Epcot the Ghost Town

I’m about to let you all in on a little WDW secret!  Shhhhhhhhh!

Tadd and I recently spent an early morning in Epcot’s World Showcase.  Normally, the World Showcase section of the park opens at 11AM, while the rest of the park opens at 9.  However, the bakery in the France pavilion was recently remodeled and reopened with new hours!   They now open right at 9 with the front of the park.  BUT!  The France pavilion is literally as far back into the park as you can get.  Nothing else is open back there before 11…It’s literally JUST the bakery (which, as I’m sure you can imagine, serves some pretty fantasic pastries for breakfast!).  And word hasn’t really gotten out yet about this hidden gem.

What this means is, if you can get to Epcot at park opening, and immediately walk straight back into World Showcase, you basically have that whole area  to yourself.  While everyone else is racing to The Land pavilion on the other side of the park to get Soarin’ fastpasses, you will get to stroll past the completely empty Canada and UK pavilions on your way to your delicious breakfast in France!

There is something SO cool about feeling as if you have a whole theme park to yourself.  We are so used to seeing these places full of crowds, noise, and hustle-bustle.  Being able to take our time and really enjoy all the sights and details in peace and quiet was well worth the hassle of getting up extra early.  Of course, we had to take our sweet time and take a ton of pics!

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Buon Compleanno (“happy birthday” in Italian!) at Via Napoli

January has turned into a bit of a blog hiatus for me.  Unfortunately, I am still dealing with issues stemming from my accident (I officially hate car insurance companies!), still dealing with traces of my cold on and off (although I am SOOOOOOOOOOOOO much better), and work has been pretty insane too.  I swear, I couldn’t believe when I woke up yesterday morning that it was ONLY Wednesday.  It felt like it should have been Friday many times over by that point.  To say this month has been challenging for me would be an understatement.  Although I do know that it could be much, much worse, and for that I am grateful.

Last Saturday, we took a break from our life stresses to celebrate my good friend Elizabeth’s birthday at Epcot, where I got to try several new things for the first time!  Having lived in Orlando for over 2 decades, and having been a Walt Disney World passholder for several of those years, I get excited when I get to try something new in the parks.

First stop: New Test Track.

It’s basically an upgraded version of the old ride.  The footprint and track of the ride are exactly the same as they always were.  However, the look and “story” of the ride are totally different.  Now the ride basically looks like you have stepped into the movie Tron.  Lots of dark spaces contrasted with neon outlines.  Everything looks more slick and futuristic.  Also, now you get to design your own car via touch screen kiosks before you ride, and your design gets pitted against the designs of the others in your ride vehicle as you go through various “tests” (stuff like sudden breaking, handling on curves, aero-dynamicness, and everyone’s favorite…SPEED!).  After each test, there is a little leaderboard that shows how your imaginary car fared against the others.

The queue looks totally different now too.  The focus seems to be on the science of car design and concept cars.  I am not a huge car person, but I could see where this would really interest someone who was into that kind of thing.

Later on in the day, we surprised Elizabeth with lunch at Via Napoli for her birthday.

This was another first for me.  This restaurant opened in the Italy Pavilion of World Showcase back in 2010, and it was a place that I had always wanted to try, but just had never gotten around to it.  They are known for their authentic Neapolitan cuisine, including delicious wood fired pizzas.  What I think is the coolest feature of this restaurant are the three very striking pizza ovens shaped like the faces of the patron gods of each of the three active volcanoes in Italy: Stromboli, Vesuvio, and Etna.  So cool!

The pizza was delicious.  It’s traditional oven-fired style pizza with thin crust, ever-so-slightly charred on the bottom with great toppings.  We got a delicious white pizza with artichokes and truffle oil, and some kind of custom-ordered prosciutto and sausage monstrosity that I wouldn’t touch (I don’t like meat on my pizza…I’m a veggies-only kind of girl, but my friends really loved it).

Then the birthday girl got serenaded by the waitstaff!  She got some kind of lemon cookie mini-dessert.  But really, the cookie was just a vehicle for the AMAZING chocolate and raspberry sauce drizzled all over the plate.

I would say all of us really enjoyed it and I know I would definitely go back.  The pizzas are pricey when compared with regular takeout pizza ($30 each for the large), but they were a good size and two of them were the perfect size for the 6 of us.  I didn’t think it was bad at all for a filling, sit-down lunch at Disney.  I know I left stuffed.

My WDW escapism continues this weekend at Magic Kingdom…We have reservations this Saturday for dinner at Be Our Guest, the brand new restaurant in the Beast’s castle in New Fantasyland.  I had to book these reservations back in August (three plus months before the place even opened!), so they are quite coveted.  I am psyched!  If only this week could mercifully end so I could get back to the fun stuff!

2012 Holiday Season at Walt Disney World

Finally getting around to sharing some of the holiday events we attended this year at Walt Disney World.  We did a lot of these events much earlier in the season this year (as in, before Thanksgiving) because crowd levels closer to Christmas can be ridiculous, and it just happened to fit our schedule better.  Being in Florida at Christmastime can tend to not feel very Christmasy, but I love that we make up for it with easy access to these spectacular events and displays.  If you visit Disney at Christmastime, regardless of the weather, there is NO way you don’t come away firmly entrenched in the holiday spirit.  It’s the most festive place I know of this time of year.

Magic Kingdom: Main Street and Castle Dreamlights

Disney’s Hollywood Studios: The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

Epcot: Candlelight Processional with Guest Narrator Whoopi Goldberg

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort: Victorian decorations and giant gingerbread house

Linking up to a very worthy cause!:

A photo walk in World Showcase

Tadd and I were finally able to get back to Walt Disney World this past weekend.  Disney’s summer season is officially over and Tadd’s seasonal pass was no longer blocked out, so we took advantage and went to Epcot.  We were especially interested in working more with our new camera.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate at first, and it was drizzly and rainy for most of the morning and into the afternoon.  Which was nice for crowds (the park was almost empty when we got there!), but not so great for taking photos.

We had lunch reservations at Le Cellier, which is the extremely popular sit-down restaurant in the Canada pavilion, so we decided to wait and see what the weather was like when we were done eating.  First of all, holy crap was Le Cellier good!  It was our first time dining there, and I had to get us reservations back in May because it’s always booked months in advance.  I was very curious to see if it lived up to the hype.  We had a great, really fun waitress, and they even had my favorite Canadian beer, La Fin Du Monde.  I’m not really a steak person, but Tadd kept rolling his eyes back into his head while enjoying his wild mushroom filet.  I had the pork chop and the sauce it was served with was delicious.  But my favorite part was the pretzel bread they brought out at the very beginning.  Soooo good!  Tadd also really enjoyed the cheddar cheese soup (which is one of their signature items).  We both walked out stuffed.

When we left Le Cellier, the weather was starting to clear up.  So we decided to proceed with our day, which included a visit to Captain EO (which I had not seen since I was probably about 6 years old), watching the movie in France, and trying out the wonderful new wine bar, Tutto Gusto, in Italy.  We took photos all along the way.  Here are some of my favorite shots.

Looking forward to fall.

I can’t believe it’s the last day of July!  I am happy though, because that puts us another month closer to my favorite season, fall!  Florida summers can be brutal.  High temps in the mid nineties, crazy humidity, and violent thunderstorms almost every day.  They are also way too long…Our summer weather patterns sometimes start in April and can last well into October.  It can be really tough to do anything (comfortably) outdoors during this time frame, which can be quite limiting.

So, to make these last several weeks of summer a teensy bit more bearable, I am thinking about some my favorite things about fall!

Top 5 fall-related things I am looking forward to (in no particular order):

  1. Yankee Candle Boney Bunch Preview!  This event is THIS coming Saturday morning, August 4th.  I was good and skipped this last year during my No Spend August Challenge.  But this year, I will be going back and I am psyched!  I always love Yankee Candle’s fall and Halloween items, and the sneak peek pics I have seen so far show that this year is no exception.  There is even rumor of a Boney Bunch kitty character in this year’s collection!

    My Boney Bunch haul from 2010.

  2. Long & Scott’s Corn Maze. My friends and I conquered the maze last year.  It wasn’t a very fall-like day (hot!), but we had fun working together to solve the 6-acre maze.  Hopefully this year we can go on a day with crisper temperatures. 
  3. Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. Disney events like this one make me feel really lucky to live in Central Florida.  This is always one of the highlights of my fall season every year.  It’s not a cheap day (each tasting item costs an average of $4-5), but there is something really fun and enjoyable about getting to stroll around World Showcase, trying different food and beverage items from all around the world.
  4. Fall crafting. Fall tends to be the time that I really get into crafting.  For some reason, it sparks my creative side.  I actually hope to get started on this very soon!  Last year I made a cute “SPOOKY” sign, a Halloween-ified vase, and got together with my girlfriends to make candy corn wreaths.  This year, I am planning on some fall sewing projects.
  5. Halloween!  I love all holidays, especially Halloween.  Tadd and I are starting to toss around costume ideas for this year already.  Last year we dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf!

Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival 2012

As promised, below are pictures from the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, which we got to see this past Saturday.  I think everyone agrees that this is Epcot at its best.  The topiaries and extra flowers everywhere really make the park look beautiful.

These special events are the reason that I am a Disney passholder.  You can go back to the parks month after month, time after time, and there is always something new and interesting to see and do.  I love all of the seasonal events so much!  For me, it just wouldn’t be springtime without a visit to the Flower & Garden Festival.

Enjoy!

Instagram Link Party: St. Patrick’s Day at Epcot.

Hope you had fun this weekend, especially Saturday for St. Patrick’s Day!  We spent ours at World Showcase in Epcot, celebrating many different cultures around the world.

My St. Patrick’s Day celebrating started early…Friday night, I was drinking iced tea from one of my favorite pint glasses…Mickey makes a cute leprechaun, don’t you think?

Saturday morning, we woke up, put on some green clothing and accessories, and hit the road for the 45-minute drive to Walt Disney World.

We spent pretty much the whole day in World Showcase, starting with having one of my favorite beverages, a blood orange margarita at La Cava de Tequila in the Mexico pavilion.  We got our favorite booth against the back wall of the bar, and chilled out in the air conditioning for awhile.  I really love that place!  So cozy (and so air conditioned…it was HOT that day!).

In addition to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at Epcot, we also got to take part in the International Flower & Garden Festival, which runs from now until May 20th.  Everywhere you looked there were fun topiaries, like these pandas outside the China pavilion.  I have many more pics of the various topiaries around the park from my regular camera that I will share later this week!

While in “China” we stopped to check out the Tomb Warriors exhibit, which I love.  These are smaller replicas of the life-sized Terracotta Army sculptures that were buried with China’s first Emperor Qin Shi Huang back in 210 BC!  What I love about them, is that, while they are all in uniform and appear standing in a regimented fashion, no two warrior is the same.  They all have different expressions, facial features, etc.  Read more about the Terracotta Army on Wikipedia.

Eventually we made our way over to the UK pavilion, and of course, we had to stop in for an Irish beverage.  I had a Guinness (Wish a shamrock drawn into the foam!  Wish I could have gotten a good pic of it…), and Tadd had a green beer.  Some of our group of friends had green cocktails, Irish whiskey, and even one green Sprite.  We were all very festive with our beverages.  And, of course, as expected, this was one of the most crowded spots in all of Epcot that day!  But we just had to brave that long line…  Well, technically Tadd braved the line for the both of us while I waited off to the side and took pics of the madness.

As I stated previously, there will be more Epcot Flower & Garden Festival photos to come this week!  So stay tuned…

This post is linked to the weekly Instagram Link Party over at a {little} dash of ash!

WDW at Christmastime Grand Finale: Candlelight Processional

Happy Monday morning!  Hope everyone had a great weekend.   I spent most of it resting, trying to get rid of this cold.  I am feeling much better, but still coughing a bit here and there.

Mexico Pavilion @ Epcot

One thing that we DID do this weekend, is that Tadd and I wrapped up our grand tour of celebrating the holidays at Walt Disney World Saturday at Epcot.  If you recall, we have already attended Castle Dreamlights and the holiday version of Magic, Memories, and You at Magic Kingdom and were dazzled by Osborne Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  The last stop on the list of Holiday to-dos at the parks was Candlelight Processional in World Showcase at Epcot.  And of all my years of living in Orlando and being a WDW passholder, this was actually my very first time attending a performance of this show.  It’s not often that I get to see or experience something new at Disney, so I was excited!

We, along with some friends, had booked a Candlelight Processional dining package back in September.  For $50 per person, we got dinner reservations at Cantina de San Angel in the Mexico pavilion (included appetizer, entree, dessert, and a soft drink…it’s a LOT of food per person, so if you do it make sure you arrive hungry!), guaranteed reserve seating at the Candlelight Processional show, and reserved viewing area for Illuminations at the close of the evening.  You can book the same package at several of the Disney restaurants for various prices depending on time of reservation and location.  Click here for some ideas of package prices for this year.  You pay for your package at the restaurant at the end of your meal, and they give you a sticker that will get you into the reserved seating line for the show.

Waiting in line for the show with my reserved seating admission sticker, and a warm mug of Gluhwein (a German spiced holiday wine).

If you are unfamiliar with what exactly the Candlelight Processional is; it’s a retelling of the Christmas story with a mass choir and orchestra, and each night is hosted by a celebrity narrator.  On our night, the celebrity narrator was Neil Patrick Harris!  And he did an amazing job too.  He was sweet, funny, gracious, and you could tell he was enjoying himself.

After the show, we ended up forgoing the special fireworks viewing area (too crowded!) and watched Illuminations: Reflections of Earth (Epcot’s nightly fireworks show) from between Morocco and France.  I had almost forgotten that this time of year, Disney inserts a special “holiday tag” at the end of the regular Illuminations dislpay.  It’s like a bonus finale, set to the song “Let There Be Peace On Earth”…but I must admit, it didn’t sound very peaceful.  The number of fireworks they set off for this extra song are just mindblowingly incredible.  If you are at Epcot during the holidays, PLEASE do yourself a favor and make sure you stay until the very end of the night and watch this special holiday tag.  Especially if you love fireworks.

By the way, admission to the Candlelight Processional show is free with park admission, but the reason why we went with the package is because it is very difficult to get into the show without one.  Those in the regular “standby” line waited for hours (I heard as long as 3-4 hours for some), and were not guaranteed a seat at all, nevermind a good one.  This is an EXTREMELY popular event, so we found it worth the money to buy the dinner package and avoid the hassle.  If you think of what you would normally spend on an evening out for dinner and a show, $50/person isn’t too terrible.  Of course, we are all annual or seasonal passholders, so our admission was already covered.  I think my tune would change if I had to pay for a one-day park admission in addition to the $50/person.  But if you are already going to be there, especially if you are a local passholder, it is definitely worth it to spring for the package.  We still had to wait in line, but our wait was more like 30-45 minutes, as opposed to hours.  And we got first dibs on the best seats.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

As I mentioned previously, Tadd and I met some friends at Epcot on Saturday for the International Food & Wine Festival.  If you have never attended this event, you are missing out!  Each year World Showcase gets decked out with various country-specific booths showcasing small tastes of food and drink from that country.

There are also other events all around Epcot that you can attend, including wine tastings, cooking demos, and meet & greets with celebrity chefs.  We mostly just stick with the food & wine booths, and just enjoy strolling around World Showcase, sampling lots of different items as we go.

It seems like as the years go on, the booths themselves get more and more elaborate.  Each one is highly themed to its country’s architecture and culture.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Japan

Scandanavia

South Africa

Caribbean

Of course, the food was great too!  Here are a few of the items we sampled:

Pumpkin Mousse with Dried Cranberries and Orange Sauce from the Hops & Barley booth

 

Cheese Fondue with Sourdough Bread from the Cheese booth

Creme Brulee au Chocolat au Lait from the France booth

 

Rib Eye Taco from the Mexico booth

Linguica Sausage with Onions, Peppers, and Olives from the Portugal booth (my favorite of the day!)

Bek Se Ju from the South Korea booth (not our favorite)

La Capra Pinotage from the South Africa booth

Not pictured, and probably rivaling as my favorite item of the day is the pierogi with kielbasa from the Poland booth.  I give the kielbasa to Tadd (not a fan), but the pierogi is awesome!  It is topped with caramelized onions and is just delicious.   But generally speaking, I adore pierogies…so take that with a grain of salt.

Anyways, we had a great time.  The crowds were high, but usually we don’t let that bother us at the themeparks.  I would really like to find a way to go back sometime in the next few weeks, as there are a few booths that we skipped that I would still like to try.  But with the way our schedule is looking, I’m not entirely sure how that will happen.  We’ll see!

Already looking forward to next weekend!  On the agenda: pumpkins, corn mazes, incredible weather, and completing our Halloween costumes!  Fall weekends are always the best!

Instagram Link Party: The Cranberry Bog

Time for another Instagram Link Party over at a {little} dash of ash!

Tadd and I met some friends at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival on Saturday.  It is one of our favorite annual events in Orlando and something we try to go to every year.

This year, one of the new additions to the festival is an actual cranberry bog, sponsored by Ocean Spray.  Throughout the day, they had someone in the bog raking the cranberries and answering questions about how they are harvested.

I’m sure most people have an idea of how it works, but if you don’t; the cranberries aren’t actually grown in water.  At harvest time, the fields are flooded and a special machine separates the berries from the plant.  The ripe berries will then float in the water, which makes gathering them easy.

The bog is a very cool addition to this year’s festival!  I always enjoy when they incorporate new and creative ideas and exhibits like this one.