We enjoyed our mini “International Tour” last year immensely. We have many friends and family dotted along the southern corridor, so it made sense to head that way this time. We fixed on dates and began the task of calling, e-mailing and messaging prospective places where we could play some music and drink beer. This proved much more difficult than expected. Let’s just say that the “Southern Hospitality” of lore wasn’t readily availing itself. We nearly gave up but through some friends connecting us and some random good luck we were able to book enough gigs to subsidize a (working) vacation!
Over the next seven days we’ll be playing four shows, driving through twelve states, staying in four different Air BnB’s and crashing with some very gracious friends and family.
We loaded up the car with gear, luggage and an obscene amount of snacks and headed out. Our first stop was chosen simply because of its location. We would drive about seven hours and land in Baltimore for an overnight rest. Strategically this made sense. However, the only knowledge I had about Baltimore was from watching “The Wire”, which wasn’t so glowing. I chose an Air BnB in a seemingly safe area and hoped for the best. This was the first of many delightful surprises awaiting us on this journey.
The neighborhood was…adorable!
Ok, so this isn’t our Air BnB. I forgot to take a picture, but it was just as cute as this, I promise.
Front door facsimile.
To say I was nervous about staying Air BnB would be an understatement. My daughter recently had a great experience, which made me lean towards going for it, but I had also heard some real horror stories. Our first stop on the list put me at ease. My priority for booking rooms was to have a private room and bath. For this stay, we had the whole lower level to ourselves. It was clean comfortable and had nice touches from the hosts.
Snacks and Water
Mr. Jones approves of the bedding.
Clean and modern bath.
Plenty of clean towels, and bath amenities, if needed.
Now that we were settled in, we set out to explore the city. I had no idea what we would discover. This area was just beautiful! It reminded me of my favorite seaside city, Portland Maine.
Maybe you shouldn’t use “Lush” as a descriptor.
It doesn’t get much more glorious.
We savored our wine until the sun disappeared over the skyline and took a walk about.
Stoic brick store fronts.
You are *Here.
An unseasonably warm fall allowed for the window boxes to continue to thrive.
More flowers and a funky stained glass art store.
The Baltimore state flag is among the coolest.
Just before our trip I met a super nice lady from Baltimore. I asked her where we could get some stellar crab cakes and she set me up with a short list, one of which is right here in the neighborhood. This was a Tuesday night, post tourist season, yet it was insanely busy! We put our name in and hopped next door to the bar to wait it out.
Gorgeous refurbished factory bar.
Artsy as all get out, right?
We just barely downed our local beers when our text sounded.
Another well composed shot. I may be getting good at this.
Our table was not great. We basically were surrounded by waiting customers. I’ll deal with it.
Thames Street menu. We knew what we were after.
Cast Iron Crab Cake
Pickled Cucumber Salad
We must have gotten the last of the summer menu, because our accompaniments were quite light. The crab cake was satisfying, but less “Lump” than I hoped. The wee bit of sauce was watermelon, weird but it worked. The current menu listing is served with squash and brussels sprouts. I’m glad we got this version.
The lobster roll was supposed to the the kicker, but it overshadowed the crab, by a mile.
Gorgeous, unadulterated lobster meat in a perfectly buttery toasted roll. See the little cups, the one on the left is more butter!
Look at this! Look!!!
Our adorable server cleared our empty plates and asked us if we were up for dessert. I started to give our pat answer of “no, thank you” when Jeff shut me down. What? We never get dessert!
We sipped a bit of Grand Marnier whilst we decided.
We went with this masterpiece: Vanilla Bean Fritters, Brùléed Banana, Guava Ice Cream, Toasted Coconut Sorbet, Pecan and Coconut Praline, Rum Caramel. Whew!
This was just a dream. My only regret was having the super sweet Grand Marnier with it. An Espresso Martini would have been perfection!
We took a stroll and circled back to check out a couple bars that advertised live music, enjoying the beautiful city along the way.
This joint touts live music from open ’til closed, EVERYDAY!
We just stumbled upon the place, but it turns out it has quite a HISTORY, Including the fact that it was Edgar Allen Poe’s last stop before he fell ill and died days later.
The man himself watching over the bar.
It seems like the may have over ordered on the Jack Daniels…Just kidding, it’s a Bottle Club.
We enjoyed a couple beers at the Saloon and stayed through two music acts, so we got to hear “Wagon Wheel” twice! Seriously, we had such a great time here. We will no doubt be back sometime, and plan to do more eating, drinking and maybe playing some music too.
We’ll be moving on to Washington D.C. in the morning, so we best get some rest.
We were pleasantly full from our tour through the St. Lawrence Market. I had read about the “Distillery District” being a must visit section of the city. I really didn’t have a grasp of what we would encounter, but we all assumed there would be, well…distilleries. There weren’t. There were, however, very cutesy shops and cafés to roam through.
We came across a clever display of “Love Locks”. You may be aware of the origins of this practice. In Paris, visitors would attach these padlocks along the bridge of Pont des Arts. The romantic notion being that you would write something sentimental (presumably regarding the love of your life) on the lock, attach it to the railing, and then toss the key into the river immortalizing your love forever!
Love Locks in the Distillery District
In Paris, this was considered charming at first. Soon the thrill wore off for the locals as sections of fencing on the Pont des Arts crumbled under the locks’ weight! The bridge carried more than 700,000 locks with a weight roughly the same as 20 elephants.
Au revoir, Love Locks!
Toronto’s heart shaped, non structural art installation seems much more practical, don’t you think?
A little more browsing around!
It was a bit chilly for this lovely outdoor space.
We found a remnant of the old guard.
We dipped in to a fancy shmancy chocolatier.
Meghan treated us with a sampling.
We were about ready to have a cocktail and rest our weary feet. I had read nothing but excellent things about the Cluny Bistro.
I stole this picture from the website. Good detectives could tell right away.
The place was gorgeous, and decidedly French.
The raw bar in the foreground and a peek at the kitchen.
We landed at the bar, of course.
Fanciful Menu Art
Those baguettes! Mon Dieu!
We finished whatever froo froo drinks we got and poked around some more shops.
Crazy expensive cookware.
An olive oils tasting room. The sales lady there was super chatty.
The fire pit was raging at the outdoor area we passed earlier.
We waited in the courtyard for an Uber to take us to dinner.
The place I chose for our last evening was called Boralia. Here’s the description from the website:
“Boralia celebrates the historic origins of Canadian cuisine. Our menu draws inspiration from traditional Aboriginal dishes, as well as the recipes of early settlers and immigrants of the 18th and 19th centuries.”
The place was super tiny and dark. The only interior pic that came out was this funky light fixture.
Matt’s Beer choice.
Some gorgeus bread to start.
Because this place is seasonal and changes its menu regularly, I was SOL getting proper dish descriptions for you. That’s what happens when you procrastinate writing your blog for ten months. Just a lil’ lesson for my fellow journalists. Anyhoo, a couple of the dishes stayed on menu. You’ll be able to tell which ones they are…’
We enjoyed all these tastings very much. They were delectable and beautifully presented. The thing was, it was getting pretty expensive and we would need to spend way too much money to get properly full. We settled up and decided to go directly, yes, directly back to our very first stop on this trip: Bar Hop.
This is what they call a “Call Back” in the biz.
Fried Pig Cheek Mac & Cheese Smoked Cheddar, Parmesan & Mozzarella With Crispy Brussel Sprouts & Pickled Apple Salad
Falafel Sandwich** Black Bean Ball, Pickled Fennel, Tomato, Garlic Sauce & Apple Slaw on House Made Naan
Thai Basil Mussels
My friends, I would drive the 800 miles in a heartbeat for this food. Everything we had here on both visits was just phenomenal. Now, I like fancy food just as much as the next guy, and the meal we had at our previous stop was splendid, but this lovingly prepared, abundant comfort food is exactly what we needed to wrap up this trip.
The next morning we prepared to make our way to the airport. I hadn’t noticed until then that our room overlooked a school playground. I thought this shot was pretty artsy.
You may recall that my choice of Poutine didn’t go over well with the family. The kids wanted to experience the real deal before we left. The boy did what the millennials tend to do, took to Reddit. It was unanimous that the best poutine in Toronto is at…wait for it… A GAS STATION.
Yup we did it.
This was legit a gas station but it was also cute as all get out.
To go bags lined up under the hand written signage.
Some homemade pastries in the case.
Canada has all the good chips. I need clam and tomato potato chips!!!
Alas, the Reddit was right. This poutine was bomb!
Look at those curds!!!
One last look our fair (gloomy) city.
This trip was quickly planned and poorly thought out. The weather, while not being as bone-chillingly cold as expected, was pretty grim. The big, bucket list event, seeing Niagara Falls, was a complete bust. The splash-out restaurant I chose was just not the experience that I had hoped for. And yet, we had the most amazing time. We spent three days talking, laughing, eating, drinking, playing games, and simply enjoying each other. I couldn’t imagine any vacation better than that.
Today we would be setting about to see more of Toronto proper. The weather had cleared up a bit, but would continue to be somewhat of a challenge. But first, I had promised to show you more pictures of our hotel. It was pretty sweet indeed. Check out this swanky indoor pool:
Ooh la la!!!
Beautiful, stained glass ceiling panels.
It looked gorgeous but still had the fetor an over-chlorinated indoor pool.
The hotel entrance in the daylight. Very Grand, indeed.
Our destination was the CN Tower. This is one of the top tourist attractions in Toronto. Those of you who own Drake’s latest album “The 6” may already be familiar with this structure. We enjoyed the scenes of the busy city workday as we made our way over.
Pretty, nearby square.
The Fairmont Hotel
Toronto Train Station.
It was surprising how long it took us to find the thing, considering it is the the third tallest structure in the world!
CN Tower. hidden in the clouds.
We stepped into the ticket area and were met by a friendly, yet bleakly pessimistic security guard. He straight up told us that venturing up to the top would result in a zero visibility situation. We went outside a mulled it over. This was an expensive proposition. Tickets are $26 US dollars a piece! At least the Falls didn’t cost us any more than gas money a some ponchos. After some consternation, we decided that just going up to say that we’d been there would be worth it. The unrelenting guard was so negative we thought for sure that there would be absolutely no view and a punch in the face when we reached the top. At least there would be a bar.
Here we go!
The journey begins in a glass floored elevator.
When we reached to top, we were pleasantly stunned by the view! Yes, the visibility would have reached farther on a clear day, but what we saw was just spectacular!
For those who visit the CN Tower during warmer (normal) times of the year, there is an additional activity available to you, that is if you are stark-raving mad.
As if life isn’t scary enough, how ’bout I hang my tukas over the ledge? Nope.
The netted, open air walk was enough for this lady. It’s cool to be outside, but this is a level lower, and the views are, as you can see, obscured.
We decided we could just as easily take in the view from the restaurant bar.
Drinks menu. I see that they were going for here but CN Tower + corkscrew = sperm with a syringe on it’s head.
View from our table.
These folks continue to challenge those with fear of heights with glass floors. I took me a few attempts to make myself walk over these.
This gave me the willies.
Even the elevators are against you! Back down to terra firma.
Meghan made a new friend.
A bonus look at the tower.
Continuing on with our touristy points of interest, we sought out the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Must be close…
Hockey Hall of Fame facade.
The Hockey Hall of Fame is located adjacent to the Allen Lambert Galleria at Brookfield Place which is a combination of glassed-in historic buildings, along with new shopping areas. This is a great place to spend some time out of the weather.
Take that, winter!
This 1845 Bank Facade with salvaged and relocated here in late in the twentieth century.
It took us some sleuthing to find entrance to the museum, but we prevailed!
We all really enjoyed looking around here despite the fact that only one of us was actually a hockey fan. There were endless displays of vintage uniforms and memorabilia.
We were looking forward to seeing the Stanley Cup. Turns out it’s not the one that the players actually drink victory champagne from, that one travels around. This one stay put in the museum. Jeff felt a bit gypped. Let’s take a look any way.
This section of the Hall of Fame is housed in the original bank building.
There were etchings of all the NHL players, along with all manner of trophies and such.
There she is!
A sad entry.
Only so many bands can fit on the cup. The retired ones land here.
Next we checked out the more interactive section of the museum.
The set up.
He shoots. He scores!!!
We lastly looked around at some of the more kitschy memorabilia.
Lunch boxes, beer cans, bobble heads…oh my!
Waka, waka, waka!
All the tickets.
Having consumed all the hockey knowledge we cared to, we set our to consume lunch!
Cool mural along the way.
St. Lawrence Market is a food mecca located in the centre of downtown Toronto. This place was named the “best food market of 2012” by National Geographic magazine. It is advisable to wear your stretchy pants and bring your appetite to graze your way through
St. Lawrence Market
The one must-eat delight here is the the world famous Peameal Bacon on a Bun from the Carousel Bakery. On a typical busy Saturday they will sell over 2,600 of these sandwiches. That’s one sold every 15 seconds! I got that off the website. I can’t do that kind of math.
A little honey mustard and you’ve got a little piece of heaven.
This was amazing, as advertised. We shared two among us so we had more room to snack around and have dinner later. This market was simply immense. I became immediately envious of all the Torontonians living within walking distance of this marvel.
Here’s all the pictures:
We still had more exploring and eating to do, but we’re getting a bit long in the post here.
We are hitting the denouement of our Girls’ Trip. We packed up our bags and made our way to the front of the resort. This was the first time we actually got to see the grounds of Port Orleans Riverside in the daylight. It was quite serene.
A leisurely walk to the main building where we would be checking out.
We checked our luggage to be picked up later, then headed to our first mode of transportation. When I had planned this trip, I wanted the moms to have the best experience possible in three short days. In my eyes, Magic Kingdom is the must see for any Disney virgin. Of course, one has to experience my absolute favorite, Epcot. In order to have the most intensive experience, and keeping in mind that we weren’t going to be taking in many thrill rides like the ones that are found in Hollywood Studios (not to mention it’s a construction mess right now) or be wanting to do too much extra walking in the very spread out Animal Kingdom, I planned an extra day at Magic Kingdom to round things out. After day two we had a confab and decided that the ladies had seen all that they needed of Magic Kingdom. On a whim, this lady changed all of our reservations, plans and fastpasses and we instead went to Animal Kingdom. I’ll let you ruminate about how big a deal that is for me while we have breakfast at the Polynesian.
After some monorail transportation issues, we landed by boat at the rear of the resort. A new view for me.
Boat dock at the Poly.
New lobby’s still a hit with me.
The menu had changed a bit since our last visit. No more Pulled Pork Hash. Boo! Thankfully, my fave pancakes are still there!
Pancakes – with Macadamia Nut Butter, Pineapple Sauce and Spiced Ham (yup that’s spam)
Polynesian Egg Platter – two eggs-any style with fresh fruit poke, bakery-fresh muffin, and home-fried potatoes with your choice of spiced ham, bacon, or sausage
Tonga Toast – Banana-stuffed French Toast rolled in Cinnamon Sugar and served with a Strawberry Compote and a side of fruit poke.
Creamy Grits – with smoked gouda
I don’t remember who had what cause we all shared. Everything was splendid as usual. The service was friendly but molasses slow. What are you gonna do? We made our way to the lobby to catch our bus to Animal Kingdom when we had a classically wonderful interaction with a cast member. She gave us all flower leis and took some photos of the girls. I believe her name was Karen. I did not take her picture, true to form.
Thanks, Karen (I think)!
Flora looking splendid.
We made it!
While we were on the bus we learned from another guest that the Animal Kingdom Park would be closing early due to a soft opening preview of the new Pandora-World of Avatar. This would be bad news for those who were staying on for a few more days. One would want to get in a full day at any one park, especially if you didn’t have the hopper option. We however, would have to be leaving by 5:00pm anyway to catch our ride to the airport.
Sorry, folks. The moose outside shoulda told ya!
This revelation turned out to be what we Disney nerds refer to as a bit of pixie dust. Normally this park is quite close and congested, one of the reasons I had ruled it out. We practically had free rein the whole day!
Pandora sign, newly in place.
I got to work right away making fastpasses, which was easy peasy since everyone else bailed. We made our way to Africa to take in Kilimanjaro Safari.
Gonna take a lot to take me away from you…
You guys, we were the only ones on our safari vehicle. This day was going freakin’ awesome!
Look how happy they are!
Mom, getting all the pictures.
The animals made a pretty good showing, though my pictures don’t reflect it.
After the Safari we were trying to make the next show of The Legend of the Lion King Musical. We somehow ended up on another nature trail that took us the long way around.
Excuse me, sir. Can you point me to the…sir?
We had just minutes to spare. Arlene was enjoying some live music from a couple singers outside and I know she wanted to stay and listen, but I coaxed her away because I knew how much she would enjoy this show!
Due to traveling with someone in a scooter, we got to sit right up close. By no means does this mean you get a “free ride” by traveling with someone who has any sort of challenge. I have read and heard a lot of snark from people in the Disney community over the years about this. I can say from our experience that Disney is superb at accommodating everyone. I would also say to those able-bodied people who gripe about scooters getting on busses first or being up front; be grateful that you have the blessing of being free to move about at your will. There is no “advantage” that trumps your health. Done rant.
Wow! I can’t even wear heals.
We had no other plans for attractions but we decided to take a nice stroll around to some of the other lands. It was so amazing to essentially have the walkways completely empty. Just to give you an idea of how remarkable this was, here is what we encountered…
Look out for the tumble weeds!
…and here’s what was in store just a few days later!
All the nope.
We made our way to Asia. I love all the details here. Prayer flags hang all throughout.
Shrines surrounding Everest.
Maybe I’ll stay here next trip.
The clouds were rolling in. More about this later.
It was getting close to closing time. We were walking past Expedition Everest when Meghan noticed there was just a five minute wait. She announced that she was just gonna hop on and headed over. Hey! I love Everest too!!! Wait up!
Made it just in time!
Whilst we were on the coaster, knowing our moms/grandmoms were waiting outside, we saw that storms rolling in. We got off the ride and rushed over to them but it was too late. We were all exposed and just stuck in the wide open as a freaky wild storm blew through. We got our ponchos on and tried to buckle down but moving anywhere undercover was not an option. I couldn’t document this because I stuffed my phone down into my pants…any port… but here’s a view into the kind of rain we encountered:
Again, because of these new circumstances we made some changes. I wanted to have a late lunch at Sanaa in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. However, we were drenched, so I cancelled our reservations. We all decided that some warm, dry clothes, a cocktail and some snacks back at Port Orleans while we waited for our transit would be a better call.
Our home, sweet temporary, home.
My mom dipped into the gift shop to burn some gift cards. She scored the cutest ever jacket!
My minnie momma!
We settled into some cozy seating at the River Roost Lounge. Disney aficionados know that this is home to Yee-Ha Bob. This is also home to some tasty bar snacks. Just what we were after.
Bayou Buffalo Wings – served with celery sticks and blue cheese
Our snacks met our immediate need but the girls craved some sweets not available at the tavern. We reached out to the quick serve for dessert.
A magic cookie bar, Mickey Brownie, Red Velvet cake.
I am not a sweets person, but the magic cookie bar is something that is of legend, so I tried it. Oh my! So buttery good!!!
Now’s the time to say goodbye!
Before we knew it, our coach had arrived. This trip was unique to be sure. Meghan and I got such a thrill sharing such a magical place with the moms. I hope they had as good a time as I did. I’m so grateful for all these ladies in my life!
Day two is upon us. Today we will be truckin’ on over to Epcot to experience the Flower and Garden Festival. This would be my second experience with this festival, but it has vastly changed since 2009. Now, it’s pretty much a mini Food and Wine Festival. Disney must have figured out that they don’t make extra money from the people just looking at the pretty flowers. Food and booze is where it’s at. I’m all on board.
Food and Flower and Garden and Wine Festival
All gussied up!
Figment is back!
All the Ladies!
We had fastpasses for the newest version of the Soarin’ attraction. No pictures to take here, but this was a favorite of the moms. This ride works for all ages hence, it’s always crazy busy. You must have a fastpass!
Next we had a leisurely boat cruise on Livin’ with the Land.
With a couple Future World attractions down we made our way to World Showcase to take in the floral vistas…and find some grub.
Mickey says it’s this way.
Peaceful path to the butterfly garden.
This tapestry of flowers is simply stunning.
This bright color scheme wound throughout the festival.
A place for the kiddos.
Cabbages tucked in with the flowers.
On to the food. We started in Canada. Meghan got a sort of dessert/cocktail. It was yummy, but I needed some real food.
Maple Popcorn Shake with Crown Royal Maple Whiskey
But first, beer. This flight is from one of my favorite breweries, Unibroue.
The Beer Flight:Unibroue Maudite Amber Ale, Unibroue À Tout Le Monde Saison, Unibroue Éphémère White Ale
My first bite of the day was exceptional. The brown butter vinaigrette was bomb.
Seared Scallops with French Green Beans, Buttered Potatoes, Brown Butter Vinaigrette and Apple-wood Smoke Bacon
If you can’t say anything nice….
We strolled around the grounds of Victoria Gardens. This is always spectacular year round. These plantings are not just for the festival.
I’m running out of adjectives already.
We were going to watch the Circle Vision movie while we were there. Some folks were murmuring about it being down so I hustled down to check it out.
The view along the way.
They had a young man stationed wayyyy down the end of a long bridge to tell us it was closed. Put that man up at the front, S’il vous plâit!
One last peek at Canada.
With a little Pixie Dust from Peter and Tink, we flew all the way to the U.K. !
Here we go!
Her Faery House.
The band was set up but nowhere to be found.
We were doing pretty well with crowds.
Would you like a spot of tea?
We found no offerings of food to our liking in the UK so we moved on to France.
Loved the signage on this Kiosk.
We had our very favorite taste of the festival here, It was a savory delight! It was like thanksgiving wrapped in a flakey, buttery crust! We all agreed we would loop back around and get another taste, but sadly, it never happened.
Tarte à l’Onion Alsacienne Alsatian Onion Tart with Sautéed Onions, Fresh Thyme and Rosemary on a Flaky Puff Pastry Crust
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is a creepy relationship.
Still working on this for my backyard. I’m at 0% completion rate.
We took a stroll through me *favorite Pavilion, Morocco. No food here that we partook in.
A sweet escape is waiting for you in Morocco.
Empty tables in the shade. People, you need to seek out these treasures.
Keeping it artsy.
He thinks he’s better than me.
There is intricate tile work throughout.
Our next stop would be in the good ole US of A. We’d been to the American Adventure show here in the past few years, but I hadn’t heard the Voices of Liberty since our honeymoon, 28 years ago. I knew that the moms would love it!
The Voices of Liberty
This acoustically perfect rotunda allows the music to soar. Here’s a sample for your listening pleasure…
All smiles, and a couple of emotional tears.
After Voices, we saw the theater show (read: took a short nap) and headed back out for some victuals.
Hey howdy hey!
It smelled so fantastic out here.
Pulled Pig Slider with Coleslaw. Beef Brisket Burnt Ends Hash with White Cheddar Fondue and Pickled Jalapeños .
Yes, they are classifying that humungous pulled pork sandwich was billed as a slider! Both of these selections were excellent and a good value. Speaking of value, there are certain websites out there that are dedicated to all things Disney Food. While they post a lot of pretty pictures and such, some are so deep in with perks and exclusive invites from the mouse, that their reviews cannot be relied upon. Josh from EasyWDW, however, has no such loyalties. Really, he’s as cynical as all get out. On our October trip and this latest one I followed his reviews for all our choices. He not only rates on taste, but value for what you get. Without exception, everything recommended was spot on. Thanks, Josh for eating and drinking all the things for us!
I wanted to.
Next up was Italy
You may recall that I previously stated that I would never set foot in Tutto Gusto again. It is a cool and intimate respite from the bustle of the park but it is insanely over priced. However, when Meghan wants to go somewhere, you just do. I did think Arlene would love it. I sucked it up.
It does have its charms.
Some sort of Italian cocktail.
Ladies and gentleman, a TEN DOLLAR cannoli.
Yeah, it made me grumpy too.
With that business behind us, we made our way to Germany.
We did a walk through of The Karmel Kuche simply for the aromas.
Oh my goodness.
I felt well guarded.
Germany is always great for a Beer and a Bratwurst, tasty and reasonably priced. For the festival, there were some other tempting options.
Currywurst with Paprika Chips – Roasted Bratwurst with Curry Ketchup and Paprika-spiced Chips
Potato Pancakes with House-made Apple Sauce
The Currywurst and chips were pretty straightforward and awesome. I just wished they put the ketchup to the side so I could regulate the ratio. Just nitpicking here. The potato pancake paired with applesauce was a surprisingly savory delight. The herb laced pancake paired a low sugar apple sauce made for a perfect coupling of savory and sweet.
A dunkel, I believe.
I failed to notice the violent thunderstorm headed our way. I see it now.
No trip to World Showcase is considered valid without the consumption of a School Bread from Norway. It’s in the charter.
Norway’s Stave Church.
Meghan ran inside to purchase our pastry when all heck-fire rain broke loose. She was stuck undercover, but we had to find refuge in a bathroom doorway. We made fast friends with all the other folks seeking shelter.
Meghan did a superb job protecting the goods.
The rain left as quickly as it rolled in so we were good to move on to Mexico.
Gorgeous orchid displays.
Keeping it gallery quality on the pics.
We just did a quick loop around. The tequila bar was too packed after the rain to be considered and the Three Caballeros ride seemed a bit tough to board.
We did get to see Mexican Donald. Olé!
Three Caballeros in floral form.
More fantastic topiaries and the from of Worldshowcase.
I need these guys to work in my garden.
Sunset was looking brilliant at this point.
We decided to loop back around to the UK to have a pint and regroup.
We discussed our strategy for the rest of the evening, specifically watching Illuminations. We were getting a bit weary, so I decided to try and snag a reservation with good viewing. I was able to get us in to La Hacienda, however they stuck us in a windowless section of the restaurant. Boo! We ordered our food and drinks, then when the show was about to begin I made the girls hustle out to see the show. It worked out okay I guess. It was pretty remarkable how hungry we were after grazing all day, but here we are!
Taquiza – taco sampler featuring grilled chicken with green tomatillo sauce, grilled steak with roasted chipotle sauce and rajas poblanas, pork chilorio served with queso fresco, and a battered fish served with a mayo-chipotle sauce topped with cabbage
Queso Fundido – melted cheese with chorizo, poblano and serrano peppers, avocado-tomatillo sauce, and flour tortillas
Pork Empanadas (no pic of those. Just the beans. dang it)- corn dough empanadas stuffed with pork, and black beans; topped with mole sauce
I had hoped to do a late night stroll but we were all plum tuckered out and the ladies already got a full Epcot experience. You can’t for better than that.
Another successful outing. Thanks, Epcot!
*They’re all my favorite.
Up Next: This uber planner throws the itinerary away. Yikes!
The end of a Disney trip is always sad, that’s a given. The only thing that alleviates the slight depression of that inevitability is the hope that someday, even years in the future, we’ll be back again. You can imagine my pure joy, when while we were yet still in the middle of our epic nine day October trip, Jeff suggested that we plan another trip just six months in the future! This however, would be a much different situation. Neither my mom or Jeff’s had ever been to Disney World. We decided there and then that this was the time to do it, even if it put us into debt (it didn’t). We also decided that this would be a Girl’s Only Trip. Sorry, Jeff. We got my daughter Meghan on board and as soon as we returned home I began to make plans for a three day jaunt down to the most Magical Place on Earth!
I broke from my usual Pop Century Resort and instead went with Port Orleans Riverside. The rooms are slightly bigger and have queen beds as opposed to full. It also has pretty grounds that I felt the moms would prefer over the cartoonish Pop theming.
Some pretty plantings.
Grand Reception Area
Moderate resort=fake flowers. We’ll see real ones later.
My mother-in-law has been struggling with bad knees for sometime now. Surgery is in the future, but for this trip we arranged for a scooter.
Is she not the cutest?
Our flight was in the wee hours of the morning, so we were at the entrance of the Magic Kingdom before 11:30 am.
I got some buttons hoping the moms would get some special attention.
Main Street looking fine as ever.
We got to see a bit of the Trolley Show.
The new garden areas are such a nice addition.
We headed over to Adventureland for our first attraction of the day.
I wanted to do something classic right out of the gate, so I chose the “Jungle Cruise”.
We got such a great skipper!!!
“Let me point out some of my favorite plants. Those over there, that one, this other one.”
“Anyone know what kind of snake this is? Starts with a P? Yup, plastic.”
“This head hunter’s business is shrinking.”
“The backside of water!!!”
This guy loves all the corny jokes.
The moms seemed to enjoy this one. Whew. I was really impressed by my first experience touring with someone in a scooter. With all the times I’ve been here, I really hadn’t taken notice of the logistics of these situations. The cast members were great every step of the way. Each attraction was a little different. Sometimes there was a completely different entrance, other rides just required a helping hand. Fortunately Arlene was able to transfer off and on the scooter, but they even have contingencies for those who can’t. We quickly learned what worked and didn’t for us in particular. Low light in winding queues proved too much of a challenge so we simply avoid them. All in all the scooter was such a blessing!
Next up was one that I thought the moms might bail on, Splash Mountain. We stood in front and let them see the big drop and decide for themselves.
The big drop!
I was kinda surprised that they both decided to go for it!
We got to enter through the exit on this one.
We got totally soaked and they loved it!
A quick castle pic.
We moseyed back to Main Street because we had other business to attend to.
Main Street, gorgeous from any angle.
Look at her go!
Ok, now she’s just leaving us in the dust.
We made our way to the stunning Grand Floridian Resort where we would be having High Tea. Please reread that sentence in your best Buckingham Palace accent.
Couldn’t you spend all afternoon on one of those couches?
I have never experienced tea and the Grand Floridian. Frankly, it really didn’t interest me. I’m more of a cocktails kinda gal (loyal readers just uttered a collective “yeah, you are!”) and it’s pretty pricey to boot. Anyhoo, Meghan adores tea and I knew the moms would be smitten with this gorgeous resort.
Mrs. Potts greeted us at the Garden View Tearoom.
More pretty designs.
We arrived for the first seating and scored a window table over looking the fabulous grounds.
Look closely, friends. Thats Cinderella’s coach right there.
Weddings frequently take place at a pavilion here at the resort. If you are interested in getting married here, I suggest you elope. It’s crazy expensive. Case in point:
Arrival in Cinderella’s coach complete with miniature white ponies and costumed footmen costs a mere $2,950.
Back to our tea. The tables were set beautifully.
Beautiful, fresh flowers.
Elegant little touches.
Oh, I guess I did have a tipple too.
Veuve Clicquot Champagne. A good value at $15 a glass considering a bottle ranges from $40-$80.
The tea service consists of different packages including sandwiches, desserts, scones etc. You can go all out with champagne and caviar or just do the bare minimum, but everyone at the table is required to order a set selection. I wish you could share, because even the barest package is too much food.
My mother-in-law chose a set that included a fruit and cheese plate. It looked lovely and she really enjoyed it. The only trouble was that our server waited until she was completely though with that extra course before presenting our teeny sandwiches. At this point, we had only eaten the crackers that they give you on the plane, so we were all pretty dang hungry.
Selection of exotic fruits and imported cheeses.
Finally the sandwiches arrived!! All of these were quite tasty. Loved the onion tart.
Tasty selection of tea sandwiches included: Egg salad, Curried Chicken, cucumber with cream cheese, goat cheese and roasted tomato, and a lovely little onion tart.
A fluffy, warm scone served with lemon curd, clotted cream, and apricot jam and a side car of a jam tart.
I lapped up that curd even after the scone was gone. So good!
Desserts! Make note of the Macrons, that’s my only shot of them even though they were my favorite.
A cream puff swan along with a juicy chocolate dipped strawberry.
The desserts were by far our least favorite. All the other girls ordered the trifle pictured above, so there were three of those! I chose the plate with the macron, swan and strawberry. The trifle just tasted like jello pudding. Not worth the calories, though the presentation was beautiful. The strawberry was a strawberry, fine. The swan was chewy, obviously filled way ahead of time and refrigerated, not good for cream puffs. However, the two tiny macrons were just perfect. Crispy outside with a nice soft chew. If I ever do this again, I may try to trade the lot for a half dozen macrons.
We were stuffed. We lingered in the lobby for a bit enjoying some live piano music.
I’d hate to cross paths with the bird that escaped this cage.
These are real. That’s what you get when you go deluxe.
A teensy sitting area for the kiddos.
We made our way back to the Magic Kingdom for a few more attractions.
The clouds start a rollin’ in.
We started in Tomorrowland. Keeping it classic, we went right to the Carousel of Progress. Some yahoo stood up during the show so they had to reset it. This meant we got to watch a very long show scene twice through. I’m two for two on fails at C.O.P.
Tomorrowland. The least of the lands.
We also hit Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. No pics, sorry. This show is always a hoot. It got a bit squirmy when one of the character actors in the show innocently asked a gentleman how he knew the lady next to him. His response? “She’s my lover.” EEEWWW!!!! You’re in Disney for Pete’s sake.
Tomorrowland Speedway, still open.
The Little Mermaid attraction. This is where we discovered that dark and windy queues were our enemy.
Believe it or not, it was time to get ourselves to our dinner destination.
The sky was starting to look pretty ominous.
We stopped for a little ragtime piano. Support live music!
We hopped on a boat for a pleasant ride over to the Wilderness Lodge.
Beautiful sunset happening.
Oh my. Those clouds.
My goal here was to show the moms as many of the deluxe resorts as possible. This resort is just as impressive as the Grand but with a wholly opposite design esthetic.
The rugged landscape of Wilderness Lodge.
A lovely spot to perch yourself on a late spring afternoon.
I hoped we’d have time for a cocktail in the lounge but we were just on time for our dinner reservation at Artist Point.
Artist Point Entrance
The art deco design is warm, yet elegant.
As soon as we were seated comfortably at our table, the heavens ripped open with the most intense rainstorm. We dodged disaster by mere minutes. On to dinner!
Signature restaurants at Disney have been nailing the bread.
And salted butter.
Meghan ordered herself an Old Fashioned. I thought that was a capitol idea!
A perfectly crafted cocktail.
I’ll tell you right off the bat that our dinner was superb. Even beyond that, our server was simply delightful. She was warm and attentive yet gave us our space. As usual, I neglected to take a photo of this cutie pie. She was a doll.
I was not yet super hungry so I ordered and appetizer. This turned out to be wise as it turned out to be an entrée size portion. The Israeli Cous-Cous, not listed on the menu description, made it quite hearty.
Steamed Mussels and Clams Lemon, Huille d’Olive, Spring Herbs, Artisan Bread
Both moms had these scallops. Raves all around.
Seared Diver Sea Scallops Charred Broccoli, Petit Potato, Hibiscus, Blooms
Meghan went the appetizer route too, a soup and salad to beat the band. Look at the glorious composition of these Land Greens! The smoky mushroom soup is an Artist Point classic.
What phenomenal meal! Perhaps we should end with a cognac?
Let’s make it a beer. Bear Republic Racer 5.
He made our way back to the dock to catch our boat and begin our journey back to Port Orleans. We had a sprinkle or two but no real damage considering the Typhoon that occurred during dinner! We even caught a bit of the new Happily Ever After fireworks. It was an exhausting, but a good first day.
With the breathtaking vistas of the Falls being completely ensconced by fog, we turned to the other, tackier side of the area, the tourist traps! I had no idea that this section of town existed. What an interesting juxtaposition of (supposed) natural beauty and commerce.
None of the previous attractions pulled us in. We needed to find an appropriate place to regroup.
The place was cool and empty.
The goods, brewing.
You know you’re in Canada when there’s a curling match on the telly.
Because this place was a micro brewery, the selection was slim and sadly, not very good.
I believe this was a Brown Ale. Meh.
Didn’t dampen our spirits. Cheers!
We got a few apps for the table. Everything was served in abundance, and pretty tasty. I was uncharacteristically still not hungry yet. Stupid stomach.
tortilla chips & guac hand mashed avocado, fresh lime, cilantro, garlic and green chillies served with pico de gallo
The person who was in charge of “hand smashing” the guac must need to work on his upper body strength. The avocados were practically still whole, not that we were complaining!
warm soft pretzels seasoned rock salt pretzel with BEERDEVIL IPA cheese sauce or 3 cheese pretzel with house-made marinara sauce
charcuterie board cured meats, toasted crostini, raw & pickled vegetables with a sage white bean spread
We waited out the downpours for another beer and headed back to Toronto proper.
Matt spotted a couple record shops in town so we went about exploring.
I believe the boy found a record or two.
When I was researching for this trip I found a travel show hosted by Anthony Bourdain wherein here spends thirty-six hours in a city. Yes, it was Toronto. He stopped into a little Japanese knife shop that supplied blades which even the chef himself said were way out of his league. I thought Matt, who has outpaced me by a mile in cookery, would enjoy a look see.
Tosho Knife in Toronto.
More detail oriented tools.
Baby’s first chef knife.
Matt did not come away with a new knife, but did buy a sharpening stone and a stone to maintain your sharpening stone. He’s practicing.
We had designs on seeing some live music, but that wouldn’t be happening for a few more hours. Food was already taken care of so we were at a bit of a loss. Matt did what any young millennial would do, he took it to Reddit. A quick inquiry yielded a peculiar result, a coffee shop / bar which hosts board games.
Snakes and Lattes
This place was fascinating. Let me set the table: this was a Tuesday night and the place was jam packed. Every seat was full. They also charged a $6.00 cover charge just to get in. I balked but the gang wanted to go for it.
Packed to the gills.
A huge plus was that they had my very favorite beer on draft, and dirt cheap! Well, it is a Canadian Brewery so I guess it just a domestic beer here.
Unibroue fin du Monde
Here’s how it works. There is a game master that will come around to your table, ask you a few questions about what you’re into and then he selects a few games that may fit the bill.
Our game master giving us an overview of his selections.
You can also just pick and choose on your own. Our first choice was a dice game Matt had played before.
This was fun and fast. I can’t remember the rules now.
This one had a pretty board. It was more of a strategy game.
The winner of the night was a word game called Code Names. We could have played it all night.
Code Name laid out to play.
There was a lot of serious thinkin’ going on here.
We had such a great experience, Matt wanted to go back the next night. We never did, but we did buy the game to play at home. We’ve bullied some friends into playing with us. I was simply floored by this business. How remarkable, in the middle of a work week, to have a full house of young people playing analogue games together in real life! There were no groups of people staring at phones and ignoring each other. Everyone was chatting and having a real, interactive, good old fashioned time.
Our bellies were starting to rumble to we decided to forgo the music idea and get some food. When in Canada, you must have poutine. The thing is, most poutineries (I made that up) are walk up stands with no seats, from what I could tell. I wanted to sit somewhere and be cozy. I found a cool looking Irish bar instead.
Flynn’s Temple Bar
My family did not agree with my comfort over quality strategy. They thought the poutine was decidedly average and being chilly and rained on is always worth it for good poutine. I guess I have to agree. We would have amazing poutine before this trip was through.
So-so fries, curds and gravy.
Not pictured were the chicken wings Matt ordered. They were tossed with Chef Patrick’s hot sauce, sounds tasty enough but guys, they were served with maple ranch dipping sauce!!! Maple ranch??? I cannot recall tasting anything as disagreeable as this sauce. Absolutely gross. Canadians, keep your maple syrup on your pancakes and we’ll keep our ranch on our salads down here in America. We don’t need to mingle.
Meg got herself a nice wedge of bread pudding to finish up. I may have stolen a forkful.
And that was a wrap for today. Honestly we could have drank beer and played board games without flying five hundred miles to Toronto, but this trip was really all about spending time together, and at home there are always too many distractions. I’m sticking with that.
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.
This was a Monday night, and still the place was buzzing with young, hip clientele.
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.
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.
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.
A splendid view!
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!
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!
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!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the mouse himself!
Following Goofy’s exact instructions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next we visited the Islands of the Caribbean which is right at the cusp between World Showcase and Future World.
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.
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.