Epcot, part two; Food and Wine and Frozen, oh my!

8:07 AM – Cannot remember the last time I slept this late. Wish I could make this a habit.

8:15 AM – Cannot remember the last time the wife woke up this early. Wish she could make this a habit.

8:45 AM – Off to the cafe in our hotel for breakfast, where we have a wonderful meal but are reminded why there is an obesity problem in this country. I order lobster Benedict which is delicious and a reasonable portion.

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Tracey orders this monstrosity:

IMG_3674The picture probably doesn’t do it justice, but the chicken is huge, probably twice as big as it should be for any normal human being. Tracey can barely eat half of it, with maybe 1/4 of the waffle. It is delicious, but enormous.

After breakfast, back to the room to begin the “let’s do nothing this morning and afternoon” portion of the day.

We do virtually nothing. Tracey naps. I have a bath. I lay down for a while. We do a whole lot of Jack Squat. It is glorious. We actually intended to go to the pool but we spent too much time doing other nothing to do pool nothing.

1:15 PM – We head down to the Club Lounge for a bite or two. We only want to eat enough to get by until we get to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival where we are going to eat a little bit of everything.

3:15 PM – We arrive at Epcot and head directly to the Mexican pavilion to start the food and wine portion of the day. We eat a ton of great food, have a ton of pretty decent wine (especially given that it was all served in plastic cups), and the weather is absolutely perfect.

The French pavilion is selling 3-ounces of Dom Perignon for $45. Not unreasonable, but I am drawing the line at drinking Dom Perignon out of a plastic cup. Not gonna happen.

Every time we come here, someone tells us that we MUST GO TO THE CANADIAN PAVILION AND TRY THE CHEDDAR SOUP!! Being Canadian, it doesn’t seem like a huge priority.

But this time, we get to do it; they are serving it at one of the booths outside the pavilion as part of the festival.

They were right. It is freaking outstanding.

I also order a glass of a Vidal Icewine from somewhere in Ontario. I love me some Icewine, and I love me some sweet Icewine, but this is sickeningly sweet. Too much.

One of the shops actually has a bunch of half-decent wine they sell for $8 a glass, and I tried out this pretty respectable Amarone.

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We wander amongst the pavilions, meandering along, taking our time as we have only one thing on the schedule for tonight. We eat everything. We drink all the wine.

And I get ID’d.

I kid you not. Three days before my 50th birthday, I get carded.

She is, maybe, 25. Now, for those of you who don’t know me, I think I look much younger than I am, except for one small thing: My incredibly grey hair. It’s been gray for a decade.

But tonight, we are outside, it is dusk, and my hair probably looks dark.

BUT STILL…… 🙂

7:05 PM – The time has come.

Three and a half years in the making.

THE FROZEN RIDE!

We missed the Grand Opening of this damn ride by two and a half weeks on our last trip. Today, we finally got to do it.

And it was a disaster.

Kidding, it was delightful, exactly as anyone would expect from Disney. A huge improvement over the previous ride in the Norwegian pavilion, which was called Maelstrom. Apparently there is quite a bit of special stuff going on here on Friday, which is the official release date of the movie Frozen II.

On the way out of the park, we also get a non-Fastpass ride on Soarin’ Across The World. It is so quiet tonight, we are through the line in 10 minutes. We love this ride.

This is our best ever day at Epcot. The weather is perfect. The food and wine festival is awesome. The crowd is nearly non-existent.

Almost perfect.

What is keeping it from being perfect?

My poor wife is in so much pain.

Her disease has been attacking her feet all day. She was in pain when we got here four hours ago. At this point, she has her cane out and is still in so much pain she can barely walk. There isn’t a ton we can do about it at this point, except to make sure that she walks as little as possible on our way back to the hotel.

We are able to stop and get this pretty cool picture on the way out.

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Tracey is so much stronger than I am. If I was in this kind of pain all the time, I would be a blubbering mess. As it is, we haven’t had a single sighting of Grumpy Bear this entire trip. And there is so much more fun to come.

9:00 PM – Back to the hotel and we stop for another “cordial” or three and back up to the room to unwed and get to sleep.

Tomorrow, we have to pack up our stuff and head from this amazing hotel back to our amazing resort. Boo-hoo, I get it. It has been amazing being here, but no complaints. It will be nice to get back to our townhouse and do some laundry and cook some meals.

Another relaxing morning tomorrow once we get back to our resort, then back to Animal Kingdom where we will see some animals, and hit a few of the top rides, including the E-Ticket ride in Pandora!

Vacation continues with a character breakfast, some R ‘N R, and Avatar!

7:05 AM – I’m up and head out to our balcony for a little morning Zen. This is the first day this trip that it has been pleasant enough for my morning ritual; one little issue this morning, though, is that the sun is right in front of our balcony, making it impossible for me to read or even relax with it shining right into my eyes. Sigh. First world problems.

8:30 AM – The wife is up and getting ready to head downstairs to 1900 Park Faire for our character breakfast.

9:10 AM – They take us in, right on time. We see a handful of characters. Pooh, The Mad Hatter, Alice, Mary Poppins…and Tigger. It is explained to us that Tigger is “extra bouncy today” so he is not making the rounds; he is, instead, off in an alcove where we can go and get a picture with him after breakfast. We do, of course.

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The buffet itself is fine. Honestly, it’s below Disney’s normal standards. Nothing special.

We only get to see one more character, as we got a bit unlucky with our seating and they had just moved past us. We could have stayed longer to get them all, of course, but we were finished eating and it wasn’t that important.

Was this guy ever in character. He spent about three minutes with us, spewing illiterate gibberish. Mad as a Hatter, for sure!

So, this, folks is a Gingerbread House. Gingerbread. Big enough to hold two employees inside it, selling off Gingerbread and other treats. The flowers and accompaniments on the house are all icing.

 

Oh, and you see that giant tree behind it?

This one?

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This tree was NOT HERE when we left Citrico’s last night. Man, those were some busy Elves overnight.

After a little shopping in the shops in the hotel, it’s time for a little rest before our busy park evening. Very excited to get to Pandora and check it out. We aren’t going on the #1 ride today – that happens in a couple days – but we are going to spend some time in the land, taking it in, and going on the Na’vi River cruise.

Noon – Uh-oh, it’s nap time.

2:00 PM – Since we are going to need a bit of sustenance in advance of our 7:30 dinner reservations, we head down to our Club Level for snacks. They have lots of good stuff, highlighted by some spectacular vegetable soup. Yesterday’s soup, Italian Wedding, was equally fantastic. You know, we just don’t eat enough soup.

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3:00 PM – We are off, back to the bus station for the ride to Animal Kingdom. It is almost a half hour ride, so hopefully we get a couple of comfortable seats!

It’s almost a private charter as there are only 3 people on the bus to the Animal Kingdom. Lots of great photo opportunities on the way into the park, as Xmas has come to the Kingdom in a big way.

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So, over to Pandora. It’s pretty cool in the daytime, but a whole new world once the sun goes down.

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They have done an amazing job on theming this land. Look, it’s not Star Wars, for sure, but it’s impressive.

We didn’t get to the big E-Ticket ride tonight, that comes on Thursday. But tonight, we took a ride on the Na’vi River Journey which was gorgeous. A slow boat ride, a la Pirates of the Caribbean, but in the world of Avatar. Impressive.

We head to the newly-build auditorium to watch the Rivers of Light, a new show combining water, projections, and music. It’s nice, kind of a “Poor Man’s World of Color”.

By the time this show is over, I am freaking cold. Shorts and a T-shirt were great while the sun was up, but now it’s not enough. Gotta buy a jacket of some kind before spending tomorrow night at Epcot.We had dinner reservations here tonight but when we looked at the menu, it was not very Tracey friendly. I am sure when we had booked this, she was looking forward to the short ribs; but she had short ribs last night, and even my wife can only eat so many short ribs. We cancelled these reservations, and just grabbed some pizza to fill the void for now.

And on the way out, some of the same photo ops, with darkness to add a little gravitas.

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8:15 PM – Back at the hotel and we head upstairs to Enchanted Rose, the new Beauty And The Beast inspired lounge that just opened up last month. So beautiful. Oh, and wine. Did I mention wine? As if last night’s by-the-glass menu wasn’t enough, this one blows it away.

Yes, you are reading that correctly. That is 1995 Chateau Mouton Rothschild by the glass. Hell, BY THE OUNCE. First growth Bordeaux by the ounce. I am just going to move in and have my paycheques signed over to this lounge. $310 for a 5-ounce glass.

NO, I did not order that.

Maybe tomorrow.

Tracey orders a 2015 Tignanello, which we have previously had and loved, and I order the Barolo. We have a cheese plate as an accompaniment, because only a lunatic orders a Barolo to sip without food.

Hmm, Tracey is not as over-the-moon about the Tignanello as she should be. I get up and go check out the bottle, and it turns out it is actually 2016! Well, the ’16 is also supposed to be really great, but it falls a bit short of the spectacular ’15.

Interesting fact: Apparently I (and everyone I know, and all the wine experts that I know at stores in Vancouver) have been pronouncing it wrong all along. Our waiter tonight pronounced it Teez-a-nell-o. I was preparing to mock his absurd pronunciation, until he explained that he got that pronunciation from the buyer of the wine who got it from the winery family themselves, so I am going to assume they know how to pronounce it. At this point, I go to the Googles to confirm that I have been wrong all along, only to find out that, according to the internet (which is never wrong), that we are BOTH wrong and the G is silent, and it should be pronounce TEEN-YA-NELLO. Alrighty then. Maybe I’ll just start calling it “that Tig wine”.

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On the way back to the room, we stop at our Club Level to see what they are pouring at “cordials” hour. Tracey grabs some Bailey’s. I ask about the wine, and yes, they have wine. And it’s good wine, and it’s free. Jesus we could have saved a bunch of money if we had just come here first! LOL.

That’s it for tonight. Tomorrow, we sleep until we sleep, we nap when we nap, and we pool when we pool. Tomorrow is supposed to be the nicest day of the week so we are going to take it easy and enjoy the hotel during the day, before heading back to Epcot for evening festivities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vacation blog continues at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge! Oh, and another amazing dinner.

7:45 AM – Oh man, this is early given what time we got to sleep last night. Dinner was close to 5 hours, so it was after Midnight by the time our heads hit the pillow. Anyway, we need to be up early today as this is our only visit to Hollywood Studios this trip, and we need some time to hit up Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Also, we have not been here since Toy Story Land opened, so we have lots to get done.

As we were waiting for the bus, a little kid, maybe 3 years old, starts running around in a circle, Around and around and around and around. Just keeps running around. Tracey looks at me, totally deadpan, and says to me: “And we think Sidra is an idiot”.

ROFLMAO. Gold.

Oh, and it’s still pretty cold this morning. The cast member at the bus stop is dressed in full “Nanook of the North” gear. Toque, scarf, gloves, the whole nine yards.

Our bus arrives and we are through security and into the park 20 minutes before it opens! We rule!

Sadly, there are about 1500 people who rule much better than we do, and we cannot even see the front of the crowd waiting for them to drop the rope so we can all stampede to each of the two new lands.

9:00 AM – Here we go!

The cast members are incredible. Since it is, no exaggeration, a stampede to the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run ride, they create a human rope line, keeping everyone from running over each other and herding us in an orderly fashion to the ride.

The theming of this land is second to none. If it were not for the number of guests wearing Disney apparel, it would be completely reasonable to believe you had actually transported to a planet in a galaxy far, far away.

The posted wait time for Smuggler’s Run is 80 minutes but it takes us, maybe, half of that. So efficient.

You are put into a group of 6 people, and the 6 of you have to fly the Millennium Falcon on a mission. Two pilots, two gunners, two engineers. Tracey and I had the misfortune of being the engineers, at the back of the ship. Our crew? One lady and her three young grandchildren. Suffice it to say we did not do that great, considering that our gunners were probably 12 years old, combined.

I loved the ride. Tracey made some good points that your attention was often distracted by having to press buttons as part of your duties on the ship. It might have been better if they had put the buttons in front of you instead of to the side.

Either way, I was thrilled.

Up next, over to Oga’s Cantina for a bite and drinks. Their food menu is very limited in the morning. We both had cinnamon buns. I could not resist the Blue Bantha (blue milk) made famous early in the Star Wars series. It was actually really good, although it tasted little like milk.

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A very cool experience. They have gone all out to make this land everything it can be.

Some other random theming in the land:

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On our way out of the land, we walk by the entrance to the upcoming E-Ticket ride, Rise of the Resistance. It opens on Walt’s birthday, December 5th.

We leave here on November 29th.

Six freaking days.

That is hard to take.

They are testing the ride, I can hear it from beyond the ropes. It’s killing me.

Six days!

We have a Fastpass for Toy Story Midway Mania, so we head over to Toy Story Land. I know that today is going to be a short day, as my wonderful wife is in a tremendous amount of pain. She is doing her best to not disappoint me, but she forgets that I am more disappointed in her being in pain than I ever could be in leaving a theme park early.

Anyway, we get to the ride and we begin the competition. Dean (Green) and Tracey (Yellow) in a toy battle to the death.

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Dean has re-captured the title of Toy Story Champion that was so viciously ripped from him so many trips ago.

Ah, the sweet, sweet taste of victory.

That seems like a pretty great place to end our day, so we head down Hollywood Boulevard, do a little shopping and take a couple pictures.

As we head out of the park, Tracey is struggling to walk. Thankfully our bus pulls up just as we get to the stop, and we get to sit down and enjoy a relaxing trip back to our resort.

We both start to grin as we turn the corner and the hotel comes into view. It is just so beautiful, so impressive, it is hard not to be excited every time you walk through the doors. So incredibly special. Love this place.

As the bus approaches the stop, we come to a sudden halt. A kid has run out in front of the bus. Some parent lost control of her kid at a bus stop. Thankfully the bus driver was on the ball and there was never any chance of an incident.

As we get off the bus, we notice it is just one woman, with four kids, ages between 2-7 (or so). Perhaps she was trying to cull the herd a bit. Good grief. One parent, four young kids, at Disney. The Seventh Circle of Hell, right there.

2:00 PM – Tracey hops into the bath to rest her aching joints while I update the blog. She is so tired, after the bath it’s time for a nap.

4:30 PM – Time to wake up the wife who is going to do a “Mini-Process (TM)” to get ready for our dinner at Citrico’s, the other fine dining restaurant in the hotel. This is a more traditional restaurant, no tasting menu, just a la carte.

Citrico’s has a world famous wine list, including many eclectic wines by the glass, and even by the ounce. This is gonna be a pretty cool evening 🙂

5:30 PM – We arrive at Citrico’s, a very nice restaurant but about 3 notches below V&A’s from last night. The star of the show here is the wine list, not only a spectacular list of bottles, but a great list by the glass, and even by the ounce.

OPUS ONE BY THE OUNCE!!!

This is gonna be expensive.

We start off with a nice celebratory bottle of Champagne. Kind of Dom’s little brother.

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We are both hungry, and figure that we can both handle an appetizer and a main. Of course, we forgot about the size of the portions in the US.

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Stuffed Risotto Cone with Smoked Tomatoes, Mozzarella, Herb Aioli
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Florida Gulf Shrimp with house-made Gnocchi Sardi Pasta, Spicy Puttanesca Sauce, Baby Spinach

After these delicious but filling appetizers, it was time to start in on the “by the glass” menu of wine. Tracey was busy finishing up the Champagne, but I ordered a lovely little Chardonnay.

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About now it was time to order our main courses, and the wines that would pair with them.

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Oak-grilled Filet Mignon, potato puree, brocollini, Cipollini jam, bordelaise sauce
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Red-wine braised beef short ribs, tagliatelle, exotic mushrooms, spinach

With my dish, the Filet, I decided not to screw around and go right to the big boy.

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Tracey went a bit more understated.

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I felt bad for ordering such a classic wine, so after my Opus was gone, I scooped her Caymus and ordered her a glass of Opus to enjoy.

Both of our meals were very good, but nothing particularly memorable. Too much food, for sure. Neither of us could finish.

They had two more Chardonnays on the list, so we ordered a glass of both of them so that we could have a little three-way comparison (I had not finished the Far Niente yet). Three quality wines, but very, very different in style.

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I guess they don’t often get guests going this nuts on the ‘by the glass’ menu, so the restaurant Manager came to our table to thank us and chat about wine for a while. He gave me his card and made a few off-the-wine-menu suggestions for our next visit. Very cool.

8:15 PM – Back to our room to unwind and watch Monday Night Football. Tomorrow we sleep in a little bit before our breakfast reservations, and will hang out at the pool or do a little shopping in the hotel. It’s a late afternoon park day for us tomorrow, as we head to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for our first experience in Pandora, the World of Avatar!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria & Albert’s. The oldest wine we have ever tasted. Oh my.

Before I get into the meal, I forgot to mention this wonderful exchange we heard in the Magic Kingdom yesterday.

Mom, trying to organize her kids into a straight line for a photo:

“Line up alphabetically!”

Kids, confused, start to do that.

Mom: “No, I said alphabetically! Alphabetically by height!!!!!!”.

Dean: Smacks forehead. Alphabetically by height. Those poor kids just don’t have a chance.

Anyhoo, let’s get on to the main event of the trip, our third visit to Victoria & Albert’s, the only restaurant in Central Florida to be honored with AAA’s Five Diamond rating every year since 2000.

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The author and his lovely wife. This is the last time tonight you’ll notice empty plates.

As always, they called us a week or so ago to go over our allergies, likes and dislikes, to custom tailor a menu specifically for us.

 

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Disclaimer: All of the wine that I have reviewed below was part of our “wine pairings”, with the exception of the one at the very bottom, so the prices I have listed are guesses based on internet prices unless other specified. I am not sure how much bottles would be in your local market.

Our Amuse-Bouche came with this wine.

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Costa Rican Heart of Palm with Alaskan King Crab, Imperial Caviar and a vanilla aioli

Tracey’s dish was the same as mine, minus the crab and caviar. We both absolutely loved this dish, and the pairing with the champagne.

What a treat that was, and the next course was even better.

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Colorado Bison with beef cracklings with pumpkin spice, black radishes, daikon and a passion fruit reduction

 

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Same dish as above, substituting New Zealand Langoustine for the Bison

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We both agreed that this was probably the food and wine pairing of the night. It accomplished what so many pairing set out to do, and so often fail at: It elevated both the food and the wine. Just superb.

After cleaning up her plate, she pointed to it, looked at me and said, “MAKE THAT!!”.

Yeah, right.

Up next, we got to chew on some glass. Literally.

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Glacier 51 Tooth Fish and Nantucket Scallops with roasted fingerling potatoes, lemon and dill sauce and Potato Glass
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Roasted Poussin with roasted fingerling potatoes, lemon and dill sauce and Potato Glass

Yeah. Potato Glass. Our waiter explained how it is made, it is a 24 hours process, and I can’t remember enough of it to share it with you. The roasted fingerlings are under the meat. Tracey’s meal, the poussin (free-range chicken), was a combination of white and dark meat, put together and baked in it’s own skin.

I liked my dish (tooth fish is a type of cod) more than Tracey did. I fact I loved it.

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Tracey and I both agreed that this wine cut into the “dilliness” of the dish. I love dill; she likes dill. So, we disagreed about whether or not this was a good pairing. She liked that it cut into the dill flavor; I did not. To me, this was the only poor pairing of the evening.

Next up was one of the optional add-ons, which I selected. Even my fish-hating wife loved this one.

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Wild caught Portugese Turbot with spinach leaves, fennel seaweed and preserved lemon

Next up was a ‘surprise’ dish which wasn’t on our menu. A second “Amuse-Bouche” if you will.

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Braised short rib in blackberry sauce, Romanescu cheese and cauliflower dusted with chorizo oil

This was tasty, but since the wife is the short-rib lover in the family, I gave her half of mine.

Up next, we get into the red wines.

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Maple glazed Manchester quail with chestnut gnocchi, root beer leaves, and Brussel sprouts

DEEE. LISH. US.

So good, and another terrific wine pairing with the below, my all-time favorite of this varietal.

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Bring on the red meat!!

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Texas wild boar filet mignon and cheek, grilled corn and baby corn with chipotle butter

Parts of this dish were a bit spicy for Tracey, and I was pretty skeptical that this wine could stand up to the heat. I was so, so, so wrong. It went with the dish perfectly.

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OK so now let’s get serious. And I mean ridiculously serious.

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Top: Pasta wrapped Mac n’ cheese, cippolini onion rings, gouda foam. Bottom left: Australian Kobe-Style Filet Mignon Bottom right: Miyazaki Japanese Beef Strip Loin

Everything on this plate was delicious, but let’s talk about the Japanese Wagyu. Our waiter had some incredible information about this beef.

  1. The cows cost around $100,000.
  2. They know the lineage of the cow, as if it were a Thoroughbred racehorse
  3. They have the cow’s nose print. Read that again. You can’t make this up.

Don’t believe me? Here it is.

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So, how was it? Incredible in a very small dose. Honestly, I cannot imagine sitting down to a whole steak made from that beef. Even if this weren’t the eighth course of the evening, it is just too rich for me to consume in a large quantity. Both of us preferred the Australian Kobe-style Filet.

The wine pairing was excellent with both cuts of beef.

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OK that’s it, enough food, let’s go home.

Ooooooooooooh, three more courses????

We joke that during dinners like this, you come in hungry (unless you are a fool), and early in the meal you are usually anxious for the next course. By the fourth or fifth course, you are begging them to give you a bit more time.

By the eighth course, I am begging them to shoot me.

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Vanilla Gelato, plum compote, white chocolate shavings
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Assorted cheeses, peach cake and raisins
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Candied pistachios, brie, cranberry cake, honeycomb

The wine was a real treat and paired lovely with everything on this plate of “pre-dessert”.

Oh, you thought that WAS dessert? Oh no, true believer.

Another off-the-menu bonus treat.

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Corn flan terrarium with blue corn cake, açaí, creme fraiche, guava pate free and candied sugar sticks

Delicious, of course. But at this point I am pretty much ready to tap out, except that we are not quite done yet. NOW, it is time for dessert.

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Avocado gelato, hibiscus crystals, Ancho Chile infused dark chocolate, caramel and goat’s milk in cone

OMG so good. EVERYTHING was so good.

We were done with the wine pairings, but I figured we had not quite spent enough money tonight, so I took a look at the after dinner wine menu and decided to try something that I can’t imagine too many people have ever had. I am not going to give it a score since it was pretty much a curiosity instead of a normal glass of wine. Tracey tried it and hated it, but I thought it was pretty good. It was certainly a special birthday treat.

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Well, that was the end of a fabulous evening, and a pretty damn good start to my birthday week of great wine and food. This was the pinnacle, for sure, but won’t be the last great meal we have this trip.

Yes, this is the new clubhouse leader in the “most expensive meal we have ever had” contest, surpassing the meal we had during our last visit here a few years ago (which was equalled earlier this year at Eiffel Tower Las Vegas), but it was worth every penny. No regrets at all.

Next up: An early morning tomorrow, as we head to Hollywood Studios and get our first view of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge!

Today is all about Magic. First the Magic Kingdom, then into a Magical hotel, then to a Magical dinner.

7:40 AM – Hey, I could get used to sleeping this late.

Today we head to the Grand Floridian Hotel, Disney’s flagship property in Florida, for four nights of luxury. I have already checked in online, and the MagicBands that we wear around our wrists are our room keys, so we don’t have to spend one second at the front desk checking in; when our room is ready, I’ll get an Email telling me so, and telling us which room to go to, and we can head to our room whenever. We are going to hit up a few rides in the Magic Kingdom first.

After breakfast at the resort we pack up our stuff for the next few days and head to the hotel, where we will drop off our stuff and head up to the Monorail for the trip into the Magic Kingdom.

As I am loading up the car, I notice a part of the roof on the ground outside our townhouse. I look up to see this fine fellow peering back at me.

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Yeah, I know that raccoons can be a pest, but they are adorable and this guy looked down at me with sad eyes, and was trying to get down. There is a hole in the roof that must have been how he (and his mate) got down into the crawl space, and with the panel coming off, they can’t get back to the hole to get out of there. I called maintenance and hopefully they will be able to fix up that hole and get the raccoons out and back into the bush where they belong.

It’s a quick trip on the Monorail, not much of a lineup to get into the park, and we are in where the magic begins. It is not very busy today, although some of the wait times posted for the rides would suggest that just about everyone in the park is waiting in line.

As usual, Pirates of the Caribbean is our first ride. We have three Fastpasses booked today, and since we are intending on going back to the hotel when our room is ready, we are expecting to do not much more than that.

After POTC, we have a bit of time so we walk through Fantasyland and hop into line at It’s A Small World. Now that damn song is going to be in my head for the rest of the month.

After that, we use up our Fastpasses for Space Mountain and Peter Pan’s ride, have a nice, casual lunch, and head down Main Street to do a little shopping while we wait for our room.

They have mobile ordering here now, so we actually ordered our lunch right after we rode Space Mountain, and then walked across the park to Columbia Harbour House to pick it up. We have eaten here before and this is about as good value as you’ll fine in Disney. Tracey has chicken nuggets with hushpuppies, macaroni and cheese and a drink, and I have a trio platter of nuggets, fish and shrimp, two sides and a drink, and our entire bill was $37. The food is good, and really good for the money. As anyone who has ever been to Disney knows, “good value” is not always easy to find.

2:00 PM – I get the message that our room is ready, so we hop back onto the Monorail and head back to the resort. We stop at the Bell desk to get our luggage and our Bellman walks us right to our room so we don’t get lost. We have a room in one of the special buildings, with Club Level service, so we would never have found this place without his help. The service here is second to none, as you would expect.

This is our first experience with ‘Club Level’, which basically just means there is a room on the first floor that we can go to get complimentary refreshments all day long. It ranges from coffee and tea to small plates to dessert to, in the evening, cocktails of some kind. We will definitely be putting our stamp on this room while we are here.

Trying to find a way to watch the 49ers game and the only way I am able to do it is to sign up for a one-week trial of Direct TV Sunday Ticket, lying about my address and using a never-used PayPal account to sign up. Fooled you, you bastards. I’ll cancel it tomorrow.

As I am writing this, the Niners are currently losing 16-0 to the horrible Cardinals. Maybe it would have been better if I didn’t find a way to watch this?

5:00 PM – Tracey begins “The Process (TM)” in preparation for our incredible dinner tonight.

6:30 PM – Time for me to get ready as well, and I am going to shut this post down and continue tomorrow. Tonight’s dinner will be at least four hours long, and we plan to be up early tomorrow to get to Hollywood Studios for rope drop (Star Wars Land!), so my next blog post will cover tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s festivities. Stay tuned, you won’t want to miss this one!

Birthday trip begins for real at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival!

3:45 AM – SIGH. Hey, idiot, you know it’s barely past Midnight, right?? You have only been in this time zone for 12 hours, you can’t have adjusted yet. *Closes eyes*. GO BACK TO SLEEP GO BACK TO SLEEP GO BACK TO SLEEP

6:34 AM – Well I suppose this is the best I am going to do. No point in laying here in bed and probably disturbing the wife.

Off to EPCOT today, or as it is called these days, the Experimental Prototype Construction of Tomorrow. This park is undergoing a massive multi-layered overhaul and expansion, and we are prepared for the fact that construction will be everywhere.

As this is our first day here and I knew there would be some jet lag, I booked nothing this morning; in fact, our first booking is lunch at the Japanese pavilion in the early afternoon.

We are here at this time of year for three reasons. One, of course, it’s my 50th birthday later this week. Secondly, we have never seen the Orlando parks decorated for Xmas. Third, and this is what we are going to get to experience a little today, we have never been here for the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. All of our previous trips here have been in the spring.

The Festival has been running for months and is winding down now –  only a week or so left – so today will be our only opportunity to check it out. Our plans for today: Lunch, then use our pre-booked Fastpasses for a few rides, then explore the F&W Festival and much on nibbles for dinner at some of the various booths.

This week should be the “calm before the storm” in terms of park crowds. Next week, which is US Thanksgiving, is going to be chaos. We have planned this trip so that we go go go go go during our first week here, and then take it much easier next week. I know that might be tough on Tracey, and we are prepared to change things up if need be, but if we can get most of our Theme Park-ing done before the holiday crowds show up, we can really have a relaxing second week with a few days planned to stay at the resort and enjoy the many amenities here.

One of the big challenges will be figuring out what to wear. The weather is going to be quite pleasant for most, if not all, of our time here. Today and tomorrow are scheduled to be the coolest days of the trip with a high of just 19 degrees. By Thursday, for contrast, that number jumps up to 27. Zero percent chance of rain today, which is great. If you’ve ever been drenched in one of Florida’s famous rainstorms, you know how important that is.

Ever heard the phrase “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”? I think whomever coined that phrase must have been in Florida at the time. So that’s the issue; I can dress for 19 degrees. I brought the whole gamut: shorts and tank tops, jeans and T-shirts, and a jacket. But dressing for the humidity is a whole new ballgame. For example, it wasn’t particularly warm when we landed last night, but we both had sweat dripping down our forehead while standing at the rental car counter.

The forecasted humidity today runs between 77% (now) down to about 52% (when it reaches peak temperature of 19 degrees around 3 PM) and I really don’t know what that means. I guess it’s something we’ll have to figure out today.

At some point today, we have to partially re-pack as well, as tomorrow we leave the resort that we just checked into, and head to the Grand Floridian Hotel for 4 nights. Yes, I know, it is particularly gluttonous to have two residences going at the same time; but if you’ve ever been here, you understand the SIGNIFICANT perks that you get while staying on Disney property. I will get into it more once we are there, but it’s worth the extra money just to get the opportunity to book Fastpasses earlier. Hotel guests can book them 60 days in advance, non-hotel guests just 30.

So, today for example, we are not hotel guests so we could only book today’s Fastpasses 30 days out, and the main ride we want to experience at Epcot, the Frozen ride, was fully booked. If we want to get on that today, we will have to stand in a (probably) long line. I am not a fan of long lines. We had no problem booking it for our second visit to Epcot however, as we are visiting each of the 4 parks during our Grand Floridian stay, and were able to book just about anything we wanted for those days. It makes a huge difference. And since we have never been on the Frozen ride (we missed it’s grand opening by TWO WEEKS on our last visit here), we are very much looking forward to it.

8:00 AM – While the wife catches up on her ZZZ’s, I hop into the car to head to Target to pick up some essentials that we forgot to buy yesterday. Top of the list are some decent wine glasses. I am not drinking fine wine out of plastic goblets. Target has opened up a “store within a store” concept wine shop, selling some really good stuff. If by any miracle we run out of wine on this trip, we know where to go to get more.

Seriously, the complete and utter failure of Target to succeed in the Canadian market must be one of the great examples of poor management in recent retail history. Any chain that is a license to print money in the USA should be able to translate that into Canada. It just takes a little bit of proper planning to understand the differences. Shocking that it was mis-managed that poorly.

9:55 AM – Wife told me to wake her up by 10. I laughed. Well, the joke is on me as she is up and wide awake.

11:45 AM – We are out the door, on our way to Epcot. Cannot wait.

Goosebumps. Every. Single. Time.

So, it’s pretty freaking cold right now. The weather forecast is for a high of 19 and mostly sunny. I think they forgot what mostly sunny means.

1:20 PM – Lunch at Teppon Edo, in the Japanese Pavilion. Tracey was, I think, skeptical of this, as we never eat Japanese food. I just thought it was be cool

I WIN!

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Ken, our talented chef, grilling up some veggies, noodles, and meat

 

Food was great, ambiance was great, everything was great. We will definitely be back.

Wandering around we saw a lot of great food and wine vendors. You might wonder, why would two huge oenophiles, and Disney fans, have never previously been to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival?

Well, let’s get real. Disney is not going to allow guests to wander around one of their parks carrying glass. That means, wine in plastic cups.

Serious wine people cannot and will not drink wine in plastic cups.

So, the wine part of this event is really a curiosity more than anything else. The food portion, however, looks to be quite interesting. We should have one more day here before the festival ends to taste some of their wares.

Christmas has already come to Disneyworld but, because of the festival, not much here in Epcot yet. Here is the wife at the France pavilion in front of one of the few exceptions.

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Look at her hair and you can see how windy it is today. There is no way it is anywhere near 19 degrees, and there is certainly no sun in the sky.

As we expected, the theme of Epcot these days is construction. In fact, the above picture doesn’t show it, but there is a huge construction zone at the back of the pavilion, as they create a Ratatouille ride. If you have ever been to Paris Disneyland, you know this ride. It is, by all accounts, quite spectacular.

So much construction. The next time we come here, it is going to be a whole new ballgame.

4:30 PM – Done for today, and headed back to the resort for dinner and some wine and relaxation time. We know that most days, 3-4 hours in the parks is going to be all we can handle, and today was no exception.

With dinner, we had a couple very nice bottles of wine from our Wine.com case.

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What a treat. And I am going to make a bold prediction: This spectacular Chardonnay will be, at best, the fifth best wine we have this trip.

How can I say that? Well, I know what else is in the case we ordered from Wine.com, and I know where we are having dinner tomorrow: Victoria & Albert’s.

Regarded by many as the best restaurant in Orlando, if not all of Florida, our dining venue tomorrow is going to set the standard for meals. And the wine…oh the wine.

It will be late by the time we get done, so don’t expect an update tomorrow night, but you can probably expect an update early on Monday morning. You are going to want to check this post out. Trust me.

 

 

Orlando, here we come……..

1:45 AM: SIGH. I know we have an early flight today but nowhere near THIS early.

This is, sadly, a common occurrence for me these days. 130 AM, 230 AM, 330AM…..just about every day. Occasionally it’s not a big deal, I am able to get back to sleep. But all too often when I wake up at these ungodly hours, I know instantly that I ain’t gettin’ back to sleep anytime soon. When I’m at home, I just get up and go clean up the kitchen or something. But here, in the hotel, I can’t risk doing much but trying to force myself back to sleep. The wife needs her rest and nobody wants or needs an early appearance by Grumpy Bear on this trip.

4:30 AM – Well it worked, I was able to get a couple more hours of sleep. Wake up feeling fairly rested. The wife’s alarm goes off shortly after I wake up. I really hate her alarm, every time I hear it I feel like I’m about to be murdered by bongo-playing pygmies.

She is feeling a tad better than yesterday, but was still up several times during the night. Sure hope that this is reaching the end point; who wants to have to get up to go to the bathroom a bunch of times on a 5 hour flight? I can’t imagine a much worse experience.

Checking out of the hotel is a breeze, as always, and we head to the airport. As I have mentioned many times before, it’s incredible how peaceful and serene this resort is, just around the corner from a busy airport. No exaggeration, it’s two right turns and then you are into the Sea-Tac parking garage. Five minutes if you have to stop for lights, at most.

6:45 – No issues getting through security and we are into one of the several Alaska lounges to relax for an hour or so until we board. Apparently they have opened a brand new “flagship” lounge here, but this one is one of the older lounges and it is right near our gate, so no reason to wander around and find the newer one. Next time.

It is SO NICE to be able to get into these lounges and just relax a bit, grab a drink or a snack, and sit in comfortable chairs. We rarely spend more than 10 minutes at our gate these days. I am SO OVER the thought of flying coach ever again.

And given that we are planning to go to Europe in a few years, we better start saving our money ’cause those flights are more expensive than the fines the NFL just levied to the Browns and Steelers for that brawl last night. It was just announced that they suspended Myles Garrett for at least the rest of this season. They should suspend him for life. Ripping off an opponent’s helmet and hitting him across the skull with it is about as bad as it gets in the NFL. Imagine if he had split the guy’s head open, or given him a concussion, or worse. I think he would legitimately be looking at jail time.

7:35 – Boarding time. Jesus H Christ there are a lot of kids on this f*****g flight. Thank God for first class and noise cancelling headphones. I must say, though, as I type this I am not wearing the headphones and I can’t hear any unruly kids, so either they are well behaved (puh-lease), or way at the back of the plane, far enough away that they can’t drive us nuts.

8:15 – This is our scheduled take-off time but we are still waiting at the gate. The pilot comes on the intercom to explain that we are waiting for traffic to clear behind us, and we should be en route “shortly”.

8:15:30 – This is a man that knows what “shortly” means, as we start to back up to prepare to head out.

We are on a ‘breakfast’ flight and have already pre-booked our meals. Alaska always serves excellent food, but I wasn’t that excited about the choices this time. Tracey is having a spinach frittata and I am having a cheese plate. The only other option was a big freaking bowl of kale. Since I don’t eat spinach or kale, my choice was obvious.

Random musing: Why is this flight a “breakfast” flight? It takes off in the morning, sure, but we are also still going to be on this plane at lunchtime. Everyone on this flight had the opportunity to have breakfast before boarding…..if not at home, then certainly there are tons of places to eat at the airport. But nobody gets the chance to have lunch, since hopping off the plane to grab a burger isn’t particularly convenient at 35,000 feet.

Having said that, if there were an In N Out Burger up here, the wife would find a way.

I’m just sayin’.

10:00 – Who knew this was a 3-course breakfast?

They start with a delicious apple-cinnamon-pumpkin smoothy. Wow. So good.

Shortly after that, our flight attendant comes by and asks us if we are ready for our appetizer. Who gets an appetizer before breakfast? I guess we do.

It’s a lot of food! A bowl of Greek yogurt, granola, a hearty bun and cranberry preserves.

People who know me really well are probably having a good laugh about now after seeing the selection of “Anti-Dean” foods on this flight.

Let’s all sing along, to the tune of “My Favorite Things”. I am channelling my inner Julie Andrews.

Granola with raisins
Or any cranberry
Yucky green spinach does not make me merry
Spoiled milk called yogurt makes my nausea sing
These are a few of my Most Hated Things

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my Most Hated Things
And that makes me feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel SO MAD……..

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Well, at least the bun was tasty.

10:30 – Our flight attendant apologies in advance for our breakfast being served in the aluminum tins that they came in. Apparently the boys from catering forgot to load up the plates! LOL. I try to feign disgust, but as long as the food is good, I don’t really care if they serve it out of a doggie dish.

And it is GOOD. I made a mistake by not ordering the frittata, there was very little spinach in it. It was covered in some sort of dill-sour cream sauce, and accompanied by beautifully seasoned chicken sausage and homestyle potatoes. Luckily for me the wife wasn’t that hungry so I ended up getting about half of her food. My cheese plate is also very good, but I decided to keep most of it to have when it’s an appropriate time to start into the free Chardonnay.

10:36 – It’s time.

Our flight attendant is a terrible influence. She actually convinced me that it’s already 1:30 where we are headed, so it’s a perfectly acceptable time for wine. Can’t argue with that logic.

Now, airplane wine generally leaves a lot to be desired (although we have had some pretty good ones on other Alaska flights), but this is a perfectly quaffable Chardonnay from Paso Robles. Nothing to write home about, and not something I am going to drink a ton of, but it will pair nicely with the cheese plate.

Speaking of wine, we are sure looking forward to a brilliant fortnight of food and wine. Not only from the myriad of amazing meals we are going to enjoy at the various Disney properties, but also from the case of wine that will be waiting for us at our resort tonight. I ordered a random case of wine from Wine.com and it is scheduled to be delivered today, just before we arrive. You can expect a lot of terrific (I hope) reviews. There is some special stuff in that case.

11:05 – Wife has hit the wall and is asleep. I think we have about 2.5 hours left on the flight. With any luck, she will sleep through a lot of it.

12:15 PM – She’s awake, but only because some turbulence shook her. With about an hour and a half left in the flight, I can totally foresee her going right back to sleep.

Clearly she is having some sort of reaction to one of her many medications, as she has a huge, warm rash on her chest and under her throat. It looks like she has consumed shellfish or a lot of wine (she has had neither). She has taken so much medication in the last few days, it’s impossible to predict which one is doing this to her. It will probably pass.

She is back asleep.

And as if we haven’t had enough food on this flight, they bring around some snacks. Chips, trail mix, fruit and the like. I have not even finished my cheese plate yet!

Just noticed in the Wi-Fi details that we are traveling on one of their upgraded aircraft, which features Wi-Fi fast enough for streaming. I predict a Netflix marathon on the way home.

The rest of the flight is thankfully uneventful, as is our baggage retrieval. Off to get our rental car, which we pre-paid for months ago. We paid for a luxury car, looking for a car big enough for all of our luggage, and get offered a luxury SUV. Sounds good, until he mentions it is a Chevy Blazer. Hmm. Well, I don’t know anything about that, but he says it’s beautiful and it’s a 2020, with less than 1500 miles on it. I guess it can’t hurt to check it out.

He was right, it’s a really beautiful car. Tracey is the driver this trip since we bought this through her AMEX card to take advantage of her annual travel credit. She says it drives beautifully and it is very roomy. Of course, it’s a Chevy so it has undoubtedly been recalled in the amount of time it took me to type this paragraph.

It takes us a bit longer to get to the resort than we would have liked due to an accident on one of the highways, but we have no plans tonight other than some sort of makeshift dinner and an early bedtime.

9:20  – Safe and sound, checked in, have had dinner and are seriously contemplating going to bed. It’s not even 6:30 to our body clocks yet but holy cow are we both tired. The wife is feeling marginally better, which is a good sign for the rest of the trip.

Tomorrow, it all begins at the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow!!!