Anniversary Staycation Weekend – Animal Kingdom Lodge

For our anniversary, Tadd and I decided to treat ourselves to a little weekend staycation getaway at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Resort.  We stayed two nights on a discounted Passholder rate, using a giftcard received for my birthday a couple months ago as part of the deposit.  We booked a (MUCH cheaper) standard view room, but upon check-in we mentioned our anniversary and we were lucky enough to receive an upgrade to a savanna view room at no additional charge.

We did not set foot in a theme park all weekend…we just hung out at the resort, relaxed, went to the pool, read, and watched the animals (giraffes, zebras, ostriches, red river hogs, etc) from our balcony.  Heaven!  We did book a couple of fun dinners…First was a Sanaa, which is on the Kidani Village side of Animal Kingdom Lodge (we were staying at Jambo House, which is the original/main side of the resort).  They specialize in more exotic foods with an Indian and African flair.  So delicious!  The second night we booked the Spirit of Aloha luau dinner show at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, which was a lot of fun.

Having now stayed in a number of Disney resorts (Caribbean Beach, All-Star Music, Port Orleans Riverside, Fort Wilderness Cabins, The Dolphin, Pop Century, Yacht Club, and now Animal Kingdom Lodge), I think I can say that AKL is my favorite so far.  It’s not within walking distance of any of the theme parks like Yacht Club (which is a HUGE perk), but it’s SO cool to wake up, step outside on your balcony with a cup of coffee, and hang out with some zebras.  Also, the theming really appeals to me.  You really feel like you’re somewhere else when you are there, which makes for a very relaxing time.

We are going to try to swing another staycation weekend in December, if I can get another great discount code.  I am shooting for the Wilderness Lodge this time.  No promises that it will definitely work out, but I am going to try my best.  Holiday time in Walt Disney World is unbeatable, and staying on property for a few nights makes it even better.

Happy Fourth!

Hope all of my American friends had a spectacular 4th of July! We kept it pretty low key early in the day and hung out at home with the kitties.

In the early afternoon, we went down to Lake Eola in Downtown Orlando for Fireworks At The Fountain, where it promptly started storming like crazy. Luckily, Tadd’s office has an awesome view of the lake, and they were kind enough to open for employees and their friends & family. Some friends of ours joined us too. Soon enough the storms passed, it got dark, and the fireworks went off beautifully!

Adjectives Market

Yesterday, Tadd and I decided to go to a few places we had been meaning to check out for a long time.  On my list was Adjectives Market, a huge art/vintage/antiques shop in Altamonte Springs, Florida.  Incidentally, this is the town where we lived prior to buying our house, and I so wish that it had been around when we lived on that side of town!  Such a cool place!

The very large space is filled with many smaller booths where individual artisans and/or antiques dealers can display their wares.  You can find anything from beautiful furniture, to antique items, to interesting found object sculptures.  They even sell the ever-popular Annie Sloan chalk paint, which I may need to go back and get once I find a project to use it on.

It was honestly a little overwhelming; there were so many neat things to look at!  But I did manage to score a few very cool items.  The first thing I saw that I had to have was this set of coasters celebrating Orlando history.

I am thinking about doing something unconventional with these…Perhaps hanging them on the wall or incorporating them into a tray of some sort.  I just love them!  The one in the upper left is a shot of the main road going through downtown Orlando; Orange Avenue.  By the looks of the cars I would guess that it’s maybe the 1930s or 1940s?

I also got this milk glass dish (if you collect milk glass, Adjectives Market is your place…There were shelves and shelves of it!), and a 1982 map of Central Florida.

Altogether I spent about $30.  But I really could have spent SO much more.  I want to go back very soon!  If you live in the Central Florida area, please do yourself a favor and check this place out!

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!

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!

My week in Instagram; 4th of July version!

4th of July is over and our out-of-town family have left.  Posts should resume normal frequency now!  I’m sure you have all missed me immensely…Ha!

Just thought I would share some Instagram snaps from the week with you all…

Getting the guestroom ready for Tadd’s mom with a little help from the furkids.

Sunday morning, we got up early and drove out to DeLeon Springs to have breakfast at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill. It’s a historic restaurant where every table has it’s own griddle, and they bring pitchers of pancake batter and mix-ins (chocolate chips, blueberries, etc), and you cook your own pancakes at your table! Fun!

A closer look at the waterwheel of the Old Spanish Sugar Mill.

We took a brief stroll through the Stetson University campus, which is beautiful. This is one of the campus buildings.

We spent the afternoon and evening of July 4th enjoying the GORGEOUS weather by Lake Eola for the City of Orlando’s Fireworks at the Fountain celebration.

The breeze off the lake was sooooo lovely. Especially for July in Florida!

Awesome view!

If you are on Instagram, follow me!  I am “sunshineteablog”.

Linking up!:

Star Wars Weekends 2012

Tadd and I had a lovely Memorial Day weekend.  But man was it busy!  Friday night we went to Oblivion Taproom for their Star Wars party.  Saturday we went to Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Sunday was a housewarming party.  Monday was a belated birthday dinner with my parents and brother, followed by a trip to another friends’ new house to cook dinner and hang out.

I thought I would share my Instagram snaps from Star Wars Weekends.  It was hot and very crowded, and we didn’t get to ride any rides, but we still had an awesome time.  The parade is always my favorite part every year.  We also bought souvenir nametags with our names engraved in Aurebesh.  We got to pick what planet we wanted to be from.  I, of course, picked Endor…home of the Ewoks!

Linking up with:

Hunting Ghosts in Downtown Orlando

Today is my 31st birthday!  Woo!  But instead of talking about my birthday, today I am going to tell you about something awesome that I got to do on Saturday night.

Several of my girlfriends and I took the “Last Call” Haunted Pub Tour with American Ghost Adventures as part of my friend Lara’s bachelorette party.  There were six of us and we each paid $20 for the tour.  We met our wonderful guides Robert and Christine at the Harp & Celt.

Throughout the night, we also visited Stagger Inn, The Attic (formerly AKA Lounge), Ceviche, and The Dessert Lady.  So most of the tour was confined to the areas around Pine St. and Magnolia St. and then down by Church St.  We learned a bit about the history of each place, and in certain instances, we also conducted real investigations using small flashlights and EMF detectors.

I don’t want to give too much of the tour away, and of course, no two tours are going to be the same, but I can say that we had some extremely eerie and unexplainable experiences in both the Harp Restaurant and (especially) The Attic.  Note that this is NOT the type of tour where effects like these are engineered to happen on cue or where actors are trained to jump out and scare you.  The tour guides take hauntings and the paranormal very seriously.

We had the Harp Restaurant all to ourselves (they are only open for lunch) and learned it had previously been a brothel back in the late 1800s.  Lights flickered upon us asking questions, disconnected speakers crackled, and at one point a flashlight randomly started rolling and then stopped.   I am not sure what to make of any of it (old wiring? uneven floors?), but it was definitely thrilling.

Our best experience of the evening was at The Attic.  The former hardware store proprietor, Edward “Eddie” Kuhl built the place in the 1880s, and he eventually had a heart attack and died on the stairs going up to the 3rd floor.

He was known to be a prankster and it seems like he wanted to pull a few pranks on us that evening.  A small, ordinary flashlight was placed on the stairs where he died, and we all asked very nicely if he would turn it on.  Much to our shock, the flashlight came on!

Eddie saying “hi” to us with a flashlight.

We all shrieked and it turned off again.  This happened a few other times over the next 5 or 10 minutes.  At some point, our guide Christine decided to try to get it on video, so she counted to 3 and had us all say very loudly “We love you Eddie!”  Prankster Eddie decided to choose that time to NOT turn on the flashlight.  However, our guide caught a compelling video instead (click the link for the page where it is posted on Facebook).  The video shows us standing by the staircase saying “We love you Eddie!”, and then suddenly a white dot (orb?) flies from the middle of the staircase right towards Christine and her camera.  She immediately played it back for all of us and we were dumbfounded.  The flashlight turned on and off a few more times and we all thanked Eddie for visiting us.  I’m still not really sure what happened, but it was very very cool.  We were on cloud nine while we were on our way to the next place!

The whole group on the stairs at the historic Bumby Arcade off of Church Street. The staircase is supposedly haunted by two children. We got some EMF spikes on the stairs (you can kind of see the one placed on the stairs next to my feet is lit up), and notice the “orbs” behind us. Still not sure what I think about orbs in photos…

I have been on many ghost tours in the past (Salem, Boston, two in Savannah, and St. Augustine) and this was by far the most fun I have had.  Our tour guides were great and totally geared the tour towards our group specifically (we were the only ones on the tour that evening).  I felt like it was the perfect mix of fun/party, history, and a real interactive investigation.  I know that occasionally this same company conducts tours and investigations of Greenwood Cemetery, which is one of Orlando’s oldest.  We found out that “Eddie” Kuhl is actually buried there, so I think most of the group is extremely interested in going to visit his final resting place, since we now feel like we have “met” him!  I am keeping my eye out for the next tour of Greenwood so we can join them.

If you are at all interested in this sort of thing and are in Orlando, I highly recommend American Ghost Adventures.

Maxine’s On Shine

I meant to post about this earlier in the week.  I wanted to share a restaurant review for a new-to-us place that we tried last Sunday night.  However, I am excited to share that I have been promoted at work!  And in preparing for my new role, time and energy has been scarce lately.

Tadd and I actually went to Maxine’s On Shine Sunday  night to celebrate said promotion.  It’s a cute little bistro on Shine Avenue tucked away in an adorable residential neighborhood just north of downtown Orlando.  The food seems to focus on Italian and Greek cuisine, kind of a Mediterranean blend, but I wouldn’t really categorize it strongly that way.  The food is just really good.  That’s all you need to know!   Although the menu is not large, I’m sure anyone would be able to find something they like.

Source: Maxine’s On Shine’s Facebook Page

We ate on the patio, as the weather was lovely that night.  Not too hot or humid, with a slight coolish breeze, which is becoming less and less common in Central Florida this time of year.  We started with a couple of beers, Shipyard Applehead for me (LOVE!), and Magic Hat #9 for Tadd.  We found their beer & wine list to be impressive.  It’s always nice to see lesser-known craft brews on a menu.  Tadd had originally tried to order a Blackened Voodoo, which is one of his favorite more obscure beers.  He was impressed to see it on the menu, but it turns out they were out of it that night.

We found out that they have a Sunday night special called Magical Mystery Tour.  For $25, you get a 3 course meal (appetizer, entree, and dessert) chosen by the chef, and a your choice of a draught beer or glass of wine.  Tadd was feeling adventurous, so he chose that option.  I am way too much of a picky eater to leave that much to chance, but there really isn’t that much that Tadd won’t eat (olives and raisins are really the only two biggies), so he went for it.  While we waited for his first course to come out, I also ordered a cup of their soup of the day, butternut squash and apple soup.  Mmmmmmm, so good!  I only wished it was fall, because these are flavors that I usually associate with that season.

Soon enough, they brought out Tadd’s appetizer of stuffed grape leaves.  I tried one and thought they were ok, though not really my taste.  Tadd, however, inhaled them.

For entrees, I got the spinach ravioli with ratatouille.  And looking back at the pic, I realize this doesn’t look super appetizing, but I really really loved it.  The mountain of roasted veggies were SO good.  There were mushrooms and artichokes and summer squash and spinach and even beets, which I don’t typically care for.  All really really good.

Tadd lucked out and was presented with something he is STILL raving about; Gnocchi con Pollo Sorrentina, which is gnocchi and chicken served with prosciutto and veggies in a wine/butter sauce.  He was soooooo happy, and cleaned his plate.  I thought he might have licked it afterward if he thought he could have gotten away with it!

Tadd’s mystery dessert was an interesting concoction of what seemed like house-made vanilla ice cream, house-made butterscotch sauce, strawberries, and blueberries.  No idea what this dessert was called, but I think it was just right to end Tadd’s meal.  I had a few bites, and LOVED the ice cream.  Especially combined with the butterscotch and berries.  Nothing complicated or fussy, just really good.

Towards the end of our meal, the owner approached and asked us about our experience.  He was warm, friendly, and welcoming.  Service throughout the meal was great too.  We had Mary as our server, and she was sweet and cheerful.  Loved her.  We walked back to our car vowing to come back soon and bring friends.  Tadd’s office is nearby, so he would love to come back someday for lunch, and I have heard their weekend brunch is great as well.

If you live in Central Florida and are looking for a place to dine near downtown Orlando, check it out!

Maxine’s On Shine

337 N Shine Ave

Orlando, FL 32803

(407) 674-6841

Singing with Country Bears and Battling Sea Witches!

This past weekend, we met up with friends for an afternoon/evening at the Magic Kingdom.  We had a couple objectives (because when you are a passholder and go as often as we do, a day at Disney World is always more fun when you have objectives and/or you get to try something new).

Objective number one, at the request of one of our friends, was to see the Country Bear Jamboree, a kitschy classic that I think is often overlooked in favor of some of the flashier attractions like Space Mountain and Haunted Mansion.  I think it had been years and years since most of our group had seen it, so we had a great time laughing at the goofy (no pun intended) and weird songs…”Blood on the Saddle”, anyone?

Objective number two was to try the new in-park role playing card game experience, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom!  This game debuted back in February, but this was the first real opportunity we had to give it a try.  The starting point for the game was at the old Fire Station on Main Street USA, where we found these posters encouraging people to give the game a try.

We approached a podium inside the Fire Station, had the attendant scan our park tickets, and were provided with a “key” card, five spell cards, and a special park map highlighting the areas of the park that the game could send us.  The cards are really fun; each one features a different character and a spell that corresponds to the attributes of that character.  I love that so many minor characters are featured.  These spell cards are used to battle the Disney villains, who are trying to take over the park via various “portals”.  These cards are yours to keep, and it’s absolutely free to play!  So even aside from the game itself, it’s like getting a free collectible souvenir.

You can see that each of the cards have different strengths and weaknesses.  Also, some cards are rarer than others.  The tiny star symbol in the lower left hand corner of Eve’s Laser Blast card, above where it says 05/70, denotes that this card is pretty rare.

The first portal for everyone is right in the Fire Station.  The attendant brought us over to it and showed us how we swipe our key card against the lock to activate the portal, which told us which area of the park to start in (Main Street, Fantasyland, Adventureland, or Liberty Square).  We were sent to Fantasyland to battle Ursula!

Once we got to our first real portal, we swiped our key card, and watched the brief video play on the portal.

You can see the oval-shaped portal in this shop window in Fantasyland below.

Sometimes the portal will just advance the storyline a little bit and send you to another portal to continue the game.  Sometimes something happens in the portal that requires you to battle a villain.  If it asks you to do battle, you simply hold up a spell card towards the portal, and the spell that you choose is cast on the villain.

We ended up doing two rounds of the game, and defeated Ursula from The Little Mermaid in Fantasyland and Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove in Adventureland.  And now we have all these fun cards we get to keep!

I always love when Disney adds these types of experiences into the theme parks.  It adds a new layer to our park adventures, allows us to try something new and different, and best of all, it’s free!