have some of the good kind of stress, the kind that leaves you invigorated instead of drained.  So I tried out for another show!

From the Cassidy Theatre Website: "In the Baptist backwoods of the Bible Belt, the beleaguered Turpin family proves that living and dying in the South are seldom tidy and always hilarious. Despite their earnest efforts to pull themselves together for their father's funeral, the Turpin's other problems keep overshadowing the solemn occasion."

I will be playing the nearly mute, but very bold, role of Delightful, the youngest Turpin.  Come check it out!  It's hilarious enough that even our rehearsals are boisterous!  And besides, who couldn't love a dysfunctional bunch of hillbillies?  I mean, that's why everyone keeps watching Duck Dynasty and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, right?

Fridays and Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 3, it'll be playing from April 12th through the 28th.

Oh darn. I logged on as Kevin again.  How silly of me ;)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Oh... My... God, a BUD!

UPDATE! I am freaking out. I feel like I need to run around a show everyone constantly, but I'll try and be satisfied by telling the internet and hoping someone comes and shares in my joy. This very tulip bud is the same one from the last blog post.  I can't hardly believe it.  It was nothing but green before and now suddenly, BAM! Pink.  It's a lovely rosy pink like the kind Cover Girl advertises in their lipstick line.

I don't know what the rest of the bulbs will look like, but Kevin and I did find time this afternoon to plant a bunch of them in an oval in the front yard. We'd left a big pile of leaves from fall on the lawn to smother the grass in that area.  It's not all completely composted yet.  I figured it would take more than just one season anyway.  With proper weeding and mulching, I'm betting we can finish it off with some rocks or a mini fence border and have a nice little bed over the next couple years.

We also had a big bag of daffodil bulbs which we planted in a cluster by the neighbor's fence along with a few leftover tulips.  I hope very much that they have time to bloom this season!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Black Thumb Be Gone!

I think this is it.  I think this is the year I'm finally going to change my thumb from black to green.  Those that know Kevin and me, know that this is the beginning of the second year living in his Grandpa's house.  Grandpa has graciously given us free range of the yard since he never goes out there or uses it at all. Last year we got settled and dreamed about digging around in the back yard. We walked around the perimeter.  We tried to pay attention to where the light falls throughout the year.  We were even surprised with a bounty of volunteer hardneck garlic! (The scapes were delicious!)

This year, we've still got those big dreams, but now we sort of have a haphazard plan to get a modest harvest and our fingers crossed to start prettying up the place a bit.

I can't lie.  I've been collecting seed packets all year long.  They tempt me so readily.  Seeds are surprisingly cheap and at the end of the season the price plummets even more.  According to the various books I've been reading, they'll still be viable for a couple more years if I store them properly. 
Ignore the prices in the corner.  Everything in this picture I got for 20 cents a pack or less at the end of last season.  Sure, some of the seeds will die, but when has anyone ever gotten every single seed from a packet to sprout?  On top of that, what home gardener could ever have use for as many plants that would grow from the hundreds of seeds that are in a single packet?  I for one don't anticipate needing 200 brussel sprout plants this season or even in my whole lifetime.

I know it's way to early to start planting veggies outside, but thanks to a lovely Christmas gift, I've got a windowsill full of herbs. 

That's Cilantro on the left.  Dill is still seeds under the plastic bag, and little bit of chives in the center.

If you're wondering why my hopes are so high, let me just say this.  That little bonsai tree second from the right almost died while Kevin and I were away on our honeymoon.  I took a pair of scissors, cut off a bunch of dead bits, watered thoroughly, and miraculously it sprang back to life!  It just needed a little attention. 

And speaking of our honeymoon, that bulb being forced on the far right was a wedding present from my Aunt and Uncle Liz and Terry.  I've never forced a bulb before and I had no idea how it was done.  I just saw a picture of a bulb at the top of a bottle in a magazine.  I found the milk bottle at a thrift store for a dollar, pulled the bulb from the crisper drawer of the fridge (I didn't have time to plant them last fall before the snow started falling), and set it at the top.  A few days later, the spike appeared!  I got so excited I might have gone a little overboard with my other seed starting.

What can I say? Cabin fever washed over me at the sight of the herbs and tulip bulb! At the top left to right is basil, curly parsley, sweet marjoram, jalapenos, and sweet peppers.  At the bottom is cosmos flowers, kohlrabi, broccoli, and cauliflower.  I've read that those last three are cool weather crops which can stand a light freeze.  With a little protection in the form of some garden cloches, I'm feeling confident that I can get those little guys out in the dirt.  Of course I'll have to start hardening them off starting today.  I hope they make it.  They're probably my three favorite vegetables.

I've also got some beefsteak and cherry tomatoes in a big clear plastic tub in another room. They might survive if I pot them up.  (Note to self: Buy potting mix.)

Oh! And I also started a garden diary.  I've been keeping track of how long it takes for each seed to germinate, the temperatures everyday (and I might even end up making a year in temperatures scarf since I'll have the data), and wrote in important dates ahead of time including the predicted first and last frost dates of the year and about when I should be able to harvest that garlic I planted last year.

I don't anticipate being able to feed us off of the little backyard garden.  Our soil isn't so good yet, nor do I have the kind of experience for that, but I know I'll have a good time getting outdoors and enjoying nature this year. If I should pluck a tomato or cut a broccoli head, so much the better.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

DisneyTogether #2

WARNING! You may get jealous while reading this post. This is going to be quite long (as anyone who's read enough of my blog posts can expect anyway), so for the sake of an optional short version:
It turns out that our week-long Walt Disney World Resort vacation was even more exceptionally satisfying than we expected it to be.

As for the long version...let's start with the hotel.

[Note: As with the first DisneyTogether post back in January of '11, the part of Amanda's additions will be played by italicized sentences.]

The Resorts (and their restaurants)

At the risk of sounding smug about it, I'm just gonna be honest and say how great everything was (I did warn you!).
This guy.
Quite a while ago we had booked a room at Port Orleans French Quarter, a "moderate" resort. The "moderates" are the notch above the "value" resorts, such as where we stayed last time (Pop Century). But on the day we arrived in Orlando, Amanda got a call that due to some booking error (she'll explain?) Yes.  There was no booking error, but the only room that fit all the requests that we had made only had a "walk-in shower" and although the inconvenience was minor and certainly nothing we would ever have complained about, the cast member who was checking us into the room offered an upgrade anyway.  Possibly, the fact that we were on our Honeymoon and this was mentioned in the room reservation information swayed their decision, but who really knows?  Either way, I'm sure glad we didn't pass up such an offer.), we were offered a complimentary upgrade to a DELUXE resort, the Yacht Club. Even though we were already looking forward to the beignets and serpent water slide of POFQ, and we (or at least I) didn't know much about the YC, it would seem silly to pass up the opportunity. We were already on the bus to Port Orleans when we called back anyway, so after looking around a bit - and yes, grabbing some beignets...which were we-watched-our-server-make-them-after-we-placed-the-order fresh - we took another couple of buses to Disney's Yacht Club Resort. It is SUPER-DUPER posh. To give you an idea, the restrooms near the lobby each have a basket of neatly rolled-up washcloths for hand-drying/face washing. Many of the guests were dressed more as if they going to attend a fundraiser or somethin' than attending a theme park. I alternately felt like we were tricking people into thinking we were quite rich and feeling like everyone could tell we couldn't really afford to stay in a place like that. The room itself was excellent, with a great view of the boardwalk area and only a brief walk to the boats to Epcot or Disney's Hollywood Studios. We were even able to walk from the room to Epcot's International Gateway in 8 minutes. I later found out that the room rate is normally double that of the likes of Port Orleans. Suffice to say it was a well-appreciated upgrade! The only thing the value and moderate resorts seem to do better is the breakfast/quick service options. I suspect this is because the people who usually stay in the deluxes don't bother with cafeteria style fare anyway. We had breakfast sandwiches from the Beach Club's quick-service place, but I thought they were on the bland side. I'm just guessing here, but I bet I would've liked Port Orleans's choices better.
On Sunday, the first night, we stopped at the Polynesian to have a late dinner at Ohana, which is now my favorite restaurant ever. Maybe my intentionally not eating much that day had an effect on how much I loved the food there, but oh man. The salad. The noodles. The pineapple bread. The pork dumplings and peel and eat fired shrimp! The all-you-can-eat meat skewers! The chicken, it was fire-grilled so perfectly. All of it even overshadows the bread pudding with bananas. AND  to our surprise it turns out you can see the Magic Kingdom fireworks show Wishes from the restaurant. They even pipe in the music! I don't think any of the books we read even mentions this (I even later checked the Unofficial Guide and the Birnbaum's Dining Guide)! Why the heck not? We happened to be surprised to find out for ourselves shortly after our reservation time. Talk about serendipity! And the ukelele player sang to us and other celebrating couples, which managed to make it an even more perfect experience. Wearing a lei makes anyone feel extra special. We came back to the Polynesian on Wednesday morning too, this time for Kona Café. Particularly, its famous Tonga Toast. It's an ultra-indulgent french toast that I would love to have for breakfast every morning even if it meant being bloated with carbs and sugar. Also I think it may be the fanciest breakfast I've ever had ever. You sure wouldn't get your Denny's server to take the time to eloquently describe the menu items and how each of them is made with which ingredients.
Wednesday night we ate at California Grill. I'll let Amanda take over here. Seated atop the Contemporary Resort on the 15th floor, this restaurant is considered the 2nd or 3rd best restaurant not only in Disney World but in all of Florida after Victoria and Albert's (which is on the bucket list).  It's painfully easy to see why and if you ever get the chance to eat here, DO.  The floor to ceiling windows offer extravagant views of the entire property and when the fireworks start, the lights are dimmed and the music piped in (not blasting like it is in the park, but at a tasteful volume).  Should you choose to sit at the counter, you are treated to an impromtu show as the open kitchen is swarming with some of the best chefs, sushi chefs, and pastry chefs around.  

We were lead into "the wine room."  It's a slightly smaller section of the restaurant that is much quieter and while there are still floor to ceiling windows on two sides, the other two sides are floor to ceiling wine bottles.  White table clothes, white napkins and white plates of unusual shapes were the standard here, and there was a sprinkling of glittery mickey shaped confetti as a nod to our celebration.  Our waiter Saad who mentioned he had served for 16 years at this restaurant gave us a tour of the menu pointing out the most popular items, his favorites, and generally painting a verbal picture for us.  

We chose to start with the Cheeseburger Brick Oven Flatbread.  Sounds casual, but turns out to be very fancy. Wagyu Beef, Tillamook Cheddar, House-made Dill Pickles, Heirloom Ketchup (no ketchup will ever taste good to me again compared to this).  It was almost like a thin crust pizza and it was fabulous.  We split a first course of Handmade Potato Gnocchi with Wild Mushrooms, Edamame, Smoked Pork, Organic Soft-poached Egg.  I've had store bought gnocchi before and I've also made some from scratch on my own.  Compared to this dish even the gnocchi I made myself had the consistancy of library paste.  These two menu items were so good that I couldn't bare skipping a sushi dish and ordered the Dragon Roll.  It was outrageous and I'm so disappointed that I was too excited to taste and missed out on the photo.  It was a gorgeous and monstrous roll with black eggs on top.  Normally I prefer salmon over tuna, but there was absolutely nothing I would have changed about this preparation.  It even came with a cute little calendula garnish.  Main course time.  Kevin had the Pork Tenderloin with Goat Cheese Polenta, Roasted Mushrooms, Zinfandel Glaze and Crispy Sage.  Saad said it was arguably the most popular item on the menu.  It looked amazing, the portion was huge and while Kevin is usually a well done meat sort of guy, he had this done medium and the taste he gave me was tender, juicy, and incredibly flavorful.  I had the Seared Diver Scallops with Southern Sweet Corn Risotto, Spiced Tomato Broth and Micro Popcorn Shoots.  I didn't even know what a popcorn shoot was until it reached the table.  Each scallop was nearly the size of my fist, the risotto was creamy and the popcorn shoots as it turned out were micro greens of corn plants cut while they were still only a few inches tall.  They were grassy and refreshing and the entire meal made so much sense together!

This restaurant only uses the freshest in season ingredients and in fact the dessert menu has already changed since we were there!  At the time, Kevin had Heather's chocolate sampler with buckeyes, whoopie pies, lava cake and pot de creme.  I had a pear and almond crust tart.  Both were amazing and each were decorated with chocolate signs which said Congratulations from the California Grill.  Saad even brought out complimentary champagne.  And speaking of Saad again, he is easily the best server I've ever had at any restaurant.  He worked silently while we were eating (We had fresh utensils for every course and I hardly noticed when it happened as it was so smooth) and recognized when we were interested in chatting.  At the end of this meal I was stuffed, but pleasantly so and I'll certainly never forget it.
Even with poorly light photography and a blurry camera this dessert looks great!

All I have to add is that I (somewhat sheepishly) asked for a pomegranate lemonade for my beverage (which I do for every single non-breakfast table service restaurant at WDW) only to be politely told they do not serve the pomegranate lemonade there, but would I like a lemonade? I said yes and at the first sip could tell that I was given an actual freshly-made lemonade. I'm pretty positive it was made with actual lemons and sugar. And it was so dang refreshing. So yeah, basically I was intimidated by the classiness of it all.

Here is a view from the waiting area of Sanaa.
How many restaurants are there in which you wouldn't
mind waiting longer to be seated?

We also visited the Kidani Village of Animal Kingdom Villas on Friday to dine at Sanaa, which - (copy) - "serves African cuisine with Indian flavors." Hard to say whether or not it's better than Boma - Flavors of Africa. They're both level with each other and way up there. Sanaa scores points though because I got to hear the servers sing the best Restaurant Server Happy Birthday Songs I've heard yet.
 Too bad I can't seem to find YouTube evidence of it. Hm, come to think of it that would be an interesting thing to catalog, whether on YouTube or wherever: the different birthday songs you get at different restaurants. I remember getting the traditional one at Tony's and I believe at Rose and Crown too in '11, but Sanaa's was unique. Holy smokes, I can't even imagine what lengths California Grill would go to for a birthday celebration.But anyshoe, I also mention the birthday song because the servers also played music to us for our honeymoon celebration - with no lyrics, but enjoyable nonetheless.
And, what else? I think it was one of the latter days of the stay that we picked Cape May Café on the same day (I think the latest reservations we've made We're talking same day type thing!). My memory is foggy here as I recall being either worn out or a bit under the weather at the time, and as I'm not one for seafood it wasn't exactly tailored to me, but it did have enough that I do like to fill my tummy. Also I certainly remember the adorable desserts bar.
You guys who visit Walt Disney World without visiting the other hotels, you're all missing out so bad.

We were set to just crash at the hotel for the rest of the day after the plane trip on Sunday, but we must have been itching to get started and had a pass for the day anyway, so we headed to...

The Magic Kingdom

Bride and groom Mickey hats are a must.
Also, try to ignore the sleepy kids in the background.
Our schedule didn't have us visiting TMK 'til Tuesday but we found out that The Pirates of the Carribean would be closed then so made sure to get that in first thing. I hear tell the same ride at Disneyland is even twice as long and has more to it. But the WDW has so much that I can't even imagine what else there could be?

Let's talk Sorcerors of the Magic Kingdom. It can be described as TMK's answer to Epcot's World Showcase Adventure, in that it's an interactive and virtually line-free experience. It's a different type of technology, though - whereas WSA uses a handset with all of your progress information and reacts to the "hot spots" using - I'm assuming - Wi-Fi or GPS technology, SotMK has your progress stored on a separate computer linked to your "key" card and the cameras at each of the spots react to the individual cards you display to it. And it works kind of amazingly well. I expected having to hold up each card in a very specific spot at a certain height and arm's length and line it up with a rectangle or something, but - as long as you're standing on the mark on the ground - simply facing the card to the portal worked just fine each time we played. A bit of a shame that we didn't get the full experience, since one of the portals wasn't "turned on," keeping us from finishing one of the "missions," but it's really neat to know we'll be able to keep the cards we collected and bring them to use next time. Another plus for Sorcerors vs Showcase is that it is far more convenient to carry around the cards and slip them into your pocket and just play at your leisure as you go, whereas the Kimmunicator/F.O.N.E. tends to beep at you intermittently until you decide you're done playing altogether. Now from what I hear, unlike WSA there is an element of strategy involved in the Sorcerers game, what with card selection and combining spells and even being able to boost attacks if you wear a special shirt you can buy? But we never got far enough into it to see the difficulty come into play. Also, the cards themselves are designed similarly to Magic/Pokémon game cards, leading me to suspect there's a "home version" that can be played between two or more people with enough of the cards, and that's awesome in itself, especially since the set (of four) you get for each MK visit is free. From a Disney business standpoint, it's a great idea because anyone who goes is likely to upgrade to park hopper passes just to get free cards every day of the trip.  Maybe even US!?
Liberty Tree Tavern (Tuesday late afternoon)! Like Ohana, it's "family-style," but with a Thanksgiving-style feast. The food was great, but it's hard to call it better than actual home-cooked Thanksgiving food.  Debatable.  It was a well-prepared meal and I enjoyed it very much. The rolls were still hot from the oven and softer than a marshmallow and the meat variety is certainly a step up from home.  What I really love best about it is the atmosphere. The place is designed to serve several (many) diners yet still give each table a cozy at-home feel. I was astounded at how large this restaruant really is because each founding father themed room is so very cozy.  If you dine here, take a moment to walk the entire restaurant.  It's much larger than you can imagine just sitting at your table and while most of the artifacts are created for the restaurant, I've heard that there are a couple real ones around. The window seats we got were especially nice. Also, I really liked those huge glass mugs.
A quick-service worth mentioning was Sleepy Hollow Refreshments, because they have waffle sandwiches. Now that's the kind of food I'd like to have at my hotel!
The Enchanted Tiki Room is very comparable to the Country Bear Jamboree in that they both take you back in time to when people, ah, had different entertainment sensibilities, let's put it that way. I'm glad I saw it, and I would be inclined to recommend it over CBJ, but it's one of those shows that I can only simply call "cute."
It was nice to see a lady at the helm of the Jungle Cruise. She had an, I dunno, Janeane Garofalo-esque demeanor? It's interesting to see the different "styles" the different skippers can use to tell the same jokes. I'd like to see a Mad Magazine-esque interpretation of the way in which well-known stand-up comedians would go through the Jungle Cruise lines. Maybe that's just me.
I can now report back to say that the famous Dole Whip is worth its acclaim. I think it's going to be a must for each trip from now on.
We were able to practically walk onto Splash Mountain thanks to very early visiting. It certainly has better theming than, say, Cedar Point's "Shoot the Rapids." Well...Disney does a lot of things better than Cedar Point. Sorry, Cedar Point. Okay, okay, fine. You're better at specializing in record-breaking thrill rides. I'll give you that. But come on. Splash Mountain has singing animatronic chickens on a riverboat, and that's an automatic win right there. Speaking of mountains, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is still as fun as ever. I wonder what it would be like if they combined two different rides like that? I know Universal Studios has the Dueling Dragons with two roller coaster tracks that run simultaneously and near-miss each other, but what if there was a wheel-track coaster that passed by, under, over and around a log flume ride like Splash Mountain? Ooh, and what if in the middle was a third tower-drop type of ride, such that each of the three different intertwine rides could see the other two throughout? Just thinking aloud here.
Eek! A spooky old mansion in the
middle of the day!

CONFESSION TIME: I slept in the Hall of Presidents. I'm sorry but I don't completely regret it since I believe it refreshed me to stay up for the rest of the day. And who knows, maybe I subconsciously absorbed American pride during my REM cycle. I could say it was a PATRIOTIC POWER NAP. I didn't sleep during presidents, but I did close my eyes until the roll call.  I have a weird desire to recognize all of them by face. I shamefully admit I'm not there yet.
At least I didn't sleep in the Haunted Mansion, lest the audio gives me very silly not-quite-nightmares. The new interactive queue for it is neat, and though I'm sure it must provide satisfactory entertainment when the lines are long, when they aren't you aren't given enough time to play without feeling like you're not keeping the line moving quickly enough. The interactive organ being given the name Ravenscroft was a nice touch. I thought the moving books were also particularly interesting.  Someone else in the line was thinking out loud that you were always pushing against books that were being pushed by people on the other side of the shelf, but I really couldn't see the pattern of it and am happy to continue being bamboozled.
Poor Mickey's Toontown. I'll miss you but you're in a better place n-...hang on. Where do the major "retired" ride props and such go? I think the backlot tour in Disney's Hollywood Studios has a Captain Nemo sub, right? And a lot of them are auctioned too, I've read? Some recycled? Where is Donald's boat now? All of Mickey's furniture? Here's my suggestion that the Disney people won't actually read because they're legally unable to take suggestions like this: Move the Toontown houses to the Art of Animation resort. Every resort seems to have a waiting area with a TV constantly running cartoons for the kiddies, right? Use the set pieces from Mickey's and Minnie's houses for that area in one or two of the AoA waiting areas. You've already got the TV that shows cartoons. Just have them sit on Mickey and Minnie's chairs. It'll fit the theme of the resort anyway, right? And bam, anyone nostalgia for the ol' Toontown can revisit it in spirit by taking a sidetrip to AoA. Which can also help as a promotional point! Feel free to not read but still use that idea, Disney Parks.
What the? Several other identical elephants who can also fly?
We got to see glimpses of the new expanded Fantasyland but mostly the modified versions of pre-existing attractions. It seems we were too early by a few weeks to get the chance to check out Under the Sea with Little Mermaid or whatever it's called. Also construction in the background of what I'm guessing will be the Seven Dwarfs mine train ride.Will some of it be outside? Will it reach as high as it seems to looking at it from the ground? I'll be interested to see updates on that one. Speaking of updates, it's still a small world after all. Took the Mad Tea Party for a spin. Can you believe it was the first time ever for both of us? I admit I almost got sick.  G forces on that thing can really mess with you. I still like Mickey's Philharmagic and one of the best effects is the one that's easy to miss happening at all. Amanda left her sunglasses on Space Mountain and I think my handkerchief fell out of my pocket there too so I guess if we had to lose things at least we both lost our things on the same ride. Awww. Tomorrowland Transit Authority wasn't as pointless as I expected it to be, as it is neat to - though briefly - see the interiors of Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin while on another ride. Also the little kid in front of us cried and freaked out just because it gets dark for seconds at a time. And that was plenty amusing. I got another level of appreciation out of Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress after having found the connection that the dad is the narrator from A Christmas Story. You know what would be neat? If you could get that space-flyer video game video as a screensaver for your computer. And while I realize there are videos and points tips for Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, I wonder if there exist an online resources with maps/layouts that one could study meticulously to get the highest score possible. Not that I would do that sort of thing. *shifty eyes* I'm just saying, I've seen the Haunted Mansion track made in Google Sketchup. And there's a website dedicated to WDW park fonts. So it's the sort of thing that I wouldn't be surprised to find and maybe expect exists.
I love the overall idea and execution of Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor but I wonder how often I can see it until it turns into an "I don't mind missing it" attraction. At least not before Amanda or I get "the spotlight" for once.
I'm glad we got the chance to see the Main Street Electrical Parade. A Magic Kingdom visit just doesn't seem "complete" without it.

Character greetings
It seems I am more interested in character meet-and-greets than Amanda is. I don't even know why I am; I just think they're very neat pictures to get. We got "Frontierland" Chip & Dale because it was early and the line was short.

Look at Chip, looking all coy for some reason.
Merida confided in us that she is actually scared of gargoyles. Who knew?
Though there was a considerable line for her, I just had to get a Merida picture. Possibly limited time character! And it's a good representation of the year we visited anyhow.
I find it interesting that Merida seems to be the only "meetable-and-greetable" Brave character. If she the only movie, or at least Pixar movie, with one m&g character? Not counting the sequels? Wait, I guess WALL·e had one, but creating the interactive WALL·e was impressive enough, much less than having to figure out an EVE. Did Finding Nemo even get any? At least that's understandable, when you think about it. But I wonder if any other meetable Brave characters were ever considered. Maybe they just wouldn't fit as well in the character station setting. Like if Merida was just hanging out with her mother all cool and stuff? The solo character thing is all the better, I suppose. Oh, and another trivial thing: Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't she the first Pixar "face" (non-masked, that is) character?

Attractions we opted out of for the second trip in a row: Astro Orbiter, Dumbo the Flying Elephant (but I got a picture sitting in the specialty "just for photos" Dumbo, which I think was a great idea on their part), The Flying Goofini (fka Goofy's Barnstormer), The Magic Carpets of Aladdin (if you're reading this, sorry again Kayla), Prince Charming Regal Carousel (fka Cinderella's Royal Carousel), Frontierland Shooting Arcade, Liberty Square Riverboat, Tom Sawyer Island, How did we manage to miss it again??  It closes early seemingly every day! Tomorrowland Speedway, Walt Disney World Railroad (But I got a cute video of folks waving to us while they rode it.), ..seems like a lot when I write them all out but a lot are missable.
Last time but not this time: Snow White's Scary Adventures (partly on account of it having not existed anymore), Swiss Family Treehouse (eh), Peter Pan's flight, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Country Bear Jamboree (was closed, but still), Stitch's Great Escape. (Also, Goofy's Barnstormer... which I only mention here because Kevin insists on semantic truths only.)


Future World

The ride that I am not at all interested in going on again ever is Mission: Space. Last time we opted for the tamer "green card" experience, and while I was a bit woozy for a few minutes afterwards I thought it was considerably tame. So this time out of curiosity we went for the "orange card" experience to see just how more intense it was. During the ride itself I thought, "This is more exciting, but hey I can handle it." It was just as I left the capsule thing and actually got back on still ground that I felt terrible. It probably didn't help matters that I unwisely had some Club Cool drinks (by the way, standing around and looking for people who choose Beverly is a great fun thing to do) shortly before riding. I was hoping the nausea would pass within a few minutes but even after the entirety of Ellen's Energy Adventure my head was still swimming. Happily though after getting a couple of snack booth snacks it cleared quickly enough. But yeah, Mission: Space itself is a fun experience but not worth the after-effects. For me, anyway.  I for one loved it.  Last time I thought the green card version was cute, but way too tame.  The orange card version was much less frightening than I had imagined and I felt no after effects whatsoever.  Interestingly enough, more traditional motion simulator rides like Star Tours disorient me horribly.  The sensation of orange card mission space is less like a bumpy jerky coaster or simulator and more like a gradual but significant increase in gravity.  You really feel your body being pushed back and compressed.
Let's see. We also rode Spaceship Earth twice (not in a row), skimmed through some Innoventions offerings (sadly no Velcro demonstration in which I could be silly), explored The Seas with Nemo & Friends, and of course went on Soarin'. Everybody who visits Epcot must go on Soarin' - it's a rule! The steady stream of a "line" that you can see first thing in the morning outside as everyone and their mothers head straight for The Land is a bit of an attraction itself. It's a shame though that Living With the Land doesn't get more love. I get the impression that most of the lines are formed by people who hop on as something to do until their Soarin' Fastpass time comes up. And though LWTL doesn't sound exciting on paper and a tad dated,  it's interesting enough that we rode through twice. Here's my suggestion: What if it wasn't a boat ride? Imagine if you replaced the entirety with a foot path so you could stop and take an extra few moments to observe the fascinating plants if you so choose. Or maybe both: What there was a boat river and sidewalk (lower than the boat's bottom so the pedestrians don't block the view) so that you can choose between your-own-pace and the audio-guided tour?  Next time, I fully intend to take the Behind the Seeds tour.  I am apparently one of those nerds who is really into learning about farming.
We also had extra time to do Journey Into Imagination with Figment, which is still not at all a must-do but has its moments, and...yes, Captain EO. The Walt Disney World attraction that I bet Amanda and I most disagree on. I love the unabashed cheesiness of the movie and can't get enough of it. I think I may even like those Michael Jackson songs non-ironically. Also apparently it's gained quite a cult following - our showing had a group of avid and enthusiastic fans cheering and laughing throughout. Does Captain EO regularly get followers like that? Did we just happen the same showing as a rare rabid set? Were those people just watching it over and over and over that day? Whatever the case, I think their presence enhanced the experience and for that I passively thank them. I can't say that I hate Captain EO, but I do greatly prefer Honey I Shrunk the Audience and hope one day to be one of those hooting hissing rabid fans.  Truthfully I can understand the camp appeal that EO has.  I completely see the parallel between EO and something such as Rocky Horror.  Perhaps if someone started a yell at the screen and sing along script, maybe I'd like it a little bit more.  I too appreciated those crazed MJ fans.
We "browsed" through Innoventions but nothing much to report there. One of these days I'd like to try Sum of All Thrills, but...yeah, as a whole the place is like going through a science fair. The best of the best in science fairs, but still.

World Showcase
May I brag that I found my shirt
weeks prior at a Salvation Army
store for like $2?
Though lamenting along with Amanda that it was no longer the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure, I pushed to try just the one mission of what is now Agent P's World Showcase Adventure. Mostly to see the difference. According to the sign-up cast member (who remarked on the "retro" style of the handsets, which made me feel out-of-touch for having that same flip-open style for my only cell phone) they've done away with the "sign-up at one place that leads you to another place to get started" step, which is good. And judging from the Mexico mission we did, and some that we noticed others doing, it does pretty much use the same props and steps and clues as the Kim Possible version did, just with the characters and storylines changed. Now I understand the decision to change the theming from a show that hasn't been on the air in a while to one that is on the air and is popular to boot. And it's not just because I think Kim Possible is a fundamentally better show than Phineas & Ferb (it's silly to even compare, but if I had is better) that I think it made more sense and worked better for this game/activity/experience/whatever. It's already established in the show that Kim's job takes her around the globe and there are even already bad guys who happen to fit into the world showcase nations. So it's neat to hop from country to country and thwart a different villain each time. But with the Agent P retrofit, it looks like you just go against Dr. Doofenshmirtz each time, which is...well, not as exciting. And the use of the Kimmunicator was actually a thing in the show, whereas I doubt there's a "F.O.N.E." in Phineas and Ferb. And so on, things like that. Those complaints being said though I am at least glad that the WSA wasn't done away with altogether, since I love the idea of also including non-ride/non-show/non-food things to do. And I hope they kept the tea shop part of the United Kingdom mission, because that was one of my favorite parts.

If you were to ask us why we decided to get married on October 6th, of all times of the year, we would have to be truthful by telling you that we wanted it to coincide with our second Walt Disney World trip, and that we planned the trip around Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival. Man, so much to say here. First and foremost I have to say that it lives up to the hype and I now wish we had planned on some demonstrations perhaps.
I remember that on our previous trip we were too conservative with our Disney Dining Plan snack credits through the first half of the week and had to try hard to use them up before we left on the last couple of days. This time, thanks to the IF&WF we used them all up easily and then some. In theory, I wanted to try every single snack offered ... er, except the shrimp and various other seafoody things...but actually doing so would (or at least should) require spreading it out over the course of multiple entire days. I had as many as I could of the snacks I found interesting, and even then there were some that I had to skip. Eating around the world stretches the stomach quicker than I realized it would, and I'm sure the wallet stretching would add up quickly too.
I won't mention everything we ate but as for the highlights:
-I had escargots (persillade en brioche) for what I believe was the first time ever. Surpringly delicious, even with the weird texture.
-Swedish meatballs with lingonberries were very good. I've never been to an IKEA but if/when I do I'll have to try theirs for comparison.
-I just had to have the Artisan Cheese Trio. Cheese! Too bad I'm not enough of a cheese snob to detect the subtle differences between the different types. Still good though.
-Canada's Cheddar Cheese soup made me want the "full-size" version. I'm pushing for Le Cellier next trip.
-"Griddled Greek Cheese with Pistachios and Honey." It really is just that... a little plank of cheese that's been griddled. Like grilled cheese without that pesky bread in the way! That was one of my favorites.
-Germany's roast bratwurst in a pretzel roll wins my award for most hilarious snack. Here, tell me if you laugh out loud when you see it too. Ridiculousness aside, it was also delicious...ness.
- And let's not forget the Lobster Roll and Sushi that I had.  Quite delish and shockingly large portions for "just a taste!"

IMPORTANT TIP: I learned to spread the wisdom to anyone interested in the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival to enjoy as much of it as you can during the weekdays. Yes, it's common sense that any of the parks are busier on Saturdays and Sundays, but the foodies packed the Festival kiosks on Saturday IN DROVESSS. On Wednesday and Thursday I would pick things to try at a relaxed pace, figuring, "I'll be here on Saturday too. No rush." And getting whatever you wanted on those weekdays was very easy and convenient - the line for any given kiosk would be, oh, an average of five people ahead of you at the busier ones? But Saturday that all changes. The lines would typical sprawl past the queue dividers, so you do have to make more of a commitment for any given nation's food. I get the impression there are more people going for the drinks than the food (Did I mention it was only the "food" part of "food and wine" that interests me? You may have picked up on that on your own, though.), which makes me wonder what it'd be like if there were separate lines for food and drink. I guess that wouldn't be fair to those who want both, would it? How about lines for food, drink, and food and drink? No, that'd be too much.
Slight gripe time here, against certain other park guests. I don't have anything against those who happen to enjoy the "drink" part of the food and wine/beer/imbibement experience (though yes, the rowdiness quotient is ratcheted way up on the weekends), but I find it... puzzling... that there was such a huge line on Saturday for the "margaritas" kiosk. I'm not knocking having or experience something "that you could have back at home" (it's nice to have a Mickey ice cream bar that doesn't actually taste any different than a standard bar-shaped ice cream treat) in Epcot, but it's curious that so many people were willing to wait in such a long line for a margarita there, as opposed to using that time to soak in any number of other Epcot (Food and Wine or not) offerings. Maybe it's something I can't understand because I've never had one. Are they THAT good? Are the Epcot margaritas especially better than any other margaritas in any way? Is just a social thing of being able to say that you had a margarita, as part of the other many drinks you've had? Feel free to enlighten me here.
But if anything the crowd levels of Epcot on Saturday made me appreciate the quiet atmosphere of Restaurant Marrakesh. It is kind of "tucked away" around the back of Morocco, and it's a shame that it wasn't busier, at least judging by when we were there. Maybe the Epcot restaurants are all less busy during FoodAndWineFest because everyone's pigging out at the kiosks instead? Or is Marrakesh normally sparsely occupied at other times of the year, not only because of the location but because of the exotic-ness of its fare? Either way it deserves more business. I would recommend it to anyone as a break for anyone who wants to visit Walt Disney World but is concerned about the overexposure to...well, Disney. Having never actually been outside of the country, I can't honestly speak for its authenticity, but of all the international experiences within the parks, this is the place that, well, does the best job of tricking me into really feeling like I am where it's "supposed to" be. At The Rose and Crown, I'm well-aware that it's an idealized version of an English pub, and I do sort of wonder if Africa is as Africa as Animal Kingdom's Africa tries to be. I think it's because Restaurant Marrakesh is more tastefully and subtly (even with the musicians and belly dancer) themed. Instead of screaming "Morocco," it lets you know. I hope you're not sick yet of hearing it by now, but yes, the food is amazing. I am thankful that though it took me 28 years to get the chance or even know about it I was able to enjoy a dish called bastilla. If you've never had it yourself, you may be skeptical that seasoned minced meat even belongs in a pastry topped with cinnamon and sugar, but you'd just have to trust me on this. It does. It so belongs. Best new thing I've eaten in a long time. You also might be skeptical about having mint ice cream and toasted almonds served in orange blossom water. But you'd have to admit it's the damn fanciest and most elegant way to have mint ice cream.
I'm not sure if I'm allowed to comment on the belly dancer.  I get a free pass with this one.  I thought she was beautiful and graceful and I'm a little sad that Marrakesh isn't busier more often because her act clearly benefits from guest interaction.  I was highly amused when she picked out the oldest man in the room to pull to the dance floor and instruct to do as she does.  Also cute, very young children trying to mimic the moves.
Speaking of live entertainment: MARIACHI! Those guys are great. I now remember the Mexico pavilion as being the place where I got my new serape shirt (is there an official name for it, or are they just called serape shirts?), which might be my favorite "practical" souvenir, and I bet one of the most reasonably priced articles of clothing you can find within Disney Parks.
I looked up a video of The Gran Fiesta Tour as it was without The Three Caballeros, and I will say...I'm okay with the current version, thanks. Having experienced the ride both ways, I'm probably one of those rare folks who is okkay with both versions.  I mean, as a Mexican, I appreciate the heritage... but also as a Mexican, I appreciate that people just want to have a good time.  I happen to like the Three Caballeros, but I'm more curious about why Panchito doesn't get higher billing here.  I mean, Jose is from Brazil. Donald is just a tourist. Just sayin'.
Continuing through the world tour, Norway's Maelstrom is still...pleasantly freaky.We had a quick service bite or two at Lotus Blossom Café in China, which was pretty decent for quick-serve and a notch more interesting than my average Chinese take-out places. China also has excellent live performers, the Jeweled Dragon Acrobats. One of the girls dropped her drum a couple of times, but the sun was in her eyes, the poor girl. And that balancing guy sure was a ham!
SECOND EAGLE-CRYING CONFESSION: I also slept through the American Adventure show too. I'm sorry! Nothing against America. I slept through Impressions de France last year. My only defense is that power naps are necessary. 
Japan might be my favorite pavilion, for two big reasons. One, its main shop Mitsukoshi is worthy of bold type for its range of traditional to contemporary souvenirs and gifts. This is where we each got lanyards - one Mario-themed and the other Legend of Zelda, because hey, those regular Disney lanyards are too big and clunky-looking.
The second reason is Miyuki, the performer easily worthy of boldface. I'd heard about her and her candy art before, but was surprised by just how entertaining her "show" is. I expected a quiet, slow-paced demonstration akin to the other small-scale artists, like the glass figurine makers. But the wonder that is Miyuki is how quickly she can make candy sculptures and how well she makes them. It's an incredibly unique talent and fascinating to watch. In addition to making one or two "scripted" candy animals, she takes requests for animals to create on the spot. The requests are expected to be from children. But ... if no one else speaks up for a few beats, is there anything wrong with someone like, say, me shouting "Chicken!"?
[Click here to see the video.] - [in a new window]
Seeing her make a small set of improvised animals at a few minutes apiece is a real treat, and I think an undermentioned one, as far as WDW shows go. None of the books I've read give it a big enough mention (one even mistakenly refers to Miyuki as the candy art itself), but I would recommend anyone visiting Epcot to take the time to see her demonstration. Check the Times Guide and browse the Mitsukoshi store or nearby pavilions until her next show. It's worth the wait. You may even want to see her twice, like we did.
I don't have anything particular to say about the other "countries" other than that I always enjoy their sights, sounds, and smells. How about you, Amanda?  Thank you, Kevin.  In general, I love visiting the countries.  It's a shopaholic's dream.  I'm not a shopaholic, but Epcot really puts me into a mood to just go along with it.  China and Japan definitely have the most items that appeal to me personally, and I have to admit I spent a minute or two in Norway studying some knitted sweaters.  Most of all I think anyone visiting really needs to take the time to check out the live performers.  They all hail from the country in which they perform and in most cases, their acts have some heritage in their origin country as well.  Except for way back in Morocco, you'll never be fooled into thinking you're really in a particular country, but you can best experience them through the cast members and performers. 
And as always the best way to end any Epcot day is with Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. Good job of Amanda's foresight to stake out spots extra-early for it.

Character greeting
I guess at three times, Donald is now our most "greeted" character. But we couldn't pass up Mexico Donald!

That's one snappy serape.
Attractions we "did" last time but not this time: The Circle of Life, Turtle Talk With Crush, O Canada, Impressions de France, Maelstrom's movie
Things we have yet to do at all: Reflections of China (next time, for the heck of it?) and Test Track (refurbishment! B'oh.)

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Near the entrance of the park there was a cast member handing out surprise Fastpasses for Lights Motor Action Extreme Stunt Show, which makes sense because they've gotta fill those earlier shows somehow, cause, come on, who heads to LMAESS early on? It was worth seeing again - those stunts still awe and impress me. There was even that one gag they pull that fooled me again because I had forgotten about the "reveal." And now we've been able to see both the Herbie the Love Bug and Lightning McQueen alterations of the show! It's neat to see the full-size operational Lightning but the excitement the scene tries to build up falls a bit flat. I think it'd be neat if we could see Herbie and Lightning interact with each other. But that's just me dreaming. Also, speaking of L McQ we got to have our pictures taken with McQueen and Mater because we happened to be at their picture spot when there was no line whatsoever for it. Easiest character greeting ever! Ka-chow!
The new experience (for me) I was most looking forward to in this park was Star Tours. At the time of our last trip it was being renovated to what is now Star Tours: The Adventure Continues. I had heard about the "over 50 different scenarios" that you would randomly get for each ride and was hoping to be able to get Amanda to ride it with me as many times in a row as I could to see as many different scenarios as possible. Well on our first DHS day we rode twice in a row and each "scenario" had only a different intro piece. The third time later we got to see another planet. Later on after I got home I looked into it and it turns out that there are over 50 different /combinations/ of randomized scene elements. So if each ride has you visit two of six possible planets, and the intro and segue between planets is also different each time, then...I...don't know the exact mathematical probability of it. I'd have to ask. In hindsight I was expecting a bit too much that there would be over 50 different /destinations/ - are there even that many recognizable Star Wars locales? So while it may not be worth riding all day or anything, it is worth riding a second or third time if you get the chance. But aside from the randomization element that may or may not be misleading it's still a new favorite of mine. Oh, and at the shop Tatooine Traders I picked out a favorite souvenir in a Donald-Duck-as-Darth-Maul mug. I don't even care for Darth Maul, but I do like Donald. And having something in which to drink tea. That happens to be amusing.  For the record, we rode 3 times total throughout the trip.  I definitely felt sick twice but got over it quickly such that Kevin didn't even notice.  It just goes to show that no matter how well you think you know the feel of an attraction, you never really know until you know, you know?
Disney/Star Wars note: I don't remember where it was exactly, but in one of the art shops was a painting of Minnie Mouse not just as Princess Leia but as SLAVE LEIA. It' off-putting idea, to say the least. While I'm on it, doesn't casting love interests Mickey and Minnie as Luke and Leia overlook a certain key plot point in the Star Wars trilogy? Same goes for Kermit and Piggy cast likewise. At least Family Guy knew what it was doing.
Toy Story Midway Mania  is still as fun as ever. When we checked into our hotel we got the "Happily Ever After" pin buttons which seem to cover honeymoons and anniversaries. Wearing them usually got us warm congratulations, but for TSMM we got our first tangible perk: At the Fastpass terminal thingie the attendant spotted my pin and, as a "honeymoon gift" we each got double Fastpasses! I wonder if he happened to find forgotten Fastpasses and looked for someone to give them to or if he used his access to override the number distributed to each guest? And if so how many guests get this bonus? Anyway it was highly appreciated. Speaking of Toy Story, we ducked into Pizza Planet Arcade in case there might be a Fix-It Felix Jr. machine or at least reference to it. None at the time there, but...well I'll get back to this in a little bit.
Afternoon lunch on Monday was at Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater, where as promised by just about every review I'd read, the ambiance far outshines the food. I do like that they serve fried pickles as an appetizer. My "picnic burger" (hamburger with hot dog pieces) was good, and I also ordered one of my few alcoholic drinks of the trip, partly because it was called a Space Monkey. But the combination of a chocolate shake, coconut rum, and banana liquer, sounded great too, and I liked that it didn't even taste too alcohol-y. And it comes with a glow cube! Which later came in handy during the Fantasmic pre-show. I enjoyed the movie screen's film loop, but wondered if maybe it was a tad short - the whole thing runs twice over the course of the meal. But I do appreciate that it includes trailers for PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and ROBOT MONSTER. Also, surprisingly: Non-Disney (gasp!) cartoon shorts! Tom and Jerry, what are you doing here? Normally you only see outside franchises on T-shirts of people who went to Universal Studios on a previous day of their current trip.
Last time we went on The Great Movie Ride we got the "gangster" version, so it was neat that this time we got the "cowboy" storyline. It could stand to be updated, though. I've got it! A "Twilight" section, which audio-animatronics of Bella and Edward! It might take quite a bit of Imagineering to perfectly recreate the stiff acting and mumbly dialogue, though. Sorry. Moving on..
The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! is, admittedly, fairly epic. It's another one of those shows that I enjoyed and am glad I saw but not sure if it would stand up to repeated watchin's. Also when the giant stone rolled over Indy I really wanted to jump up and yell out, "STEVE, NO!" (50 points if you get that)
Revisited 50s Prime Time Café but briefly this time to try out their peanut butter and jelly shake, which I can confirm is delicious and something I may want to make into an every-trip tradition. Hmm, I wonder if the peanut butter and jelly shake goes well with a turkey leg?
Muppet*Vision 3-D might just get my vote for best queue jokes/sight gags. I remembered to check under the mat for the key this time! Speaking of Muppets, I didn't mention before that the post-ride shop for Journey Into Imagination with Figment has a few Gonzo trinkets. Is this an intentional connection seeing as how Dave Goelz voices both Gonzo and Figment? HMMMM...
The Magic of Disney Animation is sure to be one of my favorite places to revisit, as even though the Drawn To Animation demonstration will probably be consistently similar for a while (who could replace Mushu?), it's cool to see the ever-updated newest-feature gallery section. Last time for us it was showcasing art, models and "props" from Tangled, and this time around it was all about the then-to-be-released Wreck-It Ralph.

Also this is the area where one can look at - but not play, as it's behind a glass wall - a "functioning" Fix-It Felix Jr. arcade machine. At least, it shows the "insert quarter" animations and such. I took a video but it doesn't really do it justice. Also I've heard that other playable cabinets have popped up in other officially sanctioned places. And I found out after the movie's release that, indeed, Ralph and Vanellope are now greetable (mask-style) characters.
Anywho the other nifty repeatable thing-to-do is the Animation Academy, in which a select small group (it's very exclusive! to whoever gets there first) is given a short (it seems a good way) how-to-draw class, with you and the other "classmates" drawing along on a free souvenir piece of drawing paper. Ah, it was nice to draw on a proper drawing desk with the stool and lighted table and everything. We did this activity twice, one drawing Stitch (the class votes for one to draw from a choice of three characters) and one Phineas and Ferb (competing option example: Jack Skellington). Would you like to see and compare the results?
Post in the comments section whose you like better! Ha, just kidding.......(?)
I recommend it...for nerds who like to draw, at least. And nerds who like Beauty & the Beast are sure to like Beauty & the Beast - Live on Stage, which is exactly what you expect it to be, unless you expect it to be like the Broadway musical. It's more like Disney on Ice...but without the ice. Fascinating to see the entire movie squished into the span of roughly a half hour. And, you know, the songs are nothing to sneeze at.
Speaking of Disney on Ice, does it seem strange to anyone else that the one place you can't see a Disney Ice show is within Disney World itself?  I love Ice shows and I'm just shocked that there isn't a rink either tucked away in one of the parks or as a separate paid attraction at say.. Downtown Disney.  Disney people... if you read this... that idea's a free one!
I was very skeptical about the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, even with Amanda's reassurances that I could handle it. But similarly to Expedition Everest (see later), the build-up is more frightening than the ride itself. Having to watch the people ahead of you in line being shot forward and screaming is quite intimidating. I was also very iffy about riding a coaster with loops, as I'd never tried one before and found it hard to believe Amanda's insistence that "you can't even feel the loops" ("Maybe for you," I thought). But I'm glad I tried it! That initial launch (0-60mph in 2.8 seconds) is so quick that by the time you realize how fast it is it's already passed and - Amanda was right - I never even noticed ever being upside down, despite the ride having three inversions. It's weird, it was so unnoticeable that I kind of don't believe that the loops were there. Maybe one of them. But three? Really? But yeah, that one was a blast and I can't wait to ride it again. Maybe next time I'll actually pay attention to the music (which I guess is meant to be a main point of the ride) instead of focusing on screaming a lot. Get the front seat like we did if you can.  It's so much better when you have a good view of the vignettes even if you're too adrenalized to remember afterwards.
The FastPass wait time for RNRCSA was perfect for grabbing a QuickBite at Rosie's All-American Café, of which I don't have anything special to say except I can mark it off for my DisneyEats checklist (which is a theoretical checklist that I just named right this moment ago).
In the spot that I believe formerly housed the Chronicles of Narnia exhibits was a building with a "HOT SET" sign, foreshadowing an upcoming attraction. I'm willing to bet that's where "The Legend of Jack Sparrow" (which I've since found out about what with being just obsessive enough to follow the Disney Parks blog) will be. I can't not point out that we're talking an attraction based on a movie based on an attraction.
For Fantasmic! we repeated what could be a new standard of having a Toluca turkey leg while waiting for the show. Still a great show, and like Illuminations even better when I'm not super cold. To add to my earlier Twilight joke, I'd just like to mention the pre-show segment hosted by two DisneyRadio-quality personalities, one of whom asked an audience member a trivia-ish question: "What is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror named for: A science fiction show from the 50s or a really awful book series?" Yeah, Disney burned you, "Twilight" series! Feel that burn.
To end this section somewhat anticlimactically, DHS is the park where I bought pajama pants that have Disney Comics patterned on them. They were part of a pants-and-tank-top set and meant to be a Christmas gift and I think for ladies but I liked it for the pants and bought it for myself despite my being a dude because I liked them. Speaking of unique things bought, I'll let Amanda tell about what she found at Sid Cahuenga's One of a Kind shop. I might have cried a little when I saw it.  We are now the proud owners of a signed photo of Carroll Spinney posing with Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.  I spent more on this one item than on any other single item of the entire trip and it was worth it.  I will treasure it.  I will drape a piece of sheer black tulle over it when he dies and weep before it.  I will have it professionally framed.  I will pass it on to my child (should I have one). 

Character greeting
It's not quite a character greeting exactly, since there's no interactivity element (unless they were revving their engines at us?), but maybe closer to a backdropped photo op. Are there any other photo greeting characters from whom you can never get a signed autograph?
If humans were introduced into the Cars universe, would people be able to "control" the Cars cars from the inside by moving the steering wheel and pushing the pedals and stuff? Is there still a key-controlled ignition that can be turned off and on? In the first movie there's a joke where two passing cars make beeps as if they're "locking" themselves and it makes me wonder what happens when their doors are opened and that sort of thing makes me think way too much about a movie starring Larry the Cable Guy.

The last-time-but-not-this-time stuff: Sounds Dangerous Starring Drew Carey (not sure if it was even running at the time but it's not worth seeing a second time anyway), Studio Backlot Tour (It was being refurbed, but not Phineas and Ferb'd), Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure, Voyage of the Little Mermaid (a fun show, but it seems it was worth swapping for Beauty & the Beast), Walt Disney: One Man's Dream
The twofer no-gos: American Idol Experience (still a bit curious about this, mostly the process of it exactly), Disney Junior Live on Stage (one of these days I want to see it "ironically")Star Wars: Jedi Training Academy (also curious), Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun! Parade (the parade I haven't seen that I most want to see), The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (my hesitancy plus the wait times)

Animal Kingdom
Appropriate gear for tacking Mount Everest: T-shirt, shorts, and the ever-important lanyard.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a couple of characters from "Up" haven't been retired yet as meet-and-greeters. Russell and Dug are now seen near the park entrance as wilderness explorers, which is a cute way to incorporate them.
New favorite: Expedition Everest! I have to admit I was scared at first. But I didn't want to /not/ try it at all, especially since I've read only positive things about it. Just looking up at the top "in person" made me consider chickening out, but I'm so glad I didn't. It wasn't as stomach-tossing as I worried it might be. And I'd say most of the thrill is in what's coming up, especially for the first ride when you don't know exactly what to expect, than the sensation of the movement itself. Though that is loads of fun too. Loved it so much we rode it twice, and look forward to challenging it again! I now deem it an Excellent Excuse to Not Skip Over Animal Kingdom.  I also have to mention the amazing views of the property you get here.  Most of the time when you're in a park, you can't see any of the other parks or even any of the outside world and that's done by design.  You are meant to be totally engulfed in the atmosphere and the outside world doesn't exist.  EE is one of those rare exceptions.  If you happen to be in the front car (and maybe the front seat of the second car) you'll come to a place where the track "breaks" and hang out there just long enough to see Spaceship Earth and a wide spanning view.  Next time we ride, I might have to try for the front seat again and attempt a snapshot.  It'll be tricky!
It's Tough To Be a Bug! is still child-nightmare-inducingly hilarious. This time around I couldn't help but notice that the audio-animatronic Hopper was absent. Was a bit awkward for the scene where he's supposed to be "off-camera." Amanda noticed AA Flik's eye was wonky, too.
Finding Nemo: The Musical was at least as, if not more, enjoyable as the first time seeing it. Since that first time we'd been semi-regularly listening to the CD we had bought, so this time we knew the songs and could follow along. I had even forgotten just how elaborate a lot of the visuals are, like the aerial stunts and back-and-foreground elements. And this time we sat  behind the middle of the audience, which gives a slightly different (though it's hard to say better or worse) show experience.
Speaking of CD merchandise, that's something I was surprised to not find this time around. We bought Finding Nemo: the Musical and the Four Parks One World 2CD set in 2011 and while considering getting the Wishes and/or Illuminations we ultimately passed. This time around, a mere... 21 months later, I checked various shops regularly and could not find any park music CDs! They had some movie soundtracks and those Song and a Story albums but not what you would expect would have a high enough demand to be easily found. I should be glad I got the ones that I did when I did, but I would've bought Wishes and Illuminations if I did find them this year. Was it just a shadow between different edition releases? If they re-release 4P1W with an updated track listing will I be compelled to add that to my collection especially if it has Captain EO on it? We'll see next time.
Oh, and Finding Nemo the Musical is the other EETNSOAK.
What no props for Festival of the Lion King? Yes, it's still as amazing as last time and I'm forever amazed by how many guests can fit in that theater and still have nearly every seat with a near perfect view!  The moving features Timon also never gets old.  On the one hand, I hope that more characters get that treatment for walk around situations... on the other hand, I know that character greetings would then take 4 times as long with the wait to match.
Fastpass-time-until-Dinosaur was spent with quick-serve lunch at Restaurantasaurus, which is worth noting for its burger bar. It's not the tidiest assortment of fixin's, but I really like the concept. I think I mentioned it in my D52 review, but Dinosaur the ride is much more entertaining than the movie off of which it's based. Last time the whiplashiness made my neck too stiff, so this time I tried to loosen my neck to avoid any of that unpleasantness, but I think focusing too much on that kept me from appreciating what was going on in the ride itself. Gotta find a balance there. Speaking of D52, this might be a good enough excuse as any to mention that, before we set out, I gave myself a mini "side goal" of seeing if I could snap one picture for each of the 52 full-length animated Disney features. My rule was that it had to be something in the parks (or resorts) that references the movie but any merchandise does not count. A lot I got in the animation building at Disney's Hollywood Studios, what with the displayed concept art. If it wasn't for this ride still being up, I wouldn't have expected any trace of anything "Dinosaur." I didn't get them all, but I am proud to have spotted Bongo the Bear as seen on the back of one of the Little Golden Books just as you're zipped on the ride first thing in Toy Story Midway Mania. But if you happen to have seen my Google Plus uploaded pictures album, this should explain why I took a lot of those.
Oh geez!

No character greetings for DAK,
unless you count this guy.

 Try to have a dollar bill handy if you're taking in Flights of Wonder! Enough said. I still say the chicken is the best part.
Kilimanjaro Safaris was different this time around, as there's apparently no longer a storyline about poachers tied into it. I can understand the choice, since I remember finding it weird to see a fake rhino baby after having seen all of the real animals, but because I didn't realize the change was made the second time I kept expecting to see the "story" part the end of the ride gave me that "Huh. That's it?" feeling. It is though still a very entertaining ride. It was also made, um, different by the family sitting next to/behind us who sure were...ah, boisterous about the experience.
Still, Animal Kingdom (while offering much more) is still the best zoo experience, you're ever likely to have.  Animals roaming (seemingly) freely with other animals just like they would in Africa is much more enjoyable to me than one animal, one enclosure.
It seems like there isn't as much to say about Animal Kingdom, but it is more about soaking in environment details than watching or doing spectacular things. And I am fine with that.

The skipped-agains: Everything else in Dinoland U.S.A.except for a quick snapshot of Kevin in a dinocar, Camp Minnie-Mickey, Kali River Rapids. Also, though not by choice, we did not spot DiVine.
Then but not now: Conservation Station/Rafiki's trail.

Downtown Disney

Man, Phineas and Ferb sure are popular nowadays! Mostly Agent P/Perry the Platypus. It probably helps that the designs were practically made to be T-shirts and plushies and the like.
As far as I'm concerned, a visit to Downtown Disney is worth it just for the new Lego Store. Even if you're not buying anything, you've gotta appreciate the massive dragon-vs-Prince Philip model and the Buzz-and-Woody-on-a-rocket that seems to defy its own sense of balance.
Picked up more spices from The Spice & Tea Exchange. I bought loose leaf caramel pear tea.  Usually I'm the kind of person that likes a little tea with my sugar if you know what I mean, but this stuff is amazing and I barely add 2 teaspoons! I think it was at Pin Traders here that I bought a Pop Century pin as a token of having stayed there previously but I didn't find a Yacht Club pin and regretting not getting it when I saw it back at the Animal Kingdom Lodge shop. That'll be one to look for next time, anyway.
And though there's not much else I have anything special to say about here it's always really cool to soak in everything that DD has to offer, whether or not you're literally being soaked by the jumping fountains or a giant spitting Stitch.


What else is there to say that a great time was obviously had and we couldn't have asked for a better experience? It was worth the wait and savings and, naturally, we're making mental notes on what we want to do on our next trip...whenever that may be! Mental Notes, nothing!!  I consider this blog entry a documentation of what we missed and wanted to do.  Not only that, next time we go there will be the all New Fantasyland to explore and I'm definitely going to want to try the Be Our Guest restaurant.  What will the Dwarfs Mine Ride be like? Will we try to go during a different festival (perhaps the Flower and Garden show?) I definitely want to take the Behind the seeds tour.  This time will we finally plan a spare day when we DON'T go to the parks and instead hang around the resort and perhaps visit a spa? And what of Aulani? And Disneyland? So much we still haven't experienced!