Another Spring

Today we will be taking a break from the parks and enjoying a leisurely visit to Disney Springs. That’s right folks, two visits to Disney Springs in one trip. You know we’re here for a long time!

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The new Disney Springs, very luxe.

If I hadn’t already mentioned it, the weather during this entire trip was absolutely perfect. It was in the eighties and sunny without one drop of rain for nine days!  We’ve had such a good run these last couple of trips, we’re running up against the odds for our next visit for sure. Today we had a task at hand; finding something to bring back home for my mom. I had a pretty good idea of what to get. There’s a new shop in the Town Center area called The Ganachery that I’ve been hearing great things about.

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There it is!

This tiny bôite is dedicated to making the finest squares of chocolate ganache. You will find a few bars and pops on the shelves, but ganache is the main event here, as indicated by the name.

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Cute Shelving and displays.

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A bundle of copper pots fashioned as a chandelier.

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Open display kitchen. This guy is so over it.

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Even the floors look delicious.

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Every flavor one can imagine.

I couldn’t decide, so one of everything it was! With our shopping taken care of, it was getting on time for some lunch! There are literally dozens and dozens of choices at Disney springs. Everything from walk-up poutine to $100 steaks. One place that has gotten a fair amount of praise is Iron Chef Morimoto’s newest venture, Morimoto Asia.

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Stunning Dining Room

Though the prices here are pretty reasonable, we were thinking a bit more casual today. Luckily, the Iron Chef has us covered. Right around the corner is a walk-up spot called Morimoto Street Food.

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Morimoto on the go.

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Chilled Sesame Lo-Mein Noodle

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Takoyaki

Jeff did the ordering, which is to say, I told him what to order, and I found us a seat with primo people watching potential.

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The views in the new areas are lovely.

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The goods.

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These are the chilled noodle pictured above, dressed in peanut sauce.

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Pork Bao – Spicy mayo, cucumber, lettuce, soft steamed bao buns.

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Takoyaki – Octopus fritter, nori, pickled ginger, okonomi sauce

The winner here was the Pork Bao. The soft buns and crispy pork paired with the crunchy cucumber were a perfect bite. Loved it. The noodles worked on paper, but there was something about them that I didn’t love. I don’t quite remember. Too vinegary maybe? The Octopus was interesting. I had seen these fritters in a blog about a visit to Tokyo. The flavors were excellent. The texture was not what I was expecting. I thought they would be more like a doughnut with octopus inside, but they were almost gelatinous. I enjoyed trying them, but probably wouldn’t get them again.

We spent a good amount of time just strolling around and taking in this glorious day. We headed toward the MarketPlace side of Disney Springs, which is essentially the original section.

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Sprinkles is a new venue. The lines were crazy long when the first opened. The hoopla has died down. They’re just cupcakes, people.

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The former Planet Hollywood is getting a makeover to look like an observatory.

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Lookin’ good.

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Covered shops

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We took a rest in this small seating area. It’s so unusual to be able to sit outdoors without shade or AC in Orlando!

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View of Saratoga Springs resort.

Things in Disney are constantly changing, usually for the better. Some of us can get pretty nostalgic about silly little things. When we honeymooned here way back in 1989 we had a “fancy dinner” on the Empress Lilly. This was a riverboat (really just a standing restaurant) named after Walt’s wife Lillian. It was festooned with delicate gingerbread details and had a huge red paddle wheel that constantly turned. Years later, the restaurant turned over and became Fulton’s Crab House but the outside mostly stayed the same. Now, it is changing yet again but with this next phase they have totally stripped the boat of any resemblance to a N’awlins steam boat.

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Empress Lilli circa 1990

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Soon to be Paddle Fish. Looking pretty blahso.

I get that they want to pull this into the overall theme, but it does make ma a bit sad to see it stripped of its former glory. Moving on!

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Goofy’s Candy Store. OG Disney.

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Once Upon a Toy. Same.

We looped back around to the Boathouse where, dear readers, you may remember we had lunch with Sam and Ashley on day one. This time cocktails were in order.

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The back side of the BoatHouse.

I hadn’t noticed on the first visit that there was this delightful outdoor bar around the rear.

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BoatHouse Al Fresco

We snagged a table along the perimeter of the bar, which afforded us a perfect view of the goings on on the lake.

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Amphicars taking folks on tour.

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Coming in for a landing. You know I waved at every single car.

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Jeff had an Old Fashioned with a tremendously large ice sphere.

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Gin and Tonic with curly cucumber for the Mrs.

We really had no business ordering food, but the shrimp Sam and Ashley had last time we visited looked so dang good!

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Firecracker Shrimp – Sriracha mayo, serrano chili and sweet peppers

They tasted just as good as they looked. After a couple of additional beers we were perfectly poised to get napped up and ready for our an evening of old-time food, fun and song at the Hoop Dee Doo Review!

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Bye, Disney Springs!!!!

Up Next: NOW we’ll be getting the feedbag on. 

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Into The Night

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is in the midst of a sizable expansion. Pandora – The World of Avatar was announced aaalllll the way back in 2011. Construction has moved at a glacial pace, but all indications are that this new land will be opening this summer. Pandora will feature nighttime attractions with bioluminescent plants and river ways. Because of this, the entire Animal Kingdom is starting to feature nighttime attractions and shows, to officially make this a “full day” park.

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The Tree of Life at dusk. Guys, this is like, the best picture I’ve ever taken. Right?

Unfortunately, so far there have been a couple huge swings and misses in the initial attempts. Rivers of Light is a sort of water show which is to feature mist screens, floating barges, projection mapping and live performers. This was supposed to premier on Earth Day of this past year. Weeks before the premier, it was discovered that the GPS technology used to guide the floats was totally haywire. As of this date, there’s no word about when it may come online.

Also newly featured is a Nighttime Safari. This was controversial due to the routines and natural rhythms of the animals potentially being disrupted. Disney animal care experts assure us that these animals were brought in specifically because they are nocturnal. That being said, the artificial “dusk” they have created using light sources is reportedly odd and there are really not many creatures to be seen. There are however, even at this early stage, good reasons to plan to stay at Animal Kingdom after dark.

We needed a little bit of a snack to remain fortified. On the way to snag an egg roll, we happened by this little structure.

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A brick turret like structure.

This building had just two little stools and corner shelves inside. It overlooked the nearby water way.

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Beautiful detailed carvings.

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Sweet view.

This is just an example of the kind of detail that I love. There’s no good reason for this little oasis to be here other than that it adds to the overall theme. Not one more dime can be squeezed out because of it. I’m sure there’s some back story about it somewhere.

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Evening snack: Two Funky Buddha beers, one order of egg roll. Perfect.

Perhaps because of  the trouble I spoke of before Disney has stepped up all the nighttime entertainment. There were several live bands running back to back all through the evening. The people were loving it!!!

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Y

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M

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CA !!!! Not really. It was authentic African music.

We were walking through to use a fastpass for the Kilimanjaro Safari. Not the night one, but the last daytime excursion of the day.

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A poor picture of the only real Baobob Tree in the park. The rest are fakes, kids.

Our fastpass did help much. There was an “Animal stopped on the safari route.” (something I think they claim no matter the problem) that brought things to s stand still. Having already done one safari earlier in the week, we bailed and went back to the party! The band and finished up and now were treated to some acrobatic dancers.

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Do y’all see something peculiar here?

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How is it that this guy is wearing neon pink fishnet and everyone else is in African savannah type tones. Choice? Punishment?

After the festivities waned we headed over to the Tree of life for another new evening show.

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The “Rivers of Light” stadium sitting empty for now.

The Awakening is a new nighttime presentation that is just three minutes long and runs several times per night. There are as many as four different shows. Special projection effects make it appear that the  animals carved into the tree trunk have come alive.  The series of pictures below only show the colorful lights.

This high quality video taken by a much more qualified videographer than I shows in detail how astounding this show is.  At first you’ll see just a little movement here and there, then it totally breaks out. It’s just three minutes, you can do it.

After Awakenings we looped back around to Harambe for some more live music. A dance party was going strong.

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It ain’t a party ’til there’s a conga line!

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Of course, Jeff had to chat up the guitarist.

It was now full on dark and I had never ever  before been in this park at night. I was a bit more giddy about this than I care to admit. I wanted to cover as much territory as possible before we took leave for dinner. The one area we hadn’t yet explored was Dino Land. The “Dinosaur” attraction that we would have enjoyed there was down for refurbishment.

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The Boneyard

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We found this fella around the back. Why the camping gear?

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Dude, you going away for the weekend?

Turns out this is a meet and greet location for Donald Duck. According to Disney, “Donald just uncovered the bones of a Hadrosaur—the large duck-billed creature that lived during the Cretaceous period—but he’ll be thrilled to meet you!” Guess he’s got some gear along for the ride?

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Fichwa Fellow!

I hated to leave, but it was getting close to closing time, and we were ready for a sit down meal. One hotel that we’ve visited every single time we’ve been to Walt Disney World is  The Animal Kingdom Lodge. This time would be no exception. We rolled on over for some dinner at Jiko-The Cooking Place.

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This stunning lobby always takes my breath away.

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A little Djembe lesson going on. So Cute!

I made very few reservations for dinners on this trip. I wanted to keep things fluid. Jiko has a solid reputation and I’ve been wanting to dine here for quite some time. They have a lounge that serves a full menu so I was banking on landing there.

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Jiko Dining Room

I looked the lounge up online to get a feel for it and I was a bit duped. The pictures showed a cozy private wine room as a part of the bar. This is not the case. The lounge itself was quite spare and hanging out in the open. The bar only had four stools and they were not comfy whatsoever, not to mention that the restroom were like, right there. I know I’m whining here. It was fine, just not what I expected.

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After thought bar.

We chose to sit at one of the two small tables. The bartender was wonderful and took very good care of us.

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Embroidered Jiko napkin. I considered swiping it.

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Why so serious? I might have still ben complaining about the space.

On to the food! There was one appetizer I had heard enough about to just have to try.

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Inguday Tibs in Brik – mushrooms, spinach, cheese in crispy Tunisian filo with apples and curry vinaigrette

These were fantabulous! Hit all the right notes.  Next we chose a flat bread. This wasn’t terribly loaded with toppings but it was filling and a good value.

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Mozambican Chicken Flatbread Sweet Plantain, Cape Gooseberries, Cashews, Coconut Mayo

We added some Mac N’ Cheese for the kicker. We really didn’t need it. It was served in an authentic Le Creuset crock. This was another item that the devil on my shoulder wanted me to throw in my purse. Thievery in not normally in my nature, honest.

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Braai Macaroni & Cheese Chakalaka, House-made Boerewors Sausage, Provolone, Fontina, Gruyère, Asiago

Everything was marvelous. If I had known that the bar was going to be more of an airport lounge, I may have made a dining room reservation. All in all it was a great meal. After dinner, we took a lap around the property.

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AKL Pool.

When you spend enough in Disney circles, you get wind of cult foods. Even you normals may have heard of the “Dole Whip”. One of those snacks that’s been on my to-do list was Zebra Domes. You can find these at Boma, the buffet restaurant here (don’t get me started on buffets) or you can just pop down to the quick serve location and get them to go.

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The quick serve location at AKL, the Mara.

Next, we needed to have an after dinner cocktail. We stopped at the Victoria lounge for a couple of Manhattans. Hey, we’re on vacation. Victoria lounge sits on a mezzanine that looks down over Boma.

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These guys are all way too full.

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Victoria Lounge.

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We took our over-priced cocktails and sweets out to the back patio area.

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A lovely fire waiting just for us.

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Here are the Zebra Domes!

These delights are comprised of Amarula Cream Liquor mousse which is enrobed in white chocolate and drizzled with chocolate and chocolate shavings. The whole thing sits atop a thin cake base. They were as delectable as I  had heard and more! The bourbon and the fire may have influenced my enjoyment.

We lounged by the fire for as long as our weariness would allow. We had a full day at Animal Kingdom. It’s hard to imagine what it will be like when all the new Lands and attractions are finally here. I look forward to finding out first hand.

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Kwaherini!

Up Next: OMG…I’ve never been so full in my life. 

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Happy Trails

Today we would be making a second visit to  Animal Kingdom. This is a first for us due to the fact that we’ve never stayed longer than six days at Disney. When one has a limited amount of time in the World, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios tend to get short shrift. This time we had nine glorious days to luxuriate!  This visit will be less about rides and more about well, animals.

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Back to Harambe!

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Authentic, overgrown buildings.

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Bills plastered all around Harambe Village. A little bit of redundancy here.

First on the agenda was one of the two walking trails at Animal Kingdom, The Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. The name of this trail was recently changed from Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Gorilla Falls was actually the name of the trail when Disney’s Animal Kingdom first opened. That’s a lot of trail naming drama.

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Keeping the sign painters busy.

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Lush greens shade the majority of the walk.

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Teeny, woven bird nests.

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One of the local residents.

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Colorful fishes!

The main attraction here are, of course, gorillas! We got a pretty good view of this fella.

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The Thinker

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On the move.

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Having a snack.

The bamboo Mr. Gorilla was chomping on was starting to look pretty good. We set about having a proper meal. On our last visit we arrived a bit too early for lunch in Harambe, this time we hit it just right.

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Authentic Harambe market wares.

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Perhaps a little too authentic. The plastic hangars are on point for realism, but kinda ugg too.

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We arrived minutes before the food windows opened up, so seats were plentiful.

Harambe Market features Chef Mwanga’s Ribs Shop, Famous Curry Battered Sausages, Kitamu Grill, and Wanjohi Refreshments. In the beginning, these windows were all separate, making it difficult for families to order different items. Now, each window serves all of the menu items. I love that Disney goes all in with the flavors here. Even the kids meals are just smaller portions of these African inspired foods.  Our choices were quite interesting and well executed. The portions were generous as well.

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Spice-rubbed KARUBI Ribs – Served with green papaya carrot slaw and black-eyed pea salad.

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Black-eyed Pea Salad

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Beef and Pork Sausage – Fried in curried corn batter and served with green papaya slaw and black-eyed pea salad

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Puts a corn dog to shame!

We enjoyed our relaxing lunch in Harambe tremendously. Anyone who tells you that Disney only has burgers and chicken nuggets is missing a wealth of unique culinary riches.

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“Fichwa” means hidden. Very cleaver, indeed.

Next we did something that I would NEVER do if we were only hitting the park for one day; we took the train to Conservation Station.

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WildLife Express now departing Harambe.

What’s entirely unique about this experience is that the train ride takes you “back stage”. Usually guests only have the opportunity to see these kind of areas by going on a “behind the scenes” tour. This  however, takes regular day guests right through utility buildings, parking lots and animal care areas.

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Out of the bubble.

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Animal pens

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Must be aVIP

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Department of Elephants.

I’m really not sure if Disney allows these views intentionally or if they simply didn’t want to spend the money to screen out undesirable vistas. I found it interesting none the less.

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Welcome to Rafiki’s Planet Watch!

The reason this spot is not all that popular is because what’s offered is not much different than what you may encounter at your local petting zoo. Educational for sure, but when Expedition Everest is right next door, it just doesn’t have very much of a draw.

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Entrance to Planet Watch. This Chameleon is looking a but scaly.

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Displays of creepy crawly things.

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Up close and personal creepy things.

There are a couple meet and greets here as well. Chip and Dale were greeting folks outside.

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Asante sana, squash banana!

Off to the back of Rafiki’s you’ll find the petting zoo.

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Jeff made a new friend right away.

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Bffs

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I think someone is jealous.

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This guys was a little harder to warm up to.

If you have the time, this is a pleasant diversion away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the park. We wandered around for about an hour and that was more than enough. We headed back and promptly parked it in the shade for an iced coffee break.

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Catching a little shade.

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I shook a little bit of all the toppings in there. It was weird.

We were caffeinated and rested up, but we made one more stop before moving on.

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Trading Company

Disney had just added portable charger kiosks which allow for unlimited Fuel Rod exchanges throughout all the parks. Pro tip: buy your Fuel Rod at home and you’ll save ten bucks off the $30.00 price tag. These chargers were extremely convenient. We used the heck out of these during the trip.

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Fuel Rod exchange.

Now we were really charged up and ready to attend my most favorite stage show in Disney, Finding Nemo-The Musical.

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Mount Everest playing peek-a-boo behind the bamboo.

I’ve told you all about this show before, so I won’t bore you with another recitation. What was different for us this time was how close we were to the stage. Interestingly, the folks who had fastpasses were seated much farther back in the auditorium. We just got in the standby line and had a much better opportunity for a close-up view.

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Nemo!

Our view was off to the side which, if it were your first time seeing the show, might not be ideal. Having seen this several times, I enjoyed being able to see off into the wings where the stage hands were setting up for the next scenes and the actors switching up puppets.

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Amnemonemomne

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I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine.

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‘I shall call him squishy, he shall be mine and he shall be my squishy’

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In the big blue world, we’re ready to go!!!!

After Nemo we headed over to Asia to explore the second animal trail, the Maharajah Jungle Trek. This is one of the most intensely themed areas of any park. There is, of course, an elaborate backstory only the nerdiest of fans will know. The basics are that this is the old hunting grounds of the King or Rajah of Anandapur. The King decided it would make for easier hunting if everything was enclosed to keep the animals from leaving the grounds so he created a royal reserve with a hunting lodge. Spoiler alert: he was eaten by a tiger, because Karma. After this, three much more enlightened rulers helped turn the hunting lodge into an animal preserve. What remains is a crumbling ruin that is slowly and beautifully being reclaimed by nature.

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The once fortified doors of the Lodge.

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Fountains in the tiger viewing area. There was a tiger there somewhere.

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Tiger, where are you???

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Prayer flags are strung all around the preserve by the locals who are living harmoniously with the animals.

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Favorite

The last area on the trek is an Aviary where you get a close up view of some funky birds.

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Real close and real funky.

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Themed bird houses dot the area.

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Love the China red.

The sun was starting to get low in they sky. In the past, Animal Kingdom would be shutting down right about now. Not so anymore, the party is just getting started in Harambe.

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Evening awaits.

Next Up: Everyone you meet, they’re jamming in the street, all night long…

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Crescent Moon

Rested and refreshed we headed on over the the Boardwalk. This jewel is situated smack-dab between the International Gateway of World Showcase and Hollywood Studios. If we hadn’t ducked out for a nap, we could have just walked on over. Now we needed to take a bus ride back to the studios and hop on a boat to get to our destination. Still easy-peasy.  We exited the boat at the Swam and Dolphin Hotel complex. The sunset was stunning.

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Glorious

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The lighting scheme at the hotel was beautiful.

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What a beautiful place to walk!

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Just like that, we’re on the Boardwalk!

This area includes three hotels and a plethora of restaurants, shops and live entertainment. One of the best aspects of the Boardwalk is that you do not need a park ticket to enter, it’s completely open to the public. Let’s take a tour around, shall we? First, the Atlantic Dance Hall. This does not appeal to me. Although it looks like a ballroom dancing venue, it’s really a video DJ club. No thanks, but there’s no cover, so if you want to peek in you can.

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Not usually crowded – if you like to dance, you’ll have room to move.

Next up, JellyRolls, a favorite of several friends of mine. It’s a dueling piano bar, so the live music aspect could have pulled me in, but there’s a $12.00 cover charge! We wanted to hop around tonight, so this wouldn’t be a good investment.

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Maybe next time. Jellyrolls.

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We’ll be chatting about this place later in the week. Stay tuned, friends.

In the evening you’ll find buskers, magicians, jugglers and such entertaining guests.

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He’s working on his core.

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He totally had this.

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The caricature business is a bit slow tonight.

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Magician extraordinaire!

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The Flyin’ Fish?

We’ve reached our first destination, Abracadabar. This is a brand new cocktail lounge featuring a “magician” theme. As with most things Disney there  is an overly elaborate back story regarding the bar’s origins.

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Abracadabar!

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We had to use the handle. Our powers must have been weak.

This is a relatively small space considering it serves as the lounge for two neighboring restaurants,  but what it lacks in size it makes up for in eye candy. There is an incredible amount of memorabilia on display to take in.

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Handcuffs, straight jacket and keys artfully framed.

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Book shelf teaming with magician wares.

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The decor itself was lush.

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The prices of the cocktails have “disappeared”!

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Drink coaster I didn’t take. Really, I’m disappointed in myself.

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I’m pretty sure this was the Coney Island Negroni: a Boulevardier inspired by the piers of Coney Island; Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, Campari, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth

This was a nice bourbon drink which was well prepared. All the cocktails here are twelve dollars (you have to search for this on the back page), which is a commensurate price point for a lounge of this caliber.

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But, free bar snacks!

The real draw here for us “Disnerds” is the schtick. Several of the signature drinks are presented with a magical flair. Unfortunately for me they’re all waaaay to sweet for my tastes, Luckily, the “Moms’ Weekend” group of ladies next to us were all too willing to imbibe in these treacly concoctions.

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A wave of the Magic Wand!

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Voila! A purple drink is transformed into a lighter purple drink!

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Oh the cute bathroom signage!

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Stawp!

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Back to the stage.

A few more snaps of the atmosphere:

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Elegantly stocked bar.

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A menagerie of mirrors.

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Moving on!

Our next stop would be at the the titular hotel of the Boardwalk area, the Boardwalk Resort. The location here is great, just steps away from Hollywood Studios. While there are a lot of good reasons to stay here, there’s one huge reason not to:

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THE INSANE CLOWN POOL!!!!!!

Nothing says fun like being spat out of the gullet of a psycho Bozo. I thought this was horrifying during the day, but man, those glowing eyes! Let’s looks at this cute elephant to calm down.

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Dang, the clown’s creeping on us.

The Boardwalk resort is fashioned after an idealized version of the  hotels in Atlantic City during the Victorian age.

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Merhorse (?) Chandelier

 

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Painting of the boardwalk midway.

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Seems legit.

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Cozy seating areas are dotted all around the lobbies.

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Colorful decor reflects the carnival atmosphere.

Tucked up on the second floor is our next destination, the Bellevue Lounge.

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Just around the landing.

This lovely little haven is stuffed with cushy couches and seating areas where guests can play boardgames, chat and of course, enjoy a drink.

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Bartender taking care of business.

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She seems to be giving an impassioned speech.

As adorable as the lounge was, it was such a lovely evening we decided to take our beverages outside.

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Delightful wicker furniture.

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Pleasant view of the walkways surrounding the hotel.

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A bold glass of cabernet.

I have to say, it was so relaxing and peaceful we could have just sat on this balcony all night, but we had other goals. We set out next to have ourselves a meal.

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I only have blurry pictures of the Boardwalk. Must be the wine.

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A look across Crescent Lake to the Yacht Club.

A short stroll later we arrived at the Yacht Club. This is on the Epcot side of the Boardwalk. This resort is themed after the tony yacht clubs of New England. Where it’s sister resort, The Beach Club, has more of a casual, Martha’s Vineyard theme, this hotel has a highly polished nautical look.

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Daddy’s going to buy you THIS island.

Keeping with the high-end theme, you’ll find a very expensive à la carte steak house here, the Yachtsman.

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The Yachtsman

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Yachtsman menu. $50.00 entrée anyone?

Sorry kids, we won’t be dining here tonight. I had made reservations for a splash-out dinner here, but in the end  I decided it might be more fun to roam around from lounge to lounge rather than putting all our steak in one basket. Perhaps we’ll go back for an anniversary dinner someday.

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We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when.

We will instead be noshing at drinking at one of my very favorite pubs, the Crew’s Cup.

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Discreet signage.

The Crew’s cup is adjacent to the Yachtsman Steakhouse .

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The interior leans more towards Art and Crafts with natural wood and copper accents.

Vegans should be warned that patrons of the Crew’s Cup get a view into the meat room from the Yachtsman. Carnivores, however, will rejoice!

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That coulda been my dinner.

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Keeping it local.

We came here for the much lauded burger (sorry, the picture didn’t come out very pretty). It was just as tasty as advertised, but the truffle fries that accompanied it were just spectacular! In other news, the second dish we ordered may have been our best bite of the whole trip.

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Beer-braised Mussels and Clams – chorizo, fine herbs, garlic-herb butter with toasted focaccia

I’m a sucker for any kind of mussels so I’ve had my share of iterations of this type of dish. The Crew’s Cup version was by far the best balanced presentation I can ever remember enjoying. We lapped up the gorgeous broth, believe you me.

We had just one more establishment to visit to conclude our Crescent Lake bar crawl.

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A last look back at the Yacht Club.

This stop would bring us full circle around to the Swan and Dolphin Resort. These sister resorts are on Disney property, but not Disney owned. They are nice enough, but they don’t have the detailed theming that adds so much charm to the Disney resorts. They are geared towards conventions and large crowds, so the common areas are simply huge.

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Very mall-like lobby.

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Attractive  lighting.

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The Lobby Lounge. It’s a lounge in the lobby.

We wound our way through to BlueZoo, the chef-owned feature restaurant of the Dolphin Resort.

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Todd English’s BlueZoo

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The diners were long gone.

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The bar was still ready for service.

This bar has the rare reputation of being worthy of the designation as a “Mixology Bar”.  The cocktails were skillfully created before our eyes by a truly competent bartender. While the first selection was excellent, it was the flamboyant “Burnt Orange” that I had been dying to try.

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Serenity: a masterful combination of square one cucumber vodka, st. germain elderflower liqueur, muddled strawberries, basil, rosemary, and a splash of lime and pineapple juice

Oh yeah, baby!

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Burnt Orange: herradura blanco infused with brûléed orange and muddled with agave nectar, grand marnier, and orange juice. topped with a flaming orange

This was not just about show, the brûléed brown sugar on the orange wedge settled into the cocktail and added burnt caramel undertone to what would have otherwise been too sweet of a drink. That is to say, I lurved it.

Our leisurely evening around Crescent Lake was all that I had hoped. We strolled, we drank, we noshed and we enjoyed each other’s company. Everything a vacation should be, in my eyes.

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Next Up: You guys, Animal Kingdom is truly extraordinary!

 

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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!!!!

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

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???

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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!

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