Christmas Trip Day 5

Whoever invented the word “bittersweet” was obviously getting ready to depart for a Disney park on the last day of their vacation. Leaving your room that last day brings with it a whole slew of emotions. Obviously you are excited and happy to be going to a Disney park: It’s the early morning, the sun hasn’t fried your eyebrows off yet and the screaming children in triple-wide strollers are still making their parents’ lives miserable, but in the comfort of their own room. At the same time, you know you have to leave for home later that day and return to real life. Boo.

Ashley and I will both tell you the same thing: knowing we were going back to Disney in May made it a LOT easier to leave on this trip. It probably sounds both asinine and childish to say that we didn’t want to leave, even though we had been for eight days in August and four days in December, but it really was hard to leave. Going from this fantasy-land back to real life is hard. Leaving in May will probably be harder than our two previous trips since we won’t know when we will return; it won’t be for a while, I can tell you that.

Anyway, the last day of our trip consisted of a visit to EPCOT. While touring with the dining plan we grew to love the place. The rides are sufficient, World Showcase is always fun to walk around, but the food; the food is amazing. Now, having to actually pay out of pocket for this food isn’t amazing. BUT, when we had “free” dining we could eat practically anywhere we wanted and order whatever we wanted. But I digress…

Once again, we arrived prior to the park opening and waited to enter the park. This time though we noticed a section of turnstiles all the way to the right that weren’t turnstiles. Instead, they were gold poles with a globe on top adorned with the silhouette of Mickey’s head. They have them arranged in a “V” shape with the point sticking toward the crowd. Apparently this must allow better traffic flow.

Much to our chagrin, we were informed that only those with their park tickets on their KTTW could use that entrance. Those of us with paper tickets had to use the normal entrances. Because of the new entrances being constructed, there were fewer of the normal turnstiles.

WELL THEN! I see that Disney really values those that pay extra money to enjoy their parks YEAR ‘ROUND. You can get 20% 10% off merchandise and get a little better deal on your room but you have to wait longer to enter the park. Also, you have to continue to stick your finger on the green light that never reads it correctly the first time. Unfortunately  you can’t use the new RFID technology to enter the park. Unfortunately, you can’t use the newer, nicer, quicker entrances.

After I got over myself we made our way toward Tron Track. We had good luck a few days prior going there first thing so we tried again. This time, however, the line had already started entering the ride so, even though we went single rider, there was already a line forming in the loading bay. We still only waited about 74 seconds before getting on the ride. One ride was enough for us as we were even less impressed with it than the first time we rode it. Like I said before, my next post will be about the differences between Test Track and Tron Track. It’s not really called Tron Track but it’s an easy way to distinguish between the two.

After leaving Tron Track, we headed toward The Land and made it to Soarin’ before the crowds got crazy busy so we snagged FASTPASSes and got in the regular line. We waited the shortest amount of time we have ever waited to ride. We walked through the empty queue, got to the part where the attendant tells you to go right or left, went left, walked down the hallway, turned toward the loading bays, walked to the last one, told the cast member “two” and were directed toward the last two seats in the front row. We did all of this without stopping once. About 30 seconds later Patrick Warburton showed up on screen and gave us our instructions.

Every time I ride Soarin’ I like it even more. This flight was especially memorable because a very young girl, maybe four-years-old, was two seats down from me. She had her grandfather to her left (next to me) and her grandmother to her right. She was SO scared to ride. She wasn’t putting up a fight but clung to them like the ground was molten lava. They got her strapped in and she assumed the position: legs tucked into her chest, right arm wrapped around her grandmothers and left armed wrapped even tighter around her grandfathers.

Take off.

I heard a little squeal and murmurs of reassurance from the grandparents as we wooshed forward and up. Moments later we were soarin’ over California and the awestruck look on her face was priceless. If only I could feel the way she felt in those few minutes I would be the happiest man on earth. It almost melted my heart how adorable it was.

Side Note:I can be an emotional guy but I don’t throw the word “adorable” out much. This was ADORABLE.

I’ve read of somebody’s face “lighting up” but never experienced it first hand. THIS is an example of why I love going to Disney;  I could just see a memory being formed that she would remember for the rest of her life: The first time she rode Soarin’.

After I reconfirmed the meaning of life we hopped on Living with the Land. We got to sit in the very front row which was actually really cool. It may be slow and boring when you are a child but I appreciate Living with the Land now. Honestly, I’d rather ride it than Tron Track.

Feeling too good about life, I resolved to becoming a hypocrite by eating breakfast at Sunshine Seasons and dragged Ashley down with me. Neither of us ever understood why you would get to EPCOT before it opens, walk to The Land with the herd of people and immediately eat breakfast. What a waste of park time.

Well, we had about 20 minutes before our FASTPASS for Soarin’ was good and didn’t have much else to do before World Showcase opened so we got a couple small things and joined the Sunshine Seasons Breakfast Club. It wasn’t anything special but it wasn’t bad either. While deciding what to get for brunch we also perused the menu to see if we could find anything we would want for lunch. I really want to like Sunshine Seasons but can never find anything on any of the menus that looks appetizing.

We actually waited longer to ride using our FASTPASS than we did 45 minutes earlier going through the standby line. Even with the longer wait it was probably only 10 or 15 minutes.

Once we left I convinced Ashley to ride Imagination even though she isn’t too crazy about the ride. Compared to our Honeymoon ride, this one was MUCH better. The cast members operating the ride didn’t look like they wanted to kill themselves and there were other people in our ride train; overall, not too shabby.

The only place more colorful than Imagination is Art of Animation.

The only place more colorful than Imagination is Art of Animation.

There are a bunch of dirty things I could say about this but I'm not feeling it today.

There are a bunch of dirty things I could say about this but I’m not feeling it today.

This is the best picture I could get of Figment.

This is the best picture I could get of Figment, which isn’t saying much.

After getting off the ride we really didn’t have anything to do until World Showcase opened so we walked around to the back – or side depending on how you look at it – of Imagination to use the restroom. It’s actually a peaceful place back there. Since it was sometime between 10 and 11 a.m. the park wasn’t busy yet and because not many people ride Imagination, the area behind it was even less busy. There are a couple of benches situated with a nice view of Spaceship Earth.

If you are looking for a place to unwind a little at EPCOT, try the bathroom area behind Imagination.

If you are looking for a place to unwind a little at EPCOT, try the bathroom area behind Imagination.

There is also another guide animal bathroom area back here. If I'm counting right that's three of them at EPCOT: Imagination, Tron Track/Mouse Gear/Norway pavilion.

There is also another guide animal bathroom area back here. If I’m counting right that’s three of them at EPCOT: Imagination, Tron Track/Mouse Gear and the Norway pavilion. There are two that I know of at the Magic Kingdom: Tomorrowland bathrooms and the walkway between Storybook Circus and Tomorrowland.

We did a decent job of killing some time before World Showcase opened and only had to wait a couple of minutes before rope drop.

Like taking pictures of the Monorail for instance.

Like taking pictures of the Monorail for instance.

Since we had toured all of the countries from Canada to Germany a few days prior we didn’t spend a whole lot of time at any of them. We still had to go through China, Norway and Mexico and had to be back at the hotel in time to finish packing, eat lunch and be at the Magical Express bus stop before our appointed pickup time.

I had enough time in the United Kingdom to take this picture of the phone booths. They actually work. They also remind me of the TARDIS a little.

I had enough time in the United Kingdom to take this picture of the phone booths. They actually work. They also remind me of the TARDIS a little.

As we walked past Japan we decided to go back to the Mitsukoshi Department Store and grab a few more snacks. Ashley got these coffee hard candy things that she loved. I got a variety pack of fruit flavored gummies. The name is in Japanese (I’m assuming) so I can’t tell you what they are actually called but the name appears to be two Japanese symbols and “100.” They are horrible. They definitely aren’t Hi-Chews. We got some of those and loved them.

Candy, candy, candy, candy, candy.

Candy, candy, candy, candy, candy.

I looked at the description of this candy bar, at least the English portions, and didn't see anywhere on it saying it would actually get you crunk if you ate it. Disappointment immediately set in.

I looked at the description of this candy bar – the English portions at least – and didn’t see “Will get you crunk” anywhere on it. Disappointment immediately set in.

We continued our speed walk around the countries…

Festive Italy.

Festive Italy.

When I said we still had to tour China I meant we still had to walk past it slower than we walked past the first eight countries. We got to see Mulan though!

Let's get down to business.

Let’s get down to business.

I actually felt bad for Mulan. She was standing there with her photographer waiting for children to come up and get pictures taken.

Three tween girls came running through the pavilion and the photographer asked them, “Would you like a picture with Mulan?”

They though about it for a few seconds.

“No,” they all answered and continued running. OUCH!

She may not know it but I got a picture “with” her. All I need is Photoshop.

We continued on to Norway with Maelstrom (and money, obviously) on the mind.

Apparently buildings really are this colorful in Norway.

Apparently buildings really are this colorful in Norway.

Maelstrom is easily the best ride in World Showcase, which isn’t saying much. Compared to the Gran Fiesta Tour it has a drop, backward movement and trolls; that’s hard to top that no matter how you look at it. Going as soon after 11 a.m. as possible will leave you with virtually no wait. We have been there around 2 p.m. before and the wait was 20 or 30 minutes. It’s a fun ride but not that fun.

I’m not sure if my brother actually loved this ride when he was a kid or if my dad played it up so much that he convinced him to like it but he always wanted to ride it. He’ll get to ride it for the first time in a while in May.

There are even a few polar bears inside.

There are even a few polar bears inside.

Maelstrom exits into one of my favorite gift shops. I know, I know; it’s a shock that a Disney ride exits into a gift shop but this one has some nice, non-Disney merchandise. Of course, most of it is meant for a Norwegian climate which is drastically different from Central Florida’s climate but you can always plan for the winter. Or just buy stuff because it looks cool, that’s what I do.

Mexico was the only pavilion left on our agenda. We love the atmosphere inside and the Gran Fiesta Tour is a fun way to spend 10 minutes.

The best picture I could squeeze out of the ELPH.

The best picture I could squeeze out of the ELPH. It’s SO cool inside. I want to live here.

We perused the shopping kiosks a bit but didn’t come away with anything. Before leaving the pavilion we hopped on Gran Fiesta Tour to find Donald-o.

The Mayan pyramid/volcano.

The Mayan pyramid/volcano. Once again, maxing out the ELPH.

Gran Fiesta Tour is very lively, I will give it that.

Gran Fiesta Tour is very lively, I will give it that.

It's basically a Mexiaon it's a small world with a hunt of a duck hunt.

It’s basically a Mexican it’s a small world with a dash of duck hunt thrown in.

My life motto.

My life motto.

Here's the dash of duck hunt I was telling you about.

Here’s the dash of duck hunt I was telling you about.

And then there's this...

And then there’s this…

And that’s about it for Mexico. We left the pavilion and headed toward the park entrance. At this point it was around noon and the Magical Express was coming to pick us up around 2:30 from POP Century. As we made our way to the front of the park we thought about hitting Spaceship Earth one last time. After looking at the line we laughed and continued on.

This was when fear struck. We left our bags in the room knowing we would be back to pick them up, eat lunch and wait for the Magical Express. What I didn’t think about was the fact that check-out was at 11 a.m. and our bus pickup was a few hours after. At that moment, we were still in EPCOT and were supposed to have checked out over an hour prior. OH NO.

I freaked out, told Ashley what happened and practically ran to the bus stop for POP Century. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to reassure me or was upset about my brain fart but she seemed much more calm than I. Luckily, we only waited a couple of minutes for our “motor coach” and departed shortly after. The whole ride I couldn’t stop my legs from shaking.

What if they move our bags? What if they charge us for an extra night? What if we can’t get back in the room to get our bags? 

Every possible scenario was running through my mind. When we got back to the hotel Ashley suggested letting the front desk know and seeing if we could get any help. After arguing with her about it I finally agreed and told the cast member at the desk what happened. He said he would radio somebody to let us in. We walked to the room to wait outside.

Since I didn’t have anything better to do I tried our room key, figuring it wouldn’t work since we had “checked out” at 11. To my surprise, it worked! We got in our room, quickly packed our stuff and as we were finishing the guy he radioed showed up and I told him our key worked. He didn’t seem surprised and walked away. We got all our stuff and carried it to the food court.

We found an empty booth close to the gift shop and set all our belongings down. I sat with them as Ashley went and got us both cheeseburgers and fries. Since it was our last meal at Disney we went all out and got dessert too. I got my favorite: Mickey ice cream bar. I don’t know how much cocaine they put in those things but apparently it’s enough because they are absolutely delicious beyond words. Ashley found a cupcake she had read about on the Disney Food Blog: The King cupcake.

Chocolate cupcake with banana filling, peanut butter frosting and candied bacon bits on top. She liked it but said the candied bacon was strange. I tried some and agree.

Chocolate cupcake with banana filling, peanut butter frosting and candied bacon bits on top. She liked it but said the candied bacon was strange. I tried some and agree.

We sat around for a little while longer until moving to the Magical Express pickup area and waiting 15 more minutes. When it arrived we boarded and bid farewell to Disney. The rest of the trip to the airport was inconsequential. We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, found our terminal and gate and found two seats next to each other.

Our path home went through Baltimore. We quickly found out that the flight to Baltimore before ours was delayed due to severe fog. Our flight was schedule for 4:30 p.m. so we weren’t too worried yet. We started waiting.

About 30 minutes before our flight was to board they announced that the flight to Baltimore before us had been cancelled. There was a collective groan and lines started forming to the various Delta podiums in the area. We both started to worry. More waiting.

A Delta employee came over the speaker and said something to the effect of: We don’t know if you flight will be delayed or cancelled or not but we have to board the plane as if it were on time. We may end up having to remove you all from the plane if it does get delayed or cancelled but we have to board you as if everything is on time. More waiting.

We boarded the plan: Very last row. More waiting.

This, how do I put this, shrew of a woman brought a paper dress on the plane and was fussing about it not being wrinkled in the overhead compartment. The dress was her daughters who appeared to have been in some sort of pageant show in Florida. I’ve never seen any of the reality shows about child beauty pageants but I imagine this woman was a typical pageant mom. She bossed her battered and beaten husband around. Her daughter was a princess (read: brat). And she was the loudest, most annoying, most selfish vixen/spitfire/wench/hellion I have ever had the displeasure of witnessing.

She started arguing with the flight attendants about where to put the dress. They kept telling her it was a full flight and that the overhead compartments would most likely be full so it may be unavoidable. She kept saying it couldn’t be ruined. Eventually she threw a fit, cut off her nose to spite her face, and ordered her husband to “move it somewhere. I don’t even care anymore.” She was a real treat. More waiting.

The same Delta employee from earlier walked onto the plane, “Remember when I told you we might have to remove everybody from the plane? Well, it’s happening. Sorry” Another collective groan, this time with more complaining. We were in the back so everybody in front of us got to depart first. More waiting.

Once we finally grabbed our bags and exited the plane we heard the tail end of the announcement saying all flights to Baltimore that night had been cancelled. Crap.

We made our way to a podium to find a new flight. The best they could find was a non-stop from Orlando to Grand Rapids at 10.am. the next morning. OK, I guess that will do.

We take our new tickets and wander around. Neither of us want to stay the night nor do we want to pay for a cab and a hotel room. We go to another podium to see if maybe there was still a way to get into Detroit or Chicago that night. More waiting.

Finally it was our turn. We asked the lady if there were any flights to Chicago or Detroit and she immediately said “No” without even looking. Instead, she was looking at Facebook or something on her smart phone. So, we walked away and stood around some more. After contemplating our options we got in line at another podium. More waiting.

This time, the Delta employee, while short tempered, was helpful and found us a flight to Detroit through Atlanta that night. I quickly checked with my brother that picking us up in Detroit around midnight instead of in Grand Rapids around 11 would be OK. He said yeah. Hallelujah!

We had a couple of hours to waste now as our flight to Atlanta didn’t leave until after 7 p.m. so we got McDonald’s. We finished eating and went over to our new gate. More waiting.

We boarded the plane with no incident, took off, landed in Atlanta and only had to walk five or six gates down before waiting for our final flight into Detroit. As I was watching the Sunday Night Football game Ashley told me to look behind me. I asked why.

“Look at what that guy is eating,” she said. I turned around and immediately spotted the gentleman with a Chick-fil-A sandwich in his hand. A present from the fast food gods! I immediately stood up, asked her if she wanted one (to which she replied yes) and walked out into the terminal. I had no idea where I was going but I have a sixth sense for Chick-fil-A so it wasn’t long before I saw the glowing red box with the white chicken outline beckoning me. It was a Chick-fil-A Express so they only had sandwiches but I’ll be dipped if that wasn’t the finest chicken sandwich I have ever consumed.

After everything that happened that day – almost losing our luggage (which probably wasn’t going to happen), boarding a plane, un-boarding a plane, getting our flight cancelled, changing flights two times, waiting for almost five hours in the airport, knowing that we wouldn’t be home until probably 3 a.m. and knowing I had to get up as 6 a.m. for work – that little slice of Heaven was the redemption I was seeking.

With my belly full and spirit revived we waited a little while longer, boarded the plane, flew to Detroit, found my brother and rode home.

Our journey definitely encountered the most difficult travel situations we have ever had to deal with. Little did I know that Ashley forgetting her ID at the airport in Grand Rapids would be one of many travel hardships yet to come in those five days.

Going to Disney around Christmastime is something everybody should do. Disney and Christmas both possess magical qualities themselves. Put the two together and it’s blissful. I don’t know when we will be back to Disney at Christmastime again but I assure you it will happen. It’s hard to resist two of your favorite things in one package.

Christmas Trip Day 3

After two straight nights of holiday delight, we were ready for a big day full of EPCOT fun. It wasn’t until day three that not taking a break in the afternoon really started to effect me. Right around 3 p.m. I was almost sleep walking. But, before all that we had plenty to do!

The haze surrounding the ball would have looked much better had somebody who knew what they were doing took this picture.

The haze surrounding the ball would have looked much better had somebody who knew what they were doing took this picture.

The night before at dinner Josh had enlightened us to the fact that the single rider line at Test Track was significantly shorter since it’s renovation. The reason being that people in the normal line have to take five to 10 minutes to design their ride vehicle before actually getting on the ride. In the single rider line, you can skip that whole part and go right to the loading dock. With this in mind, we headed straight for Tron Track when the park opened 15 minutes early, right on cue.

There’s nothing quite like being at a Disney park when it opens. There is inspirational sounding music blaring from the speakers throughout the park. Cast members are smiling, dancing and waving. The park is still mostly empty and the intense Florida sun hasn’t honed in yet. The best part, though,  is all of the people running. I never get tired of watching a family run, trying to keep everybody together as their backpacks and sunglasses bounce and fall off, yelling and screaming at each other like they are running from mortar shells, only to see them three groups in front of us in line for the ride everybody and their brother is heading to.

This morning Tron Track must have had a few issues because by the time we made it back to that area the regular line hadn’t started moving yet. Because of this, the line extended all the way out to where the JAMMitors play outside of the “tunnel” between Innoventions East/Electric Umbrella and Mouse Gear. I think this helped us in the long run.

As we headed toward the single ride entrance I snatched Ashley’s annual pass and got two FASTPASSes. I grabbed the passes and joined her as she was heading into the single rider line.

The new queue inside Tron Track is sleek and modern. All of the fake auxiliary tests and car parts are gone. There are no more royal blue pyramids sticking out from the walls. Instead, there is a lot of stainless steel and a few concept cars on display. While it looks at lot more modern, it’s not as fun as it used to be.

This is the only decent picture I have of the new queue. I was hurrying through the line so I'm going to call this one an "action shot."

This is the only decent picture I have of the new queue. I was hurrying through the line so I’m going to call this one an “action shot.”

We didn’t get to see much of it as the single rider line peels off to the left quickly after entering the building. You walk through a few hallways and through the design lab for single riders where you can creep-ily peer down on the normal line people creating their vehicle. Ashley and I plowed through this room and headed to the loading bay.

To our surprise there was no line. NONE. We kept going forward and were sent right to numbers 4 and 5. The couple in front of us had 1 and 2. Our vehicle arrived, looking very much like the old ones with a few Tron-like decals glued on, and we hopped in. We didn’t know it at the time but we, and the couple in front of us, were the first ones on the ride that morning. Crazy stuff.

This is the RFID reader by the loading docks. You scan the RFID card storing your custom car so the ride knows which vehicles NOT to display as you go through the ride.

This is the RFID reader by the loading docks. You scan the RFID card storing your custom car so the ride knows which vehicles NOT to display as you go through the ride. This was from another time we rode, when we weren’t the first ones on the ride.

The only real difference inside the vehicle is the screen in front of the middle seat of both rows; they show you different stuff than before. As far as differences with the ride, there really are too many to go into great detail here. Ashley gave me a great suggestion: Once I’m done with all of the days of our trip, I’m going to write another post about Tron Track and the changes from the old ride, hearkening back to the original idea of this blog.

For now I will say there is a lot less going on in the ride and a lot of neon lights. The outside speed run is essentially the same.

They redesigned the show room at the end to include a ton of interactive games you can play using the car you designed at the beginning. There are still a good amount of Chevrolet cars on display and an even greater amount of Chevrolet/Disney merchandise for sale.

You may have noticed there aren’t many pictures of Tron Track. Well, I didn’t take a ton because the ride itself is either dark or shaky. Some parts are so dark the only real light comes from the neon Tron lights, and a picture with my poor little ELPH would look terrible. Other parts you move around so much that, even though there is enough light, the picture would still be terrible. I’m sure you can find better pictures on other Disney websites. Kenny the Pirate has some great ones.

After Test Track we headed toward Soarin’ via Mouse Gear. We got to Soarin’ and the line was already 30+ minutes and FASTPASS was over two hours out. We knew we would be back in a couple of mornings and could do it then so we left and headed for The Seas with Nemo and friends before going to Sum of All Thrills.

The manatees were very active that morning.

The manatees were very active that morning.

Our Honeymoon was the first time on Sum of All Thrills for either of us so we were both excited to go on it again. This time, we designed the most insane rocket ride we could. We always picked the most intense option and it turned out just as we wanted. I don’t know about Ashley but I felt a little queasy afterward. For some reason I can’t remember what we named our ride this time. All I remember is that the ride was crazy and the teenage boy behind us in line kept TOUCHING ME. He obviously had no feel for person space because he was all up in mine. Apparently he even bumped into Ashley a couple of times. I was about to whoop some ass.

Hidden advertisement at it's finest.

Hidden advertisement at it’s finest.

At this point we still had over an hour until World Showcase opened and had already hit the three main attractions. Since we were right by it we went on Ellen’s Energy Adventure. It’s obviously not the most exciting ride but it’s inside, you sit down for most of it, it’s dark and it’s a great place to rest for 45 minutes. Because of this, and our lack of enthusiasm for the new and improved Tron Track, we never used out FASTPASSes.

We got off Ellen with almost half an hour to spare but we made our way toward World Showcase anyway. They let you walk into World Showcase as far as the bridge between the UK and France on the one side. I’m not sure how far you can get past Mexico on the other side. We had a reservation at Biergarten around 1 p.m. as part of the Candlelight Processional Dining Package so we knew exactly how much time we had to get from the UK to Germany.

The UK pavilion. Rose and Crown is behind me.

The UK pavilion. Rose and Crown is behind me.

Looking back at UK with the colors blown out.

Looking back at UK with the colors blown out.

To waste 15-20 minutes we sat on a few benches, watched a squirrel run back and forth across the walkway, checked out the gift shop by the International Gateway and laughed at all of the people coming from the Yacht & Beach Club, Boardwalk and Swan & Dolphin resorts.

My family has always understood that to effectively tour Disney you have to arrive before the park opens, stay until early afternoon, go back to the hotel and take a break until evening, then go back for a while. Well, these people don’t get it. They are rolling in around 10:45 a.m. and wonder why the lines for everything are so long already. Naive cluelessness I suppose.

From "across the pond"

From “across the pond”

Right at 11 a.m. the incredibly dorky cast member decked out in Perry the Platypus gear lowered the rope and the stampede toward France began. Since we had a late lunch we stopped at the bakery and split a ham and cheese sandwich. Per usual from the bakery, it was delicious. Fairly soon after our trip ended they expanded the bakery. Now it’s HUGE! Check out the Disney Food Blog review of it.

It was so much nicer going right at 11 when there weren't 500 people cramming into the little building.

It was so much nicer going right at 11 when there weren’t 500 people cramming into the little building.

After our brunch we soldiered on. First, we made a pit stop at the infamous bathrooms of Morocco. I couldn’t muster up the courage to go in (actually, I didn’t have to go). Instead, I took pictures of flowers!

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From outside the bathrooms in Morocco.

From outside the bathrooms in Morocco.

The big tower in Morocco.

The big tower in Morocco.

At this point we hadn’t spent any significant time in any of the pavilions. This ended when we arrived in Japan and headed for the Mitsukoshi Department Store. We experienced the joys of the food market in the rear last time and had to go back to get more intriguing goodies.

The glowing aura created by the sun in a lot of my pictures annoys me. I have no idea how to fix it. I haven't done that much research on it though so I'm really the only one to blame.

The glowing aura created by the sun in a lot of my pictures annoys me. I have no idea how to fix it. I haven’t done that much research on it though so I’m really the only one to blame.

And now begins a showcase of the many treats available in the department store.

This was a "cookie"

This was a “cookie”

"Potato treats"

“Potato treats”

I'm assuming the look on the rabbit and gorilla's faces are how you are suppose to feel after eating these.

I’m assuming the look on the rabbit and gorilla’s faces are how you are supposed to feel after eating these.

If that same rules applies to this snack I would avoid it.

If that same rules applies to this snack I would avoid it.

And a kitty mug for good measure...

And a kitty mug for good measure…

The Slayer of Vanity. Reminds me of a Metallica song.

The Slayer of Vanity. Reminds me of a Metallica song.

One our way out of Japan I took an obligatory shot of the ball.

If those damn trees weren't in the way it would be a better shot.

If those damn trees weren’t in the way it would be a better shot.

Soon after we went to our homeland, The American Adventure. And boy was it ever an adventure…

I had convinced Ashley to see The American Adventure inside The American Adventure but the stupid thing was having technical difficulties and wasn’t running yet. Since we had plenty of time to waste before lunch and were only a couple pavilions away, we perused.

They had a Hanukkah exhibit. If you can call it an exhibit. I don't know a lot about Hanukkah but judging by the picture it must have been either the sixth or seventh day of it.

They had a Hanukkah exhibit. If you can call it an exhibit. I don’t know a lot about Hanukkah but judging by the “candles” on the menorah it must have been the sixth day.

They also had a small museum of sorts on the right side of the room as you walk in. It highlights a handful of important people in American history.

They had a Purple Heart on display. HOW COOL IS THAT!

They had a Purple Heart on display. HOW COOL IS THAT!

We spent a good 30 minutes in The American Adventure without actually seeing The American Adventure. Heading toward Italy we still had an hour or so to kill.

I think I said this when I wrote about our Honeymoon but Italy just doesn’t do anything for me. There are a few (I’m assuming nice) restaurants and a few small shops that sell expensive Italian goods. My dedication to my feeble blog led me to take some pictures though.

A big tower. I'm sure it has a proper name.

A big tower. I’m sure it has a proper name.

We both want to eat here. The giant pizzas look AMAZING.

We both want to eat here. The giant pizzas look AMAZING.

A view from the other direction. Everybody looks WAY too tan.

A view from the other direction. Everybody looks WAY too tan.

At this point we were done with Italy and still had too much time before our reservation with only Germany ahead of us. Luckily, Germany had enough things to do or look at to eat up 20 minutes or so. Right as you enter the Germany area from Italy there is a huge model train set. This thing is incredible.

There were two people in ECVs riding abreast taking up the entire path I was on. It took almost 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other when it should take a couple.

There were two people in ECVs riding abreast taking up the entire path I was on. It took almost 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other when it should only take a couple.

Most of the pavilion.

Most of the pavilion.

Proudly presented in Vista Vision.

Proudly presented in Vista Vision.

After looking through the shops and scoping out what to get at the Karamell-Kuche later in the evening, we got in line for Biergarten. After probably 10 minutes we got to the podium, received our buzzer and waited for our hostess to seat us.

I would like to have a beer garden in my backyard some day.

I would like to have a beer garden in my backyard some day.

Ashley and I fell in love with this place. The theming inside is absolutely stunning. I’ve never been to Germany but I imagine this place is very similar.  It feels like you are sitting in the middle of a small German village at night, enjoying a giant buffet with hundreds of your closest friends. At first it was a bit awkward because you sit at the same table as people you don’t know but after a few minutes of awkwardness it goes away. If you have a party of eight though you get your own table.

You can't see much because of the picture quality but this place is so cool.

You can’t see much because of the picture quality but this place is so cool.

Underneath the garland and doorways is where the buffet is. There are two sides with the same stuff.

Underneath the garland and doorways is where the buffet is. There are two sides with the same stuff.

We got a table way down at the bottom, close to the stage that halfway into our meal turned into quite the spectacle. The band was surprisingly entertaining and played a special show because it was so close to Christmas.

Polka!

Polka!

Riiiiiiiiicolaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

Riiiiiiiiicolaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

Everything about this place is pure awesomeness. The food is good, not great, but it’s a buffet and a cheap Disney buffet at that. They have almost a dozen different cold salads, a giant vat of beer cheese soup with pretzel bread rolls to dip in it (DELICIOUS), an assortment of pasta and potato dishes and the finest assortment of meat I’ve ever seen. Seriously, if you like meat and potatoes, eat here. Even if you don’t, there are PLENTY of other things to choose from, including decadent German desserts. I wish I could eat there right now!

The atmosphere, food and entertainment make this place a no-brainer if you are looking for a family buffet. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back here in future trips. And to think, we completely looked over it when deciding our restaurants during our Honeymoon: silly us!

After rolling out of the buffet we breezed right past the other three countries, knowing we would be back in a couple of days to explore them, and headed to the International Gateway.

Some World Showcase action.

Some World Showcase action.

In lieu of a mid-day break we spent the few hours between lunch and the first Candlelight Processional by wandering around the EPCOT resorts looking at Christmas decorations. We had toured the resorts a few months earlier so there wasn’t a whole lot of new stuff to see except the Christmas decorations. This time though the weather was much more pleasant.

Beach Club light post garland.

Beach Club light post garland.

Fully operational, gingerbread carousel. Crazy.

Fully operational, gingerbread carousel. Crazy.

And a little gingerbread tower to go with it.

And a little gingerbread tower to go with it.

The Boardwalk resort from Beach Club.

The Boardwalk resort from Beach Club.

Stromalong Bay.

Stromalong Bay.

More garland.

More garland.

Winter train set.

Winter train set.

Reverse angle.

Reverse angle.

And a Christmas tree with boats on it! How festive!

And a Christmas tree with boats on it! How festive!

Once again, we walked past Swan and Dolphin but didn’t get anywhere near them. At one point during our trip we did stop at one of them to change buses though.

By the time we got to the Boardwalk I was soooo pooped. We had to sit on a bench for a while.

By the time we got to the Boardwalk I was soooo pooped. We had to sit on a bench for a while.

This little guy kept slipping on the rail when we were sitting on the bench. Every time it happened he had a mini-freak out but regained his composure. Animals are so cute.

This little guy kept slipping on the rail when we were sitting on the bench. Every time it happened he had a mini-freak out but regained his composure. Animals are so cute.

I guess you could call this the courtyard area?

I guess you could call this the courtyard area?

After our quick Christmas tour we trekked back to EPCOT and wandered aimlessly for an hour or so. Aimless wandering lends a hand to mediocre picture taking.

Big Christmas tree between Future World and World Showcase.

Big Christmas tree between Future World and World Showcase.

So much color!!!

So much color!!!

Another guide animal bathroom area. This one is between the bathrooms by Test Track and the entrance to Mouse Gear on that side.

Another guide animal bathroom area. This one is between the bathrooms by Test Track and the entrance to Mouse Gear on that side.

As the sun started to set we made our way toward The American Adventure via Canada, UK, France and Japan.

As the sun started to set we made our way toward The American Adventure via Canada, UK, France and Japan.

After a lot of wondering we found the line for the Candlelight Processional. It was HUGE. Luckily, about five minutes after we got in line, which was about 40 minutes before the show started, they started seating people. I can tell you one thing for sure: the benches surrounding the stage are not particularly comfortable.

Finally, the show started and it was so spectacular. There are multiple choirs up on stage, full of color, holding a single candle. The narrator for our show was Lea Salonga, the singing voice for Jasmine and Mulan. Everything about the show is magical. The Christmas carols themselves are magical. The hundreds of children and adults on stage singing in unison are magical. The soft glow of the fake candles is magical. Magical, magical, magical.

This was the only decent picture of the show I got.

This was the only decent picture of the show I got.

By the time the show got to the last few songs I was on the verge of crying again. It was very emotional. The only thing I didn’t like was, because we went to the 5:00 show, it didn’t get dark until the very end. BUT, it would have cost a lot more to have dinner with the package instead of lunch so we took it in stride.

After the show we stopped at the Karamell-Kuche and got some treats. I don’t remember what either of us got but we both loved it!

Since we had visited the resorts that afternoon, instead of after the show like I had planned, we didn’t have much to do after the show. We wandered around a bit and ended up leaving shortly after the Processional ended.

You can still see a bit of daylight on the horizon. This was probably 30 minutes after the show ended.

You can still see a bit of daylight on the horizon. This was probably 30 minutes after the show ended.

The awesome light-up sidewalk around Spaceship Earth. I want a driveway like this someday.

The awesome light-up sidewalk around Spaceship Earth. I want a driveway like this someday.

We may have gone on Spaceship Earth before we left. I know we went on it at some point that day. It’s my fault for waiting so long after the actual trip to write about it.

So pretty.

So pretty.

We ended up catching a “motor coach” to the Caribbean Beach Resort to check it out since we didn’t want to go back to our resort at six at night. We got off in Jamaica and walked across the bridge, around the island in the middle, around the pool and through the main building. I must say, the food court here is very cool. The theming, as usual, is stunning. As we were looking at stuff Ashley noticed that Animal Kingdom was open later than usual that night. So, we ran out to the bus stop and got on the next “motor coach” to Animal Kingdom.

We arrived with about 45 minutes until the park closed. We managed to ride Expedition Everest five times and Dinosaur once in that amount of time. AND it was the first time I had been in Animal Kingdom at night: it’s beautiful. I can’t stress enough how EMPTY Animal Kingdom is at night. If you are sitting at your hotel around 5 p.m. with nothing to do, pop over to Animal Kingdom for a couple of hours and hit as many rides as you can. On a future trip I’d like to go on the last Safari of the day to compare it to the early morning ones.

I can’t remember if we did anything after leaving Animal Kingdom or not. I doubt it since it was somewhat late. Our third day was VERY productive and, as usual, I was more tired than usual at Disney because of the lack of a mid-day nap. This short Christmas trip was shaping up to be one of the best ever.

Honeymoon Trip Report: EPCOT World Showcase Pt. 2

Continuing on our way around the world our next stop is smack dab in the center of the World, both literally and figuratively.

United States of America

The United States pavilion, actually named “American Adventure Pavilion,” is number six no matter which way you walk around.  Well, it’s actually the seventh stop if you are going clockwise from Mexico because of the Outpost but that technically isn’t a country pavilion so we won’t count it.

Some of the best view of Spaceship Earth can be captured from the pavilion. Because of this, I opted not to take any pictures. Well, that and my level of professionalism.

I can’t believe I actually took a picture of it.

On our recent trip we didn’t do anything in America. We didn’t stop to eat. We didn’t stop to see the Voice of Liberty or The Spirit of America Fife and Drum Corps. We didn’t stop to watch the The American Adventure. I’m still undecided as to which show is better between The American Adventure and the Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square in Magic Kingdom. Both are great if you love America, which I do. Both are great if you love animatronics, which I do. Unfortunately, a lot of people find them “boring” and “a waste of time.” I would ask them in response if they are “unpatriotic” or a “communist” or “hate their country.”

The pavilion itself is actually quite nice and has a very large air-conditioned area, which is always a plus in Florida. The large fountain out front is usually where you can find the Fife and Drum Corps performing multiple times a day. The pavilion also has the America Gardens Theater which hosts a bevy of events throughout the year including the Candlelight Processional during Christmas time, which Ashley and I are excited to see when we go this coming Christmas (it’s the first Christmas visit for either one of us so you could say we are a bit exited). As usual there is plenty of shopping and mini-American flags for sale in case you want to strap them to your rented scooter all Uncle Sam style.

Read on

Honeymoon Trip Report: EPCOT World Showcase Pt. 1

Of the two “worlds” of EPCOT, World Showcase may seem less entertaining on paper – especially if you are only looking for attractions – but it actually offers a lot more than meets the eye. This trip was the first time that either one of us really took the time to explore all of the countries.

We had both walked around World Showcase plenty of times before. However, we had never gone in to as many shops and restaurants as we did this trip.

The biggest dilemma when entering World Showcase is which direction to head. Clockwise will start you off in Mexico and end in Canada. Counter-clockwise offers the opposite.

If you want to eat sooner rather than later, head to your right and start with Canada. If you want to “be on a boat” a couple of times head to the left: Donald and the Vikings await.

Since I like to eat and be a rebel, I’ll start the report in Canada and work my way to Mexico going counter-clockwise.

Canada

The best shot I could find of the pavilion as a whole.

Canada offers beautiful landscaping and delicious food but not much in the way of shopping or attractions. Ashley and I have yet to watch “O Canada” the Martin Short, CircleVision 360 show.  One of the reasons being it’s hard to actually find unless you walk all the way to the back of the country and take the stairs down into what looks like an abandoned polar bear exhibit in a zoo. Apparently, there is a theatre somewhere under the Canada pavilion, or maybe its above Le Cellier, I’m not sure. Add that to the “List of things to explore when at Disney next.”

A big rock

The vegetation and colors there are wonderful

Read on

Honeymoon Trip Report: EPCOT Future World

NOTE: I was not terribly happy with the first RVS post so I am changing the format and tone a little. Instead of reporting what was different, I am essentially turning this into a Trip Report series.

Without question I would say EPCOT is our second favorite park, due in large part to World Showcase. Future World offers some great rides but, at the same time, has a hefty majority of rides that could use an update or two.

Welcome to this blog post

Getting right into it, we went to EPCOT probably five or six times during our eight-day stay, the first of which was our very first morning there. After getting up all too early and arriving at the park bus stop 45 minutes before it opened, we had no problem finding a turnstile that was empty.

Everybody was lined up at a different entrance

I think the fact that it was a recommended park by easywdw.com helped too. (Side note: we followed Josh’s recommendations while there and they were spot on. Because of a few dining reservations we had to go to non-recommended parks for an hour or two and oh, my, god, were they substantially busier than the recommended park(s))

Everybody else entering the park was under the impression that only one entrance would be open. They were wrong.

Read on