Tag Archives: spring break

Epcot – from lunch until sore feet take over

14 Jun

Back to where we left off.  We have just exited Animal Kingdom and our plan is to find food!  Fast!  We didn’t realize how hungry we were until we were on our way out and stumbled upon these …

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Yes!  It’s a cupcake shaped like a Meerkat!  So cute – and so not what we wanted to eat at that moment in time … lucky meerkat!

Back in the car and off to Epcot … but instead of heading to the front, we headed for the Boardwalk resort area, thinking we might grab a bite to eat there.  We parked in the visitor parking for the Boardwalk Resort and Villas and headed in from there.

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This is one resort I’ve never stayed at … but I’d like to try it sometime as it seems to have raving fans.  Today, however, nothing much was going on either at the resort or along the Boardwalk and the one restaurant that had a menu that we were really interested in was not open for lunch.  It was still pretty chilly, and the wind blowing across the water was just raw.  Out of the wind, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day.  Since the boardwalk was really, really dead, we just continued walking to the “back door” of Epcot Center.

The really nice feature of all the Boardwalk area resorts, which include the Swan and Dolphin and Yacht and Beach Club, is that you can walk from there to either Epcot or Hollywood Studios.  In addition, there is a nice path around the water that serves as a bike path, jogging trail, and people-watching venue.  Again, unless people are staying over there, they don’t tend to enter Epcot from this direction, so lines are pretty short and entry is fast and easy.  That said, you are on the “back side” or the World Showcase side of Epcot, so in the morning it’s a bit of a walk to the front where things are open.  Coming in at around 1pm as we did, however, means that the World Showcase is open and there is lots of activity to be found.  Plus, since we were looking for food, this was EXACTLY where we wanted to be … and we let our noses lead us straight to France.

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We were there during the Flower and Garden Festival, which is one of my two favorite times to visit Epcot, the other being the Food and Wine Festival, which runs from September 27-November 11 this year.  Amazing topiary creations are all over the park during this festival, and I’m going to bore you with photos galore.  But even better?  The food booths … and our first stop, in France, netted us this yummy ratatouile tart:

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Admittedly, it doesn’t look like much – but it TASTED glorious!  And it hit the spot!  We wished we’d bought two … but Britt was a little hesitant about it, having no idea what ratatoulie was, so we went on the safe side this time around.

The way the food booths work is a little different from the normal food operations … you stop and purchase a ticket (or tickets) for what you want to try, and then present the ticket as payment for your order.  If it’s crowded, this is a hassle.  But remember, it was cold out by Florida standards, although by now it was close to 60 degrees out, so no crowds today!

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We kept walking around the World Showcase … next stop, the booth in Japan:

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Here we sampled the Yakisoba Pan:

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And the Chirashi Hanazushi:

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Both dishes were excellent, although I preferred the “Zushi” – the noodles on bread were a little too carby for me, although it did make them really easy to eat!  As we continued on our quest we found ourselves in …

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The good old USA – here are some of the topiaries we found as we explored the American Pavillion:

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We skipped over this food booth, and the Italian one as well, since they weren’t serving anything we hadn’t tried before.  But I do have the menus, so if you’re interested in seeing them, comment on the blog and I’ll post them up.  In the meantime, check out the detail on the Lady and the Tramp topiary in Italy:

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I may be raving too much for you about the genius of Disney’s artists and designers, but come on – who DOES this?  A coat hanger for a dog tag .. brilliant!  And the use of the different varieties of plants to create the different textures on each of these sculptures had me in awe all the way around the park.  It was amazing.  On to Germany …

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This was our second favorite stop of the day – France being first.  We sampled the bread pudding (very rich – almost TOO rich – really glad we were sharing)

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And the meatloaf – which was not what we expected, but was SO good!  Point of note – it contains pork.  There was a lady blowing up behind us because the meatloaf contained Pork and had “ruined her”.  Honestly?!?!  If you have dietary restrictions, check the ingredients of ANYTHING you order – even if this had been “American style” meatloaf, chances are pretty good that it might have contained some pork … vent over – here is the picture of the yummy sandwich that looked … well … not so yummy.  (glad we braved it)

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Kinda looks like Spam doesn’t it?  But WOW – it was amazing, and if I could have purchased that mustard, I’d have a cabinet full of it right now.

At this point, we were so full we were bursting.  So we decided to pass on China, Norway (the food that is, we did ride Maelstrom), and Mexico figuring if we got the munchies we could always come back.  That is, we almost passed on Mexico.  Brittany developed a craving for horchata as we walked by the Mexico pavillion, and we were stunned to find that it is not served in Epcot Center.  Since we couldn’t get horchata, we got coffee instead – at the Mexico pavillion.  Here’s the funny (funny ha ha in our minds, anyway) part – she got an iced caramel latte and I got an iced latte with Baileys – Italian style coffee with Irish liquor in Mexico … where else but Disney??

Right next to the coffee stand was our good friend Mike!  We hadn’t seen him in years…

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And his buddy Sully …

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Spaceship Earth, the Dancing fountains surrounded by towering topiaries – and HERE is where all the people are!!!  I guess it kind of makes sense … Future World is largely indoors, so you can stay out of the frigid Florida air, lol.  That said, there were no Fast Passes left for Soarin’, Test Track, or anything else on this side.  But that’s okay, we’re not here to stand in line today, having only one day to do as much as we can, and so we headed for what used to be called “The Living Seas” and is now called “The Seas with Nemo and Friends”.

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We happily sank into a clamshell and set off to “find Nemo” while our feet throbbed and rested and then wandered in to the building to explore the tanks.  We probably spent close to an hour in there and we found ourselves fascinated by these rescued Manatees:

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They had been struck by boats and one was missing a fin, so are not able to live in the wild, but they seemed pretty happy here!

Back out to the Journey into Imagination Pavillion to see Michael Jackson in Captain EO

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And on to the butterfly tent … where all the fairies live and you can watch butterflies hatch from their cocoons.

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We were getting pretty tired and thirsty by now and our dogs were barkin’, if you know what I mean, so we started heading back towards the World Showcase on our way back to the car. Along the way, here’s what we saw:

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someone is not afraid of Nala …Image

the happy family

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Rafiki and Simba

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look who is lurking by Test Track!

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this is my favorite shot!

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My 4×12 garden takes me forever to plant – I can’t even imagine attempting this!Image

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Red glass poppies along the “yellow brick road” to “Oz”.  At the other end, we found the UK pavillion and stopped for some rose lemonade and peach iced tea.  And guess who else we discovered – these were the BEST!

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major points for creativity on the placement of Peter … Image

As we walked back past France, it crossed our minds that we might want more ratatoulie, and then it uncrossed them and we kept strolling out to catch our “Friendship” back to the Boardwalk Inn and Villas.  We headed for the car, abandoning the plan to try and catch the Rock-n-Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios, opting instead to head back to the timeshare for a rest.  Magic Kingdom will be the next stop, after a little exploration of the Polynesian Resort … and its open until 1am, so we’d better rest up!

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Exploring Disney’s Newest Resort – The Art of Animation Resort

14 Mar

Part of what we are doing while we are here is exploring Disney resorts that we’ve never been to.  The first one we decided to check out is the newest – Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. 

 

The newest of Disney’s “Value” resorts, AoA is located across a lagoon and connected by a bridge and a beautiful jogging trail to the Pop Century (another Value resort).  AoA consists of four different themed areas:  Finding Nemo, Cars, Lion King, and Little Mermaid.  Of these areas, all but the Little Mermaid areas have “family suites”, which sleep six.  The suites have a queen sized bed (in a room with a door that closes!), a double sized sleeper sofa, and a double sized “table bed”, which is a convertible bed that folds down, out of the wall, over the dining table in the room.  It’s a very unique, space saving idea and is similar to the Murphy Beds offered in the Wilderness Cabins.  The Little Mermaid rooms are ‘standard’ rooms, meaning that they sleep up to four with two double beds or one king bed.  The Mermaid rooms also have outdoor entrances, similar to what you’ll see at the other value resorts, while the suites enter from a hallway. 

The check in and lobby area are attention grabbers with their funky lighting and incredible animation artwork.  If you’re at Disney, don’t EVER forget to look up – check out this cool chandelier feature in the lobby at AoA – each panel is unique and you could spend quite a bit of time looking just at this!

 

The “Big Blue Pool” is the largest pool area of all the Disney resorts to date, and it’s themed very creatively.  We were almost on sensory overload as we walked through the whole resort, but this was especially well done and the families using the pool were obviously having a fantastic time!

 

 

Note the fountain fish – there is an entire toddler area with the great squishy randomly squirting water features, a playground right off the pool, and bright, happy colors and music everywhere. 

The outside of each building is “themed” as well –

It was really cool and made me kind of wish I was staying there … kind of.  Rooms right now have starting prices ranging from $118 per night for a standard room (Mermaid) to $284 per night for the family suites. 

 By the way, if you’re interested in getting pricing for a Disney vacation, you can email me at travelingtogether@yahoo.com or visit my website at http://travelingtogether.agentarc.com/content.asp and I’m happy to help – on with the review now that the cheap and tawdry advertising is over. 

AoA has a great food court – I’m posting the menus below, but there were also a great variety of “quick take out” options from Greek yogurt and fruit to sushi and pre-made sandwiches and salads, ready to grab and go if the kids won’t leave the pool.  Oh, and for dessert?  Gelato and pastries …

 

 

 

The theming was wonderful throughout the resort.  Here are some photos from each of the different areas – Lion King first – the movie screen was for “movies under the stars” – a free option for Disney guests.  The movie tonight?  Up.  A great way to unwind and relax a little before attempting to get the kids into bed. 

 

 

Behind the skeleton is a little cave type area that was all lit up – there were kids playing in there, so I didn’t snap any photos – I’m trying not to unintentionally make anyone’s kids fodder for the internet – but if I were predisposed to do so, Disney would be the place to get the best shots!  Princesses skipping along with sticky marshmallow faces, pirates around every corner – if you give your kids a break and allow them to rest and enjoy some of the little spots designed just for that instead of pushing to do everything (its impossible –trust me), it truly CAN be the happiest place on earth.

On to The Little Mermaid – I’ve seen some criticism of this area (and the Lion King) on line from Disney fanatics who don’t think that the theming was quite enough – trust me, it’s plenty!  I’m not sure what was expected, but in my opinion, there is plenty to look at, lots to do, and when I get back to my resort after a long day in the parks, I like to be able to relax a bit.  That said, the pool areas in both the Lion King and Little Mermaid areas were not nearly as well done as the Cars area, which (contrary to what I expected) became my absolute favorite – although I think all three smaller courtyards (the Nemo rooms are off the Big Blue Pool) are a lot of fun.  Anyway, I digress – here’s Ariel and her friends.

 

(I love how the landscaping plays into the theme – Disney is all about the details!)

Neptune, Ursula and Ariel are as tall as or taller than the buildings – they are just FUN!

On to Cars – this part of the resort is INCREDIBLE – and when I book a trip to AoA, this is where I want to be.  Check out the pool cabanas – the theming here is so well done that it makes some of the more luxurious resorts look weak by comparison. 

 

Gotta love orange cones as cabanas –

 

 After AoA, we headed over to Downtown Disney to grab a bite to eat at one of my favorite places, The Earl of Sandwich.  If you’re in the mood for soup, salads, or great sandwiches and actually care about your budget, this is a great option.  Full sized sandwiches (10-12”) run $5.99 – and salads are similarly priced.  When Subway brags about a $5 footlong and their quality isn’t even close to EoS, the deal is even that much more surprising.  Here’s my sandwich – the Chipotle Chicken and Avocado, which comes in at a reasonable 440 calories (yes, I’m that person – watching my calories even while on vacation, sigh).  Britt had the Tuna Salad sandwich.  I normally will never order a tuna salad sandwich while out to eat, but this one is worth a look.  I don’t have a photo because she dug in too fast, but it was chunky, just the right amount of dressing and served with melty, mild Swiss cheese (she couldn’t believe it was Swiss – it didn’t have that ‘bite’ and tasted more like Havarti). 

 

After dinner, we wandered a bit, shopped a very little, and then as the exhaustion from rising at 3am to catch our flight began to overwhelm us, headed back to the timeshare.  We’re at Bluegreen’s Fountains resort – on International Drive, it’s a fast 10 minute drive to the Walt Disney World Resort and about the same distance to Sea World.  Universal is just a little further up the road from Sea World, so it’s in a great location, and if you have the opportunity to stay here, I highly recommend it.  A few pics below of Lego sculptures and then a few more of our timeshare.

The timeshare is below – these are the super deluxe units – not what I booked, but we got upgraded (YAY!) to the newest and nicest.  But here at the Fountains, even the old units are beautiful – if you want to check them out, go to  http://www.bluegreenonline.com

Bedroom 2 – with 2 double beds

Bathroom 2

the kitchen – with marble countertops and nice, new appliances, it comes fully stocked with all the dishes and utensils (and cookware) you could need – even kitchen scissors!

Master bedroom – King bed

“extra” sink and counter in master bedroom

The sink area inside the master bathroom – there is a shower across from the “extra sink and countertop, and then this gem inside the bathroom itself:

 

Outside there are two pools (one is indoor/outdoor), all kinds of food options here at the resort, a few beautiful lakes, and a 1/2 mile jogging path that encircles the lake.  But now, as I warned you above, the pillow is calling, and this is where my day must end.  Back later with Animal Kingdom!

 

 

Spring Break 2013 – Central Florida, Bahamas, Key West

13 Mar

We’re on the road again!  Things got a bit crazy the last half of 2012, but they’ve settled down now and Brittany and I are out on the road – or, I should say, in the air.

Britt had a pretty serious surgery at the end of January, and we’re exactly six weeks out today!  What better way to get a teenaged girl to want to recover than to plan an awesome vacation?  I can’t think of one, so that’s what we did.

This morning, at 3am, my alarm went off.  While the rest of the house was still sleeping, I got dressed and went to wake Britt.  The two of us crept out the door, trying not to wake the rest of the family (other than for a fast goodbye they probably won’t remember) or the “puppy” and loaded our 2 carry-on sized bags into the minivan.  Along with those bags, I have my laptop case and she has a tote bag.

This trip, we’re doing something a little different than my normal routine – we’re flying on Southwest.  I think its been close to ten years, and maybe longer, since I’ve been on this airline.  They used to be considered a “low cost” carrier – and maybe they still are, but I have found that their ticket prices tend to be pretty closely aligned with most of the other major carriers (AA, United, Delta … you get the jist).  Sometimes their fares are even higher, which means that using them didn’t make sense at all.  For one, Southwest flys out of Midway airport – Midway isn’t a bad airport at all, and I’ll discuss that in a bit, but it is not even a little bit convenient to get to from where I live.  If you take a limo or car service, they charge close to fifty percent more to take you there, if you’re flying during peak times, the traffic is horrible, and the neighborhood – let’s just say its seen its better days.

This time, however, Southwest it is.  A couple things that have changed since we last flew are the option for “early check in”.  I’ve seen this widely panned in reviews, with flyers stating that it doesn’t buy you any better seat than you’d get if you were checking in normally – but at $10, I think the risk would be worth it.  You’re guaranteed a slot in the “A” boarding group – which is helpful since Southwest does not have assigned seating.  In the old days, you’d get to the airport as early as you could stand, and then do just that – stand in line at the gate – first come, first served.  It was miserable and you’d have folks “saving places” for others – which if it is your husband, wife, or child is ok.  When its your entire softball team, not so much.  Now, Southwest has boarding groups and inside of each group are assigned numbers.  When they call your flight for boarding, you line up according to your number and passengers are boarded five at a time, in order.  Much nic)er than the old days.

The plane, too, has had a bit of an upgrade/facelift.  Last time I flew SW, the color scheme was royal blue and orange.  The seats were cloth and there were “facing” seats in the front of the plane.  Today, our 737 has wifi (for a fee), leather seats, and is configured like a “normal” aircraft – that said, those front seats that faced each other were really  nice when we travelled with all three kids – their legs weren’t as long as ours, so we got more leg room, our family could all sit together and converse, and it was really comfortable.  I can see, however, that if you had six adults in those seats, the leg room might not be ideal.

The “bags fly free” feature was also very nice and the skycap at the airport was awesome in helping us get our 2 bags checked why lug them around if you don’t have to …

Overall, Midway is an easy airport to navigate.  Its small, which means you’re never too far from your gate. There are skycaps to help you avoid the annoying check in lines caused by groups traveling together and people who have never learned how to check in via the kiosk or online.   I was pleasantly surprised to see that more food and merchandise venues are open at Midway in the early morning (think 4:30am) hours than at O’Hare.  We easily found something to eat and drink on the way to the gate and had several options to choose from, unlike the McDonalds only model that seems to be par for the course at O’Hare prior to 5am.

Boarding went quickly and we were in the air in a jiffy.  The other  thing that’s interesting about Southwest – although not my favorite thing – is that they kind of act like a bus.  We booked a flight to Orlando, but made stops in Baltimore MD and Greenville SC “on the way”.  The good – we didn’t have to exit the plane.  The bad – 3 takeoffs and landings and an additional 3 hours in travel time over a direct flight.  Ick.

Something else that has changed – the flight attendants aren’t quite as much “fun” as they used to be back in days gone by.  Air travel has changed so much that perhaps it isn’t entirely practical, but remembering fondly the whole aircraft sing-alongs , jokes over the intercom, and general goofiness had set my expectations up a little differently than what actually occurred.  Maybe we just had a “down to business” flight crew, but all those fun things are gone.  The peanuts, pretzels, and free beverages (even liquor on certain days of the year – St Patty’s day is next), still exist, though, and overall it’s been a great flight.

So, over the next week, Brittany and I are planning to have a few different experiences which we’ll share with you along the way as we have wi-fi and in updates after we get back.  This afternoon, we’re checking in at our timeshare condo and then probably hitting Downtown Disney (and maybe Universal’s Citywalk later this evening – just for comparison’s sake).  We’ll visit some of the Disney resorts, a couple of their theme parks and restaurants (pictures, detailed reviews and info to follow), and the Boardwalk entertainment center.  We’ll explore Cocoa Beach, board the Carnival Ecstasy for a run to Nassau, Freeport, and Key West, and will end back in Orlando before boarding our Southwest flight back home – that will be an evening flight, so we’ll see if the fun returns.  If not, I’ll chalk it up to another casualty caused by an abundance of caution in our crazy world.

As we approached Orlando, my imagination ran wild and I snapped a photo of this “not very Mickey-shaped” water feature:

We exited the plane, hit the ladies room, and grabbed the “train” as my girls used to call it, from the terminal to the main airport building.

 

This is Britty on the train – I have pictures of her sitting in the same spot from the time she was 2.  We haven’t flown in to MCO in quite awhile, and as we boarded, I indicated the shelf at the back of the train and said, “when you were little you used to love to sit there”.  She gave me a really sheepish look and told me that was what she was planning to do now, too.  I guess some things never change – and that’s a good thing.

If you’ve never been in MCO, to get to your gate from the ticket counter, you go through security and then catch the train to your terminal.  You do the same thing in reverse when you fly in to Orlando – the key is, you MUST pay attention to which baggage claim area you are heading to.  It matches the terminal you flew into (unless its a wierd coincidence that every time I’ve flown in I’ve collected my baggage at the claim center with the same letter as my terminal).  Off to baggage claim “A”, grabbed the luggage, and then a quick shuttle to my new favorite rental car company, Sixt.  No line and no hassle later, we were in a sleek Mazda 6 buzzing down the tollway towards our timeshare on International Drive.

So, sit back, relax, and keep your eyes open as you take a “virtual vacation”.  If you have questions about anything along the way, please feel free to post them in the comments section.  I’ll do my best to answer them quickly for you, or to find the answers for you if I don’t have them handy.