Friday, March 15, 2013

The House of Mouse, continued

Mom and dad in the treehouse!
Day 7 was our final day at Disney World, and we'd decided to do a bit of park hopping. We started the day at Magic Kingdom, of course, crossing off a few of our final to-dos. Hubs hadn't had a chance to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, so our first stop was hopping a ride on that. (What fun!)

Then, while hubs and Clay took yet another spin on Pirates of the Caribbean, I got us FastPasses for Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid. I met back up with my guys at The Enchanted Tiki Room, a fun animatronic show featuring singing birds. This is one of those nostalgic Disney experiences that I'm sure they have plans to tear down, but I hope they don't! We also did a quick tour of the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. I watched the movie as a kid, and I thought it was cool how they recreated it. Clay was less than impressed, however.

We hadn't spent any time on the far left-hand side of New Fantasyland yet, so we headed in that direction. On the way, we took a minute to practice our sharp shooting at the Frontierland Shootin' Arcade. We actually did pretty well! If you hit some of the more difficult targets, the arcade landscape changes, with fun figures popping up or responsive lights blinking on.

We also stopped to ride the Haunted Mansion again. This time, Clay wasn't scared at all. He knew just what to look for, and we saw all kinds of interesting things on the ride that we'd missed the first time around. We explored Belle's Village, mugging for photos outside of Gaston's Tavern. Even early in the day (It was around 10:30 a.m.), there was already a long line to get into the Beast's Castle, where the new Be Our Guest restaurant is located.

Clay catching water spurts at Epcot
By this time, our FastPasses for Under the Sea were active, so in we went. While this ride features all the fun things you remember about The Little Mermaid, it wasn't really my favorite. For whatever reason, I felt the animatronic characters here were a disservice to the movie. (Ariel looked kinda freaky, to tell you the truth.)

Having squeezed every drop of novelty out of the Magic Kingdom, we decided to hop the monorail (which we hadn't yet ridden) to Epcot. On our way out, I made it a point to stop in Adventureland for a Dole Whip, which I'd heard many good things about. Delicious! Clay and I took turns taking bites as we marched directly behind the afternoon parade down Main Street. Magical.

Riding the monorail was quick and fun, and it gave us a a glimpse of some of the other resorts on property. We rode it right to the entrance of Epcot, then headed off for more fun. We curved around the right side of the park, playing some fun carnival games they'd set up to promote the opening of Oz, the Great and Powerful. We also stopped at the playing fountains. Clay had the best time trying to catch jumping water droplets and dodge the water that hops over your head!

On the boat ride to the Hoop Dee Doo
Musical Revue!
Then we made our way to Living with the Land, which we'd missed on our previous visits to Epcot. I'm really glad we made the time to stop here! You ride in a boat through a multimedia presentation, and you also get a look behind the scenes to see where Disney grows some of the food they serve at the resort.

By the time we finished Living with the Land, we were starving! We decided to re-visit a favorite - Seasons - for lunch. YUM. This time, Clay and I both had the fish. Hubs got another stir fry bowl, and we had tiramisu for dessert. Delicious!

Full and tired, we headed back to our hotel. We had dinner reservations at the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue that night, and we wanted time to rest up and make the show on time. After our nap, we were trying to figure out the best way to get to Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, where we were having dinner. We decided to take the shuttle to the Magic Kingdom, and then take the boat to the resort from there. We hadn't ridden the boat yet, and it was a gorgeous night.

What a wonderful choice! We were able to catch a boat right when our shuttle arrived, and the brief trip over was lovely! Clay peered out the window, looking for alligators. The boat docks very near where the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue is performed, so it's a short walk. We checked in, got our table assignment, and then had a family photo made. While we waited to be seated, the kids played with hula hoops and a horseshoe toss. (There's also a small playground close by.)

The fried chicken at Hoop Dee Doo
is dee-licious!
Then, it was time to eat! They seated us, and we started with salad and cornbread. Wine, beer and sangria are also included. Once the first course was served, the lights dimmed and the show started. The show was so. Much. FUN!! Five very funny and talented performers sang songs, cracked jokes, and interacted with the audience. It was a blast. They took a short break while the main course was served (fried chicken, ribs, corn, mashed potatoes - YUM!), then picked back up later. This show features lots of audience participation, and all three of us had the best time! This was one of my favorite nights of the trip, and it was well worth the two table service credits we used for the reservation. The evening finished with strawberry shortcake and the whole audience playing along on washboards. Just a great, great night.

The next morning, it was time to go! :(  I checked our bags with the Magical Express, cashed in some of our remaining snack credits for a few breakfast items to take with us to the airport, and we were off on the shuttle! For first-time visitors, I wouldn't recommend booking a departing flight any earlier than 11 a.m. Our flight left at 11:15 a.m., which meant we had to be up early to check our bags and catch the shuttle. Any earlier, I think, would have been TOO early.

We absolutely relished our first trip to Disney World, and we will definitely be back! What an amazing place!

The House of Mouse, continued

Ready for fun at Hollywood Studios!
Day 6 was Hollywood Studios day! This was one of the days we'd originally planned to spend at the Magic Kingdom, but we swapped out due to weather. It ended up being the right decision.

Though we arrived at the park entrance about 10 minutes before opening, I was surprised to see that they were already admitting visitors to the park. Just to be safe, we trekked immediately back to Toy Story Mania to pick up FastPasses. (And, boy, was I glad. Our time window wasn't until noon, and when we did go back to ride, they'd already given out all the FastPasses for the day. If we hadn't gotten them first thing, we would have missed it!)

As happy as a nerd on Nerdmas morning
Once that was done, we knew exactly where we were headed - Star Tours. Hubs is a HUGE Star Wars fan, and Clay and I had been watching the Star Tours video on the Disney World website for months. We walked right on - no waiting - and enjoyed a great ride! The ride reminded me a little bit of Soarin' in Epcot. It combines motion and a wide screen to fool you into believing you are flying your craft through space and over alien worlds. Really, really cool. We liked it so much that we rode a second time, back-to-back.

After that, we explored the park a little. We had our pictures made with Mater and Lightning McQueen, and then we noticed the sky getting really overcast. To dodge the rain, we settled in for a theatre showing of Muppet-Vision 3-D. (This film was fun, but again, not as good as Mickey's Philharmagic. That thing is hard to beat!)

The Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie
Set Adventure was seriously awsome.
When we came out of the theatre, Clay wanted to blow off some steam. We stopped by the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure, which was completely enchanting. You're in a giant backyard,with huge blades of grass, a leaky hose, and an ant as big as a horse! Clay loved this playground as much as he loved the Boneyard at Animal Kingdom, and we stayed there for quite a while. We crawled through tunnels and slid down slides and dodged sprays of water. My only gripe? No benches or places for parents to sit!

At around this time, we were getting hungry for lunch. There was also spotty rain, so we figured it would be a good time to head inside. We'd heard that Pizza Planet served some of the best pizza in all of the Disney parks, so we headed over. While the pizza was good, the place was packed and, with all of the video games around, it was also really LOUD. We ate our pizza and got out of there!

After lunch, we headed over to Toy Story Mania to cash in our FastPasses. I loved this ride even more than the Buzz Lightyear attraction in Tomorrowland. I was really glad we'd planned ahead, or we would have missed it!

Mater and McQueen
They were only showing Lights, Motors, Action! once that day - early in the afternoon, - so we filed in and got a seat. You'll want to get there at least a good 15-20 minutes early, because it takes time to get into the stadium and get seated. Clay loved the live action show. We saw guys falling off buildings, cars jumping over obstacles and bursting through flames, all kinds of neat stunts. Lightning McQueen even made an appearance!

By this time, we were losing steam. We headed over to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show, but the line was long. Unsure we'd be able to get in, we split up. Hubs and Clay went back to the gift shop at the end of Star Tours, and I took a quick look inside The Magic of Disney Animation exhibit. I didn't stay for the film, but I loved all the models of the parks, the peeks inside the animatronic characters, and the information about Walt Disney's life. I'd recommend this attraction to anyone.
Honey, I shrunk the parents!
It was late afternoon, and it was beginning to rain in earnest. We headed back to the hotel for our usual midday break. When we awoke from our nap, it was pouring. We decided to stay in for dinner. We visited one of the restaurants at our resort, Pepper Market, for dinner. Since we were in the mood for Mexican, we had quesadillas, and hubs and I each had a big margarita. I finished up with churros dipped in chocolate sauce, and we turned in early.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The House of Mouse, continued

We loved the Magic Kingdom!
Day 5 was a Magic Kingdom day. After our customary leisurely breakfast in the club lounge, we made it over to the park in time for the opening show. This time, though, we headed straight for Adventureland's Jungle Cruise. What fun! We loved the guide's smarmy jokes, and I swear that Clay thought the fake elephants were cooler than the real ones we'd seen at Animal Kingdom the day before.

Afterwards, there was virtually no wait for any nearby rides, so we rode both the Magic Carpets of Aladdin and the Pirates of the Caribbean again. Clay wasn't sure whether or not he wanted to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, so just to be safe, we got a couple of FastPasses. Then, we set our sights on Tom Sawyer Island.

Tom Sawyer Island ended up being one of our favorite places in the Magic Kingdom. We loved all of the caves, tunnels and secret spaces. Clay adored protecting the fort from the rifle roost, and we also took time to play on the playground out there. Hubs took the raft back to the rest of the park in search of a cold drink, but Clay and I must have stayed on the island for an hour or two. When we finally did ride the raft back, we cashed in our FastPasses for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. At first, Clay was scared. But by the end of the ride, he was giggling and asking if he could go again.
Sharp shooting in Frontierland
We decided to stop by the Country Bear Jamboree, a fun (if old) animatronic musical show. Afterwards, we were getting hungry. Since the show lets out right at Pecos Bill's Tall Tale Inn and Cafe, we decided to settle in for lunch. I had a grilled chicken salad, Clay got a small burger, and hubs met up with us to eat.

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel room for a rest. We had early dinner reservations at the Crystal Palace that night, and we didn't want to be late! Refreshed, we awoke after our nap and headed back to the Magic Kingdom. This time, our sights were set on Tomorrowland. We buckled up for the Tomorrowland Speedway first (only so-so; you can ride go-karts anywhere), then realized we had just enough time to check out Disney's Carousel of Progress before making our way to dinner. I really loved Carousel of Progress. I loved the rotating theatre and the vintage feeling of the attraction. If I were to change anything, it would be the last scene. Today's technology has already surpassed what we might have dreamed only 10 years ago, and the final scene feels dated.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad became a fast favorite.
When we came out of the theatre, it was pouring down rain! Luckily, we'd brought ponchos and an umbrella in our bag, so we simply suited up and trekked over to the Crystal Palace for our dinner reservation. Unfortunately, lots of people without reservations at all (or with reservations a good deal later than ours) had the idea of hiding out in a restaurant to wait out the weather. We stood in a LONG check-in line, but once we got to the front of it, we were seated pretty quickly.

The dinner was buffet-style, with lots of variety and delicious food. As we ate, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Piglet came out to take photos and meet the kids. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal. By the time it was over, the night lights and fireworks show was just beginning outside at Cinderella's Castle. We simply sat on a bench on the porch of the Crystal Palace and had a comfortable viewing spot for the whole show! It was lovely.

Afterwards, it was still a little rainy. We decided to head back to the room for the night.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The House of Mouse, continued

Early morning at the Tree of Life
Day 4 was Animal Kingdom day. We had 8 a.m. reservations for a character breakfast inside the park - Donald's Safari Breakfast - featuring Donald, Daisy, Mickey, Minnie and Goofy. While this made for a very EARLY morning for us, it was worth it. By 9 a.m. when the park opened, we were already deep inside the park, and we were the very first people to ride on the Kilimanjaro Safari.

We arrived at the park entrance at about 7:50 a.m. They checked our names on the breakfast reservation list, and we were allowed to scan our park tickets and enter. The park is gorgeous early in the morning. The sun is still low in the sky, and the light is amazing. We got great pictures of the Tree of Life, and there were no crowds to mar our shots.

We headed to the back of the park, where the Tusker House Restaurant is located. We checked in, and then we had our picture made with Donald. Then, we were seated, they took our drink orders, and it was off to the buffet. There was so much variety! All the usual breakfast foods - biscuits, eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, fruit, pastries, etc. - plus some ethnic choices to explore. We loved the jungle juice and the prompt, friendly service.

Clay wanted to see how he measured up
to the gorilla!
Before long, all of the characters made their way around the dining room. We took pictures, got autographs, and enjoyed our breakfast for about an hour before leaving. We wanted to be out in the park right when it officially opened at 9 a.m.

Tusker House restaurant is adjacent to the entrance for the Kilimanjaro Safari. The safari is one of the most popular attractions at Animal Kingdom, so we wanted an early seat. Also, we'd heard that the animals were most active early in the day. As soon as breakfast ended, we hopped aboard. We saw so many animals! Baby elephants with their families, a huge group of hippos, baby rhinos, giraffes, everything. It was wonderful! After the safari ended, we were so close to the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail that we couldn't resist giving it a try. It was beautiful, and since it was still early in the day, not very crowded. We saw two gorillas, and Clay loved the exploration outpost where you could see and touch specific artifacts.

After we finished walking the trail, we took the Wildlife Express Train out to Rafiki's Planet Watch. Clay ended up not being interested in this part of the park at all, not even the petting zoo! We didn't stay here long, catching the train back out to the rest of the park shortly after we arrived.

DinoLand U.S.A.
Then, we headed to the Tree of Life, where we caught a fun showing of It's Tough to Be a Bug! This was a fun 3D show, but not as fun (I thought) as Mickey's Philharmagic in the Magic Kingdom. Clay got a little startled a couple of times, although not really scared.

By this time, Clay was asking us if there were any rides in Animal Kingdom, so we walked over to DinoLand U.S.A. to ride the TriceraTop Spin. After a 5 minute wait, we were up in the air. Once the ride was over, we decided to spend some time in The Boneyard to let Clay blow off a little steam. He absolutely loved it, and he could have spent the rest of the day in there. Hubs and I got a couple of bottled waters, sat on a bench in the shade, and just let him roam free. After 30 or 40 minutes, we collected him so we could catch the next showing of Finding Nemo - The Musical. It's an indoor live show, a truncated musical version of the Nemo movie was all know and love. We really enjoyed it. Performers came out into the audience, and there were some cool effects.

Dead men tell no tales!
Afterwards, it was quite late, and we were STARVED for lunch! We'd heard good things about FlameTree Barbecue, so we gave it a try. It was serviceable, but I'll admit that being from the Deep South gives one certain expectations when it comes to barbecue! At any rate, it filled our bellies and got us off our feet for a bit. Once we finished our meal, we decided to head back to the hotel room for a rest.

After our nap, we considered going back to the Animal Kingdom. The only problem with that was the park closed very early that day - 7 p.m. So instead, we headed for the Magic Kingdom. We hadn't spent any time in Adventureland or Frontierland, so we headed over for a quick look before the night show. There was no wait at The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, so up we went. (This ride is similar to both Dumbo the Flying Elephant and the TriceraTop Spin. You go up and around, and controls inside the vehicle allow you to adjust the elevation of your vehicle. So fun!) There was also no wait for the Pirates of the Caribbean, which ended up being one of Clay's favorite rides at Disney World. We walked right in and enjoyed it! Like It's a Small World, this is an old ride, but it's still fantastic. They've updated it a bit by working Capt. Jack Sparrow into several of the scenes.

When they say fireworks, they mean FIREWORKS.
By this time, we needed to stake out spots to watch the night lights show and the fireworks. We headed back to Cinderella's Castle, found ourselves a little corner of ground, and took it all in. It's completely amazing. First, the castle itself becomes a screen for a gorgeous light show, and then the fireworks start. It's visual spectacle at its finest.

We marched along with the Electrical Parade as we left the park that night.

The House of Mouse, continued

Cinderella's Castle
On Day 3, we'd originally planned to go to Hollywood Studios. However, we noticed that there was a high chance of rain in the forecast on the two later days of our trip that we'd planned to spend at the Magic Kingdom. Since the Magic Kingdom was probably the best fit for little man's age, and since we'd heard that there were many things to do at Hollywood Studios indoors, we decided to switch days. We were able to move our dinner reservation at Liberty Tree Tavern (albeit at a slightly later time) to Monday, so after a quiet breakfast in the club lounge, we were off.

I cannot emphasize to you enough the importance of getting to the park before it opens. We showed up about 20 minutes before opening, and we were able to get our bag checked, scan our park tickets and be in place for the short show they perform just outside the gate right before opening.

Plus, there is nothing like being one of the first people to walk into the Magic Kingdom on a gorgeous day. Music is playing, all of the staff are on the sidewalks, waving to you, and you really do feel as though you're in the happiest place in the world. In addition, you can head straight to your favorite rides and hop right on.

Up, up, and away!
We went directly back to New Fantasyland, taking time to admire the gorgeous mosaics in Cinderella's Castle along the way. We rode the Dumbo ride twice with no waiting, and then did the same with the Barnstormer roller coaster. What a thrill! Little man loved them both. Since the opening of New Fantasyland, there are two Dumbo rides, plus a circus-themed waiting area where you can play games and an adorable little splash pad which I imagine will be quite popular on steamy summer days. After that, we got a FastPass for the Winnie the Pooh ride and then stood in a 15-minute line for Peter Pan's Flight. (This was probably the longest line we stood in during the entire trip.) Both of these rides are indoor continuous motion rides, and they used some really cool effects. Clay loved sailing above the darkened city of London in our hot air balloon! After that, it was no waiting for It's a Small World (which, incidentally, I think is still completely wonderful, despite its age).

We rode Prince Charming's Regal Carousel and tried to pull the sword from the stone (right beside the carousel) before using our FastPass for Winnie the Pooh. Now that we'd used our outstanding FastPass, we could get another. We decided to swing by Tomorrowland and pick up a FastPass for Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, one of the most popular rides in the park. And while we were already over there, we yukked it up at the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. (This was a show very similar to Turtle Talk with Crush, where animated characters on stage actually interact with you in the audience. You could even text suggested jokes to a certain number and watch as they were used in the show. We sat right on the front row and had a marvelous time!)
A Disney classic

By this time, we were feeling our tummies rumble for lunch. We took a break at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe, where we chowed down on burgers with all of the fixings while we listened to the musical stylings of an animatronic alien. Plenty of food here, and the burgers were yummy. I also really appreciated that Disney World offered fruit and carrot sticks as sides with kids' entrees. It kept everything from being fries and nuggets constantly.

Once we'd enjoyed lunch, it was time to cash in our FastPasses for Buzz Lightyear. What fun! The ride puts you in a moving car with two guns and a control that swivels the car. Hubs and Clay used the guns to shoot at alien targets as we whizzed through space, and I helped out by turning the car in the direction necessary to maximize our alien casualties. Once we finished up at Buzz Lightyear, we couldn't resist riding the tea cups! We loved them, then hit the carousel one more time, then headed in to catch the Mickey's Philharmagic show. This was one of my favorite 3D shows in Disney World, and Clay really loved it, too.
Making friends with Mickey and Minnie

After all that activity, we were POOPED! We headed back to the hotel for a rest before our dinner reservations.

After we'd relaxed a bit, we knew it was time to get back to the Magic Kingdom. On our way in, we stopped at the Town Square Theatre to meet Mickey Mouse. (Clay had been wanting to thank him for his ears!) There was almost zero wait, and Minnie happened to be there, too! We had a quick meet and greet and a photo op before moving on.

Our dinner reservations were for 7:30 at Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square. We hadn't been to that part of the park yet, so it was fun to explore. We had some time before dinner, so we took the time to see The Hall of Presidents Show. (I thought the animatronic presidents were positively uncanny. I can't imagine the time and effort it took to create an animatronic likeness of EVERY. SINGLE. President.) When the show was over, we still had a half hour or so before dinner, so we decided to take a ride on the Liberty Belle riverboat. The ride was short (about 20 minutes), pleasant, and gave us a quick preview of a part of the park we hadn't been to yet - Frontierland. The riverboat lets you out right near the entrance to the Haunted Mansion ride. Since we had a little time, we filed right in. Clay was a little bit scared at first (which probably wasn't helped by the fact that, by now, it was dark outside.). We assured him that the ghosts he was seeing weren't real, and by the end of the ride, he was enjoying everything.

Afterwards, we saw the very end of the Electrical Parade before being able to cross the street and sit down to a delicious dinner. While we ate, we could hear the fireworks going off (probably the only reason we were able to get a reservation at such short notice), but we didn't mind. We had another 5 days to catch the night show.

Bright lights!
Hubs thought that dinner at the Liberty Tree Tavern was one of the best meals we had at Disney World, and I'm inclined to agree with him. First of all, the portions are generous. The meal is served table side, but family style. Big bowls of mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green beans, dressing, and more are served alongside a platter of meats (turkey, beef, pork, etc.) and a big basket of bread. For dessert, we had a delicious spiced cake with dried fruit topped with ice cream. Our server was a complete delight.

After dinner, we headed for the park exit. Just as we were getting towards the end of Main Street, though, the Electrical Parade came by for a second showing. We had a prime seat for the event, took tons of great pictures, and breezed out of the park and onto the shuttle when it was over.

Friday, March 08, 2013

The House of Mouse, continued . . .

Ready for a day of fun
Day 2 found us up and at 'em. After a wonderful, peaceful breakfast in the club lounge, we hopped the shuttle back to Epcot. We had purposely scheduled our park visits so as to explore Epcot first, because we worried  the little man might revolt if we insisted on taking him there after he'd seen the Magic Kingdom. I think it was a wise plan, but Clay was a bit disappointed to be going back to Epcot for a second morning. We hadn't ridden many rides on our first afternoon, and he mentioned that Disney World was not what he thought it was going to be.

So on day 2, we made it a point to show him more of the kid-centric attractions. We came in right when the park opened. While hubs took little man to get in line for The Seas with Nemo and Friends, I got us FastPasses for Soarin'. We rode Nemo two times back-to-back with no wait. This is a fun continuous ride that blends real fish in real aquariums with Nemo characters. Very well done. After the ride, we explored some of the aquariums for a bit. Pretty soon, Turtle Talk with Crush had its first showing of the day. I loved the way the computer generated character interacted with the live audience. Fun!

What a handsome Italian stranger!
Our next stop was Spaceship Earth. This was the first line we'd really stood in since arriving at Disney World. We maybe waited for about 10 minutes, and then we were off. Clay really loved this ride. Afterwards, we spent a little time at Innoventions (We played the fire hazard game, right inside the door. We learned that we are miserable firemen.) before heading towards Soarin' to use our Fastpasses. Soarin' was amazing. No wonder people love it so much. You really do feel as if you are aloft. The illusion is extremely powerful, and Clay has mentioned certain details of this ride again and again since we got home from our adventures.

We'd heard that Seasons was a good place to stop for lunch, and we weren't disappointed. What I loved about Seasons was the variety of healthy food available. Roast chicken with veggies, pork chops, fish with rice, and interesting stir frys provided plenty of nutrition, and this was only a counter service meal. (Plus, the desserts were huge and delicious!)

We got healthy lunches and then decided to head back to the hotel for a midday nap. (This was a brilliant idea, and one we repeated every day. I can't imagine how Clay would have managed the demands of the trip without a midday rest. Even hubs and I took advantage, as we were completely beat!)

Prior to our trip, I'd ordered a special delivery for our room - a pair of ears with Clay's name embroidered on the back. The package also came with an autograph book, pen, and a few snacks. The card read "Welcome to Disney World. -from your favorite mouse." The gift was waiting for us in the room when we came back for our break. We also had a message from Goofy on our voicemail, welcoming us to Disney World. Little man was enthralled by both. He wore his ears A LOT during the trip, and it was completely adorable.

That night, we had reservations in Epcot for dinner, so we headed back. I'd booked us at Tutto Italia in Italy. After squeezing in another ride on Spaceship Earth (no wait this time!), we arrived and were seated promptly. We ordered. Clay's fruit cup came out. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. We'd been there for nearly an hour, and our food hadn't arrived. Our waiter apologized, but the bloom was unfortunately off the rose. Our food finally came, and though it was good (I had fish with asparagus, Clay had pasta, and hubs had lasagna.), it was hard to enjoy it after the service had been so poor. We finished our meal and left. When I return to Disney World, I will not visit this restaurant.

The phone's for YOU!
The long wait had sucked up valuable park time, but we decided to make the most of what time we had left. Clay picked up the receiver in one of the iconic red phone booths in the U.K., and he was delighted to hear someone chat with him in a British accent. Quite by accident, we also stumbled across Winnie the Pooh and Tigger in the U.K. They were tucked inside a building, no one seemed to know they were there, and so we stopped to meet them and have our photos made. (We were extremely lucky that Clay didn't care much about meeting characters and getting their autographs. Characters were everywhere and so were the loooong lines to see them. He only wanted to meet a few specific characters - Mickey Mouse and Goofy - and we'd already scheduled a breakfast with them. Whew!)

By this time, guests were already staking out spots for Illuminations. Hubs decided to head back to the hotel, and, since we'd seen Illuminations the night before, Clay and I chose to catch an evening showing of The American Adventure, which was a wonderful show mixing animatronic figures with film. (I got a little verklempt at the end of it. And I also wondered if they have to edit it periodically as some of the individuals featured endure public scandal. Lance Armstrong has a screen-wide close up in the closing tapestry.) After the film was over, it was back to Coronado Springs for the night.

More to come . . .

The House of Mouse!

Chinese acrobats at Epcot
In my lifetime, I've traveled to lots of interesting destinations. I've been all over the southeast U.S.; overseas to the U.K., Scotland, Lebanon, France, Spain, and Italy; up to New York City; out to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, etc. But in all my travels, I'd never been to Disney World. Neither had hubs. And, of course, neither had little man.

We decided to remedy that. At 5, we thought Clay was the perfect age for a first trip. I bought my customary three guidebooks, did some research, and booked us a week on property for early February.

We chose the week BEFORE the week Presidents' Day falls in because it was supposed to be a fairly low-crowd time. (And, having been, I'm sure I'd HATE to see it at peak crowd time. Yikes.) Disney World was also offering a discount - 30 percent off room rates - that we took advantage of. We also booked one of the dining plans: one snack, one counter service meal, and one table service meal per day.

(I was flabbergasted to learn how far in advance I had to make table service reservations. I plotted out our whole itinerary, though, and did it. Lucky thing, too. During our trip, we saw some of the wait lines for those diners without reservations. Yeesh.)

Luckily, Orlando is only one direct flight away from Jackson. We breezed through the airport at home, and two hours later, we were in sunny Florida. We'd checked our bags all the way through to Disney's Magical Express, so we didn't pick them up at the Orlando airport. We just found our way to the shuttle, and we were off.

Hubs and little man at Coronado Springs
Check in was a bit long-ish, just because the nice woman at the front desk was explaining a lot to me. Our room keys were also our meal plan cards and our park tickets, so guests who'd booked vacation packages really only had one thing to keep up with during their stay. (Handy, no? I thought this was brilliant.)

We chose to book a room at Coronado Springs. It offers rooms with two queen beds in them, and it is also one of the hotel/resorts on property that serves conventions and business travelers. (For me, this was a plus. After being in the parks all day, I thought I could use a quiet retreat in the evenings.)

Because we got the 30 percent off rate, we upgraded a club-level room. This room was very close to the #1 bus stop on the property, and it also gave us access to the club lounge, where we enjoyed free breakfast every morning (baked goods, fruit, coffee, cereal, yogurt, etc.) and snacks (chips, dip, bottled drinks, etc.) late in the day. We absolutely loved this resort and the club lounge. Coronado Springs also has a fun pool, but we never got around to using it.

We arrived shortly after lunchtime, so we checked in and then decided to explore Epcot for a little bit. Since the World Showcase opens later than the rest of Epcot in the mornings, we figured we'd start there that afternoon and perhaps return early the next day to see the other parts of the park.
We ambled through all of the countries, riding Maelstrom and checking out the stave church in Norway. Clay loved the big stone calendar in Mexico, and we caught a performance of Chinese acrobats in China. (We also loved the Reflections of China movie there. I was amazed by the 360 effect. Very immersive.)
Goofing off in Canada
We had dinner at Biergarten that night to the music of an oom-pah band. I thought the food was good (lots of variety, and who doesn't love apple strudel?), but hubs wasn't completely won over. (Clay, however, gobbled sausage and potatoes like it was going out of style!) Afterwards, we caught the O, Canada! film in (of course) Canada, then staked out a spot near the entrance-side of the lagoon for Illuminations, the fireworks show. It was amazing, but I hated fighting crowds and packing in like sardines to see it. So many of the best viewing spots were reserved for private parties that it was disappointing.

Due to our careful positioning near the entrance, though, we quickly made it out of the park and onto the shuttle. We returned to our rooms to find our luggage waiting for us, and we gratefully sank into bed.

More to come . . .

Awesome television

A few months ago, I discovered Scandal. The show is about Olivia Pope, a campaign-fixer-turned-crisis-manager in D.C. She's brought in to help with the presidential campaign of Fitzgerald Grant. The two start a torrid love affair, he wins the election, and she becomes his press secretary.

The affair gets to be too much for Olivia, so she breaks it off and starts her own crisis management firm. Each week, she and her team handle different high-profile cases while she deals with losing the love of her life.

And all of that is well and good. But the reason you really want to watch this show is for the clothes.

Oh. Em. Geeeee. Gorgeous designer suits in a very neutral color palette. Lots of greys, pastels, white, the occasional camel or black piece. Long necklaces. Prada bags. Interesting necklines. Structured blazers. Coats that will make you weep. (You can watch a whole video here that gives you an idea.)

I watched season one on Netflix, then was able to watch all of season two online before season three started, so I'm all caught up. The drama, the Washington insider feel, the steamy scenes, all the quirky little supporting characters, all of that stuff is great.

But the clothes. The CLOTHES.

Watching this show has been unhealthy for my bank account. While I won't be buying anything designer for quite a while, I have managed to approximate some of her looks using affordable pieces. Amazing. Great stuff.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Hobbit. Meh.

By some miracle, hubs and I got to go to a movie sans little man during the holiday season. What a pity we wasted the opportunity on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

We chose The Hobbit because we loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies and because it seemed like a film we'd want to see on the big screen. And it wasn't completely bad. I guess. We hadn't done any research on the film before going to the theatre, and I was very disappointed at the end of the movie to learn that it wasn't complete. Not only that, Peter Jackson is going to stretch this ONE book (Tolkien's The Hobbit is only 300-ish pages.) into THREE movies. (Cha-ching much?)

As I mentioned, while I didn't think the movie was terrible in and of itself, I don't think I'll be back to see the following two movies in the trilogy.

Money Matters

In the weeks both before and after the presidential election, talk of the economy was on everyone's lips. As a liberal arts major, I began thinking to myself, "Self, you need to know more about general economic theory. How do various schools of thought believe the economy works? Where are the different camps coming from?" I took to Amazon to find some books that would help me learn more.

I ended up with two books, each from widely divergent economic philosophies: Meltdown by Thomas E. Woods (with a foreword by Ron Paul) and Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan.

In Meltdown, Woods proposes that any government intervention in the way the economy works masks what the market is trying to tell us regarding supply/demand, creative destruction, price, etc. He calls for the abolishment of the Fed and as close to a completely free market as we can achieve. I applaud Woods for rightly blaming both major political parties for meddling in the market and for being an outspoken critic of government bailouts. However, I don't see his recommendations being implemented anytime soon. Indeed, the staunchly vested interests of power players on both sides of the aisle guarantee that government meddling in markets will be a reality in the United States for the foreseeable future. So while the book is interesting in theory, I'm not sure how applicable it is in the U.S. And Woods' writing can be somewhat plodding, so this book took me a while to read and digest.

In Naked Economics, Wheelan hews more to the Keynesian model of economics, where government can and does exert a strong influence on the economy through various policies. Wheelan is a witty writer, and I found this to be a great book for someone like me, who didn't go to business school. It took a potentially dry subject and made it quite interesting. (And it is interesting, really. Reading this book, I began to see economics as the science of people plus value. How do you incent people to do what you want them to do? How do you disincent them to keep them from doing what you don't want them to do? Fascinating stuff, once you start really thinking about it.) Though there were some quotes that made me cringe ("Government is your friend." Really, Wheelan? How so? Depends on who's running it, don't you think?), I left this book thinking it provided a much more realistic picture of what does and can happen than Woods' tome. Whereas Woods excoriates the current system and calls for a complete overhaul, Wheelan acknowledges that, at least in the U.S., government influence on the economy isn't going anywhere. Therefore, he talked about how those policies work and don't work.

At any rate, I learned so much from reading both of these books. Wheelan also has a book titled Naked Statistics, and I may pick it up later.

King Tortas: Get there

If you enjoy authentic Mexican food, get yourself to King Tortas! I stopped in for a quick lunch recently, and though the atmosphere leaves a bit to be desired, the food is delicious. We had amazing tacos and quesadillas, and the prices are a real bargain. In addition, there are shelves and cases of authentic Mexican pastries and baked goods, items you won't find in many corners of the metro area. Do yourself a favor and get there! The restaurant is located on County Line Road in Ridgeland in an unassuming little strip mall. The sign out front says "Omonia," but I think that's a vestige of a previous restaurant that occupied the space.

Playing catch up!

Yikes! It's been November since I've posted! A quick catch-up:

Christmasy Canton!
November was busy and fun! Highlights: I saw a wonderful production of The Great Gatsby at New Stage Theatre, shared a lovely dinner with Stace at 119 Underground, hosted a hearty fall dinner for my extended family (Shaker apple cake for dessert - Yum!), and attended an enlightening lecture on Welty's love of gardening at Millsaps College as part of the Arts & Lecture Series. (We ate dinner at the Fairview Inn beforehand - delicious rabbit pappardelle!) We had a gorgeous Thanksgiving dinner. Cousins made their way to us all the way from Detroit for our celebration, so I finally had a reason to cook a 14-pound turkey again! Clay and I also planted a fall garden. What fun!

Clay with one of our harvests
We celebrated Christmas with our traditional trips to Canton and Winners' Circle Park to see the gorgeous lights. Clay and I baked Christmas cookies (See our fave recipe for pistachio sandwich cookies here.), and we also made time to swing by the Mississippi Museum of Art to admire their gorgeous Bethlehem Tree. (I managed to tour the Capitol Building, beautifully decorated for the holidays, one day during my lunch break. The staff there brought in groups of school children to sing carols during the holiday months. The rotunda has amazing acoustics!) Hubs and I had a fun date night, going out to Bravo! for dinner and enjoying the musical A Christmas Memory at New Stage. Our harvest came in - tons of radishes, carrots, even some fennel! We used it up in various ways - pork roast with seasonal veggies, baguettes slathered with butter and topped with salted radish slices, beef stew. We still have some green onions growing out there. We'll pull all of those up shortly to make room for our SPRING veggies!

We spent most of January recovering from all of our celebrating and planning ahead for our February trip to Disney (a full trip report is forthcoming). Since our return from that adventure, I've been keeping busy with rehearsals for the annual New Stage benefit performance and work-related activities.

Never a dull moment!