Friday, January 9, 2009

At the Airport

And the plane is at the gate ready to go. Well, if we have to end
vacation on time, at least we have good family to pick is up and 3
cats waiting to cuss us out and then nuzzle us to death.

We're still here! Well, not really . . .

We've kept up with Disney fun, but with the the usual twist. Jim's regular travel cold finally hit, but hit with a vengeance so we've been slightly off schedule. More details will follow, but . . .

Tuesday began with breakfast at Boma, a lodge morning for laundry, and then left the room with the intention of going to Epcot but decided to go to the Magic Kingdom by the time we got to the bust stop. More planning on the fly! We covered what we wanted to do, with the exception of Splash Mountain, which is down for refurb, and Space Mountain, which is in such bad need of a refurb we don't minding waiting (especially since we love the Disneyland version).

The magical moment was exiting the Peter Pan attraction at precisely 8:00 (Park closing) and hearing the music for the fireworks begin. We watched them, with about 30 other people, from Fantasyland. It was amazing - not how the show was designed to be seen at all, but the fireworks are shot off all around you and you are literally in the middle of them.

We made it to Epcot just before Noon and again covered our desired territory. We ate dinner at Rose & Crown, with Collin as our server. He was from Wick, Scotland and was excellent. Jim began with the creamy pea soup appetizer with bacon and sour cream, followed by Scottish salmon with a potato pancake. Both were excellent. I had the potato-leek soup, followed by the lamb with barbecure sauce over a chedder potato au gratin and a shandy to drink. The barbecue sauce complimented the lamb surprisingly well and the potatoes were excellent. It was the lamb's last night on the menu so I think they sent it out with an extra flourish. I couldn't help but notice the increasing influence of the Indian sub-continent on the traditional British menu at the Rose and Crown. :) Samosas and curries, oh my!!

It had been a rough day for Jim given his lack of sleep so we headed out before Illuminations so we could enjoy the resort a little before bed. Our viewing of Illuminations really was perfect on Monday night, so we knew we wouldn't have it any better anyway.

Thursday, our last full day, began with opening Disney's Hollywood Studios for another couple of spins on Toy Story Mania and a must-see visit to Muppetvision 3-D. Even though it's the oldest 3-D movie for the parks, right now, I still think it's the best.

After a little shopping, we took the bus to Animal Kingdom and rode Expedition: Everest on standby, had lunch (not recommended) at the Yak & Yeti counter window, strolled through Majarajah Jungle Trek to see a suprrisingly active Komodo Dragon and fairly active tigers, followed by another spin on Expedition:Everest. We then shoppped a little and visited Rafiki's Planet Watch. Nothing much was going on since the animal exams are done in the morning, but it was our first visit there in several years so it was a nice change of pace.

We met JimP, his wife Debbie and daughter Kim from for drinks at Victoria Falls Lounge and then had a light dinner (our first) from Mara, the quick-service restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

So, we're packed. The bags are checked-in through the Resort Airline Check-in Service, and the Owner's Locker is on its way back to its undisclosed secure location to wait for our next visit. We're enjoying fresh baked muffins and our beloved Disney yougurt parfaits before we get the car and head back to the airport. So far, flight home seems to be on time. It would be . . . :(

I'll have reviews of the lodges, and dining and a few more posts as we wind down from the trip.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Recap of Monday, January 5

Just some brief notes - more details will follow.

Up and out at 8:00 to catch the bus to Disney Studios. Bus trasnportation has slowed down dramatically at Animal Kingdom Lodge/Villas. We use to wait about 10 minutes max. Today, during peak travel time, we waited 25 minutes. Finally, 2 buses pulled up at the same time, and we go to Studios in time for rope drop.

Grabbed a Fastpass for Toy Story Mania (return at 9:50) and rode standby (10 minutes). Great attraction! Standby up to 40 minutes when we got off (9:20) and Fastpass up to 2:00 pm return already. Wow. Jim outscored me, which made him happy.

Rode Rock 'N Rollercoaster (always fun) and then Tower of Terror before heading back for our Fastpass return for a second run on Toy Story Mania. Then, a tour of the Great Movie Ride followed by lunch at the Studio Catering Company. We had considered returning to the room for a relaxing afternoon, but our stamina was great and we accomplished a lot by 12:15, so we decided to catch a friendship launch to Epcot and just keep going.

Once in Epcot, we decided to stay until closing. See, we really have been making it up as we go along this trip. First, we hung out with Marry Poppins in England, followed by some cavorting with Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, and Tigger. Disney's Photopass photog snagged those photos, so it will take ma while to get them up. :(

Jim again enjoyed a Beverly break at Club Cool. Obviously, it's an apertif and supposed to taste bitter, but it is still the most unexpected Coke flavor ever. Jim wishes we could import it, though! We kept moseying on until we got to Spaceship Earth, and then through Innoventions.

Two new attractions were a lot of fun. One is based on learning bout recycling. The other was a simulation of a home in hurricane hosted by Jim's hero Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel, which taught us about propery building techniques to withstand strong storms.

Jim is pushing his Waste Management truck
as we go from station to station to learn about recycling technology.

We foolishly decided to wait 40 minutes in the standby line for Mission: Space, but the centrifugal force of the "orange" version (higher risk of protein spill) pushed my back into alignment. Then, on to World Showcase for dinner at Tangierine Cafe in Morocco and shopping. We were looking for napkin rings and small vases. None were to be found in all of the World Showcase pavilions. Oh well.

We found the ideal spot for viewing Illuminations after standing next to two rather chatty woman who drove me nuts. I bailed on Jim and then sent him a rescue call when I discovered our location was available. I'm afraid the location has to remain a secret.

Again, an interesting bus trek on the way home. An able-bodied woman in her late 50s decided to cut in front of a girl in a wheelchair in the bus queue. The women insisted she did nothing wrong, but the whole line called her on it and shamed her mercilessly until she relented and let the girl in the wheelchair through. We were right in front of the girl's family and were furious with the woman for cutting in. Good grief. Anyway, the girl got on the bus with her family and the line-cutter was forced to wait for another and endure the smouldering rage of her highly embarrassed teenage children. Yet another case of parents needing to be raised by their children (I've seen that a lot at Disney).

So, home by 10:30 after opening Disney's Hollywood Studios and closing Epcot. Tomorrow will bring laundry, breakfast at Boma, pool, and whatever park catches our fancy.

Mary Poppins

Practically perfect, in every way.

Picture of the Day

Jeff's daughter Morgan saw this shot while we were looking over the Arusha Savanna waiting for dinner at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rcap of Sunday, January 4

Today we switched friends as we bade farwell to David & Sommer over breakfast at Kona Cafe (Tonga Toast!) and then joined Jeff, Sheila, and their kids Morgan and Austin at the Animal Kingdom. (The Animal Kingdom appears to be our friend pick-up joint this trip.)

We got up early to make our breakfast reservations. I drove over to Animal Kingdom Lodge to check us in while Jim packed up Saratoga Springs. I'll have comments on the switch to Animal Kingdom Villas later, but I'm still not pleased with the responsiveness of the front desk staff there. I still love the resort, and the rest of the staff are wonderful, but the front desk always seems understaffed so the lines build and what should be short process takes much more time than expected.

Anyway, we ate breakfast at Kona. It's Jim's and my special place as it was the site of our first Disney meal together in 2003. We don't get there for breakfast as often, but I love their breakfasts, and this was the first time we got to try Tonga Toast. Basically, each two slices of french toast with a banana mix in the middle covered in syrup and strawberry compote. Yummy. Discretion prevailed and we split one while each having our own fruit cup, which we also could have split!

Afterward, we pin shopped for a few minutes and then headed over to Animal Kingdom to catch up with Jeff and his family. By the time we got there, they were finishing lunch at Pizzafari and wanted to wander through Maharajah Jungle Trek. We spent so much time catching up, I only vaguely remember the animals! The kids were quite sharp and enteraining, too.

Afterward, we went to see Finding Nemo: The Musical and then saw "It's Tough To Be A Bug" before heading over for the Kilimanjaro Safari. They had already been on the safari early in the morning, which is good because the animals were quite invisible this time around.

After a little shopping, we headed over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for dinner at Boma. Jeff and Sheila were quite impressed with the Lodge and the food, which was as good as always. After they left, we unpacked our room and are now contemplating what tomorrow will bring. As long as we decide on a plan before bed time, I'll be happy.

More comments on Boma later. It was great, but I just don't have time to write up a mini-review right now.

peace, love, and Mickey . . .

Rundown of Saturday, Jan 3

We're having an awful lot of fun, so the posts are going to likely be briefer.

Anyway, here's a recap of Saturday.

Finally, a full night's sleep so we woke refreshed. I took some photos of the pool area, and then we had breakfast - again sharing a yogurt parfait from Starbucks we picked up at the Airport on Thursday and a Pop Tart. David & Sommer were meeting family in the Animal Kingdom and invited us to catch up with them.

We checked out the World of Disney store for a couple of short sleeve shirts (it WAS supposed to be cooler down here when we packed), and then we met them for lunch at Rainforest Cafe at the Animal Kingdom - another new experience for us. We were full enough that Jim and I each had soup and split the quesedilla appetizer. It wasn't bad, and we had some good conversation so it was 3:00 before we knew it.

After lunch, we each went our separate ways. We wanted to watch the parade and walk the animal treks and they wanted to see shows. Our initial plan was to then head out to Epcot and mosey through some of the shops in the World Showcase while waiting for Illuminations, but on the way over, Jim said, "You know, a resort night would not be a bad thing." I decided to not argue, so we went back to Saratoga Springs, parked and walked over to Downtown Disney to pick up salads from Earl of Sandwich and check the Pin Station.

I found a series of monorail pains, in which each pin is a car of the monorail with a Disney character on top. I've tracked down the 3 middle cars and the rear car, but haven't found the front car yet. Well, 5 days to go.

After eating our salads on the patio of our room, we took a dip in the pool, tried out the hot tub and then crawled into bed and caught up on some of the world events on CNN before falling asleep.

It was again a good day, but showing that this trip is virtually plan free - with us just doing a little bit here or there as our fancy catches us. Oddly enough, I think we'll still get it all in this trip even by being so spontaneous in our touring.

The lobby of the Polynesian

This is why Jim loves the Polynesian Resort and Disney.

Now, we're off to the Animal Kingdom to meet other friends - Jeff ,
Sheila, and their kids.

Tonga Toast!!!

Breakfast at our favorite place!!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Osborne Lights - TSO God Rest You Merry

The Osborne Festival of Dancing of Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

The music is God Rest You Merry Gentlemen from the Trans Siberian Orchestra. The video is about 3 minutes long.

Have you ever seen a Mercedes Jeep?

Animal Kingdom Christmas Tree

The View From Our Room

Dirk & Jim on Main Street

Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom, all lit up for Christmas.

Waddling the World - Food & Fractures in the House of Mouse

There really wasn't time to put up live posts yesterday (Friday), and things kept changing so fast, I'm not sure it mattered!

By the way, the background to today's title is our voluminous meals and the stress fracture in my right foot.

I woke up a bit strung out - about my 8th night of less than 6 hours of sleep. Jim thought it meant "hungover," but no, it was just cobwebs in the brain.

Anyway, after a slow morning and a reasonable breakfast of Starbucks yogurt parfaits and Pop-Tarts, we arranged to meet David & Sommer at T-Rex for a late lunch. That would give us the chance to see Downtown Disney since it's within walking distance of of our resort, and try out a new restaurant. T-Rex is also one of David & Sommer's fun places, so they wanted to go back.

We took a leisurely stroll from our room in the Grandstand section of Saratoga Spring to Downtown Disney via the golf cart bridge. We thought it would be a little shorter than going the traditional route through through SSR to the Marketplace entrance, but I forgot how much the lake bowed in between Downtown Disney Westide and Downtown Disney Marketplace. So, we made our primary care doctor happy by getting in a 20 minute walk first thing.

While activating our Annual Passes at the Guest Services booth, I enjoyed a Jurassic Park moment proving to me that dinosaurs evolved into birds. An egret was stalking a gecko lizard along the walk. Suddenly, Egret's beak struck, locking struggling lizard tight in its jaws. Egret then proceeded to shake lizard, chomp a bit and then finally swallowed lunch whole. Animals on rampage at Disney. I tried to get a picture, but the line I was in moved to quickly. The one time I wanted a long wait for guest services . . .

We met David & Sommer at T-Rex, which is owned by the same company that runs Rainforest Cafe. It's the same idea, but with dinosaurs. There are several dining rooms, each themed to a type of prehistoric theme. We wanted to eat in the ice cave, which changes colors frequently, but the wait was just too long so we were seated in a primeval forest. Every 20 minutes, a meteor shower strikes threatening the permanent residents of T-Rex with extinction, but they manage to survive ensuring the restaurants viability for another round of dining guests.

We shared an onion ring appetizer. Sommer and I had the Lost World Chicken Salad Sandwich (Rotisserie chicken with tarragon, celery, onions, toasted almonds and mayonnaise, served on a croissant), Jim enjoyed the Omnivore's Delight salad (Iceberg, romaine and baby greens with goat cheese, Ocean Spray Craisins, strawberries, red onion and caramelized pecans. Tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette dressing with shrimp), and David had the Triassic Tortellini (Tri-colored cheese tortellini with sun-dried tomatoes, peas and mushrooms tossed in an Alfredo cream sauce).

Our plan for the rest of the day was to visit the Magic Kingdom to see the decorations and lights, and then go over to Epcot for dinner and Illuminations. Two challenges to the plan: We also wanted to give Jiko a try together since we all enjoy it as one of our favorites and I was really curious about the Boekenhoutskloof wine "Chocolate Block" that Sommer recommended. We would need a reservation for 6 on Saturday, but they didn't have room so we began to think about Friday. Also, when David positioned the car at Epcot for an easy departure, he discovered a packed parking lot indicating a packed park.

While he was doing that, we were in the Magic Kingdom waiting to be demolished by Sommer in Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. (Apparently she is a legendary defender of the universe from the Evil Emperor Zurg.) As we waited for our rangers to be ready for us, we plotted an alternative strategy - Osborne Lights and then dinner at Jiko tonight. Fortunately, they had a seating at 9:00 and David agreed that sounded like a plan so that's what we did.

Meanwhile, we're quite full from lunch. Waddling hasn't quite set in, but various leg and foot injuries and scars for some of us started to assert themselves.

Anyway, our rangers were prepared and we took off to do battle against an array of odd creatures and mechanical beasts seeking to destroy childhood forever. Jim and I switched our normal positions, with me on the left now and him on the right. Sommer was behind us in her own ranger. I lucked out with a great target, shooting my up to 225,000 points. Jim scored 56,000, and Sommer was somewhere in the 100,000s - her first defeat in quite some time. Apparently, it has to do with sitting on the left side as she took the right seat. ;)

Battling Zurg was thirsty work, so after we re-joined David we collected our favorite thirst quenchers and toured Tomorrowland on the Wedway People Mover (er, ah, Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Amazingly, there was actually a long line for the TTA (5 minutes is a long line for this attraction), and even Carousel of Progress was quite full. The park was crowded.

Anyway, once in our vehicle I no sooner said that I really hoped to get inside Space Mountain with the house lights on someday that our ride vehicle turned into Space Mountain and the house lights were on! The attraction was down, and we could see the track, the domed ceiling and what not. That was fun.

We had time for one more attraction so we all went to Carousel of Progress. It's nice to see the show when the theatres are full.

It was time to head to Disney Studios (via the Epcot parking lot), so we strolled down Main Street, enjoying the Christmas lights and then took the monorail to Epcot. Yes, both lots were full.

At Disney Studios, we enjoyed several shows of the Osborne Dancing Lights. They've now got 5 different sets of dancing lights. The two Trans-Siberian Orchestra sets, along with Feliz Navidad, Barbara Streisand's "Jingle Bells" and one more that I can't remember. We took time to find several hidden Mickeys, a hidden Minnie, and a Halloween cat that they forgot to take down and incorporated into the lights. The snow on the streets between the sets is a nice tough, and it's always fun to watch guests freak out that it's snowing in Florida in 68 degree weather!

So, on to Jiko - while my foot fracture is starting to assert itself and I'm wondering if I've walked off enough of lunch to actually eat dinner, even though lunch was 6 1/2 hours earlier!

Jiko seated us pretty quickly. We each sort of made our own meals off of salads, appetizers, and sides, though David ate fairly traditionally. I started off with their signature tomoto and cucumber salad with watermelon vinaigrette, somosas with tamarind dipping sauce (which are a new item), and the duck confit salad. Jim had the Taste of Africa breads and dips (which he just purred through while David, Sommer, and I chatted), Pumpkin soup, and duck confit salad as well. Sommer had the pumkin soup, ostrich filets (which she shared with me - and they were amazing, almost like beef), and a collection of comfort food sides, including the famous Jiko Mac & Cheese. David had the pumpkin soup and lamb.

And yes, we did have the Chocolate Block wine, which is a blend of several reds (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Cabernet and Viognier). It's very smooth but a bit spicier than another Boekenhoutskloof label (The Wolftrap - a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Viognier) that I like. But that made it all the better for this meal. Excellent companion.

Now, here's where the waddling comes in. David & Sommer were wise and avoided the dessert temptations, well aware that this wasn't a first or last trip to Disney or Jiko. Jim and I, however, have no such wisdom where chocolate is concerned. In my defense, I had offered to split the Jiko signature dessert, pistachio creme brulee over chocolate. Jim thought that could work, until he saw the Tanzanian Chocolate Cheesecake - With chocolate ganache, amarula sauce, and lavender ice cream on the menu.

Well, common sense got lost in the luggage that never made it (it was packed in its own bag, so nothing else was missing) and each had our own desserts nearly putting us into carbohydrate stupors and assuring a rather Weeble-esque countenance on our way to the car.

David & Sommer were gracious enough to take us back to Saratoga Springs rather than just set us on the roadway and give us a good roll in the direction of our resort. So, tired, stuffed, and filled with taste buds convinced they've died and gone to heaven we just sort of hit the bed and didn't move until this AM.

I did have a full night's sleep for the first time in awhile, so I think my Disney energy is finally kicking in.

Today's plan? Who knows. We'll figure it out as we go along! After all, it's Disney. Who needs to think ahead?!!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Great Food & Fellowship: How it all came together

Well, we finally made it. Once the cabin door was closed on the plane, everything fell into place. TNT was running a "Bones" marathon, so Jim watched to episodes on the plane instead of napping. I watched one and then read a bit.

We finally got to the gate in Orlando at 6:15, and into our room at Saratoga Springs Resort at 7:45. I'm glad we decided to rent a car instead of taking Magical Express. There is no way our luggage would have been delivered in time to retrieve our jackets for dining at Victoria & Albert's.

We were to meet David & Sommer in the Contemporary Resort for drinks at the California Grill at 8:30, so we quickly unpacked and changed. Since V&A is in the Grand Floridian, we valet parked there (free with a V&A reservation or Disney's Dining Experience - we had both), and took the monorail to the Contemporary. We met David in the 2nd floor lobby and joined Sommer in California Grill. She had snagged a table in the lounge area with a perfect view of the Magic Kingdom for Wishes at 9:00. Since none of us had eaten much, she also ordered an awesome cheese plate.

The fireworks were really beautiful. I've now seen them 3 times in a row without being in the MK - from the Polynesian, on a cruise on the Seven Seas Lagoon and from the California Grill. I'm thinking that's the way to do it!!

David & Sommer drove us to the Grand for our 9:30 V&A ressies. This was our first time since our "DisneyMoon" in September 2007, and I'm glad we were back. After yesterday's travel and computer snags, I was looking forward to the wine pairings. ;)

V&A has a set seven course menu each evening, with 2-3 options per course. Each menu is personalized to the tastes of the guest. For instance, I love shellfish but don't often enjoy regular fish, so I had shellfish or alternative options on my menu. If someone doesn't like organ meat, the sweetbreads are taken off of their Veal Tenderloin.

Each table is served by 2 servers, a man and a woman (who all used to be named after Albert or Victoria, but they now use their real names). So, here's the rundown of what I enjoyed:

An Amuse Bouche of lobster bisque, shellfish sausage, mniniature vegetarian eggroll (in place of a tune something) and a lobster morsel served with Gosset Excellence Brut

Dungeness Crab Cannelloni with Baby Greens and Radishes, served with Langtry Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County 2006. The Cannelloni shell was a shaved sheet of jicama, and was wonderful.

Minnesota Elk Tenderloin over Mustard SpƤtzle and Apple-Wine Kraut served with Castilla Prelada La Garriga Samso, Catalonia 2004

Caramelized Diver Scallop with Zellwood Corn Ragout served with Frank Family Vineyards, Chardonnay Napa Valley 2006.

(Both the elk and the Scallop were my favorite, and the chardonnay was not very oaky, but more fruity so it went well with the scallop. Last time, I didn't enjoy the chardonnay as much.)

Marcho Farms Veal Tenderloin with Yellow Chanterelles and English Peas served with Abbazia Barolo D.O.C.G., Piedmont 2004

Colston Bassett Stilton, Comte Fort des Rousses and Brillat Savarin cheese plate with Quinta do Crasto Late Bottled Vintage Porto 2001.

(The Stilton has to be the most enjoyable cheese I've had of at least 10 different and wonderful cheeses I sampled tonight).

And dessert -

Grand Marnier Souffle (a V&A signature souffle) with a Kona coffee prepared at the table in a vacuum pot. WE all were also interested in the Strawberry Dumpling with Meringue Crisp, so we ordered that for the table to share and thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

So, we were seated at 9:30 and had such a well paced meal and good conversation, that it was 12:30 before we new it. Standing up for the first time in 3 hours after 6 glasses of wine (Oh, and Sommer ordered a Rosa Regale to go with dessert as well, so 7 glasses), was an adventure but my stress fracture in my foot was feeling no pain. :)

Surprisingly, when we left, workers were taking down the 4 story Christmas tree in the lobby, which you can see in the previous post. The parks are keeping their decor through Sunday, but it looks like 2009 is coming up on fast and furious anyway.

So, what's today's plan? Ideas are being mulled, so more details later.

Christmas goes away

Dinner last night at Victoria & Albert's was amazing and fun. With six
courses of wine pairings how could it not be? More on that in another

Anyway, when we arrived the Grand Floridian was decked out in
Christmas finery. But when dinner ended (12:30 this AM), Christmas
was going away.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Yay for Disney friends!!

David & Sommer said they could pick up a Macbook Pro power cord and
get it to us this evening. Pixie dust abounds.

Waiting at the airport

4 hour delay.

New Hour, Another Plan

Well - our flight has now been delayed 4 hours. We leave Newark at 3:00 and get into Orlando at 5:47. Glad we rented a car this time!! We should still make our Victoria & Albert dinner reservations.

Technology woes continue. I left my power cord for the computer at home. :( Apple will get some business from me in Florida. Again, glad I rented a car.

New Day, New Year, New Plan

Happy New Year!

Yes, we're still going to Disney. However, JetBlue called to say they will be an hour late, and dinner plans have all been re-worked.

Instead of our progressive MK resort dinner at Citrico's, Artist Point, and California Grill (see previous post), we're dining at Disney's (and Central Florida's) only 5 diamond restaurant - Victoria & Albert's.

It well definitely be our splurge of the trip, but we all need it. Sommer & David have had a rough couple of months, and this is my reward for knee surgery, stress fracture in my foot and - in the last 4 days: a diet coke spill on my beloved Macbook Pro and the bank losing my paycheck. Yes - I'm ready for vacation!!

Anyway, V&A offers a 6 course personalized menu with wine pairings. Our seating is at 9:30 pm and dinner will probably take about 2 hours. This will give us time to check-in, relax a bit, then head to the Magic Kingdom to activate our annual passes and peak at the Christmas decor on Main Street and the Castle before heading over to dinner.

It's 19 degrees in Trenton as I write. It will be 81 in Florida by Monday. Yes - it's time to get away!!