Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Boats, Trains, Buses and a Monorail- Our Disney Free For All

We traditionally make our last day at Disney a free for all.  

We go back and either ride the things we missed, or we re-ride the things we just have to do one more time. With the restriction of only being able to book fast passes for one park per day we decided to use our final day’s fast pass for Toy Story Midway Mania. It was so much fun and we just had to do it again, but the standby line rarely dips below seventy-five minutes. We planned the rest of the day around the fast pass and around ending our night watching Illuminations at Epcot.

Since we had such a nice experience the prior day, we parked at the Dolphin Hotel and took the boat to Epcot.  We then power walked through Epcot and boarded the monorail to the Magic Kingdom.

We hopped on the train and rode it to Frontierland where we rode Splash Mountain again. 

While in line there was a young giddy couple who shared with anyone who would listen the story of how they just got engaged over breakfast that morning. The experience sounded magical and their innocent adorable happiness brought a little tear to my eye. I hope they have a happily ever after.

After Splash Mountain we rode The Haunted Mansion again and then hoofed it to Tomorrowland. We stopped off in Fantasyland for churros because they count as breakfast right?

We rode Space Mountain and then made our way out of Magic Kingdom and headed towards the buses.

We waited, and waited and waited some more for the bus to Hollywood Studios. 

We discussed whether it would be possible to squeeze in Animal Kingdom because it would be cool to visit every park in the same day, but we just didn’t have the time.  Families began to pile up behind us. We waited more. Finally a driver whose bus was allotted for another destination looked over at the gathered crowd, made a call on his radio, then changed his destination to Hollywood Studios. 

We no sooner got on the bus when the sky grew dark and a deluge began.  It was raining so hard I couldn’t see out of the bus window. It was some crazy rain. The rain ceased, the clouds parted, and the sun returned just as the bus pulled up to Hollywood Studios. Drenched guests who were shaking out their overpriced rain ponchos cast jealous glances at the perfectly dry people getting off of the bus. We couldn’t have timed it better if we tried.

We rode Toy Story Midway Mania and Star Tours again. Now it was time to make our way back to check off the rest of the countries at Epcot.

Shannon wanted to ride Mission Space again. Did I mention that it’s his favorite ride?
I elected to hang out in the UK and see if I could get my picture with Mary Poppins. We had passed her during our power walk through Epcot, but alas it appeared she went home sick or something like that.

We stopped in Mexico briefly to ride the boat ride, and then headed to Norway.

We were unaware at the time that this trip would be the last time we would ever ride Malestrom. I loved Malestrom and am sad that it is gone.

The line through the queue in Malestrom moved quickly.  As I worked my way around a corner a girl gasped and gestured broadly. It took me a few moments to get that she was pointing at me.  We both had on the same obscure Mary Poppins Totoro t-shirt from Tee Fury.  The line was moving too fast for us to do anything but smile at one another and point. I was hoping to catch up with her after the ride so we could get a picture but I never saw her again.

Our next stop was Japan. 

I had read whispers that there was Studio Ghibli merchandise for sale in Japan’s store.  

There was an exhibit in the gallery across from the store that sidetracked us. The exhibit was about Japanese mythology and how that mythology influenced various anime characters from television and movies.  It was a great exhibit.

The store in Japan is huge. They have lots of neat stuff for sale, including a multitude of snacks and candy. 

Not only did the store in Japan have Studio Ghibli merchandise, they had an entire section! I was just about at the same level of excitement as I was when we were in Harry Potter World. I had an agonizing time making a decision about what souvenirs I wanted. I finally settled on a plush Totoro and a beautiful Arrietty post card.  

We wanted to buy one of the puzzles sooooooo badly, but it was the end of our trip and the end of our souvenir money. Plus, the puzzles were very expensive. 

We’re going to put some money aside so on our next trip we can come home with a Ghibli puzzle.

Japan took up the remainder of our time so the only thing left to do was to find a good spot and enjoy Illuminations.

 We boarded the boat back to the Dolphin vowing that the next time we will visit every country in the World Showcase (missed countries- China, France, Italy, and Canada).

So ends my posts about our Orlando trip, and it’s just in time, because we’re going to Mexico (the real country not the one in The World Showcase).

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Time Machine Worthy Meal at Blue Zoo

 Have you ever wished that you had a time machine just so that you could go back in time and enjoy a meal all over again? Or perhaps at the very least you could have a Star Trek replicator so that you could replicate a meal (although you know that replicated food is never as good as the original thing)?  That is precisely what I wish as I fondly remember the meal we had at Todd English's Blue Zoo.

 Located in the Dolphin Hotel, Blue Zoo was not on our original trip itinerary. It seemed maybe a little too fancy and expensive, but when I saw that it was included on the list of restaurants for Orlando restaurant month, we decided we should jump on the opportunity to give it a try.

After passing behind the waterfall wall the hostess greeted us and asked,

"Are you celebrating anything special this evening?"  Immediately I thought, do over.

“Yes”, I replied. I pointed to Shannon,

“It’s his birthday.”

“Happy Birthday,” said the hostess as she guided us to our table. 

 If you looked up the word swanky in the dictionary you might find a picture of Blue Zoo. They even have fancy towels in the bathrooms instead of hand blowers or paper towels.

 The atmosphere is supposed to make you feel as though you are dining underwater. The room is bathed in blue. 

 The massive chandeliers look like bubbles floating to the water’s surface.  

 It gives you the instant feeling that you are in for something special.  

 Shannon ordered one of the signature drinks. We starred in wonderment at the drink as smoke curled out of the glass. It was cool.

 The woman sitting next to us ordered an entree that was set before her. Then the server ladled a smoking sauce over top. It was not harsh fire smoke but more like a beautiful wispy dancing mist. The woman asked the server to stop for a moment so she could take out her phone to get a picture of the ladle in action.  I wanted to get a picture too, but we were sitting pretty close to them and I thought it would seem too awkward. It’s one thing to take a photo of your own food, but quite another to take a picture of your neighbor’s.

 I have to digress for a moment regarding our neighbors. They were from Florida though what part of Florida was unclear. She played an instrument in an orchestra and she was apparently always late because James the conductor gave her a tongue lashing for her tardiness. They were  at Disney World for a few days  celebrating their anniversary. They were staying at the Swan Hotel next door. They were trying to decide where they wanted to eat the following evening. The wife was campaigning for Monsieur Paul’s in the France pavilion.  To persuade her husband she read aloud a blog post of someone who had recently visited Monsieur Paul’s.  Due to our close proximity we got to hear the blog post too.  When she was finished her husband exclaimed,

“Pfft, bloggers.” By the tone of his voice I am certain that he rolled his eyes as well. 

 Shannon smirked and I tried hard not to want to stab him with my fork. They probably thought that we were some sad unhappily married couple because we talked very little during the meal. We were having too much fun listening to them. They never did make a decision about where to eat the following evening

Our meal started with a bread basket. It was filled with an assortment of breads accompanied by fresh butter. 

It’s the type of bread basket where your mind says, don’t fill up on bread, don’t fill up on bread…. but your hand doesn't listen and keeps plucking pieces from the basket.

Since the restaurant month pre-fixe meal affords you three courses, we both started out with the tomato salad.

 You might be looking at the picture and asking,

Is that popcorn on that plate? Yes, yes it is.  I think the purpose of the freshly popped popcorn was to act as croutons.  I would have never thought of doing that, but it was very good.  The best part of the salad was the tomato tart.  It was creamy and tangy and the crust melted in your mouth.  I ate it in tiny nibbles because I didn't want it to end.

Shannon got the steak with a chimichurri sauce for his entree.  He said it was yummy.

I ordered the octopus Bolognese. 

I love octopus, but it’s one of those things like lamb. If you order it somewhere where they know how to cook it, it is wonderful. Octopus should be tender melt in your mouth and not fishy tasting. If it’s cooked on a grill then the suction cups on the tentacles turn into little delightful crispies.  If you get it somewhere that does not know how to cook it, then the octopus can turn out tough and fishy.

I trusted Blue Zoo and was not disappointed. It was some of the best octopus I've had. The sauce was tasty and the pasta was so fresh I was convinced that someone must have made it just before throwing it into the water to boil.

Our server was remarkable. She was friendly and attentive and although she had many other tables, she treated us as if we were the only patrons in the restaurant.  When she brought our deserts she had a special little birthday plate made up.

Shannon got the plate of assorted chocolate desserts. 

I liked his bumpy bubble plate.

I got the assortment of berry desserts.

The desserts were heavenly.  They were the kind of desserts that make a little piece of your soul float out of your head for a second. We ate them slowly trying to savor every bite.  

Once our desserts were consumed, we figured  our meal was finished, so we were surprised when our server arrived with a plate of complimentary happy birthday chocolates. 

They were delicious. To make it fair we took a knife and cut each piece in half so we each had a taste of all of the chocolates.  

Blue Zoo more than made up for the unbirthday disappointment the evening before. It is a meal we will not soon forget and ended up being our favorite meal of the trip. It ranked up there along with The California Grill as one of our favorite meals at Disney thus far.

If you are a foodie, I highly recommend having dinner at Blue Zoo at least once. If you can time it in September for restaurant week then it won’t burn a hole in your pocket, and if you happen to have an extra time machine laying around, I’d love to borrow it for just a few hours so I could back and have our Blue Zoo meal all over again.

Extra Note-If you drove to Blue Zoo, just tell your server that you drove and parked in the parking lot and you will get a free parking pass. It worked out for us because it ended up being an entire free day of parking. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thwarted by Colonial Americans- A day at Epcot

Since we had dinner reservations at Blue Zoo, we decided to park at the Dolphin Hotel and take the boat over to Epcot.

As we glided along the water we wondered, why we we didn't do this all week?  It was a peaceful and relaxing mode of transportation. No cramming onto noisy parking lot trams with the rest of the masses.

We love Epcot. It's an easy and more affordable way to get a taste of the world.  When we go to Epcot we always have the same plan, zip through Future World so we can visit every country in the World Showcase.  It never happens.

After the conclusion of our Behind the Seeds tour, we used our perfectly timed fast pass and rode Sorin',

then it was off to Shannon's favorite ride, Mission Space. He rode it five times during our trip.

I rode the green, otherwise known as the wimpy version of the ride while he rode the more intense orange side.

We rode Test Track, then Spaceship Earth. We then jetted over to the World Showcase because we wanted lunch and it's more fun to have lunch in another country.

I think that Morocco is my favorite country at the World Showcase.

It has beautiful theming with its fountain and hand painted tiles.

I am sure a certain Doctor would approve of the Moroccan pavilion.

 Lunch was consumed at the Tangerine Cafe.

We wanted to leave room for some snacks and for our dinner later so we split the shawarma platter.

It was plenty for two and was super tasty.  I especially liked their hummus and tabbouleh.

 After lunch we ventured to the Imagination Pavilion. The outside is awesome. It was as if the fluffy white clouds aligned themselves just for me that day.

I got a lot of attention from cast members because I wore my Figment t-shirt.

Like the majority of folks, I wish the Figment ride was back to its original form, but I still enjoy riding it.  The rest of the inside of the pavilion is pretty sad.  You would think that a place founded on imagination would have a magnificent imagination pavilion.  I'm not sure why they don't contact Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, or Bryan Fuller...heck I'm free, I'll help them out.  Some great imaginative minds could make this pavilion something truly spectacular.

We stuck around for the next showing of Captain EO because how could you not love a hero who saves the world through music and dance?

We took advantage of free soda at Club Cool.

We even had a taste of  Beverly which actually doesn't taste all that bad at first. It's the aftertaste that gets you.

We dropped by the Sea pavilion to see if we could find Nemo bath toys for a friend.....and back to World Showcase.

Oh look, the monks.

We grabbed a snack in Germany.

I also like watching the trains.

One of our goals on this trip was to visit the American pavilion. Usually when we start the World Showcase at either end we never make it to America so this time we were determined.

Now during our trip we had a little challenge going.  The challenge was to see how long we could go without hearing the song Let it Go.  Once we got through Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom without hearing it we thought we might just win.

While waiting for the next showing of the American Adventure we hung out and listened to the Voices of Liberty.  They were great and sang lots of patriotic favorites. Then one of the singers stepped into the circle and said she was going to sing a song she thought everyone would know.

 I thought it was going to be The Star Spangled Banner or something like that....no, she started belting out Let it Go.  Thwarted!

After the American Adventure we made our way back to the boat. We would have to come back tomorrow and knock some more countries off of the list. We did have just enough time to walk around the United Kingdom.

We boarded the boat, excitedly anticipating our dinner while gazing at the glorious sunset.