Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Orlando trip - February 16, 2011 - Animal Kingdom and dinner at Boma

This was our full day at Animal Kingdom. We'd been there the day before for a few hours as part of the Wild Africa Trek tour, but other than riding Expedition Everest, we didn't do anything else.

We had considered going to the Festival of the Lion King show because one of the performers in a group that I like had been in the show the previous day, but unfortunately, I didn't find out until too late that he was in the early shows that day as well, so I missed it. I've seen the show before, and I like it ok, but it's not the same as the Lion King Celebration parade that Disneyland had, even though some of the floats from that parade are used in this show.

We went to the Pangani Forest to see the gorillas for a little while. The baby was out and about with his mother, so they were fun to watch. After that, it was time to go in search of breakfast. At first, we thought it might be a futile effort like it had been at Disney's Hollywood Studios, but then we saw a sign in front of Pizzafari indicating they had breakfast items, so we went inside to have a look. And we were pleased to find that they did indeed have a nice breakfast platter, so we had breakfast there.

Breakfast platter from Pizzafari.

After breakfast, we wandered around and spent some time looking at various animals and then made our way to the back of the Asia section. On our visit in 2007, I had picked up the roundie yeti, which I loved, and I was happy to see a new yeti plush that I liked. It's actually part of a collection that I can neither spell nor pronounce, but I like to refer to him as Flat Yeti.

Flat Yeti - the only one in the series I like. Yep, he came home with me.

We then got in the stand-by line for Expedition Everest because we wanted to go on the ride again, but we also wanted to see the queue again, with all its details. I love this ride!

Afterward, we looked at the other animals in the Asia section, and we spent some time with the tigers. There was one tiger in particular walking in front of the windows that we watched for a while.

Another tiger in the same enclosure came by, and there were other tigers in an enclosure on the opposite side as well. We stayed and watched them for a while, and it was also interesting to watch one of the tigers watching the tigers in the other enclosure, including trying to look around us to see the other tigers because we were inadvertently blocking his line-of-sight.

After a morning of communing with the animals, it was time for lunch. On our first visit to Animal Kingdom, in 2007, friends had introduced us to Flame Tree BBQ, which we had loved. They were unfortunately closed for refurbishment during our August 2010 trip, so we were happy that they were open this time. The food is really good, and if you walk all the way down to the bottom section of the seating area, you get a great view of Everest across the water.

Lunch at Flame Tree BBQ - half a BBQ chicken. Yummy, tender & juicy.

The husband had the half slab of St. Louis ribs.

Our view at lunch at Flame Tree BBQ seating - majestic Everest.

After lunch, we wandered around the Africa section to look at some more of the animals there and took a train to Conservation Station for a little while before making our way to the Kilimanjaro Safari to use a Fastpass we had gotten earlier. We usually do a late morning safari but we decided to try a late afternoon one this time to see if there was a difference in the animals there were to see. And we discovered that there was a difference - in the late afternoon, you don't see too many animals. Our tour was within the last hour or so before normal park closing time, and the animals have been conditioned to return indoors for the evening. It seems that they can tell from the location of the sun when it's about time to go inside, so they actually wait outside the gates to the back sections - which is why they're not roaming around the savanna for safari guests to see.

Our safari driver was funny, though. We were sitting on the right side in the very front, so it was easy to hear him, even when he wasn't speaking too loudly or wasn't speaking on mic. He pointed out all the "exotic" squirrels we saw - I don't know if he normally does that as a joke or if it was because there weren't many other animals around, but it was still funny. He was also good at spotting the few animals that were out but perhaps difficult to make out. We did see a whole group of them gathered at a gate to go backstage for the night. Disney's Animal Kingdom - the only Disney park were even the ANIMALS line up!

The best part of our safari was seeing father and son white rhinos fighting each other while mom came to intervene. Then a fourth white rhino considered charging our truck but decided against it when he realized we weren't in fact another rhino. And all of this happened while a cheetah was watching with great interest. Beautiful cat, so sleek and graceful.

After our safari, we went to look at the remainder of the animals who were still out in various locations, waiting to be taken in for the night.

Painted stork.

The park had extra magic hours that evening from 6pm to 9pm, and we just wanted to be there long enough to be able to ride Expedition Everest again at night. That's the tradition - we go on Everest twice, once in the daytime and once at night. When you're going up the long hill, you get a beautiful view of the surroundings (provided it's not cloudy, of course), and the view is different between the daytime and the nighttime. We browsed inside some stores to kill more time, then did our ride and went back to our car.

We had a dinner reservation at Boma, but we ended up at the wrong Animal Kingdom Lodge building at first, so we backtracked to get to the right building. We were a little early for our reservation, so the husband sat in the hotel lobby while I was on my cel, talking a co-worker through a work emergency. That done, we headed to dinner. I thought the experience was just ok, but both the husband and I found that the flavors of the buffet offerings weren't entirely to our liking. They weren't bad, and it's hard to describe what exactly didn't work for us. I also was a little annoyed that there were no signs above the buffet to say what things were. I like that normally anyway, but for food that's a bit more ethnic and not exactly run-of-the-mill, I would think signage would be more important. The CMs said it was fine to just ask the chefs, which I did for a couple of the items (even the soups weren't labeled), but they were busy, and I didn't think it was cool to take up their time to go through each thing on the buffet with me. Usually, we don't have any trouble finding at least a few things on a buffet to satisfy us, but this time, it was a bit more difficult. The service was also a bit spotty and the dining room wasn't as clean as I'm used to with Disney standards. I can't say that I envision ever returning to Boma.

Orlando trip - February 15, 2011 - afternoon and evening at Downtown Disney and dinner at Raglan Road

OK, I said at the end of the previous day's trip report that we were going on an adventure the next day. And we did, in the morning (the new Wild Africa Trek tour at Animal Kingdom), but that's gonna take more work to put together, so I'm leaving that for the end. So for the moment, we time travel to after the tour is over.

After we were done at Animal Kingdom, we went back to the hotel for a bit to rest before heading to Downtown Disney.

Pirate Stitch above and in front of World of Disney at Downtown Disney in Orlando.

We wandered around World of Disney for a while - that store is massively huge, so much so that it's a bit overwhelming. We've taken to just going through it like a grid, one row of sections at a time. We browsed around a few of the other stores in Downtown Disney and then we went to Goofy's Candy Company. I don't think we've gone in there on our previous visits to Downtown Disney, because I'm pretty sure I would have remembered. Wow do they have treats galore, all different kinds - there were even lots of different flavors of fudge (including fudge sandwiches, which would seem a bit much).

Egg and bunny cookies - a little early for Easter, isn't it?

Treats for St. Patrick's Day.

St. Patrick's Day fudge treat - mint.

Specially decorated apples for St. Patrick's Day too.

Other candy apples are available too.

These are much more "candy" than "apple".

The Butterfinger one looks good though.

Tuxedo Mickey apple is cute.

Mickey marshmallow treat pops can be dipped and decorated too.

They have giant Mickey *and* Minnie crispy treats.

On our previous visits, we usually parked on the West Side of Downtown Disney and then walked to wherever else we were going. This time, we decided to park in the Marketplace section since we were starting out there. But, we wanted to give DisneyQuest a try since we'd never been there before and since it was included as part of our premier pass. And, of course, DisneyQuest is on the West Side. You know, where we normally parked but not this time. Planning, yeah.

But...we discovered something we'd never known before - Disney offers boat service from one side of Downtown Disney to the other. How convenient! We took advantage of the service, got on a boat at the Marketplace and were then ferried (ok, boated) over to the West Side. It was a nice ride too, with pretty views. We'll definitely be doing that again.

I really didn't have any idea what DisneyQuest was or what to expect. We went inside, looked at the maps somewhat and decided to start from the top and work our way down. We spent a couple of hours in there and had a lot of fun. Everything is included with admission, so I played some really old video games like Galaga, Rampage and Centipede/Millipede. They had lots of different video games - no tokens needed. I also played some skeeball and basketball and a few other games (like what you'd expect to find in an arcade or a Dave & Busters). They also had a number of virtual reality games, but we didn't do any of that. They also have small snack bars on every level so if you're hungry, you can take a break to grab a bite to eat. We had a good time, and it's great as an inclusion for annual passholders, but I don't think it would be worth actually buying a ticket for.

We were tired from the day so decided to head over to the Pleasure Island section of Downtown Disney since we had an 8:30pm dinner reservation at Raglan Road. We'd gone there for the first time in August 2010 and loved it, so we wanted to go back. We were very early for our reservation, so we just took spots on the curb to people-watch and wait to be called to our table. We had glanced inside the bar with half a thought to go in there and wait, but the bar was packed. We were kind of surprised that they were so busy for a Tuesday night.

On our last visit, we had been seated in a side room, which was pretty quiet, and we were at a table (the only table, I'm told) with comfy easy chairs. It was a lovely dinner. This time, we were seated in the main dining room, where the entertainment stage was, so it was a very different experience, but none the less lovely. They had a group of Irish dancers, with a main stage in one section and a very small center stage where one of the dancers would perform as well. We had a good view of the main stage and an even better view of the little center stage. I also loved the house band - Creel - who sounded great. I even ended up getting their CD. We had a terrific evening with good food and great entertainment.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

dinner at Club 33 at Disneyland

On Saturday night, we had the opportunity to have dinner at Club 33 with friends. We've been there before for a special breakfast and for brunch, but this was our first time at dinner. We had a lovely meal and a good time with friends.

To read the complete review, which includes pictures, please click here.

Orlando trip - February 14, 2011 - DHS and Epcot and dinner at Cape May Cafe

We were going to spend a couple hours this morning at Disney's Hollywood Studios again, but we'd learned our lesson from earlier in the trip, so we stopped at the store/cafe counter downstairs in the hotel to grab a breakfast sandwich first. After sitting in one of the lounges for a few minutes to have our breakfast, we then boarded a Friendship boat to DHS. It's a nice ride, with views of all the Epcot resort hotels along the way.

Beach Club.

Yacht Club.

Boardwalk Resort.

Swan Hotel.

Dolphin Hotel.

Our first stop was to go on Toy Story Mania again, but this time, we wanted to be able to spend time in the queue, looking at all the cool details before going on the ride. There are fun things in the exit area as well.

For a photo tour of the Toy Story Mania ride and the surrounding area, please click here.

We'd never seen the Lights, Camera, Action show before and had wanted to see it, but the first show wasn't until the afternoon, and we hadn't planned on being at DHS that long, so we'd have to wait for another trip to see it. Instead, we took another ride on Tower of Terror, and then we were done with DHS for the trip so went to take a Friendship boat back to the resort, and then we walked to Epcot.

First order of business at Epcot was lunch. We'd loved Marrakesh, the table service restaurant in Morocco, but we didn't have time for that again on this trip, so we decided to go to the quick service restaurant, called Tangierine Cafe.

It's still the holidays in the Tangierine Cafe! Guess they have to use up all their holiday cups.

The husband had the lamb wrap.

I had the sliders combo (lamb, chicken & falafel).

We sat down at a table inside to enjoy our lunch. Everything was really yummy, and we'll definitely come back. For quick service, it's probably going to be hard to decide whether to come back to Tangierine Cafe or go to our normal brats-and-pretzels lunch from the German quick service because both are so good.

We had wanted to see/hear the Voices of Liberty, but our schedule and their limited performance schedule at this time didn't mesh, so we'll have to wait for another trip to catch them. After lunch, we went to the Japan section. A friend had told us about Miyuki, a fantasy candy art creator, and we'd wanted to see her for ourselves. She makes animals from a Japanese candy substance made from rice starch. She has a little podium/work station at the front part of the pavilion, right next to the front portion of the big Japanese store. She can make a wide variety of animals, and as she's making an animal, she sort of chants through the litany of animals she can make. She starts with making a particular animal, but then she'll take requests from the audience on what other animals she should make, and sometimes, she'll ask what color too. She's a lot of fun to watch, very funny, very personable. There are several times during the day when you can see her, and she's definitely worth making an effort to see.

Miyuki making a dolphin.

You can't keep the animals, but after she's done, you can have your picture taken with the animal you requested or any of the other candy animals she's made.

Miyuki's candy animal creations.

Miyuki's animal creatures - giraffe (with hidden Mickey) and dolphin.

Miyuki's candy animals - porcupine, unicorn, monkey and flamingo. The porcupine had been at my request.

Miyuki poses with some of her candy animal creations.

After seeing Miyuki, we headed to Norway. We'd gone on Maelstrom the other night, but we weren't able to see the film because it doesn't run during evening extra magic hours, and I really like the film. We'd been told that we could see the film without going on the ride (not that I wouldn't have wanted to go on the ride again, but it was a bit of a wait, and we didn't really have time) if we asked the CM at the front. We did just that, explaining why we hadn't been able to see the film previously, and she let us wait in a section until the next time the film started.

We then went to the pavilion next door, Mexico, to go on their boat cruise, which we've never done before. And, I have to say, I don't get it. All the other country presentations, whether a ride or a movie, showed you the appeal and beauty and allure of the respective country, making you appreciate what's there and wanting to visit to see more. The Mexico boat ride - was a mess. It's themed to the Three Caballeros, though I'm not entirely sure why. I wouldn't think Mexico would need a hook to get people to want to come on the ride. I think a ride is a lot easier to entice people to go on than to see a film, like some of the other countries have. And maybe I'm biased because Mexico is relatively close to where I live, but I wouldn't think that Mexico is such an exotic location that people wouldn't know what it is and would be hesitant about going on a ride for it. I would think that most people have at least heard of Mexico and so would be interested to know more about it if they don't already. I didn't really know how the Three Caballeros tie-in would work, but I kind of expected to see a travelogue of the country, showing things there are to do and see in Mexico. Instead, it was a very disjointed, frenetic journey through Mexico that left me knowing very little about the country and no real desire to see more. As best as I could gather, the Three Caballeros are in Mexico for a concert, but Donald gets distracted by various things and the other two are chasing after him to find him in time for the concert. There are screens in various places which the different characters run through/appear in, and this is amidst scenes of Mexico with people at the beach and at parties and other places. I was trying to follow Donald et al, but in trying to look for them and keep track of them, you miss a lot of the other scenes of people just enjoying the local flavor. I think that the main part of the story, just showing the various places and things there are to do in Mexico, would have been terrific. I've not spent much time in Mexico, but I know a lot of people who have, and the fun and relaxation they've told me about were nowhere to be represented in anything that I saw on the ride. I know that ride has been there for a long time, so maybe I'm just viewing it differently, but unlike Maelstrom and the films in the other countries, it's not really something I'd recommend for a new visitor to Epcot to take time in their schedule to do.

From there, we made a quick visit to the Seas pavilion since we hadn't had a chance to go on the Nemo ride, which I love, especially since they have clam ride vehicles. (On a side note, I'm excited that DCA's new Little Mermaid ride will also have clam ride vehicles cause they're cool and cute.) The queue for the Nemo ride is cool too, as you go under the water.

Love the Nemo ride and the seagulls outside. Mine, mine, mine!

Afterward, we went to Turtle Talk with Crush since we'd never seen Epcot's version of this attraction. It's always fun to see how Crush is going to answer some of the very creative and challenging questions from kids.

We then made our way back to World Showcase and looked around at some of the shops. I was amused to see this shirt since turkey legs are a topic of great debate among Disney fans.

For Disney fans who want to shout out their love of turkey legs.

A nearby store also had a large selection of plush and clothes for Duffy the Disney Bear. I haven't yet succumbed to buying one yet, though I've been tempted. I like some of the specialty outfits, but I'm kind of annoyed that the specialty outfits are actually sewn onto Duffy. Duffy is advertised as a bear for whom you can buy different outfits for him to wear. But if you want any of the specialty outfits, you have to buy the outfit and the bear, so you could end up with multiple bears if you want different specialty outfits or if you want a bear that you can actually dress in different clothes. That's not really what I had in mind.

International Duffy appropriately abounds at Epcot.

World Showcase has Friendship boats that stop at three locations around the lake so that you don't have to walk all the way around if you don't want to. We've used the boats for transportation before, but I also like it as a ride because you get wonderful views of World Showcase while on the lake itself. We got on a Friendship boat at Showcase Plaza, in the front middle section of World Showcase, directly across the lake from the American pavilion, and we rode the boat to its first stop at Morocco. We stayed on the boat and were happy to see that as we passed the American pavilion, the Illuminations globe was already parked, waiting for the evening performance.

Illuminations globe in the daytime parked in U.S. section.

We got off the boat at the second stop in Germany and walked around a bit more in the various countries, making our way to France. A friend had told me about the orange slushiein the French section, so I had tried it on our August trip, and I loved it, so it's pretty much on my "must-have" list now. Refreshing and tasty!

Grand Marnier and Grey Goose orange slush from France.

This is a better picture of the slushie, from August 2010.

The husband had wanted to go back to our room for a bit, and I wanted to spend a little more time in the U.K., so I bid him farewell and headed to indulge the Anglophile in me a bit more. Their Beatles tribute band was just at the end of their set in the garden in the back, so I found an empty space on a curb and sat down to enjoy my slushie and hear the end of their set. After they were done, I stayed and enjoyed the atmosphere while I finished my drink. I then did some shopping in the gift shop (I'd previously found an item that I knew would make a great birthday gift for a friend so went back to buy it.), and then I headed back to the room to rest for a bit before dinner.

Dinner on this night was at the Cape May Cafe at the Beach Club. When we were booking our trip, we had been aware that Valentine's Day would fall in the middle of our trip and figured we needed to decide where to eat that night. Well, nothing says love like a good seafood buffet! ;)

We had tried to have dinner at Cape May Cafe on our first trip in late 1999, as our Thanksgiving meal. At that time, we had been unaware of the necessity of making reservations at WDW restaurants since we'd never been to WDW before and were Disneyland regulars. There aren't as many table-service restaurants at Disneyland, and with a willingness to wait some period of time, getting a table wasn't really a problem. Such was not the case at WDW, especially on a holiday. We got there early in the afternoon, and no matter how long we were willing to wait, we were told they were too booked to take any walk-ups at all. We ended up at Le Cellier that night (They were also very booked but were able to fit us in at a tiny table in between two provinces - the food was delicious and our server was terrific and friendly, so it was a lovely meal overall and the reason why Le Cellier will always hold a special place in my heart.), and we hadn't had the chance to try Cape May Cafe again, but since we were actually staying at Beach Club this time, it made sense to finally dine there.

We took the elevator downstairs from our room and walked through the lobby to Cape May Cafe - it was a very pleasant and short travel time. :)

We checked in and waited for a bit for our table. I looked around and saw a cake that was a special decoration for the day.

Pretty Valentine's cake.

Close-up of Mickey and Minnie on top of the cake.

After a while, we were taken to our table, which was actually fairly close to where the buffet stations were. Our server came out to greet us and asked if we'd been there before so he would know how much information to give us. When we told him we'd never been there before, including the story of how we tried to go there previously, he told us all about the restaurant and the food offered at dinner. He was very knowledgeable about everything as it turned out that he had been there for quite some time - I think it was at least 20 years.

There were many wonderful things included in the buffet, but the seafood was pretty much the highlight, at least for us. The seafood was obviously plentiful, but it was also delicious and very good quality. Growing up, we didn't have seafood very often, but when we did, my parents made sure we had the good stuff. Bad seafood is just not worth it. You can find places that don't charge much for seafood, but cheap (aka "inexpensive") seafood pretty much means cheap (aka "blech") seafood. But that was certainly not the case here.

A little seafood to start off dinner at Cape May Cafe.

As I mentioned, there were many things on the menu, but since we were enjoying the seafood so much, we didn't have too much of the other offerings, other than mostly vegetables. Here's a photo tour of some of what's offered at the dinner buffet.

An overall picture of the front section of the square buffet station.

It's all about the seafood.

Steamed clams.

Steamed crab legs.

Steamed mussels.

Deep-fried calamari and pasta.

Carving station.

Chicken and ribs.

More food choices.

Mac and cheese.

I think this was technically in the kids' section, but I love mac and cheese so I took a little bit just to have a taste.

They had buckets that you could take to put your seafood shells and meat bones in, and the server would periodically clear the contents.

You could also get drawn butter for your seafood, but I actually like the taste of seafood, so drowning it in butter is not my thing.

Carrots are kind of boring, but I love green beans, so I think I mostly just took green beans.

Cabbage with bacon. Mmmmm, this was YUMMY.

Of course, after dinner, there were some dessert choices as well.

Cookies and brownie bites.

Mini cupcakes and more cookies.

They also had a few sugar-free options available. There were none sitting out, but when we asked our server, he said they had some he could bring out. I don't remember exactly what they were, but they had two different options, and he brought out one of each and would have brought more if we'd wanted it.

Overall, it was a wonderful meal, and definitely worth the 11 year wait. Our server was terrific (very attentive to our drink refills and other needs, very professional but also friendly), and the food was delicious, and we definitely had our fill of seafood. The cost of the meal wasn't actually as much as I'd expected since I figured that the inclusion of the seafood would mean a higher price, but it wasn't really that much more than a normal buffet. I can't say if the buffet would be considered a good deal for someone who isn't partial to seafood, but for a seafood lover, I can say that without a doubt, it's a terrific price for all the good seafood you can have during this meal.

We had made sure to have an early enough dinner time where we could enjoy our meal (we figured that the seafood would dictate a longer mealtime than normal) and still be able to get back into Epcot to see Illuminations one more time. We ended up hurrying a little bit at the end and to get our check closed, and we made it to Epcot ok but without enough time to get to any of the spots we might normally choose. Instead, we ended up to the left of the U.K., which still gave us a decent view of the show.

As usual, we watched the show and then stayed to listen to all of the exit music. I was a little sad because this was going to be our last time in Epcot on this trip, and it's going to be a little while before we're going to make it back to WDW. Disneyland is home, but Epcot is a second home.

After we were done at Epcot, we walked to the Boardwalk Resort and spent some time at the Belle Vue lounge/bar there. We'd stayed at the Boardwalk on our August trip, and we'd really liked it. A friend had recommended the Belle Vue, so we'd given it a try. It's a nice place to hang out, enjoy the atmosphere and drinks as well. So far, they've made the best Bloody Mary I've had.

We spent some quiet relaxing time at the Belle Vue, and then we walked back to our room. The next day, we were going on an adventure.