Cold, Cold Toronto

Have you ever made a decision you were initially excited about and then spent every subsequent moment doubting said decision? That sums up my apprehension about this family trip to Toronto. For the past several Christmases, Jeff and I have planned an event such as seeing a concert or a show of some sort in town, along with a fancy meal, as a gift for the kids instead buying a whole mess of presents. This year things were a bit more challenging. Our oldest would not be coming home. So sad, I know. He was  living in Illinois with a new job and couldn’t take the time off before the first of the year. We were brain storming about driving out to see him or perhaps meeting halfway somewhere, when Jeff blurted out that we should meet in Toronto. “It’s a great city!” he said. He’d been many times for work. It’s just an hour from the Niagara Falls, which was on my bucket list, so I was more than game. After a flurry of coordination of dates and work schedules we booked flights and hotel and Boom! We were all going to fly to Toronto for five days.

Sounds great so far, right? Then came the second guessing. Guys, this is Toronto in JANUARY! It was undoubtedly going to be crazy cold! With all the cash we were spending on flights, we could have easily taken a cruise to the Caribbean for Pete’s sake! But plans were made so I set about doing all the research I could about what to do in this hip city (read: where to eat).

Flights were uneventful. After some confusion about where to pick up our rental car and a wonky GPS we made our way to the bar I picked out for our first meal.

Bar Hop. Beer-Food-Life. That’s about right.

It looked a bit dark as we approached, but thank goodness it was open.

See.

This was a Monday night, and still the place was buzzing with young, hip clientele.

Bzzzz

Specials for the night.

Always with the Edison lights.

Now we’re on vacation!

All was right with the world.

To be honest, I chose this spot mostly as a place to land after a long day. I figured it would be beer and burgers. Not so, this was by far the best food we had on the entire trip and *spoiler alert* it would not be our last meal here.

Savoury Garlic Doughnuts Fried to order with Parmesan & Bone Marrow Aioli

House Wings Jerk Marinade with Chipotle Slaw and Grilled Lime

The mussels were served with both baguette AND frites! Love this place.

Every dish above was just stunning. The wings were the stand out. They were smoky, well seasoned and simply fell off the bone. The accompaniments of the slaw and lime were perfect with the jerk seasoning. Nothing irks me more than the tendency of kitchens to plonk a cup of bleu cheese dressing alongside wings, no matter the flavor. Thai chili wings and blue cheese? Are you high?

We finished the meal with a round of scotch and a dessert, a rarity for us. The dessert, not the scotch.

Don’t remember what this was.

Butter Tart

The butter tart, I later learned, is considered one of Canada’s, specifically Ontario’s, quintessential desserts. This tart was delicate and sweet, a perfect ending to an exceptional meal.  Our bellies were so very happy. It was time to  head over to our hotel. Fingers crossed it would be as nice as the website made it appear.

I snapped blurry pictures of the city along the way.

The hotel was just great. It had free and safe parking and the facade was impressive (You’ll see pictures in the daylight later). Check-in was painless as well. So far, things are going pretty great!

Floral arrangements graced the reception area.

Domed ceiling

Interior hallway.

Funky light fixtures.

We reserved a suite so we could all have a little privacy. The appointments were a little worn but, all in all, the space was just what we needed.

One of two double beds.

For writing your correspondence.

Kitchenette

A splendid view!

First try.

Meghan loves a robe.

The bathroom was clean and serviceable.

We crashed hard and I can say that the bed was super comfortable. Our stay included breakfast so we made our way to the dining room to check it out.

Coffee? Um yes.

A fine spread.

Just a few slices of bacon.

Pretty iron railing detail.

All my consternation about how cold it may be was completely unfounded.  We were graced with temperatures in the forties….and pouring rain. This was the day that we had set aside to visit Niagara Falls. We finished up breakfast and made the trip. I was hoping things would break, but alas.

A view of the rain and the empty parking lot at Niagara Falls.

We grabbed some Canadian ponchos on the way.

Toughing out the rain was no biggie, but with all the fog, the falls were just about invisible.

Well, we could see a tiny bit of it.

Here’s what I absolutely love about my family; this was a bummer of a situation and we just had a laugh about it. Quote of the day was from Matt: “I think I can see it!”.

Who’s having a blast? This goofy family,

Coming Up: How does one wait out the rain? More beer!

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The Long Goodbye

The final day has arrived, but we mustn’t be sad because, my goodness, did we have such an amazing time on this adventure. However, I would have stayed another day or two if Disney had offered. They didn’t. We checked out of our modest digs at Pop Century, stored our bags and skipped on over to the Polynesian Resort for some breakfast. That’s right folks, I got up early enough for a proper breakfast on vacation.  Mountains can be moved.

The stunning tropical gardens at the Poly entrance.

Breakfast at Kona Café

I made a reservation at Kona for ten o’clock. Hey, I said breakfast, not the crack of dawn! We’d been to Kona once before and had the infamous Tonga toast. It was pretty awesome, but we decided to change it up this time.

Mr. Jones enjoyed a Bloody Mary.

We both enjoyed the press pot coffee. Superb!

The portions and the quality of of all the breakfast entrées here are exceptionally good. I chose the Macadamia-Pineapple pancakes. For about $13.00 you get three gorgeous fruit and nut packed pancakes which could easily be shared amongst two or three people plus your choice of bacon, sausage or ham. There are at least $10.00 worth of nuts alone in these babies. They were fantastic. I did my best but had to leave most behind.

Macadamia-Pineapple Pancakes – with Macadamia Nut Butter, Pineapple Sauce, and your choice of Ham, Bacon, or Sausage

Jeff had this savory extravaganza. Once again this was just $13.00. If this dish was moved to the dinner menu, it would surely be at least twenty bucks. He enjoyed it, along with a good portion of my pancakes.

Poached Eggs with Hollandaise served over Smoked Pulled Pork Hash

This was a great start to a low key day. One wouldn’t want to rush out to use their Space Mountain fastpasses right after such an indulgence. We waddled back over to the Magic Kingdom to take in a few more attractions.

Another look at the gardens.

Walking from the monorail.

The crowds were pretty light, once again.

Main Street putting on a show all by itself.

Following my own advice, we strolled over to Liberty Square for a leisurely ride on the titular riverboat.

The Liberty Belle.

We went right to the top in case the captain needed a hand.

Taking a ride on the riverboat, train or the people mover affords one the opportunity to see the parks from a whole different angle.

Frontierland from above,

The rafts that take you to Tom Sawyer’s Island. We didn’t get there this trip. Next time.

Walkways around Big Thunder Railroad

Big Thunder was having a major facelift.

Back on the riverboat, we nosed around the “captain’s quarters” looking at the artwork. I’m sure there is a backstory behind each picture.

A cushy place to rest.

Dear reader(s), you may remember how excited I was about seeing Great Moments in History Presented by the Muppets. There are two different shows, and we were lucky enough to get to see the second of the two. This one was even better than the first! This time there was an actual live cast member helping narrate the story of the Declaration of Independence.

Our Town Crier.

There was some live singing.

The staging of the muppets was different as well.

What are these guys al looking at?

It’s Sam Eagle!

Both shows were great but this one had much more going on.  Next, we took a leisurely walk through to Fantasyland.

The vistas can’t be beat.

Now we were just tidying up. We’ve visited the Little Mermaid dark ride out in Disney’s California Adventure. It was fine. The new iteration here is the same exact ride, but they went all out with the show building and queue here.

Prince Eric’s Castle.

A grotto along the queue.

Rock work and lanterns.

There were many more details inside, but it was way too dark for pictures. Nice job, though.

Scuttle giving us the 411 on Ariel.

Just about how fluffy I felt after this trip.

It all worked out.

On to Storybook Circus. There’s not much to do here, unless you have small children that you want to get soaked for the rest of the day.

Change of clothes is a necessity if you bring your toddler here!

I find this area a little cluttered, though the theming is cute. There’s also highly themed meet and greets in one of the tents. We popped in for a look-see.

Gawrsh! Looking good, Goofy!

 

Floral carpet.

A stage show happening on the Castle stage.

We circled back around for one last journey through the Haunted Mansion.

A unique angle.

Proper use of the plural possessive.

We started to slowly make our way to the front of the park. Friends, there is no way to describe how difficult it is to leave the MagicKingdom on that last day. No matter how long your trip is or how exhausted and full of food and memories you are, it’s always a sad one.

Dang it’s beautiful here.

A last look down Main Street USA.

Buh bye, Mickey.

We had time for one last meal before we had to head back to the hotel. We had hit all the monorail resorts except the Contemporary so we hopped on the monorail and fix that.

Contemporary, here we come!

View from the monorail back to the Seven Seas Lagoon.

The Mary Blair Mosaic

The Contemporary has a few choices for dining, the most celebrated being the California Grille. We had a smashing meal there with a view of the Wishes fireworks a few trips back. Alas, this is a dinner only joint so no view of anything would be had today. Instead we went inside the dark cavern that is the Wave.

Feels like entering a time machine.

It was pretty quiet.

We bellied up to the bar for a couple of brews.

This place a has great reputation for excellent, locally sourced and reasonably priced food, especially breakfast. It’s also known for being quite plain and boring on the theming. I have to agree.

The waiting area adjacent to the lounge- I call it the Boom Boom room.

That being said, if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the parks or even the presence of the mouse for a bit, this is the place to go. We weren’t super hungry so we  just split a sammie.

My half of a Grilled chicken sandwich.

We thoroughly enjoyed our respite at the Wave. We had less than an hour before we needed to catch our bus back to the airport. The trip was really over, but then we did something kinda crazy. Jeff suggested we hustle back to the Magic Kingdom for one last goodbye. I know, ridiculous right?

We walk/ran all the way back, went through security and walked under the railroad arch just for this:

This may be getting out of hand.

After one missed flight, meeting a good friend for the first time, drinking rum out of a pineapple on the Poly beach, rocking a Halloween party, successfully eating and drinking around the World and personally closing down Epcot, meeting a Wookie,  seeing Animal Kingdom in its night time splendor, eating more fried chicken than a descent human being should at Hoop-Dee-Doo, seeing real live Muppets, taking a backstage tour and conquering the Food and Wine festival it was really, finally time to go home.

Until next time.

So here ends our epically long, adventure filled, food and drink fest. What is the best way to cope? Plan another trip! That’s right my friends. May 2017, I’m headed back for an all girls trip!!! My mom and mother-in-law will be joining me and my daughter for their first Disney experience ever!!!

See Ya real soon!

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Let It Grow

Today we’ll be making our way back to Epcot. If you recall, on our last visit I tried to ignore the Food & Wine Festival and just focus on the original eleven countries. We mostly stuck to that plan. Today we’re all about fully diving into the festival.

Another text book perfect day in Orlando.

The Fountain of Nations putting on a show for us

Mickey’s got the Weber fired up !

First, we had a bit of business to do in Norway.

Grass Roof over the new Frozen meet and greet.

Norway’s village square with traditional architectural elements designed to represent the towns and cities of Bergen, Oslo, Alesund and Setesdahl.

We had fastpasses for the new Frozen Attraction. When Frozen fever broke out a few years back, it was no surprise that Disney would be interjecting the chilly sisters wherever possible. What was not expected was that this attraction would be replacing a fan favorite in World Showcase, Maestrom. Admittedly, Maestrom was long in the tooth and needed an update, but it represented the country of Norway. Arendelle, the setting for Frozen, is fictional! This seemingly goes against the whole intent of World Showcase. What’s more, this attraction could have easily been tucked into Magic Kingdom or Hollywood studios and would have potentially been met with ubiquitous praise, but anon, here we are trying desperately to justify this decision.

A foreign intruder!

All this being said, they did a fantastic job with the ride itself. It’s a typical dark ride, but using all the newest and best animatronic technology. A great addition to the parks in general, just maybe not for World Showcase.  On to the food!

Stunning details in China.

The thing about Food & Wine is that it’s gotten way out of hand with the pricing. I love the little tastings, but you can easily drop $50 on just a couple booths. One is much better positioned to have a good experience if time is taken to look over all the choices. I sought out legit reviews. I say legit because there are Disney Food Blogs that are a little too willing to put a positive spin on everything Disney does. Believe it or not, there are some who are willing to sacrifice objectivity for free stuff (Crazy, I know). Not helpful. I stuck with a Disney blogger who is rather cynical about the Mouse. His booth by booth reviews not only rated how tasty (or terrible) the items were, but what value they held. Using this metric, we made pretty out darn good.

We’ll start in South Korea. You might recognize the Pork Lettuce Wrap from our first night at Food & Wine, though the picture was dark, and slightly blurry as if taken by a buzzed blogger. Both of these were yummy and a nice light start to the day.

Korean-style BBQ Beef with Steamed Rice and Cucumber Kimchi

Roasted Pork Lettuce Wrap and Kimchi

It was about time for some beer. Germany seemed like a solid bet.

Brewers Collection Booth, very popular.

Today’s selections.

I snapped my way around while Jeff stood in line, the dear.

German Chalet with JJ Abrams lens flare.

The train set set in Germany is maximum.

Wishing Well where you may see Snow White. Not today.

We couldn’t decide what to get, but no worries, there was a sampler. I’m in a real IPA place right now, so none of these were something I would tend to order. It was nice to have a wee taste of everything.

Schöfferhofer Zitrone Weizen-Mix, Hacker-Pschorr Hefe Weisse, Radeberger Zwickel Pilsner (Unfiltered)

We tend to just skip the good ole’ USA but they had an interesting offering this year.

The American Adventure

The Hops and Barley Booth is super cute.

Smoked Beef Brisket and Pimento Cheese served on Griddled Garlic Toast and a Anchor Liberty Ale (I think, it was a long time ago).

Why is it that the dish that looks like dog sick is always the most tasty? This was a real winner. My only critique would be that they could have eased up on the butter for the bread, and I love butter.

Despite my negative ramblings about Food & Wine, the rest of the free world must not agree because it continues to be insanely popular, so much so that it has crept over into Future World. The past couple of years the talk show The Chew has been hosting an area that includes modern, organically themed dishes.

We had the Ricotta Ravioli. It was aamzing and I forgot to take a picture.

The Chew Collective

We had the ravioli. It was amazing and I forgot to take a picture.

Our view as we ate the phantom ravioli.

We were approaching time for our next Fastpass which was for Turtle Talk With Crush. This show is seemingly for children but it’s an absolute hoot for adults too, especially if said adults have a little buzz going.

Pre-gaming for Crush!!!

Always a good time.

So next up today we would be doing something we have NEVER, EVER done before! We’re taking a backstage tour! There’s a wide range of Disney tours offered around all the parks that vary in price and time commitment. This is the very cheapest tour and only takes up an hour. You gotta start somewhere!  We are going on the “Behind The Seeds Tour” in the Land Pavilion.

Livin’ with land…

I had considered doing this tour, but thought Jeff would be bored. Turns out he was the one that suggested it! Score one for me on my  subliminal indoctrination game. About ten of us gathered up in the Land Pavilion and were greeted by our guide.

Our guide’s backside.

At our first stop we saw a brief video and got a lesson on how Disney breeds “good bugs” to be released into the greenhouse to eat the “bad bugs”.  What I found most interesting is how this environment, which is basically a sterile “bio-dome”, still struggles with all the pests and diseases with which I battle and usually fail.

Plants hosting said good bugs.

Of course.

From here we moved outdoors to a large window that looked into the Biotechnology Lab. We couldn’t go in cause it was all sterile and whatnot, we just got to stare into the window. Here, we were told how Disney propagates new plants from clippings.

Plants being propogated in mason jars. So hipster.

At the end of the tour you have the opportunity to by one of these clippings. Guess which guest (sucker) bought one. Yup.

How is my ‘lil plant faring? If you make it to the end of this endless blog,  you’ll find out!

The remainder of the tour took place in the greenhouses of  “Living with the Land”.  As a long time visitor of Epcot, being in the actual attraction was the most exciting part!

Who you lookin’ at?

This section mostly entailed the explanation of all the hydroponic gardens. Very cool.

You too can hydroponic at home!

Next we were introduced to the Mimosa pudica or the sensitive plant also known as the sleepy plant, touch-me-not, or shy plant. We’ll stick with Sensitive plant.

This is Stanley. He’s sensitive.

Below is a video showing Stanley in action.

We got to sample some cucumbers grown right here. Disney claims that these greenhouses supply many of the on site restaurants. I find that a bit hard to believe, but ok.

This guy on the right considered himself a bit of an expert. I guess it was because he was a biologist or something.  Whatever.

More hydroponic stuff….

I thought this one was pretty artsy. See the hidden Mickey?

 

Hey, it’s the gang!

This is a nine pound lemon tree. One lemon makes a gallon of lemonade. One of the few facts I’ve retained.

Next was a tour of  the Aquaculture tanks. Here they farm tilapia and such.  We got the opportunity to feed the fish. Just getting close to the tanks made them freak out.

Aquaculture area.

Always with the hidden Mickeys.

We made our way backwards as the tour wrapped up.

Another artsy pic from moi.

This is a Miracle Fruit bush. If you ate one of these berries before taking a bite of your nine pound lemon, it would taste super sweet.

Miracle Fruit

 

One last Mickey.

This was a great take. We learned (and then forgot) a ton about plants and the science of improving crops. Plus, we got to go “backstage” for the first time. It was only twenty bucks a person. With  some tours running into the hundreds of dollars, this was a great deal.

All this learnin’ was making us hungry again. Back to the festival!

Food & Wine signage

The sun was get low in the sky on this stunning day.

Jolly olde England looking dapper today.

Next on my list of must try dishes was at the Morocco booth.

Spicy Hummus Fries with Cucumber, Tomato, Onions and Tzatziki Sauce

This may well have been my favorite bite of the Festival. You might assume that these are just a rectangular version of falafel. Not so, friends. These were miraculous fried sticks of creamy hummus. I’m not sure how they accomplished this, but hats off to the chef!

A stroll past Japan.

Gorgeous.

Each year during the Food & Wine Festival, guests have the added bonus of daily concerts. Most of the acts are admittedly those that can’t fill stadiums anymore but quality, none the less. We were fortunate enough to be there when the inimitable Chaka Khan was performing!

She’s there on the stage behind the Minnie ears.

I really adore Chaka Kahn, but sitting in the bleachers for forty five minutes and not exploring World Showcase is too difficult for me. We stood in the back and listened to a couple of songs and moved on. She was fantastic by the way.

This sunset.

China was the setting for our next snack.

Beijing Roasted Duck in a Steamed Bun with Hoisin Sauce

Kung Fu Punch with Smirnoff Vodka and Bols Triple Sec

Two excellent selections indeed.

Come on! It’s so pretty.

One of the boat docks where you can catch a boat to cut across the lagoon.

Jeff went rogue off my list a few times. This was one of them. It wasn’t very good if I recall. This is what happens when you ignore my research.

Seared Venison Loin with Wild Mushroom Marsala Sauce and Kumara Dumpling

Nobilo Icon Pinot Noir. It was serviceable.

You guys…

Next we visited the Islands of the Caribbean which is right at the cusp between World Showcase and Future World.

Charming Signage

Vibrant Plantings

This little plaza had lovely views.

Pescado don Coco – Seared Grouper, Pigeon Peas, and Rice with Coconut Sauce

Jamaican Beef Patty

Both of our tasting were excellent. The Beef Patty looked so plain but was bursting with Island spices. I loved it!

It was still relatively early, but we were full and getting a bit tired. I proposed that we make it an early night. I know, this doesn’t seem like me at all. I usually try my best to stretch the most out of every Disney day. The thing is, we had had the most amazing eight days and I was so very grateful and happy. This was the point in the trip where I cried. I thought that I would sob when I saw the Castle, or when I finally got to hug Ashley for the first time, but it was in the looking back that I just couldn’t contain how immensely blessed I felt to have experienced all of this.

It was time.

We had just enough steam for a night cap. Pop Century resort is not the most luxurious, to be sure, but they have the decency to offer a proper bar.

Thank goodness.

We bellied up and had a couple cocktails. I don’t remember what we had. The bartender suggested something and I’m sure we enjoyed it. While we were imbibing, a gentleman approached the bar. He had obviously had a few ahead of time. He offered up enough to get an understanding that he was here with the misses and a couple kids and he was totally burnt out. I felt bad for him. It looks so good in the brochures for families, but let’s face it, Disney can be totally overwhelming. It takes planning to near obsession to arrange an actual relaxing vacation. But done right, it can be an absolutely extraordinary experience.

 

So, how’s my plant doing?

It’s alive! And showing how long it’s taking me to blog this trip! Geesh.

Up Next: Gird yourselves, it’s the last day.

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

Let’s Walk That-Away

For some people, there are other important things in life besides Disney. I know, crazy right? Today the New England Patriots would be facing off against the Pittsburg Steelers and Mr. Jones couldn’t imagine not catching it. Being a dutiful wife, I did a little calling ahead to find out where the game might be broadcast. The consensus was that the ESPN Zone at the BoardWalk would be our best bet.

The BoardWalk area resorts. So lovely.

Surprise, Lady! You’re in my blog.

We were running a little close to the bone time-wise. When we arrived, there was a line out the door! Oh, dear.

Guess all these people have their priorities mixed up too,

I had another card up my sleeve. I left Jeff in line, just in case, and booked it over to Big River Grille. This is a brew pub that I had heard a bit about. There was a pretty good chance they at least had a TV at the bar.

Big River

They did indeed have a TV, but I made for dang sure they would be willing to switch over the the Patriots game before alerting Jeff to come meet me. Assurances were made so I made the call!

Big River 90s interior.

The bar area with the brewery vats behind glass.

First, the good: Yay!!! Jeff could watch the game, bullet dodged. The beer was pretty good and the bartender was friendly, that ends the good. The place was long in the tooth and really kind of dirty. There was an old carpet smell right when you stepped in. The decor was not only out of date, but didn’t match up with a Brew Pub theme. I expected rustic woods and leather, but it was more like a 50s diner. I love diners don’t get me wrong, it just to didn’t seem to jibe.  The entrance was lined with planters, just like many of the store fronts along the Boardwalk, only all theirs were punky with peeling paint.

Shameful

I was really kind of surprised that Disney has allowed this place to slide so far. The reviews online don’t give them any points for food either. Jeff got some nacho chips to hold him over and even they were pretty shabby. I downed half a beer, but there was no way I could spend four hours sitting in a bar when there was exploring to do. I headed out and took a lap around the BoardWalk.

Surry bikes for rent. Looks like a lot of work.

Margaritas on the go!

I payed a visit to one of the newest additions in the area, Ample Hills Creamery.

Ample Hills. Tee hee

The place was bright and cheery as ice cream parlors are want to be. All the ice cream is made on premises and is rumored to be delectable. I considered asking for samples, but I had no intention of ordering anything. I couldn’t in good conscience.

Clean, open kitchen. Nothing going on right now.

Adorable murals decorate the walls.

Step-by-step instructions in case you don’t know how sundaes work.

I continued around Crescent Lake. It was so pleasant and the sun was starting to dip lower in the sky.

Some sort of pavilion, maybe for weddings?

It was bordering on torture that just down this waterway is World Showcase. I had our park tickets parceled out just so, which made it impossible for me to dip in without messing up the rest of the week.

Water way to Epcot!

There’s France, right there!

In hindsight, it would have been negligible to add and extra day’s tickets onto the package. In this case, I could have spent the afternoon traipsing around the countries taking an obnoxious amount of pictures without feeling like I’m dragging my dear spouse down. Either way, having a little safety zone if there’s a change in plans ain’t a bad idea.

Continuing around the lake…

The Beach Club

Grounds, looking gorgeous.

You guys, remember when we got to stay at the Beach Club and we were upgraded to a suite!? Pretty much one of the best days of my life.

Beautiful fresh flowers

Cape May Cafe, a seafood buffet in the Beach Club. If you’re averse to the smell of boiled lobster, you shouldn’t stay here.

These draperies are new. That’s a sign of multiple trips. Am I proud or ashamed?

The pool here is more like a Water Park. It’s locked down so that you need to use your Magic Band to prove that you’re a guest at the Yacht or Beach Club.

Just a small section of the sand bottomed pool.

Their security was a bit lacking this evening.

More pretty plantings.

A long look down the boardwalk to the Yacht Club.

I made it full circle. The game was just about over so I returned to Big River to polish off my beer and reunite with my husband. The Pats won, by the way.

Back to the beginning.

It was a lovely afternoon.

Now my patience would be rewarded. We called on an Uber and motored over to The Grand Floridian Resort. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that we used the heck out of Uber. Getting from resorts to parks and vice versa via Disney transportation is pretty easy. Getting from resort to resort is not. It saved us so much time going this route. It’s just a few bucks and saved at least an hour each time.

Welcome back!

Tonight we would be embarking on a Monorail Bar Crawl. We started at the Grand Floridian. This place will take your breath away!

The Grand Lobby and Disney’s Signature Resort.

The orchestra serenades us from the mezzanine.

Looking down over the lobby.

Our first stop will be Mizners Lounge. I’ve heard mixed reviews of the service, but I really just wanted to spend some time in the Grand Flo. I wasn’t concerned.

Mizner’s, this way.

I knew something was off as soon as we turned the corner into the lounge. Apparently the hotel’s quick service restaurant was under refurbishment. Mizner’s was being used as a temporary stop gap. Apparently they think pre-wrapped sandwiches and Gatorade are more important than my martini. Fear not, there was a plan B already in place.

You are here.

We bellied up to the bar at Citrico’s. We had dined here as a family a fews years back.

Classy Bar

Another embroidered napkin I didn’t steal.

A perfect glass of cabernet.

We chose a light dinner of Charcuterie.

Prosciutto, Sopressata, Dry Pork Coppa, Duck Confit Rillettes, Domestic Olli Artisanal Salame, Pickled Mustard Seeds, Seasonal Pickled Vegetables, and Marcona Almonds

Some hearty sourdough bread and salted butter.

Disney continues to win with the butter.

We enjoyed a leisurely snack and then hopped on the monorail for our next destination.

Whizzing by the Magic Kingdom on the monorail.

We hopped off to our next stop, the Polynesian. When we visited earlier in the week with Sam and Ashley it was packed with people waiting for dinner reservations at O’hana. A couple hours later and the place was emptee!

No waiting at the Tambu Lounge.

Dranks

I had already crossed one tropical drink off my to-do list. Here comes the second, the Back Scratcher. Yes, that is a full on back scratcher served up with your rum and passionfruit juice. I saved it.

Bacardi Superior Rum, Myers’s Original Dark Rum, and Passion Fruit Juice topped with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and a Bamboo Backscratcher

I mentioned O’hana earlier. This is one of those all-you-care-to-enjoy type places, so we won’t be dining there. They do however serve one of my favorite desserts, bread pudding. More specifically pineapple bread pudding. Thankfully, it was recently made available à la carte right here at the Tambu!

Gorgeous, yes, but wait til we pour on the caramel sauce!

Look at the swirls of vanilla and caramel!

Our light snack at Citrico’s left us perfectly positioned to enjoy this decedent dessert to its fullest. I couldn’t imagine enjoying this after a feast of grilled meats, noodles and pot stickers. Need I remind you of the strawberry shortcake incident at Hoop-Dee-Doo?

As a little bonus, we got to catch a glimpse of Hallowishes once again. We had a great view twice already during the week, so we didn’t need go outside.

Hallowishes from the comfort of the Tambu Lounge.

A true monoril crawl would have finished at the Contemporary Resort, we just didn’t have the steam. We were full and I couldn’t have been happier. Call the Uber!

Goodnight, Poly!

Next Up: We squeeze in some actual educational stuff in at Epcot between stuffing our faces. 

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Pictures In My Head

Today we would be spending our first full day in the Magic Kingdom. I say would because I had to make a bit of a concession due to a certain sports team that was playing that afternoon. More about that later. This was, once again, an absolutely perfect day. We took our time strolling down Mainstreet USA. I just adore all the gingerbread details here. There’s so much to see if you just slow down and look up. Don’t worry, Space Mountain will still be there.

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The firehouse, where you can pick up your Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom cards, if you’re into that.

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The fall decorations are pretty I guess.

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It’s just a store.

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Also, not a theater, but and Meet and Greet location. Talking Mickey’s in there!

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The confectionary. This shop was so vivid in my memory of my first trip. I couldn’t get over how beautiful it was. and the aromas….

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Charming little side street.

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The Plaza Restaurant. Purported to be “just okay”.

First on the agenda was to head to Liberty Square. There you’ll find a new show that I was beyond excited for.

I love these two rocking chars near the Hall of Presidents. I’ve never gotten to sit in one, though. #Disneygoals

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The Liberty Tree  with  thirteen “victory” lanterns hanging from its boughs to represent the thirteen original colonies

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Crowds were super light.

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The ribbon of brown pavement represents a river of sewage. Yup, that’s right. It’s poop.

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Here we are. In just a few minutes those shutters will open up and this lady will transported back to a simpler, more innocent time…

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Kermie!!!!!

That’s right, my friends, real live Muppets before our very eyes. I can’t tell you how wondrous this was. I’m a grown adult. I understand that these are just puppets made of felt with button eyes, but the Muppets were such a huge part of my childhood I was nearly verklempt.

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Hey, friends!

This show takes place about twice an hour from about 9:00am to 5:00pm. It’s really kind of genius. The cast of characters retell one of two stories of American history; The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere or The Declaration of Independence. They perform this in the slapstick manner of Muppets, of course.  When the show was first announced, some Liberty Square purists (yes they exist) fretted that such silliness would take away from the authenticity of Liberty Square. I disagree. This show is silly and fun, but also educational. It takes zero away from the architecture of the square either, so settle down, purists. The performance we saw today the Paul Revere. Yes, we will see the other before the week is out.

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The horse of course.

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The singing chickens, not in the history books.

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The big finale!

Enough of all this nostalgia business, it’s time to eat! We headed over to Adventureland for lunch and the new table service restaurant the Skipper Canteen, or more specifically,  The Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen. Whew.

Jungle Canteen

We didn’t have reservations, but the place has not been filling up so far so I felt pretty confident. When we arrived, the waiting area was teaming with people. Uh oh. Then I realized it was barely 11:30 so the joint was just opening.

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They had a little opening ceremony.

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Boom! we were in.

You may have gleaned that the canteen is themed after the Jungle Cruise attraction. The servers wear skipper cast member costumes and the place is filled to the brim with Jungle Cruise backstory, tchotchke and in-jokes. We were seated in the Mess Hall which was just fine, but I knew there were posher digs in the Jungle Room, and the S.E.A. Room. Because we didn’t have ressies, I didn’t want to ask to switch. It was fine.

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Skipper Canteen Menu

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Cute napkin folding detail.

I had been hearing great things about the food here, that it was different and bordering on exotic, which is probably the reason it hasn’t been brimming with guests. In-park restaurants tend to cater to the masses with burgers and chicken nuggets. It’s usually the resort hotels where you can find upscale or more interesting cuisine. Skipper Canteen is bucking that trend, and my fingers are crossed that they’ll stick with it.

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Complimentary Ambasha Bread served with a honey-infused mustard-style dip.

The bread was heady with spices, and the dip was nice, but I didn’t get much mustard, just honey. I read plenty of reviews (of course I did) and while most everything was favorable, the appetizers seemed to get the most glory. We decided on a tapas style lunch.

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S.E.A. Shu Mai: A Legendary blend of Pork, Shrimp, Edamame Beans, and Spices wrapped in Gyoza Skin then steamed (and adorably presented in a bamboo steamer).

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House Made Arepas – slow cooked beef, black beans, tostones and queso fresco

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Shiriki Noodle Salad- Rice noodles, edamame beans, mushrooms, green mango and cucumber tossed with a sweet chili sauce.

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Falls Family Falafel – A secret recipe of chickpeas, garlic, onions, lemon juice and herbs with white bean dip and tomato-cucumber salad

Everything was simply marvelous, the standouts being the dumplings and the falafel, both perfectly executed. The arepas were excellent. I did notice that recently they’ve changed this dish so that it is more composed, a good idea I think. The only thing that would have made our lunch better would have been a nice glass of wine, but this is a dry park…or should I say WAS  a dry park. As of this dateline, one can have an adult beverage here, and at other select sit-down restaurants in the Magic Kingdom! Cheers!

We had a few fastpasses to take advantage of on this glorious day. I tried to catch as much of the atmosphere in photographs as I could while keeping up with my traveling companion. Snap, Snap, snap!

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The Tiki, Tiki,Tiki Room

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Tortuga means turtle. It’s something I know.

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First fastpass was Splash Mountain.

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Pretty shot from our log.

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Cover photo worthy, right?

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Haunted Mansion was next.

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Ooh, this one is worthy too.

We made our way full circle around back to the Jungle Cruise, the ride, this time.

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This is why you need to stay hydrated in the parks.

You may recall that the last time we rode this attraction, the skipper was decidedly ho-hum at best. This time, we had a charmer. Very witty and enthusiastic.

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…and cute as a button.

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It’s a jungle out there.

A reasonable amount of time had passed so that we could legit get a snack. You may have heard of the Dole Whip, but, my friends, do you know about the Citrus Swirl???

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Tadah!!! Citrus Swirl. A creamy twist of frozen orange juice and vanilla soft serve.

The Citrus Swirl is entangled in a long and sordid story in Walt Disney World. Yes, I said sordid. Back in 1969, Disney solicited sponsors for many attractions and restaurants. The Florida Citrus Commission was the sponsor of The Tropical Serenade (Now known as The Enchanted Tiki Room) and the Sunshine Tree Terrace where one could enjoy the aforementioned Citrus Swirl. They also created a Mascot called the “Orange Bird”, which would not only be visible in Walt Disney World, but throughout the state, on billboards and in advertisements for Florida Orange Juice. At this time, a singer and actress named Anita Bryant was the chief spokesperson for the Florida Citrus growers and had in turn collaborated with Disney in all these endeavors.

Here’s where the controversy comes in. Anita Bryant became a very visible opponent of alternative lifestyles. Her public and vocal opposition of homosexuality lead to a full boycott of Florida citrus products. Because of this, the Florida Citrus Commission ended its relationship with the singer. Sadly, the Orange Bird and The Citrus Swirl, which were inextricably tied together with Bryant, were eventually phased out of the parks. Poor Orange Bird didn’t ask for any of this!

The Orange Bird with the Citrus Swirl

By 1987, there was no trace of Orange Bird or Citrus Swirl anywhere to be found in Walt Disney World. Then, around 2004, the Orange Bird started popping up in Tokyo Disney, probably because of the burgeoning “Orange Day” holiday. This brought the lil’ bird back into the purview of Disney, but it wasn’t until 2012  that the  Orange Bird Citrus Swirl was swung back into action. That’s right, we had gone a full twenty-five years without this creamy, citrus treat. Why, oh why must we let politics take precedence over our frozen desserts?

So, you may recall me whining a bit about having to leave the parks earlier than I would have liked, but we did do a whole lot in a short amount of time, so it’s ok I guess. Maybe.

Next up: Can we find a place to watch football in Disney World?

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Hoop-Dee-Doo!

This evening we would be taking a trip to Fort Wilderness for the Hoop Dee Doo Review! We took bus over to the Magic Kingdom, then hopped on to the Water Launch. Transportation around the parks can be cumbersome at times, but a boat ride crossing Seven Seas Lagoon at dusk is a relaxing voyage indeed.

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Looking back at the boat launch.

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Spectacular sunset behind the Grand Floridian Resort

We first hopped off at the Wilderness Resort to have a cocktail before dinner.

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So pretty.

The Wilderness Lodge has a similar design as the Animal Kingdom Lodge, as it was designed by the same architect, Peter Dominick.

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Pacific Northwest landscaping surrounds the lodge.

Inside, you’ll find a soaring, grand lobby filled with rustic details and arts and craft touches.

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Wilderness lodge lobby

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Massive, strata themed fireplace

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Carved stanchion poles.

What I just love about these resorts is how they are not just “themed” to look like the design they are trying to mimic, they are authentically constructed and decorated with these elements. All the furniture, light fixtures, and decorations are either actual art affects from this era, or painfully recreated. Here, it feels as if you are really in a lodge at Yellow Stone National park and not anywhere near central Florida.

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Railroad touches are throughout.

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Random, cozy seating area.

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Authentic geometric Arts and Crafts lamp.

We made our way to the Territory Lounge. This serves as the bar for the resort’s signature restaurant, Artist’s Point.

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Stop right there!

We sipped on a couple of Manhattans and enjoyed the cozy environs.

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Shadow boxes filled with artifacts.

 

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Murals of the former Territories.

Soon it was getting on time to take our leave for the Hoop Dee Doo. Another short boat ride later we were at Pioneer Hall, ready to queue up for dinner.

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Pioneer Hall

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Hoop Dee Doo!

There are many activities to be enjoyed at Fort Wilderness. The Tri-Circle Ranch is here where all of the Disney World working horses are housed (or barned?). I was considering a wagon ride but time wouldn’t allow for it. They even have free camp fire sing-alongs and movies every night where you can schmooze with Chip and Dale. This is another example of how much a family can do here at the resorts without stepping foot in the parks.

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Today’s Adventures!

Before entering the hall, we had to wait in a long but quick moving line to check in. To my surprise, instead of scanning our magic bands, our tickets were waiting in card catalogue file box! It was so old school. This is fitting because Hoop Dee Doo is about as old school as it gets!

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Guess who got seated right next to the stage?

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You can stop guessing. It was us.

Jeff and I saw this show on our honeymoon almost three decades ago. He had zero recollection of this, even after I showed him a photo evidence of me scraping my spoon on a warshboard with a huge grin on my face. It was burned into MY memory as one of the highlights of the trip.

The Hoop Dee Doo Revue is one of the country’s longest-running dinner shows and has had more than 37,000 performances. They’ve presented two shows a day continuously since 1974, and let me tell you, it hasn’t changed a bit since day one.

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Table Settings

The food hasn’t changed either, with one exception; they used to serve apple pie for dessert (how American!) now, it’s strawberry shortcake.

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The Vittles

Here’s why the Hoop Dee Doo is one the best values in Walt Disney World. For a category 3 seating, which is what we had, it is currently $63 per adult. This includes all-you-care-to-enjoy (Disney term) fried chicken and smoked BBQ pork ribs  tossed green salad, baked beans, cornbread and strawberry shortcake and, get this,…unlimited draft beer, wine and sangria!!! To cap it off, the tip and the tax is included! When you consider that a combo burger meal and one Yuengling at at Hollywood Studios walk-up counter will cost you nearly $25, this is a steal.

Now, you may think, “Sure, they say unlimited beer, but good luck getting the server’s attention for another round”, but you’d be wrong, my friend. We got our initial two and then they plunked down a whole pitcher of the stuff!

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So Much Beer.

We were  just about starving by the time the first round came. The corn bread was sweet and tasty and the salad was… a salad.

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Good butter to bread ratio.

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Salad.

The players stomp on in and do a couple numbers at this point. The whole angle of this show is about corny jokes and goofball fun.

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The players.

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I told you we were close.

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Whoopin’ it up!

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We got to know each other real good.

The players head back stage for a bit and we’re serenaded by a piano, guitar duo. Then the real food rolls out, little pewter pails filled with all the homespun cookin’ one could desire.  This is an all you can eat affair, but we barely ate half of what the server even brought initially. God speed anyone who can beat the system.

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Barbeque Spare Ribs and Fried Chicken

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With all the fixin’s

As we continued to stuff our gobs, the players came back out for more antics. You’d never know that these players do two shows every day of the week. They sing the same songs and tell same corny jokes over and over, yet they seem as if they are sincerely having a blast up on stage, even cracking up seemingly breaking character. The show was just as I remembered it.

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Six Bits Slocum and Claire DeLune

Next up is the strawberry shortcake, but not before a whole number in honor of the toothsome delight.

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Straw-berry! Straw-berry-short! Straw-berry-short Cake!!!

I have to tell you, I’ve never been so full in my entire life. Not from a Thanksgiving dinner nor a Christmas feast, never. When the dessert arrived it was all I could do to take tiny a bit of cake and a strawberry. Shameful.

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It was so delicious and we just left it there. Take note of all the beer left in the pitcher!

The last bit of the show is all about audience participation. The players pick out a half dozen folks to help out with a retelling the story of Davey Crockett.

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A cute little actor.

Let’s just say that these “roles” are slightly less than politically correct. They always pick a cute kid to play a ranger, all fine. There’s also a good lookin’ gal to play a Can-Can dancer. A little creepy, but okay. However, they push the limits of body shaming by choosing a, let’s say, “sizable fellow” to play a pink fairy. The piece de resistance: an “Indian Chief”. Shockingly, the ACLU hasn’t gotten wind of this situation or there would certainly be a cease a desist order. I say all this in jest, but really, I’m surprised they still get away with it.

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The Ranger and the Indian Chief getting instructions from Claire.

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The Pink Fairy

We had a heck of time, you betcha! We were a bit ashamed, not by how much we ate and drank, but rather how quickly we tapped out. Still, even with half the beer and food left on the table, it was a good value and an even better time.

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Take a bow, Hoop Dee Doo!

Up Next: The real Muppets!!!!

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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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