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Summary of Trip to Disneyworld, Christmas 2013

We held a small family reunion at Disney World in Orlando, Florida over the holidays this year, and spent five excellent days with the Mouse. There were some ups and downs but in general there were a lot more ups. We’ll be sharing some restaurant and wine reviews and some Disney resort and park experiences in some future blogs. This blog will provide a general overview of the trip.

We arrived on Sunday, December 22 on a stormy day up and down the Eastern seaboard, so we were all pretty happy just to get there, even if it was an hour late. Transfer to the hotel was uneventful, and we stayed on property, so we were in the house and the car keys were tucked away. I commute a lot and always enjoy a few days away from my car, and the Disney transportation is pretty good. It’s not always the quickest, so one tip for you is to be prepared to jump in a cab once in a while. After a long day in a crowded park sometimes the last thing you want to do is wait in line half an hour for a crowded bus or boat. There are always lots of cabs available and you can get pretty much anywhere on property for under $20 or so. We used the cab method twice this trip.

EPCOT at night

EPCOT at night

As always we began our Disney adventure in EPCOT, the family’s favorite park overall, although Alex does prefer Disney Studios. EPCOT is big and can swallow crowds, so it is a good choice during the busy holidays. It also has the World Showcase, which has many restaurants and food stands where you can sample regional food and drink, always one of our priorities these days. As an added bonus the EPCOT resort area is right off World Showcase, so you have the restaurants and bars of five additional resorts right there, as well as the boardwalk area. Disney’s Beach Club, Yacht Club, and Boardwalk resorts as well as the Swan and Dolphin hotels

The EPCOT Christmas Tree

The EPCOT Christmas Tree

circle the lagoon. This is very handy if you want to escape for a few hours, or if you have dinner at one of the resort hotels. Some of the best restaurants on property are here.  There are other reasons to visit World Showcase as well, as the cultural exhibits can be excellent.  The current offerings are definitely worth visiting, with a large diorama of the Emperor’s Terracotta Soldiers in China, an exhibit chronicling the historical roots of Japanese Anime and early Central American artifacts in Mexico.

CIMG2206

Japanese Pavillion

We chose a new restaurant for us the first night, Tutto Italia in the Italy pavilion. Sporting a pretty classic Italian menu the restaurant offers very nice ambiance, excellent food and an efficiently representative wine list. We had a great meal here, with everyone enjoying their food, as well as the two bottles of wine, a Chianti Classico Riserva and a Super Tuscan. Details of the food and wine will be in the restaurant review of Tutto Italia. We would recommend this heartily. Service was excellent as well.

The first full park day was at Disney Studios, which pays homage to the movies. Highlights for us always include the Tower of Terror, a great free fall ride with unsurpassed theming. Right

Inside Tutto Italia

Inside Tutto Italia

across from that is the Rock and Roller Coaster, an in the dark coaster which shoots you out of a cannon and is dedicated to the music of Aerosmith. On the other side of the park is Star Tours, a simulator ride with several different possible Star Wars adventures, the Toy Story shooting ride (now one of the favorites at the park, though not

Tower of Terror

Tower of Terror

ours), the Great Movie ride and several other attractions. You can meet the Muppets, see some backstage action or view a wonderful exhibit about the life of Walt Disney himself. Disney Studios is worth a day. Lunch was at the Sci-Fi Dine In Theater, sort of like a 1950’s drive in with decent food and excellent movie trailers showing on a big screen. This is fun, although not a culinary masterpiece. Still, we always find it worth the visit.

Dinner was at Narcoossee’s, located at the Grand Floridian Resort and which used to be one of our favorite restaurants on property. This visit changed that perception however as the food was subpar, although the service was still excellent. Narcoossee’s is expensive,and we did not enjoy the meal. More on that in a restaurant review coming soon.

Day three featured a morning at the Animal Kingdom, which while worth the visit is really only a half day park. That is if you get there at opening, which we always do. When you arrive at one of the parks at opening you can ride the big rides immediately with no wait and really knock off all the major attractions by early afternoon. The alternative is to get there later, play your Fast Passes as well as possible and wait for everything else. We vastly prefer the former, although at Christmas some of the parks were opening at 7:00, so this philosophy involved some rather early mornings. Yet we persevered and basically did everything at the parks in four days while leaving early almost every day.

At the Animal Kingdom the must do attractions include Expedition Everest, an excellent coaster themed around the legendary Yeti, or Abominable Snowman. Also catch the Safari, which is a ride through the animal sanctuary in a bush

Expedition Everest looming

Expedition Everest looming

truck. This particular safari was one of the best ever, as we saw many rhinos, hippos and the best lion viewing in our many trips there. If you like shows the Festival of the Lion King is great. The Dinosaur ride is also good, as is the midway area in Dinoland. There are two excellent walking trails where you can experience more animals, including gorillas and tigers. For eats, we always go to the Yak and Yeti, located in the Asia area and home to a varied menu which we have found to be very enjoyable. Generally we’ll show up right at 11:00, take over the bar area, get a few drinks flowing and have an wonderful time. After lunch we usually leave Animal Kingdom and head somewhere else. This time that somewhere else was Downtown Disney.

Downtown Disney has three distinct areas, although these days it is really more like two as Pleasure Island is an empty shell. The marketplace is home to many shops and restaurants, including a Rainforest Cafe and a T-Rex. On the other side is the West Side, also home to many shops and restaurants as well as a permanent Cirque du Soleil show, a House of Blues and Disney Quest, which is an indoor arcade that let’s you get right inside the games. We played in Disney Quest for a while and strolled the length of Downtown Disney, stopping for a drink at Raglan Road, an Irish restaurant on the edge of Pleasure Island. Pleasure Island is between the other two areas and used to be a fun place, with an improv comedy club, dance clubs, a fun themed club called the Adventurer’s Club and a host of bars. Now it is empty and depressing, and has been for a while. You would never guess Disney would leave that kind of real estate fallow for so long.

Anyway, dinner that night was back at the hotel, and nothing really to write home about. Adequate is the word I would use. This was at Mangino’s, located at Shades of Green resort. In the past this has been pretty good, but this time not so much as the pizza dough seemed to have been the frozen variety. I did have an excellent chicken soup here though. I would consider Mangino’s a place you can get a decent meal for a reasonable price, especially if you have several young ones in tow. It is also generally not crowded and you can get in without a reservation.

Christmas Day was spent at EPCOT, to take advantage of that people swallowing trait I mentioned earlier. Here we knocked off Soarin and Test Track right away. Soarin is a simulator ride where you hang glide across the diverse terrain and areas of California. Test Track is a “thrill” ride where you get in a car and go through testing before engaging in a high

The Coral Reef restaurant

The Coral Reef restaurant

speed circle of the building. Soarin is great, Test Track not so much. It really is a huge Chevrolet commercial, where in the past it was a huge GM commercial. I did like the new theming better though. We have two restaurants to report on from Christmas Day. Lunch was at the Coral Reef, located in the same building as the Living Seas, and the restaurant provides very nice views of the gigantic 5.7 million gallon tank with its aquatic inhabitants. To make things better the food is quite good here as well. We ordered grilled Mahi Mahi, a vegetarian dish, lobster bisque, crab cakes, lobster orecchiette pasta and a chicken caesar salad. All the seafood dishes were very good, and my Mahi Mahi was downright excellent. We’ve never had a bad meal here.

For dinner we went to the Restaurant Marrakesh in the Morocco pavilion. This we have

Tequila tasting

Tequila tasting

enjoyed in the past, however this particular night (Christmas) they were in rush mode and just pushing tables through their meals. It was not a great experience and certainly not a great value. If we come back again on a major holiday I would book dinner outside in one of the EPCOT resorts and then return to the park. We did really enjoy the tequila bar in the Mexico pavilion however, as they had a great selection of top shelf tequila.

We followed up with a day at the Magic Kingdom, once again a park you want to experience at opening to get the most done for the least hassle and frustration. We left right after lunch at The Plaza having done essentially the whole park, which was fortunate as it was getting crazy and people were just streaming in. The new Fantasyland renovation is almost done, although the coaster is not. Do yourself a favor and get up early.  The Plaza is a good choice for lunch here as the Magic Kingdom has the least extensive options for restaurants of the major parks.  Sandwiches rule here but they are good and the ice cream and shakes are decadent.  By the way, if you’re planning on eating at the Be Our Guest restaurant in Beast’s Castle, get there early for lunch (or Fast Pass it!).  Folks were lined up well in advance of opening, which was enough for us to go elsewhere.

After an impromptu afternoon at Disney Studios we wrapped up our trip with some relaxing drinks and family poker in the bar at the Boardwalk Resort, and then a fabulous dinner at Blue Zoo, located in the Dolphin resort. There will be a full review of that very soon.

Blue Zoo

Blue Zoo

It was a great trip and really nice having everyone together for the holiday. In general Disney

Terra Cotta Soldiers

Terra Cotta Soldiers

is still a great place to spend a few days. We did notice an overall drop in some attention to detail and the loss of a few favorite things however. Some ride details seemed to have been left not functioning as long as the basic ride was not affected. The cleanliness level was a tiny notch below what we have been used to in our previous 20+ trips as well. Most disconcerting was the elimination of the Christmas light tunnel on the bridge between Future World and World Showcase in EPCOT. We missed that a lot. I don’t think Walt would be happy.

We’ve been so many times we could easily write a book on the place, but there are enough of those already. Maybe we should write one on the food and wine scene, as I haven’t seen that done. It’s worth doing, and there are enough restaurants and wine lists to fill up a few pages. It might be a project for another time. In the mean time we’ll stop here and spare you the gory details.

We still love Mickey Mouse, but it will be a while before we see him again.

A votre sante!

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