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!).
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?
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.
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!
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?|
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.
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?|
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.)
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.
|May I brag that I found my shirt|
weeks prior at a Salvation Army
store for like $2?
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.
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]|
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.
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.|
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's...an 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 short..in 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.......(?)|
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).
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?
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)
|Appropriate gear for tacking Mount Everest: T-shirt, shorts, and the ever-important lanyard.|
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.
No character greetings for DAK,
unless you count this guy.
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.
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!