If You’re A Star

We were blessed with another perfect day in Sunny Orlando. Today we’re headed to Hollywood Studios. This park is under some serious renovations. Even you “normals” who don’t eat, breathe and drink Disney probably have heard about the epic Star Wars Land coming here. There’s also a Toy Story Land  coming to boot. At the rate that Disney moves on construction these days, they will be cutting the ribbons on these in about 2056.

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Hollywood Studios entrance fashioned after the Pan-Pacific Auditorium.

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Shops down Hollywood Boulevard

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Incognito Starbucks

We had a bit of time to kill before our first Fastpass came due. Instead of fighting the morning lines for burnt coffee at Starbucks, we got a little pick me up at our old standby, Starring Rolls Café.

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Perfect spot for people watching.

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Chocolate Croissant

On to Pixar Place!

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Hopefully the Toy Story Land will spread these crowds out.

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Maybe they’ll fix the Speak and Spell while they’re at it.

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Move, people! I got a 3D ring toss game to play!

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He kicked my butt, as usual.

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Just sit down anywhere, it’s cool.

Right Next to Toy Story is the often over-looked “One Man’s Dream”. This is a museum dedicated to the man himself, Walt Disney, focusing on the origins of the parks and Walt’s childhood.

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Walt’s hometown, the inspiration for Main Street USA.

There are many models displayed throughout the museum documenting the original concepts for attractions and lands. Some are authentic, while others are re-creations of those models. I didn’t take note of which were which.

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Sleeping Beauty Castle

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The Jungle Cruise

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Vintage attraction posters. Guys, I have that top one! A copy, obviously.

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The animatronic that started it all, Mr. Lincoln.

So, with the park in such a state of flux, and many major attraction now gone, one wonders if there’s still enough to do here. It depends. If you have small children, it’s still a great place to take in fun shows like Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Playhouse Disney. On the opposite side, those who are  looking for thrills can enjoy Rockin’ Roller Coaster or Tower of Terror.  Now that we’ve discovered Jeff’s new aversion to coasters, those two rides were scratched off the list. However, if you’re a Star Wars fan, they’ve got you covered. Disney is pre-gaming for the new Star Wars Land real hard with some awesome shows and character interactions that will make any Star Wars fan ecstatic. First off, the March of the First Order.

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March of the First Order

You’ll know this is about to happen due to the ominous and bone- rattlingly loud music playing which heralds the entrance of the Storm Troopers.

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Meet ten year old Jeff.

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Intimidating

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Captain Phasma

This “show” occurs just about once an hour all day long. It is really impressive to see all those Storm Troopers marching across the park. I’m not a huge Star Wars devotee, but I’m married to one and it was a real hoot to watch him marvel at this procession of characters that were such a part of his childhood.

Next up was the Star Wars Launch Bay.

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Launch Bay

This offering displaced one of my favorite activities in the former Animation courtyard where you could learn to draw disney characters and take home a free souvenir, a rarity in Disney. All of this is gone and now replaced by a sort of preview of what’s to come in the new Star Wars Land. There are movie props and costumes on display, and the Storm Troopers loom about and assess the threat from random guests.

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Threat risk: Low

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Threat Risk : Even  Lower

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Rebel Flight Suit

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Tie Pilot Flight Suit

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Darth Vader Costume

Also housed in the Launch Bay are two character meet and greets. There’s Kylo Ren from the latest movie, whom I understand is pretty scary and intimidating and CHEWBACCA!!! I said I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, but who wouldn’t be psyched to hug a seven foot Wookie?

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Childhood dream fulfilled.

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Someone was a bit jelly of me and Chewie.

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Love!

All this fan boy action was making us hungry. I was very glad to see that one of our favorite spots, the 50s Primetime Café, managed to dodge the clear out for the new lands. Today we would be hitting up the lounge.

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The Tune- In Lounge

While the lounge seems to  have a separate entrance, it really just dumps you into the regular waiting area for the restaurant. It can seem pretty busy, but most people at the bar are just waiting to be seated, so stools come available pretty quickly.

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After you.

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Some of the kitsch in the waiting area.

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Dad’s Liquor Cabinet

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Primetime Menu

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A Racer 5, if I recall.

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Bartender slinging a rack of Margaritas.

We got a couple appetizers to keep things sort of light.

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Grandpa’s Crab Cake – lump crab cake served on succotash salad with bacon and chili sauce

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Beer-Battered Onion Rings – served with horseradish sauce

These were both really excellent. I would have liked to have had another crab cake on the plate for the $12.00 price tag, but the cake itself and the succotash were of real quality. The onion rings, however, were a bargain. A good portion of crispy beer battered onions and a soup bowl of horseradish sauce for $7.00!  Double onion rings next time? Maybe.

Our bellies now full, we popped over to the newly dubbed “Muppet Courtyard”.  Muppets have had a low profile presence in Hollywood Studios for years. Now, it seems there doubling down on the property and I couldn’t be happier.

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Muppets Gift Shop

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Mama Melrose Ristorante was originally supposed to be Muppet themed. Maybe someday?

The execs at Disney had shoe horned a “Pizza Planet” into this area years ago. The theming really had barely any resemblance to the arcade in the Toy Story movies. To make matters worse, they served doughy, cheap pizza and limp salads and not much else. So when it was announced that “Pizzerizzo”, a Muppet themed, New York style pizzeria was taking it’s place we Disney nerds were psyched!

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Pizzerizzo Authentic NY Signage

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Things were still under construction on our trip.

The new joint has opened since we returned and voila! they’re serving the same crap pizza as before. Why Disney? Why can’t you serve a nice slice of pie for the people? Oh well.

It was getting on time for a pick-me-up so we skipped over to the new Starbucks for an iced latte. The addition of Starbucks to the parks was once controversial (I’m looking at you, Main Street Bakery), but they have done a really nice job of integrating the shops into the parks with some clever theming. This store is themed after a trolley car station. There’s no trolley to be found here in Hollywood Studios, though there is one in Disney’s California Adventure…hhhmmm. Maybe there’s a Red Car Trolley on the way!

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Stately Entrance

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Realistic power panels etc.

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Selections one would expect.

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The boss.

While Jeff ordered, I set about finding a place to plop down on Hollywood Boulevard. I texted him my location and then sent him off on a wild goose chase because I don’t know right from left. He found me eventualy.  Sorry, dear.  We got a bit of a show while we enjoyed our beverages. The Citizens of Hollywood are character players that roam the streets, stopping here and there to put on improv shows that incorporate guests and a lot of vaudeville schtick.

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You can’t really see them, but they’re there.

This is the kind of thing that guests tend to walk on by. Honestly, if we weren’t having our drinks, I would have moved on as well. I have to tell you, they were hilarious. The players were doing a tournament of champions of “a guy walked into a bar” jokes. The guests would yell out a key word and they’d have to go with it. Man, they were fast. Disney has been eliminating more and more of this type of entertainment, so if we want this kind of streetmosphere to continue we need to stop and enjoy it. I’m really talking to myself here.

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Time to forge on!

We had one more Fastpass left so we headed on over to the Great Movie Ride.

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Pretty!

This is an opening day attraction that has seen better days. It’s more about nostalgia now. The show scenes of the classic films run from not-so-good likenesses to horrifyingly bad representations. Poor Sigourney Weaver. There was a refurbishment last year, but I’m afraid it was subtraction by addition. They added a narration that steps on the live actors’ role. It’s just weird now.

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Mary Poppins

The Wizard of Oz set is exceptionally good. The animatronic witch is quite realistic.

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There’ no place like home, but I don’t want to go yet.

We decided to head back to our room for a wee nap. The onion rings had worn off for Jeff so we stopped into the food court for a flat bread and beer.

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Nap insurance.

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A bit floppy, but freshly made and spicy.

So, is Hollywood Studios worth a visit right now? I’d say yes, but just barely at this point. We won’t be heading back tonight after our nap, as we would for the other parks. Instead we’ll be enjoying a bar crawl around Crescent Lake. Not a bad concession.

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Sleepy time!

Up Next: Drinking Around Crescent Lake!

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When That Evening Sun Goes Down

We were about halfway around the World and the sun was starting to get low in the sky. We made our way to the Japan pavilion to wander through the Mitsukashi Department Store and buy some strange snacks to send to our son, Matt.

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Mitsukashi Department Store

Dried crabs and mochi purchased, we explored the Bijutsu-kan  exhibition gallery which houses long-term exhibits on Japanese art and culture. The show building here in Japan is just mammoth. It was meant to have some sort of an indoor coaster featuring Godzilla, but the sponsor, Fuji film, pulled out and it never happened. An all too familiar story in Epcot, unfortunately.

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Gorgeous facade.

The current presentation at the gallery, “Kawaii Life”, features a look at Japan’s “Culture of Cute.”

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Kawaii Banner

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So cute!

We circled back around to the department store because tucked way back in the corner you’ll find a sake bar.  I just love a hot sake, but it wasn’t chilly enough for that. We got a cold dry sake long with a beer I had heard good things about. It’s a type of Hefeweizen brewed in Japan. Who knew?

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A traditional dry sake along with a Ginga Kogen Weizen

Instead of swilling in the bar, we took our beverages outside. Japan has gorgeous garden and Koi ponds surrounding a peaceful sitting area.

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I’m feeling a bit Koi.

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Exquisite

Again, because of the festival, people were sticking the the main walkways so we were completely alone in this oasis.

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Emptee!

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The lanterns were just coming on as we finished.

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Tokyo Sunset

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Dazzling

Our next stop was Italia! It was looking luminous in this fading light.

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The Enoteca

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Neptune, looking fit as always.

This is another pavilion that includes a small bar, tucked away in a cave like setting, Tutto Gusto.

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Wine Bar

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Cool and quiet!

This place is a little gem of bôite, however, it is way over priced. We chose a wine flight with very skimpy pours and a plate which consisted of two itty bitty panini and salad.

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Over priced wine flight.

That’s just a regular sized toothpick in there, for size comparison.

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Small bread sandwiches served with Caesar salad wedge: Proscuitto di Parma; Carciofi and Fontina and Fontina and Salametto

While everything was tasty, it was so paltry for the price, it just wasn’t a good experience.  We certainly weren’t looking to load up on food, but after tax and tip this one stop cost nearly forty dollars! Even a Yuegling here is eleven bucks. That’s just crazy. We’ll be skipping this next time, unless something changes.

By the time we finished up, the sun had set completely. We made our way over to the German Platz.  The detail here is meticulous. 

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Replicas of the Hapsburg emperors.

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Welcome!

What we lost in Italy we gained in Germany. There is a tiny walk up window here that serves up hearty portions of tasty german fare at a reasonable price.

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That’s more like it.

While Jeff ordered our eats I snuck in to the Biergarten Restaurant. So naughty!

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Biergarten

I love German food and would really like to experience this place, but unfortunately it’s a buffet. While it’s obvious that I love to eat, I don’t enjoy feeling like I have to load up and over-do it to get my money’s worth. Just looking at all those pans of food makes me feel totally overwhelmed. Bummer, if it was à la carte I would be all over this. They also have entertainment throughout the night. Not while I was there though.

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Empty Stage

Meanwhile, back at the platz.

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Fresh-cooked Brat with Roll and Sauerkraut and house-made paprika chips

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Nudel Gratin: Baked Macaroni with Cheese Custard

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Warsteiner Dunkel

My goodness, everything was so flippin’ good. The Nudel Gratin was amazing with that thick, toasty layer of cheese! Mein Gott! All this deliciousness was just over twenty dollars. Bargain! This was officially the end of my eating, but Jeff was lured into another of the Food and Booths.

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Extreme close up of Roasted Pork Lettuce Wrap and Kimchi

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iCing Grapefruit Sparkling Rice Brew

I turned my attention to a drink in China that is near legend in Disney circles. The Tipsy Ducks in Love. This tasty beverage (dessert) is a combination of coffee, black tea, and chocolate syrup, topped with a generous pour of Jim Beam bourbon. It is usually finished with whipped cream but I thought that was a bit much. Gotta have some temperance, you know.

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Oh my!

This drink has been sold at the Joy of Tea stand for years, but doesn’t appear on the menu. They just have a little placard on the counter. You might be curious about the name. Me too. The drink is described as a Hong Kong Style Yuan Yang. This is a reference  to Mandarin Ducks, the symbol of conjugal love in Chinese culture. The birds usually appear in pairs and the male and female look very different. This same connotation of a “pair” of two unlike items is used to name this drink because coffee tea together is unusual. The Tipsy addition is all American. Thanks, China! It was so yummy!!!!

My friends, we have arrived at the last drink of the evening! Our final tipple of the night would be back in the UK at the Rose and Crown. We saluted our victory with a couple drams of Jameson whiskey. I have a life tip for you: when the bartender asks if you want to make it a double for just two dollars more, you say “yes, sir”.

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Yes, please.

So, how did we do on our quest? Well, we didn’t follow the rules of one snack and one drink each in every country. That may have killed us. We did, however, have some sort of taste from every country except America, (cause why bother?) and Morocco. We just missed that one. Here’s our tally. I’m not sure if I should be proud or deeply ashamed.

  • Mexico– Two Margaritas and Queso & chips
  • Norway-One Aquavit and School Bread
  • China– One Tipsy Ducks
  • Germany-One Dunkel, Brat, Nudel Gratin  
  • Italy– One Wine flight, Panini
  • United States-nada
  • Japan-Sake, Beer
  • Morocco-Nothing
  • France– Two Slushy Drinks, Wine, Escargot
  • United Kingdom– Two Bumble Bees and two whiskies
  • Canada– One Beer, cheese soup and Filet
  • Bonus: Two craft beers, South Korean pork lettuce wrap and rice drink

We took our hooch up to my new favorite spot to view Illuminations, Canada. Once again we were completely alone up here.

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Canada seems to be boring him right now.

This spot is a dozen steps up from the walkway, so while it’s farther back. it’s a completely clear view.

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Perfect!

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Finale

After Illuminations, the park is officially closed. This is when the throngs of people all stream out to the busses. We instead took a post- Illuminations stroll in the opposite direction. This was one of the most magical nights of our trip. Being in World Showcase with practically no one else there was just so lovely. The pavilions look so beautiful at night. I skipped and twirled all around the whole lagoon. Hey, I had a lot to drink.  I’ll leave you with the photos I snapped and won’t burden you with any more commentary.

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Up Next: Is there anything left to do in Hollywood Studios?

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Around the World

Today we will be visiting Epcot. Our main objective was to eat and drink around World Showcase but first, we had a bit of business to do in the front of the park.

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Yes, we want a selfie in front of the Food and Wine display. Not we’re not waiting in line, off to side will do.

I don’t believe that I’ve mentioned so far how absolutely perfect the weather was while we were there. We had seriously dodged some awfulness in the weeks leading up to our trip. It was obnoxiously hot and humid culminating in a serious hurricane that closed the parks for only the fourth time in its history. Hurricane Matthew took all the mugginess with it and we were left with clear skies and perfect temperatures for the entire week.

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Blue skies shining on me.

As soon as we passed through the gates I spotted a delightful surprise, The Muppet Mobile Lab! 

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Beaker!

Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew are a part of the “Living Character Initiative” that began over ten years ago. During this ten minute show they scientists can interact with guests in real time while performing a series of  comedy routines. The Mobile Lab is basically a Segway equipped with flashing lights, rotating signs, bubble jets, smoke sprayers, water misters and confetti cannons. The boys had left Epcot in 2009 to travel around the world to other Disney parks, but they came back just in time for our visit. This wouldn’t be our last real encounter with Muppets. Foreshadowing!

We watched the remainder of the show then headed to the Land Pavilion to experience a (almost) brand new attraction, Soarin’ Around the World. 

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Gorgeous mosaics line the entranceway.

The Soarin’ attraction has been a staple of Future World since 2005. The original premise was a picturesque trip across the broad and varied terrain of California. While it continued to be a fan favorite, the film had gotten a bit long in the tooth. It went under refurbishment for quite a long time, not only reworking the film, but updating the digital technology and adding third concourse to ease up the wait times.

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Lookin’ Good

The new film breaks free of the boundaries of California and takes us all around the world! I had heard enough about the new film to unfortunately be looking out for the negative stuff. All in all it’s great, but they went a little over the top with a lot of CGI in this iteration. Made me a little nostalgic for the old scratchy film.

While we were in the land Pavilion we used our fastpass for Living with the Land. A few years back that sentence would have been ridiculous, but now with the new “Fast Pass+” in place, attractions like this which used to be walk-ons are having wait times of thirty minutes and more. It seems like this new system is just spreading the misery around a little more evenly.

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The waiting.

Living with the Land is an opening day attraction whose purpose is to educate, which was originally the whole point of Epcot. It begins with show scenes illustrating how the powerful forces of nature shape the land, then our boat ride proceeds into The Land’s “Living Laboratory”, which showcases ideas about the future of agriculture. This is most certainly not a thrill ride, but it has its charms. The ride through the greenhouses is quite relaxing.

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Amaranth in the floral greenhouse.

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Water gardens

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The experimental hydroponic gardens. Hops! That reminds me, it’s time to start drinkin’

We were visiting Epcot during the peak of the Food and Wine Festival. Loyal readers may recall that we have enjoyed this festival in the past. I was positively giddy the first year we got to go, That being said, I wasn’t so stoked about it this time. We hadn’t originally planned to visit this time of year, but here we were. I was just so looking forward to strolling around World Showcase without it being cluttered with all the food booths not to mention the throngs of people. Also, with all the standing in line for the teeny bites, there’s much less time to wander and explore the pavilions and enjoy the cuisine that’s to be had therein. Lastly, the value of the nibbles and drinks of the Festival has gotten a little bonkers. So, for this go ’round we’ll be (mostly) ignoring the food booths and instead making a courageous attempt to eat and drink around the World! We start north with Canada.

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Victoria Gardens

So, remember when I said we wouldn’t be visiting the Food and Wine booths? Well, there’s no choice in Canada for walk up snacks, so…

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“Le Cellier” Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce

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Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup with Pretzel Roll

These were both winners. The filet was tender and a good portion (not always the case according to bloggers) and the soup was smokey and perfectly accompanied by the bread. It was more like a cheesy bacon dip. The drink selections here we not so good so I moseyed over to the beer cart that’s in Canada year ’round for a La Fin Dumonde. At $10.50 it may seem pricey, but this beer has a 9.0% ABV and is a full pint. If you ordered this at a pub it would be served in a snifter and probably only ten ounces. Plus, it’s delicious!

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Good choice

We made our way up into the pavilion away from the crowds and found a peaceful spot to relax and enjoy our refreshments.

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Perfect spot.

We finished our snacks and wandered through the Pavilion before moving on.

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We were crossing back over to Mexico for our next stop. We didn’t think that starting with tequila would be a wise plan. On the way, were lured into the Craft Beer Marketplace.

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Why not?

This is housed in the Odyssey building which used to be a restaurant but has been closed for decades. It’s just a general use space now. I think this is quite a good use for it. The beers were tasty and it’s a nice spot to cool off and take a rest.

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Odyssey interior.

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I believe we got the Shipyard Midnight Snack Milk Stout, Clearwater, FL and the Florida Beer Company Passport 20 Belgian-Style Tripel Ale, Cape Canaveral, FL. All the beers were local to Florida.

After our diversion, we made it to Mexico!

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Aztec art outside Mexico.

This area is another great place to cool off and take a break. There’s lots of little carts and things to looks at or buy. Not exactly my style, but still fun.

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Cheery skulls.

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These guys look a bit parched.

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Lot of colorful characters.

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Like this guy.

Also in Mexico is the Arribas Brothers Glass shop. Their wares don’t seem to fit particularly into the Mexican theme, but it’s interesting none the less.

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He’s making a snow man.

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See?

We wanted to space out our drinks a little longer so we took a ride on the Gran Fiesta Tour. Always a good take. They added these animatronics to the end just recently.

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Donald, Panchito and José

It was tequila time! There was a line out the door at La Cava del Tequila for drinks to-go, but only a short wait for a table inside. I just love this spot. Disney has been creating more and more small lounges like this where you can tuck in and get away from the crowds.

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Avocado El Mayor Premium silver Tequila, melon liqueur, fresh avocado, agave nectar and fresh lime juice, served frozen with hibiscus Himalayan salt rim

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Cucumber El Mayor Premium silver Tequila, triple sec, caramelized pineapple juice, fresh basil, cucumber and agave nectar, served on the rocks with a cactus-lemongrass Himalayan salt rim

These were both really well crafted, but we agreed that the Avocado was the winner.

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There’s no losers here, though.

We got some Chips and Queso here too. Boy, these were just terrific. They also came with a nice smokey salsa.

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Perfect Snack.

Continuing on to Norway! This area has recently been infiltrated by Elsa and Ana of Frozen. This was certainly controversial due to the fact that Arendelle is fictional and therefore not in Norway. That being said, they’ve done a nice job with the facades of the show buildings. If you don’t want to see these characters, you don’t have to.  We would be seeing the sisters later. Today, we are here for the School Bread!

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Ana And Elsa’s Summer Haus.

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Is this the cutest bathroom sign ever???

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The pastry case. No decision making here, though.

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This is the bomb.

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Vikings guarding the joint.

Our drink at Norway was actually a shot of Aquavit. This is purported to be so vile that they have a “Viking Challenge”, wherein you take the shot and then have to hold a straight face for five seconds. If you succeed, you get a pin exclaiming your victory. I took a sip off the top so I could say I had a drink in Norway, then Jeff knocked it back.

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Skol!

Years of drinking cheap bourbon must have been good training for this, because it tasted pretty darn good. It had a nice floral aroma and tasted strongly of caraway. Good stuff. They didn’t have any pins though. That’s bull crap!

Next on the roster was the U.K. This pub is always hopping.

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Rose and Crown

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I wanted to try one of the Pub Blends, instead of just a Guinness.

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We went with the Bumblebee.

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Mr. Jones approved.

The bitter of the Boddingtons cut through the Guinness nicely. We didn’t have any food in the U.K., but these were a meal on their own. We wandered through the shops and the back gardens of the pavilion.

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So much detail and this is just a gift shop.

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I should have gotten reservations here.

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Our family crest.

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Love these gardens!

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This back area is always quiet when there’s no band playing.

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The gazebo on the left is where the U.K. tribute band plays. We’ll see them later.

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Thatched roof cottage.

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We found a nook in the gift shop with just two chairs. Don’t mind if we do!

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Over the bridge and we’re in France.

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Love the architecture here.

Jeff stepped up to purchase a couple slushy, froo froo drinks.

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It takes a real man to order girly drinks.

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Scratch that.

There wasn’t any place to lounge in France, so we traipsed on over to Morocco to find a seat.

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No waiting here. It was empty. Poor Morocco, everyone is afraid of your food.

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Beautiful surroundings.

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The drinks were just as I expected, over priced and not very boozy, but hit the spot!

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Morocco has other ahem, attributes as well.

It was getting time to get some more food on board so we tracked back to France. We couldn’t resist their Food and Wine kiosk, it smelled so garlicky and delicous!

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Viva la France!

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The source of the aromas: Croissant aux escargots with garlic and parsley along with a nondescript wine.

This was really good. The escargot have been a staple at Food and Wine France, it’s just the delivery that is always different. Last time, brioche, this time croissant. Both just lovely. 

We’ve made good progress so far, but we’ve got the whole night ahead of us. Take a little rest and we’ll be back to attempt to finish our quest to conquer the WORLD!

Up Next: We have the whole World showcase to ourselves!!!!

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Boo to You!

After a bit of a rest, we met up again with Sam and Ashley for the Mickey’s Not-So Scary Halloween Party. Now we finally have photographic proof that these two people exist!

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See, they’re not like a “girlfriend from Canada”. They’re real!

The Magic kingdom was all decked out in fall colors. It looked wonderful, but truth be told, I’m still looking forward to seeing the place in it’s normal state sometime again.

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Bunting galore.

The Halloween party is a ticketed event which officially runs from 7:00pm to midnight. Day guests are kindly shuffled out of the park right at 7:00. Guests of the party can, however, enter the park as early as four o’clock. It makes a good bit of sense that if you lay out the money on the party you should spend the morning and afternoon doing things outside of the parks, like hanging at your resort or Disney Springs for example, and then head to the party early. That way you still get eight hours of park time without using up a regular day ticket. This party was a gift to us from our dear friends, so we still went to Animal Kingdom for the morning anyway. Do as I say, not as I do, kids.

Party goers were ushered to the right to a “back stage” area where we received our “trick or Treat” bags and our first stash of candy.

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Why, thank you.

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These stanchions are dotted around the park letting you know where to get more candy loot.

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Cute statuary lined the backstage entrance.

Ashley and Sam are party veterans, so we just let them take the lead for what to do and at what times. While most attractions are open all night, they knew that the Carousel of Progress was not, so we hustled on over to Tomorrowland to take that in first.

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Astro Orbiter in Tomorrowland

I hadn’t visited the Carousel of Progress in several trips so I was nostalgic to see it again. Unfortunately, there was a crying infant in the theater that wailed the whole time. I felt bad for the mom but I was also a little annoyed because the baby was crying waaaay before the show was set to start, so she had ample opportunity to exit and try again later. End of whining.

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Bee costume family on point.

You may recall that earlier in the day, coasters presented themselves as a problem for Jeff.  Fantasyland debuted a new mine train coaster since our last visit that I was excited to try. Now I was thinking of skipping it. Ashley was kind enough to sacrifice one of their Fastpasses to me so I could give it a test run.

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Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

This attraction is the centerpiece of the “New Fantasyland” area of Magic Kingdom. We had seen most of the rock work and landscaping on our last visit, it just wasn’t up and running yet.

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Beautifully Landscaped. Probably fake, but pretty!

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Snow White’s Cottage

This attraction is a perfect addition to Magic Kingdom. It’s a combination of a train coaster, which is fun, while also being super-smooth and not too extreme, along with a perfectly executed “dark ride” portion. The animatronics here utilize the most up to date technology. I felt like it would be a go for Jeff. We’ll see.

We took a stroll on over to Liberty Square to visit the Haunted Mansion, cause you have to during the Halloween party, plus it’s awesome.

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Took this gem on the way. Gorgeous!

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He wasn’t confident we’d make it out.

Right away we could see that cast members are specifically chosen to work the party. Along with their make-up being extra creepy, the acting was far beyond the usual schpeel. Right as we rounded the corner one cadaverous looking butler popped out and scared the tar out of Ashley!

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Boo!!!

We caught ourselves some dinner at nearby Columbia Harbor House. It was just fine. I had a lobster Roll and Jeff panic ordered Mac ‘n Cheese with shrimp. It was all just ok. It was fuel for the evening. Sorry, no pics.

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A brief respite at the Tangled Toilets. So pretty at night.

There are four main elements of the Halloween Party: special fireworks, the Boo to You Parade, rare character meet and greets  and lastly, trick or treating. I was very excited about the former two, but the latter, not my things. Neither of us are much into candy, so spending time wandering down treat trails wasn’t for us. While I like the characters, collecting pictures isn’t really important to me. I liken this  to collecting baseball trading cards. For some Disney folks, getting a photo with Snow White and ALL Seven Dwarfs is akin to scoring a Babe Ruth rookie card. I may be exaggerating a bit, but it is a conquest!

So this is where we parted ways with Ashley and Sam. We handed off our treat bags so that they could load up with double candy and we made plans to meet up later for the fireworks. Here’s where someone like myself can still rock the party despite not digging major elements of it.  While everyone else is collecting candy and pictures we were getting in (almost) all the attractions we wanted with no waiting!

Our first stop is one that never really has any waits but we love it so we popped in. I’ve given you a play by play of this one before. You remember, right?

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The Head Mouse.

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Showtime!

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Dude, the party is just getting started.

We strolled around without too much purpose whilst I snapped some artsy type pictures that I think turned out super okay.

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The Carousel

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Favorite.

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Backlit Cinderelly.

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We passed the Meet and Great for Jack and Sally. Our friends waited two hours to meet them!

We have now reached one of my favorite attractions, Pirates of the Caribbean. This and Haunted Mansion are tied for first, I think.

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Five minutes means that’s how long it’s going to take you to walk to the dang boat.

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I put in a bid for the Red Head.

I don’t remember where it was, but I had read or heard that in the Pirate’s gift shop you could buy the key ring from the infamous last scene in the attraction. I don’t collect any “Mickey” type souvenirs. I do however have a modest collection of vintage Disneyland attraction poster reproductions.

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They’re pretty cool, right?

Yes, they’re Disney but really they are art. I heart them so much. Anyhoo, I thought having this key ring hanging nearby the Pirate’s of the Caribbean poster would be subtle, yet trés cool.

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I found them!

These were substantial yet not really expensive at all. I was psyched. Then, Jeff voiced a concern. It bothered him beyond reason that there are THREE keys on the ring when the scene with the dog clearly shows just ONE key.

NO ESCAPE -- In one of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction's most memorable scenes, a dog holds the keys - and the futures of some undesirables - in his mouth. This classic moment was recreated in Walt Disney Pictures' "Pirates of the Caribbean:The Curse of the Black Pearl."

Exhibit A

While I must admit he had a point, it didn’t upset me…at all. He, however claimed that he’d be wrenching that ring open when we get home to remove those two extra keys. Upon doing a a bit of research I discovered that the “prison dog” shows up in the Curse of the Black Pearl movie with his key ring and….three keys!

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If it pleases the court, Exhibit B.

So, this gives the three key premise some legitimacy. On the other hand, I bought them because of the classic ride. What to do? We’re awaiting a decision.

Next we sauntered into another classic Disney attraction, Peter Pan’s Fight. We hadn’t been on this together since our honeymoon. Awww…

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A map of Neverland in the queue.

Jeff had no recollection. It was still burned into my squishy Disney heart after all these years.  This is an attraction that rarely has a wait under 60 minutes. We waited maybe 15 minutes all the while winding through a new, delightful queue bringing you through London and then into the Darlings’ house. You’re sprinkled with Pixie Dust and them… off you go!

When made our way back to Tomorrowland to take a turn on the People Mover.

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Oh, Tomorrowland. You look so much more beautiful at night.

The People mover is a perfect place to put your feet up and relax for approximately twelve minutes.

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Literally.

We had a bit of time left before we would be meeting back up the Sam and Ashley. Normally, when there’s time to kill, the Mr. and I would go for a drink, as you do. This being a *dry park it left us without that option.  What to do but get our selves an ice cream?

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Plaza Ice Cream Parlor

I had an extensive list of things to try and do that was seriously crossed off on this trip. The “All American Sundae” was one of them.

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What’s more American than peanut butter and chocolate? Nothing.

Sam collected us from the Plaza and lead us over to the primo spot he and Ashley staked out for the fireworks.

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Dead Center

First, we watched the Celebrate the Magic castle show. This is a show that is projection mapped onto the castle that it so impressive. I may have teared up. Next, the Hallowishes fireworks. These were just fantastic. We took a few pictures, but unless you are a pro photographer it just looks like meh. Trust me, they were astonishing! Or, if you don’t trust me watch them HERE.

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Amazing!

Next up was the Boo to You parade. Sam had designs on his usual spot in Frontierland but that was full up. We headed to the hub and found a perfectly situated spot which looked right down Main Street from the hub.

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Eerie lighting down Main Street.

The parade starts with the Headless Horseman galloping down the street. Unless you have that pro photog with you, this one’s a blur too.

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There he goes!

The parade was great. Intricately themed floats, catchy music and TONS of dancers.

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Captain Hook’s Ship.

 

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These “Grave Diggers” drag their shovels across the pavement making sparks.

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The waltzers from the Haunted Mansion come to life…or death.

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Just like that, it’s the last float.

We all had designs on heading back into the park, but we were too exhausted. We were so tired that dealing with this seemed like a better idea:

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Hey, everyone! Let’s go home.

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Spoooky

I really enjoyed our time at MNSSHP. While it’s not something I would normally do, it was quite enjoyable. The mood of the party goers was lively and fun. We got to see the park lit up in a whole different way and we experienced the best fireworks display ever. That’s not debatable. It is the best.

We would be saying our goodbyes to our friends this night. Getting to spend time with these two wonderful people was by far the best part of our trip. Disney has been a joy for me for many years, but the connection I’ve made with Ashley has been the most treasured gift.

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Happy Halloween!

Next up: Can we actually eat and drink around the world???

Posted in U. S. Travel, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World | Leave a comment

Warm Heart of Africa

Today will be our first day in the parks. I was planning on going to the Magic Kingdom, but then Ashley and Sam offered to treat us to the Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (yes, that’s the official name) that evening, so I decided to break things up and hit the Animal Kingdom in the morning.

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Animal Kingdom: Not a zoo.

First thing, we ran into DeVine. She’s a sort of stilt-walking art piece that ever so slowly skulks around, creeping out guests. The performer does a wonderful job contorting her body into peculiar formations so that you don’t really know what you’re looking at. Her costume, however, is just silly. She’s covered in vines (sure, that works) and grapes! I’m no vintner, but I don’t believe there are any grapes growing in the dense tropical jungles.

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DeVine doing her thing…

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Scaring the snot out of children.

There are opportunities for close up animal interactions all around the park. You just have to slow down enough to find them. We happened upon an animal care expert and his ‘lil pal.

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What have we got here?

This is a Blue Tongued Skink. He did indeed have a blue tongue that I attempted to get a picture of but after about forty tries I gave up.

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Blue Tongued Skink. Really.

This park is all about lush landscapes and authentic details. There are so many places to stop and take in the beauty of it all.

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Gorgeous.

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Leaf prints and animal tracks are impressed on the walkways.

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These two goofs are blocking the best view.

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There it is! Stunning.

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This temple represents Mount Everest that lies behind it.

We had Fastpasses for the Expedition Everest attraction, which is basically a fantastically themed roller coaster. There are so many details in the queue, even if you to wait in the standby line, it’s not so bad.

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It was immediately after this ride that we discovered that Jeff is just not into coasters anymore. Certain jarring attractions have been falling of the list for both of us, but this is one that I still really enjoy. Next time, I may have to fly solo.

We strolled on over to Africa to grab a bite eat.

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Cue “Africa” by Toto to be stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

I had read a lot about a new area called Harambe Market which  boasts some tasty food additions.

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Realistic theming just outside the Harambe marketplace. Wiring looks suspect.

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Harambe Marketplace

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Colorful seating area.

Unfortunately, it was about thirty minutes until the windows would be opening. We just needed a little something to hold us over because we would be meeting Ashley and Sam for lunch at noon. Aha! I thought of the perfect snack: Bloody Marys!

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A cocktail AND a salad!

We lounged in Harambe sipping on our liquid snack until it was time for the Kilamanjaro Safari. The safari is always a good take, but I was kind of ruined after one visit when it was pouring rain. This was a bummer in general, but on the safari, the animals were so active! It’s never been quite as good as that, not that I’d wish for rain.

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Lackadaisical Giraffes

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Lethargic Rhino

It was close enough to our reservations to make our way over. We would be having lunch at a brand new restaurant,  Tiffins. We were still a bit early so we first had a beer in the adjacent Nomad lounge.

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Plenty of elegant, comfy seating.

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More seating outdoors.

This lounge has a travel theme with queries about life’s journeys written on banners and along the walls.

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Banners decorate the high ceilings.

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A small, but decent choice of drafts.

We chose an Spiced Excursion Ale. They are dubbing it the “Kungaloosh” which is a deep cut Disney nerd reference to a cocktail once served at the long-gone “Adventurer’s Club”.

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Kungaloosh!!!

We were just a few sips in when Sam And Ashley arrived. We grabbed our drinks a walked across the way to Tiffins.

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Gold leaf ceiling.

Tiffins is the first signature dining restaurant to be opened at Animal Kingdom. The reviews have been fantastic, but the restaurant seems to be struggling to fill up. I believe that there are two things at play here. First, the menu may be a bit challenging to the average park goer and secondly, Tiffins is off the current beaten path. I say current because it is situated right at the future entrance of “Pandora”, the Avatar-themed Land which is under construction as we speak. Once this is opened I can well imagine that it will become quite popular, especially the lounge. I kinda hope it stays on the down low though. What an oasis!

There are three “Galleries,” or dining rooms. We were seated in the Grand Gallery. The theme here is a celebration of  animals as well as folk art. A large Lantern wall is paying homage to a night time show “Rivers of Light”. The problem is that the show never premiered. It was supposed to open months ago, but has been plagued with problems and has no opening scheduled as of this dateline. Looks great none the less.

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Rivers of Light that never was.

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Sculptures of butterflies and other winged creatures.

The second dining room is adorned with artist renderings and design elements of Animal Kingdom, especially the African safari and the new Harambe area we visited earlier.

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Architectural design elements.

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This art piece highlighting the crazy wiring of the African villages.

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A Baobab Tree as seen on the Kilimanjaro Safari.

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Artist renderings of the safari attraction.

The third dining room is the Trek Gallery. I didn’t poke my nosy head into that one.  It has an Asian motif and just looking at a few pics online, it is the least themed and most likely is only for over flow dining.

Now that you’re acclimated to the environs, Let’s eat!

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Embroidered napkins. I resisted the temptation to stuff one in my purse.

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The menus were encased in a hefty leather binding.

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Cla-ssy

Jeff and Sam both started with the Lobster soup. It was served table side. I didn’t get the camera out quite fast enough.

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Lobster-Popcorn Thai Curry Soup – Lime-Basil Emulsion, Popped Sorghum

The guys both loved it. Jeff gave me a taste and all the while he was muttering something about it having a familiar taste he couldn’t quite put his finger on. After some time he exclaimed:”Fruit Loops!”. Damned if he wasn’t spot on. He mentioned it to our server later on in the meal and he was all like “Yes! that’s just what I’ve been thinking! Thank you!”. It was so weird that it was both delectable and tasted like a breakfast cereal. Go figure.

I went with the Octopus appetizer. While I’m not afraid of this tentacled sea creature, it’s not something I would have jumped at. I had heard so many reviews saying that this was a knock out dish so I just had to try it. Oh my, it did not disappoint. The fish was tender, perfectly seasoned and charred to perfection. The accompaniments were just delightful!

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Marinated Grilled Octopus – Artichoke Barigoule, Saffron Aioli, Lemon-Caper Olive Oil

Ashley chose the bread service. This is in no way similar to the Sanaa Bread service which you HAVE TO try when you come down here, but it was well received despite one selection being too salty.

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Tiffins Signature Bread Service – Pomegranate Olive Oil, Harissa Yogurt, Zhough Yogurt, Black-Eyed Pea Hummus

Jeff and I decided to share the “Taste of Tiffins” which is choice of two smaller entree portions for $28. Ashley and Sam did the same. The fish I had doesn’t seem to be on the current menu, so we’ll have to go with my pedestrian description.

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Tasty, crispy skinned fish with yummy coconut curry sauce.

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Masa and Pulled Pork Tamale Hominy Succotash and Red Mole Sauce served with Jade Blend Rice

These two dishes were stunning. Perfectly composed and so flavorful! It was just enough for two people along side the appetizers we had. We still had a bit of room for left dessert. We had a long night ahead of us so we had a couple of cappuccinos as well.

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Do you see a T-Rex or a Kangaroo? It’s the new “Gold Dress” controversy.

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Lime Cheesecake Almond-Sesame Tuille, Green Tea Sponge

This dessert was a perfect end to an exceptional meal. We all enjoyed our time at Tiffins so much. While it was not a cheap lunch, it was a great value for the caliber of food and service we received.

After a little R&R and we’ll be ready for the Spooktacular Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party!

Coming Up: Can someone who doesn’t care for Halloween or eat candy have fun a MNNSHP????

Posted in Dining Review, U. S. Travel, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World | Leave a comment

Straighten Up and Fly Right

This trip was a long time coming. Jeff and I had had plans to visit Walt Disney World last February where we would be meeting up with our friends Sam and Ashley and staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge for the first time. In the weeks leading up to the trip my father fell ill, and sadly, shortly after passed away. My dad first took me to Disney when I was about ten and once more in high school. This laid the foundation for my love of the parks, and the innovation behind Walt Disney World’s attractions. After things settled down, I began the process of re-planning our vacation. Although we weren’t able to keep our original plans of staying at the Lodge, we were still able to arrange to meet up with Ashley and Sam who happened to be attending a wedding in nearby St. Augustine. Having to rework everything actually turned out to be a good thing, It gave me something to focus on, and certainly to look forward to. So, here begins our epically long, attraction filled, food and drink packed, Disney Vacation!

I’ve gone on quite a bit here with no food pics. We’ve got more blah, blah, blah to get through so here’s a photo of an adorable Mickey pastry to hold you over:

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So darn cute!!!

For me, planning a Disney vacation is like a sport. I spend literally hours researching which parks to visit on which day in order to avoid the crowds. I read countless blogs to find the best restaurants and bars to visit and what snacks we must try. I meticulously organize our Fastpasses for attractions so that waiting in lines is not a part of our days. Booking our flights however, is not something I tend to do. I hand that over to Jeff because he’s travelled so much for work and it’s something he’s always done. He just sends me the itinerary and I then add it to my plans.

I tell you all this so that you understand how incredibly dumb I felt when we MISSED OUR FLIGHT!!!! That’s right, I totally whiffed it. I all too casually glanced at our flight times and thought we took off at 8:00 am. Not so, my friends. We were getting our luggage together and buttoning up the house when Jeff looked at our boarding passes. Our flight was at 6:30 am, our return flight was at eight. Nooooo!!! I put my face in my hands and laid on the couch. Probably not the best solution. Jeff called the airline; this was a better plan. First, let me just say Southwest Airlines is fantastic. The gentleman informed us that if we made it to the airport within two hours of the flight, we could be added to the next available flight with no penalty. This is the good news. The bad news is that by the time we arrived, there were no available flights, only stand-by. While Jeff was parking the car I ran in to see if something had miraculously opened up. It hadn’t, but then the woman helping me asked if we would be willing to fly into Tampa instead of Orlando. I asked how far away and she said only about an hour. Yes!!! New plan: we’d fly into Tampa and rent then a car. We made it to the gate just moments to spare! Whew. Now, I realize this isn’t life and death, it’s just a vacation, but I had so been looking forward to just getting there. Plus, our visit with our friends would have been cut in half if we had to wait a whole day to get there. I was simply gutted that I made such a rookie mistake.

We landed in Tampa and after a half hour or so of quibbling with car rentals we decided to call an Uber instead. It was about half what they wanted for a one way rental plus we didn’t have to fuss with where to return the car. Money well spent. This wouldn’t be the last Uber we used on the trip (more on this later) but alas, we made it!!!

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See, there was nothing to be upset about.

We checked-in to Pop Century. I’ve talked enough about these accommodations. It’s a clean room and a good place to land. Nothing fancy, but the theming is fun. We normally switch to a Deluxe resort at the end of our trips to have something to look forward to, but budget wouldn’t allow for it this time. It turned out to be much more cost effective to stay longer at Pop and forgo the upgrade.

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Welcome home!

We stayed in the Sixties section for the first time. Same rooms, different enormous icon.

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Ginormous Yo-Yo.

When are we gonna get to something fun, for Pete’s sake? Right about now. We won’t be going into the parks today, instead we headed to the newly (and still being) renovated Disney Springs.

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Gorgeous new shopping complex.

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Crystalline waterways add to the theming.

I have mixed feeling about the changes. On the one hand, it’s gorgeous! On the other hand, it’s lost a lot of the Disney charm. You can still find Disney themed shops, but they’re relegated to the old MarketPlace area. The food, however, has been a vast improvement. Many new choices with a range of price points. There are several celebrity chef-owned spots that are still quite affordable.

Our first stop was a true example of old school Disney theming, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar.

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They’re not putting up the sign, this is it.

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Est. 1955. It’s all about the story.

This bar is themed entirely around an obscure character in the movie Indiana Jones Raiders and the of the Lost Ark. Jock was a pilot and airplane mechanic who was frequently hired by Indy to fly the archaeologist to remote parts of the world. The place is crammed with memorabilia and movie references. Even if you know nothing about the films, it’s just a rad place to have a drink.

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Orlando Brewing I-4 IPA

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Napkins themed after mechanics rags. I see what they’re doing, but they still look like rags.

We had reservations for an early dinner, so we didn’t want to spoil things, but our tummies were a grumblin’ so we had to have a wee, small appetizer.

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Air Pirate’s Pretzels – A flight of Everything Pretzels with House-made Mustard and Beer-Cheese Fondue.

These were just perfect. Surprisingly, we both liked the the mustard better than the cheese fondue. They were a bit expensive at ten bucks though. Let the hemorrhaging of cash begin!

It was time to meet up with our dinner companions. Ashley and I became acquainted a couple of years ago through her podcast, WDW Happy Place. We started chatting through Facebook shortly after and made a meaningful connection. We’d both been going through a whole lot of tumultuous stuff and leaned on each other through these times, all the while having never met in real life. This was our first opportunity to get together. Needless to say, there were hugs all around. We were both so travel weary, we don’t have photo evidence of the hugs, we needed naps and make-up before any pictures would be happening. On to lunch!

We headed over to the BOATHOUSE (all caps, that’s how they do it). This was one of the first new restaurants in Disney Springs and it has maintained a great reputation right from the start.

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The BOATHOUSE®: Great Food, Waterfront Dining, Dream Boats™ . Quite a handle.

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One of the many dining spaces, all nautically themed.

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Very nautical.

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BOATHOUSE menu.

Ashley and Sam had eaten here before on several trips, including this one, so they were very gracious to indulge me. When the bread arrived she said that they were as close as she’s ever had to her mom’s yeast rolls. I hope I get invited to Thanksgiving at mom’s house!

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Pillows of heaven.

I didn’t burden our companions by taking pictures of their food, but it looked scrumptious and they enjoyed their choices. Jeff and I shared a crab appetizer which was light and tasty. I split it before I snapped the picture so pardon its sloppy appearance.

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Jumbo Lump Crab and Avocado Tarragon Remoulade

We each choose a main dish and then did splitzies. There were no losers here.

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GRILLED FISH TACOS: Jerk Spiced, Crisp Vegetable Slaw, Avocado, Serrano Chili Cream. The fish of the day was swordfish.

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FILET MIGNON SLIDERS: TWO SLIDERS Maitre D’ Butter Proudly Serving Certified GIBSONS USDA BLUE STAR HERTIAGE ANGUS

These sliders are a must-get. Two generously sized portions of fork tender filet on brioche rolls with a pile of some of the tastiest fries I’ve ever stuffed in my gob for just $14.00. Guys, that is a dollar less than the BBQ burger at the quick service joint in Tomorrowland! No comparison.

We finished our lunch and continued our conversations as we strolled over to another of the brightest spots in the new Disney Springs, Amorette’s Patisserie.

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Amorette’s

This next-level bakery features the most beautifully constructed cakes and pastries I’ve ever seen.

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Mickey under construction.

The pastries here range from $8.00 for the smaller cakes and tarts to $65.00 for larger, more elaborate cakes. We chose the “Reflection in Memphis Peanut Butter Mousse Dome”.

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Toasted Chiffon Cake, Banana Pate De Fruit Jelly, and Caramelized Bacon Pieces

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Let’s take a closer look see.

We headed back to Pop for a bit of a rest before we moseyed on over to the Polynesian Resort.

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Mahalo!

This was the first time we’d been to this resort since it had a major remodel. The lobby had previously been entirely made up of a huge, volcano-like waterfall and gardens. While it was quite a sight to behold, it wasn’t very practical. Some old school Disney fans aren’t quite as impressed with the new digs.

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Much more space to move about.

We came to the Poly for two reasons: to watch the fireworks and to drink rum out of a gigantic pineapple. One down…

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Lapu Lapu!

One of Ashley’s very favorite things to do at Walt Disney World is to find her favorite spot on the Polynesian Beach and watch Wishes. We talked about this moment for months and months and now it was finally here!

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A little pre-show with the Electric Water Pageant.

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All your Wishes will come true…

We finished the night with some snacks and a night cap back on the Lanai. The food was really tasty but it was too dark for decent photos.

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Lanai area

I have to say that I’ve never looked forward to a trip more than this one. Perhaps our little “hiccup” flying out was to make it all the sweeter when we finally arrived. Now we have nine more glorious days ahead to explore this amazing place. You’d better rest up!

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Aloha Ahiahi!

Posted in Dining Review, U. S. Travel, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World | Leave a comment

When the Ship Comes In

We had couple more historical sites to take in before it would be yet reasonable to eat again. We happened upon this formidable building which housed Salem’s Custom House. The doors were wide open and it was free, so we climbed on up the granite stairs.

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Salem Custom House

I knew almost nothing about the purpose of a custom house, but I gleaned that it had to do with taxes. Bingo! I was right. This was the place where taxes on imported goods were first collected for the British Government during the Colonial period, then for the American Government after the establishment of the U. S. Customs Service in 1789. So much for the Tea Party.

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View from the second floor.

There was a gentleman there leading informal tours. The furnishings were preserved and displayed as if it was business as usual in 1819. Interesting fact we learned from the guide: the workers had to bring their own desk and chair from home. The most notable employee of the custom house was author Nathaniel Hawthorne. We’ll lean more about him later.

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There are displays of all the ways the Custom House officers weighed, measured and assessed the value of the goods being imported, down to the level of alcohol is the booze barrels.

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Tools of the trade.

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Medieval torture device? Not sure how this one worked

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If you couldn’t pay, your stuff was locked up until you got the cash.

Also on display was the chronicling of the restoration of the gilded Eagle that was atop the building. It had begun to crumble and was too fragile to be left outdoors any longer.

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The original Eagle cost $50.00

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Casts were made and a new fiberglass replica was created, which is now perched atop the  Custom house.

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The old Eagle is restored and kept indoors, still admonishing us to pay up!!!

Our next stop was sorta historical. Okay, maybe I’m stretching the definition here, but it’s a bar that has the oldest running live music program in Salem. That’s something, right? We dropped in for a quick tipple.

pig

In a Pig’s Eye! I just noticed the street sign. :)

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Total dive bar. Love it!!!!

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Music seven days a week. Impressive!!!

I found this little bôite through the Salem city website. I have to say, it was pretty cool. It had a neat feature where you can tick off from a list what sorts of things you’re into and  it generates a bunch of suggestions. I chose food, beer, maritime, and history, if that’s not already been made pretty clear. One of the suggested destinations was, of course, the House of Seven Gables.

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The admission was pretty reasonable at $13.00. Once we entered the property, the gardens and views were worth it alone.

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Gorgeous garden displays.

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Ocean View!

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Duck statue. Significance unknown.

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I have serious lawn envy.

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Lovely shaded seating. Bet it’s gorgeous lit up at night.

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I love being near the ocean. Not in it, just near it.

We were not allowed to take any photos inside the house. I’ll tell you, our tour guide was great. We had a group of about 15 people and he lead us about the home spouting out all manner of facts. The history of the House and Nathaniel Hawthorne is long and complex. Here’s a succinct breakdown:

The house originally had seven gables.  

When Nathaniel Hawthorne visited there it had three gables.                                                                          

He was told tale of when the house had seven gables.                                                                                    

Hawthorne was inspired to write The House of Seven Gables

Centuries later, a new owner was inspired by the book to restore the seven gables.                    

The house now has seven gables along with rooms from the book that were not in the real house of seven gables.

Now, you are up to speed.

I failed to mention earlier that while the city itself was lovely, the roads were a right mess. It seems that the city planner decided to dig up and repave every road in the environs. This city is going to have the bestest streets… in two years.

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Construction zones everywhere!

With all the digging up, the old cobblestone streets were left exposed in patches. What a shame that these will be tarred on over again. Although, I can well imagine the day when the streets were first paved a hundred years ago. The people must have been so thrilled to ride in their carriages without their teeth getting rattled!

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A bit of history at our feet.

It was getting near grumbly tumbly time so we looped back around towards Pickering Wharf for dinner. On the way by I spotted a shop that was on the to do list.

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Joe’s Fresh Fish

This was not a fish monger, but a tackle shop that also sells some curious art. These fish prints are made by painting and using the fish like stamps. Sounds gross, yes, but the result was quite stunning!

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A tackle shop avec art store.

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A Fish Tale!

And just like that, it was time for dinner. I found this spot from review sites. It had its charms, but we didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as our lunch at Sea Level.

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Victoria Station menu, kinda pedestrian.

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The view was nice, but not stunning as before.

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Wine smooths everything over.

We had a couple of appetizers which were just fine. I failed to take pictures because I kind of thought we might move on, but as the evening unfolded, we got settled in a decided to stay. There was nothing wrong per se, there just wasn’t anything enticing or unique on the menu. We just decided to go all traditional New England and get the good ol’ surf and turf.

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Thar she blows, y’all!

This was all just fine and tasty. The prime rib was a bit beyond medium, but the crust had a nice season to it. The lobster was cooked just right and the claw was huge. The “seafood stuffing” was 95% Ritz cracker, but who doesn’t love buttery ritz jammed into a lobster carcass? It filled us up just right. If I were to do things over though, I would have headed back to Sea Level for the food, view and beer selection.

We finished our dinner just in time to take a leisurely stroll and catch the sunset at nearby Derby Wharf.

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Derby Wharf Light Station has stood on the end of Derby Wharf since 1871.

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Originally, the light was powered by an oil lamp. Today, the light is solar powered.

The sunset put on a spectacular show for us. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Our quick trip to Salem was as educational as it was relaxing. We’ve been so busy that it’s taken me well over a month to jot out these few pages. I do think we’re due for another mini-get away soon.

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Seascape

August was looking to be quite a busy month for Mr. Jones and me. We had just a few unscheduled days in the coming weeks so I decided a quick day trip before all the craziness was in order. I wanted to find  a seaside town that neither of us had visited before. A quick session on the interweb led me to Salem Massachusetts. Now, I don’t go in for all that witchy stuff, but the maritime history along with the prospect of enjoying some manner of seafood whilst overlooking the ocean was enough of a draw for me. Armed with a scant bit of research, we headed northeast  for the day!

We set out around 10:30 to avoid the Boston traffic (and because I can’t drag myself out of bed before 9:00 unless I’m getting a plane to go to Disney) which landed us in Salem just before noon. Perfect, let’s eat!

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Sea Level Oyster Bar

This spot was well reviewed for it’s food as well as the stunning views.

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I had to agree.

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Fresh and tasty choices

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Adorable denim napkins

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We started with a bright, citrusy beer.

We were thinking long game when we ordered here. We decided to keep it light so we could try more of what Salem had to offer. I had a lobster quesadilla appetizer.

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A tasty start.

While these were not overflowing with lobster, they were flavorsome and well paired with the sharp a arugula salad.  Jeff went with the fish tacos. When he ordered, the server asked if he wanted them prepared with the “Fish of the Day”. He approved of the idea. Just as she was stepping away he asked what that fish was, just out of curiosity. She said, “baby octopus”. Oh my. Now, we’re up for octopus, squid or what have you, but I can imagine there’s plenty of folks who would be quite alarmed when their fish tacos arrived looking like this:

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Not for the squeamish.

These were quite good. The mango salsa had just the right kick to balance the sweet fruit. There was also a nice bit of cabbage slaw for some crunch. The Octopus itself was nicely seasoned and rather tender, however it was still quite challenging to manage a bite without some struggle. I would recommend that the chef slice those lil’ guys up for easier consumption. All in all, a great start to the day.

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A quick trip to the Loo. The ladies’ room door adornment.

Fortified, we were ready to traverse this historic city.

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That’s a whole lot of points of interest.

Like the Freedom Trail in Boston, Salem has it’s own self guided walking tour. However, the path is just a painted line rather than the cute brick paths in the North End.

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Gets the job done.

As previously mentioned, the witch aspect was not of interest to us, however, we did cut through one of the tacky gift shops on the way by. The wares were eclectic.

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Who doesn’t need a chandelier made of the skulls of their enemies?

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Namaste, Witches!

Our first visit was to the city’s oldest cemetery, The Burying Point.

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I’ve always found reading old grave stones fascinating. It’s easy to forget how difficult it was to survive into your golden years in this time in our history.

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Thirty years old

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This family lost three babies.

The wealth of the deceased can easily be detected by the ornamentation of the head stone. This young woman was a captain’s wife.

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This family could afford to inscribe a lengthy poem as well.

So many families lost multiple children.

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The poem on this marker reads: “Lay still, sweet babies and take your rest.          We trust in heaven that you are blessed”

Adjacent to the cemetery is the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. The memorial was created by artist Maggie Smith and architect James Cutler who based their design on the theme of  injustice:

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Dedicated to the victims of the Salem Witch Trials.

The memorial consists of 20 granite benches surrounded by a low stone wall. Each bench represents one of the victims of the trails.  The stone slabs are inscribed with the victim’s protests, which were taken directly from the court records. The inscriptions say:

“For my life now lies in your hands”

“On my dying day, I am no witch”

“God knows I am innocent”

“Oh Lord help me”

“I am wholly innocent of such wickedness”

“If I would confess i should save my life”

“I do plead not guilty”

There’s and interesting push and pull in Salem between the injustice of the Witch hysteria of the 1600’s and the glorification of all things Witch. The protestations of these victims attest that these citizens were indeed not witches and were falsely accused. At the same time, the city is a hub for current day self-professed Wiccans. I guess the take away for us today may be that no one should be persecuted solely for being different, whether in perception or in actuality.

We took a little rest in some comfy adirondack chairs in the heart of Lappin Park. This is tucked into a nice square that has a lot of shops and restaurants, with limited car access.

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View from Lappin Park looking into Barton Square.

It’s here that you can find another memorial to a certain witch that has caused a bit of a kerfuffle.

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Bewitched Statue

Some folks believe that this fictional TV character may diminish the gravity of Salem’s history. I believe that it is just plain ugly.

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Whoof! That’s terrible likeness.

As we made our way back toward the water we happened upon an art installation at the Crowninshield-Bentley House. This house is a historic property stewarded by the nearby Peobody Essex Museum.

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Crowninshield-Bentley House + Jeff

Just to the right  of the home stands a StickWork piece by Patrick Dougherty entitled “What the Birds Know”.

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“What the Birds Know”

These pieces are constructed using saplings that are collected locally by volunteers. As you walk around and through the structures, the perspective changes markedly.

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The static structures seem to sway with the swirl of the design.

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Looking up from inside a structure.

For a look at how these and other structures are created, check out and the video below. It’s just about three minutes. Fascinating stuff.

Next Up: So you think you know Nathaniel Hawthorne?

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Rolling Home

We left the shops blissfully unaware that we had narrowly escaped the wrath of the Bar Harbor Troll. At this point we were still only in the market for a beer. Sadly, every pub we encountered was closed. We happened … Continue reading

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Keep on the Sunny Side

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After our initial panic about arriving too late to be checked in, we were so happy just to have a place to land. When we finally rolled into the Castlemaine Inn it was well past 11:00pm. We were so completely exhausted, … Continue reading

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