Thanks to the magic of Disney PIN codes and room-only public discounts, CP and I have now had the pleasure of staying in three Deluxe DVC villas, with our most recent stay at the BoardWalk Villas in May, 2011. Just … Continue reading
Tuesday, May 10.
Departure day. The day the wheels officially came off the wagon. You know, just another Tuesday in Walt Disney World. (Far from it!)
Today is best described in two parts: the ORIGINAL plan, and the ACTUAL happenings. You see, I had this day all planned out – we had a late flight, so technically it was like having a fifth full day at the parks. We’d pack up in the morning, head to Kona Cafe at the Polynesian Resort for breakfast, and then finish up at the Magic Kingdom or Epcot. Maybe we’d even hit Toy Story Mania! first thing in the morning.
So what ACTUALLY happened is that we got up around 7am, and in the midst of final packing I noticed that there was a message blinking on our phone. I picked up the phone and found out that there was a problem processing our credit card, and thus we couldn’t utilize Express check-out. I then felt the feeling of utter panic that everyone must feel when getting this kind of message – after all, we were paying for the trip in cash out of my debit card, and thus if there was a problem, would that mean…I had no money left? In any case, I sent CP down to the front desk to figure out what the problem was, and she came back in a huff. Apparently, way back on our first night, Sarah Vowell-lookalike had problems getting our card approved, but instead of saying anything, she just sent us on our way, with our room not paid for. The problem, we then figured out, was that although we had called our bank on the 1st day of our trip to have them authorize a larger-than-$500 withdrawal, we checked in after midnight (and thus the day after), so our card was declined. Granted, this turned out not to be the biggest deal in the world, but we lost a significant amount of time dealing with the front desk and the bank, time we could have saved if Sarah Vowell-lookalike had let us know on night one.
Between packing and dealing with $$$ drama it became clear our Kona Cafe reservation was out of the question. Around 8:20 we headed out to the car and over to Hollywood Studios, with a plan to ride TSM one more time and possibly get a Fast Pass for later if time allowed. We parked, we grabbed a tram, and were at the front gates by 8:45, and promptly took our place among the gathered masses.
Our TSM ride was, as usual, terrific, but it was at this point that the wheels totally came off our trip. Why? Our feet. For some reason, even though we both wore broken-in, comfortable shoes (and different pairs each day), our feet were a torn up mess of blisters and callouses and all-over hurt. Worse, CP’s ankle had given out, and she was walking with a pronounced limp. Suddenly, our whole day was in jeopardy. We had TSM FPs for later, but would we use them?
We decided to head out of the park and go to Starbucks before returning to the BoardWalk one last time and vacating our room. First, however, we stopped at the Studios’ First Aid Station, where I would get some band-aids for my terrible, hockey-puck sized blister (seriously), and CP would ask for an ACE bandage to wrap her ankle for some extra support. For some reason, I had kind of envisioned going to First Aid, asking for a band-aid, and going about my way, not realizing that you had to sign in, consult with a triage nurse, sit in an exam room, and then take aftercare instructions with you. All for…a blister? The nurse did do a bang-up job wrapping CP’s ankle, though, so the awkward visit to First Aid was saved.
Hobbling out, feeling dejected, we drove to Kissimmee to get Starbucks, and headed back to the BoardWalk to pack up. As it turned out we *just* made the 11am cutoff to vacate our room, and feeling a bit homeless and wayward, we drove back to Epcot, with the intention of making a quick trip to
Mouse Gears to pick up a couple pins we couldn’t find anywhere else. Pins successfully acquired, we hobbled back to the car, and – this is gross – my giant blister popped, sending a gush of nasty into my shoe and increasing my pain level exponentially. That’s it. We were officially DONE.
Sad, defeated, and dejected, we headed back to the Epcot parking lot and decided to head back to the Studios, where we used our TSM FPs, and then we headed to Downtown Disney for lunch, where we could maybe get some free Wifi and at the very least, sit off our feet for awhile and kill time. It was only noon, and we didn’t have to leave for the airport until 4:30 at the earliest, but we just couldn’t physically do anything else. As we did on our October trip, we headed to Wolfgang Puck Express for lunch, and ordered a barbeque chicken pizza and salad to split. Ten minutes later a salad was brought to our table, and the server with it gave us a receipt and promptly left. We felt a little puzzled, wondering where our pizza was, and then realized that somehow our order had been screwed up from the get-go, and all we would receive was a chicken caesar salad. Now, this makes the second visit in a row with a lackluster WPE experience, and we weren’t feeling like waiting to re-order, so we split the salad between us and decided we’d make up for it with a snack from Goofy’s Candy Company later. We lingered at our table, drinking refills of soda and playing with our iPhones, and me doing a bit of work that showed up in my inbox. Inside, I felt devastated – this was not how I wanted to spend the last 20% of our trip.
Disappointing lunch behind us, we hobbled over to World of Disney to buy some candy for my coworkers, and then headed to Once Upon a Toy to use the bathroom. By this time, it was after 1:30pm; it was blazing hot outside; and there wasn’t much we could do to entertain ourselves as hobbled as we were. Not knowing what else to do, we decided to get in the Camry and take a scenic tour up International Drive, which we did, marveling in the tacky tourist attractions and roadside stops. We took I Drive as far as it would go, dead ending in an outlet mall in a less-than-lovely area of Orlando. We turned back around, and somehow ended up driving through the grounds of Universal Studios, until finally we were back at I-4 and soon back on Disney property.
Once again we ended up at Downtown Disney, where we went straight to Goofy’s Candy Company and made ourselves a custom Mickey Rice Krispies Treat, dipped in chocolate and m&ms and covered in chocolate drizzle. We sat in GCC eating it quietly, both feeling sad about the shortness of our trip and the injury we both had endured. After cleaning up our table I – on impulse – made a beeline back to the pin store, where we purchased another box of limited edition mystery WDW 40th anniversary pins. What can I say – I am one of the suckers on the backs of which Disney makes a pretty profit on pin trading.
In truth there’s only so much time you can kill by killing time. Our bags were packed and now repacked, with CP ferreting away our last-minute DTD treasures. There was no way we could hobble through another park, and no point doing that anyway, since we had time left but not enough time to make a trip to a park worth it. Absent any other good idea, we decided to head back to the airport, but instead of taking 417 or 528, we’d take the back roads, a trick I’d learned nearly ten years ago as a Cast Member on the WDW College Program. In my recollection, we simply had to head north until we hit Sand Lake Road, and then take that until we hit the airport grounds. No problem.
Yeah, well. The first part was indeed no problem; following the route we took to Whole Foods the first day, we took I-4 and exited near Sea World, and then took Turkey Lake Road north until it hit Sand Lake Road. We turned right on SLR, and drove. And drove some more. And further on still. Good thing we had time to kill! Eventually I saw a Wal-Mart that I remembered from years past, and knew we were on the right track. We stopped to gas up the rental car, and soon I could tell we were close to the airport. Except for some reason, Sand Lake Road wouldn’t get us right there – we either had to get on 528 and pay a toll (which I guess we could have done), or we had to make a quick turn onto an unknown road and hope we could figure it out. We chose the latter option, and ended up driving down a desolate road past cargo companies and airplane maintenance hangars. Clearly, this wasn’t working.
Dejected that my memories from ten years ago were failing me, I sullenly and quite dejectedly turned back onto 528, paid a toll, and in what felt like mere feet we found ourselves back on airport grounds. We followed the signs back to rental car drop-off, and with the exception of one harrowing moment of following bad signage which led some cars to honk at me, we returned our car and checked in without incident. Our only real hurdle was the security line, which was longer than I’d seen it at any airport we’d flown out of during the past few years, NYC airports included.
From that point on all we had to do was hurry up and wait. We boarded on time, flew out on time, and landed on time, back in dark, chilly Connecticut.
How many days until our December trip?
Monday, May 9
After two days of blissful morning touring, we were officially rope drop converts and thus were up again around 7am. We quickly ate and got ready to drive to the Magic Kingdom, and after a relatively quick drive there, we got a parking spot in the first row of spots that wasn’t reserved for handicap parking. SWEET. I’m not sure if this is a normal thing or not, but the Express monorail wasn’t running, so we hopped on the Resort monorail and ended up in front of the train station at 8:25.
The opening show was cute, but we were both impatient to get a move on, AND I realized while standing there that I had forgotten to put any sunscreen on this morning, save what little was in my foundation. Since my skin has two color options (blindingly pale and blindingly burned), I hid in the shade during the show and hoped for the best.
One the rope was officially dropped, we decided to actually follow a Touring Plan (we usually follow the spirit if not the letter of TPs, but I was game to try something new) and headed off to its first stop, Space Mountain. After a brisk jog up Main Street and through the Tomorrowland Terrace, we turned left toward SM and came to an abrupt halt. We were greeted by a solid human wall of Disney Cast Members, some costumed, others clearly managers, waving their giant stuffed Mickey hands away from Space Mountain – the ride was down, and no time could be estimated for its return. Well, CRAP. If we had known this at the entrance, we could have used the OTHER Touring Plan, which called for us to head directly to Big Thunder/Splash Mountains. In any case, not wanting to waste any more time, we skipped ahead in our current TP, bypassing Winnie the Pooh (just weren’t in the mood) and heading straight for Peter Pan’s Flight, which was an easy walkon. Next stop was the Haunted Mansion, which was also a walkon – not complaining here, but we still haven’t had a chance to really check out the new queue. The next stop was Big Thunder Mountain, which we rode twice, and which was a walkon both times. Have I mentioned yet how I LOVE ROPE DROP?
Our next stop via the TP was Pirates of the Caribbean, a favorite of ours that was sullied horribly by the lady seated in front of us who must have taken a hundred flash pictures throughout the ride. Oh, well. At this point it was getting much hotter and I was growing even more afraid of the sunburn that would await me at the end of the day, so after a fruitless search of sunscreen in Adventureland and on Main Street, we headed out to the monorail to take a quick ride to the Contemporary Resort. There, we both took a bathroom break (love the quiet CR bathrooms) and I stopped into one of the shops to buy a horribly overpriced bottle of sunscreen, but seriously – can you put too high a price on avoiding a nasty sunburn? I can’t.
After resting a bit and checking our e-mail, we headed to the monorail, where we disembarked at the TTC and transferred to the Epcot monorail. Yes, for those of you keeping track at home, we chose to leave our car in the TTC parking lot for two reasons: 1. We LOVE the Epcot monorail ride and 2. we planned to visit the MK later in the day, and figured we’d just monorail ourselves back.
Our main Epcot mission this afternoon was to enjoy and take pictures of the Flower and Garden Festival, which we had really seen only in passing on Saturday and Sunday. We took numerous pictures of the Toy Story 3 topiaries at the entrance, and then made our way back to the World Showcase to take pictures throughout Canada, the United Kingdom, and Morocco, before stopping at the Tangierene Cafe in Morocco to split a vegetarian platter and refill our water bottles. (Note: for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike the Tangeriene Cafe is a fantastic deal AND offers really good food. You are ordered to eat there!) Our appetites satisfied, we continued on through Italy, China, and Germany, and then Norway and Mexico, where on the spur of the moment we decided to do the Mexico boat ride. It was pretty much as terrible as usual, but it offered a nice respite from the beating heat of the day. Now, before we move on, enjoy some lovely Epcot pictures:
Anyway, our next stop was at the Cantina de San Angel for a passionfruit margarita, which CP claimed to have no interest in, but then helped me demolish. We both sipped on it as we walked through the other side of the World Showcase and back toward BWV, where we collapsed on the bed for a much-needed afternoon nap. It should also be mentioned that Monday was the day that both CP and I felt we were beginning a losing battle with sore and blistered feet. More on this later, ha ha!
After our nap, we awoke feeling sad about the fact that we now had less than 24 hours of fun left. We decided to drown our sorrows in ice cream, and walked down to Seashore Sweets on the BoardWalk, where CP had ice cream and I had a delicious Coke float. We watched the people wandering by and the boats honking their horns, and then took a few more pictures before heading back to our room to start packing.
Once sufficient progress had been made on the packing front, we walked back to Epcot, stopping to take more pictures of the Flower and Garden Festival in the late afternoon sunlight, and then headed to Guest Relations at the front of the park to upgrade our current six-day Park Hopper tickets to Annual Passes, as doing so would save us money in the long run given our upcoming 10-day December trip. The upgrade process took a bit of time but was ultimately worth it, and like cats with canaries in our mouths, we headed out of Epcot, onto the monorail, and back to the TTC.
Now, you might reasonably expect that we were headed back to the MK for the evening, but decided instead to head to Downtown Disney to finish our souvenir shopping and grab some dinner before going to the MK for a late evening. This was partly because it was something like 95 degrees at 6pm, and our feet were very sore and torn up, so some time in the car – and in the car’s icy air conditioning, was certainly welcome.
Our first stop was Earl of Sandwich for – can you believe it? – a sandwich. Afterward, we ran over to
Once Upon a Toy to use the hidden bathroom in the back, and then headed over to World of Disney, which was an absolute madhouse. We then checked out the Art of Disney store, before heading to Goofy’s Candy Company and finally the pin store. Soon after, we headed back to the car, drove ourselves back to the TTC, and to be different walked to the Polynesian – one of my favorite places just to visit – to use the bathroom again, watch the Electrical Water Pagaent, and stroll the grounds a bit before monorailing back over to the Magic Kingdom. Once again, my momentary insanity led me to completely forget that we were AGAIN entering during the Electrical Parade.
Somehow – I can’t even really remember because I think I’ve blocked it out – we made it to Frontierland, where we waited out the parade and then headed directly to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which we road twice in succession, the second time during Wishes. Afterward, the wheels of our collective train completely fell off. We were tired. Our feet hurt. It was already late. So…we left. First, though, we headed back to Main Street to finish the shopping we couldn’t do at DTD. Again, temporary insanity must have made me forget what a bad idea this would be, as the stores were mobbed and the lines were long. Somehow we managed to survive it, but then we encountered the next mob at the TTC, where we waited an HOUR to board a tram back to our car.
This was truly the only time during our trip that I wished we had taken a bus instead of a car – while most parks’ parking lots are within walking distance and you can usually get to your car without relying on a tram, at the TTC you’re stuck waiting for a tram with everyone else. Also, CP getting her butt groped by some old lady while waiting in the tram line didn’t exactly improve the experience. Ah, well. Not the magical final evening in the MK we had on our October trip, but still a lovely day nonetheless.
As you can see, I’m catching up on trip reports.
Sunday, May 8 – Mother’s Day.
We slept in this morning until the late hour of 7:15, and like the day before, we ate breakfast in the room (this time accompanied by some Starbucks Double Shots to give us some caffeine), dressed, and were out the door by 8:10am. Unlike yesterday, however, we decided not to drive or take a boat, and instead walked to Hollywood Studios. We waved to the passing Friendship boats, enjoyed watching the ducks with their babies, and raised our eyebrows at the passing joggers who looked far too tired and sweaty to truly be enjoying their hot morning runs.
Before 8:30 we were in line, only the 4th or 5th people deep at the turnstile. We were let through the turnstiles by 8:40, and were at the front of the crowd awaiting the rope drop show. Rope drop happened promptly at 9, and we joined the throngs of people headed to Toy Story Mania! Oddly, for all the horror stories I’ve heard of the TSM dash at rope drop, we both found it to be a more civilized experience than we had the day before at Epcot.
Once arriving at Pixar Place the majority of the crowd headed for the TSM Fast Pass line, so we instead got right into the standby queue and walked right onto the ride, perhaps the 40th and 41st riders of the day. We were both delighted to finally break 100k, and once off the ride we headed to the now clear Fast Pass machines to get a FP for 11:40am-12:40pm. Adrenaline rush of the day over, we both leisurely stroll over to Sunset Boulevard, where CP reads on her iPhone while I ride Tower of Terror alone. The ride was a walkon and deliciously terrifying as usual. Once off I meet up with CP, and we continue our leisurely stroll around the Studios and end up deciding to visit the Muppet dump shop (two things: 1. I hate the term “dump shop”; and 2. what happened to all the Muppets merchandise? The Muppets dump shop (AAAGH) contained mostly the same generic WDW merchandise you can find anywhere else. Sad) and browsing the backlot streets before stopping to grab a snack at Starring Rolls.
Our aimless wandering continues as a grab my zoom lens and start taking pictures of Sunset Boulevard. While sitting down to change my lens I’m approached by a survey taker, and I happily agree to take a survey, this one a fairly general one about the number of times I’ve visited, what kind of tickets I have, and whether I’m doing anything else in Orlando.
Saturday, May 7.
We were up and at ‘em this morning at 7:07am, with the intention of making today our Very First Rope Drop Day Ever(tm). We both ate breakfast in the room and got dressed, and were out the door by 8:10am.
We jumped in the Camry, drove the short distance to Epcot, and were in line for rope drop by 8:30. I have to say, mobile devices make waiting for rope drop a much more pleasant experience (well, I assume) than having to wait with nothing to do. We read our e-mail, browsed the news, and listened to the Epcot and the shouts of a Mickey-handed greeter, who roamed the crowd wishing people Happy Birthdays and Anniversaries.
By 8:45 we were allowed through the turnstiles, and we followed the cattle call into the heart of Future World to watch the opening show. When that was finished, we were again off with the races (and by races I mean “slow moving giant crowd) and headed toward Soarin’, which even at this earliest of hours still required a 15 minute wait in line.
If you ride Soarin’ often, however, you know this isn’t really a bad wait compared to what it can be, even when you utilize a Fast Pass. Soon enough we were boarding, and were lucky enough to be assigned to the center glider, top row without having to ask. (Granted, I would have asked, but I’ve seen Cast Members roll their eyes at the request often enough to feel a little guilty about it.) Our prime seat location offered a terrific ride, and soon we were off and gathering Fast Passes for our next ride, scheduled between 11:18-12:18p.m.
Our next agenda item? Hoofing it across the park to Test Track, where we utilized the single rider line and were on and off the ride in under ten minutes. Next up was something we had never done – Mission Space. Although I admit to some curiosity about the Orange side, my normal barfy feelings after a spin on the Teacups was enough to head me straight to the Green side. The verdict? We were both impressed by the ride, but still found it a bit jerky and in the end kind of anticlimactic. So, once was probably enough for us, although I wouldn’t rule it out on a future trip. Orange side? Probably not ever.
After Mission Space, we grabbed a shaded bench by the Stitch topiary and checked our e-mail, drank some water, and watched the people strolling by. Once our feet felt sufficiently rested, we walked over to Club Cool for my favorite Mezzo Mix (dear Coca-Cola: if you are reading this, could you please, please PLEASE offer this fantastic drink in the States? I’d singlehandedly make it a profitable venture for you.) and other Coke samples. Afterwards we strolled over to The Seas with Nemo and Friends, not so much to ride it (another once is enough each trip ride for us), but to delight in the “Mine! Mine! Mine!” seagulls and take some pictures.
By this time it was almost 11:15, so we headed back to Soarin’ and were in the Fast Pass return line at 11:18am exactly. I was relieved to find the wait was less than 15 minutes, and yet again we were assigned the prime real estate of the top row of the center glider without asking. Once off, it was roughly 11:45 and we felt like we had done enough to warrant a mid-day break (to say nothing of a caffeine infusion, since we hadn’t done that yet that morning). We got back to the Camry, headed to Celebration, and sought out the first Starbucks we could find. I delighted when I found a perfect parallel parking spot right in front of Starbucks, but couldn’t figure out why the space seemed so small. After some careful maneuvering I angled the Camry in, and then realized…I was parked in a parking spot for GOLF CARTS. Welcome to Celebration!
Appropriately caffeinated, we headed back to the BoardWalk and stopped in at the BoardWalk bakery to pick up a blueberry and chocolate chip muffin to enjoy for a mid-day snack. As with the day before, we couldn’t resist the siren call of an afternoon nap, and awoke around 3pm to eat the peanut butter chocolate cupcake that somehow jumped into our bakery bag with our muffins. Restored, we headed out to Downtown Disney, where we browsed the new Lego store and sculptures; hit up World of
Disney (where I promptly fell in love with the Pook-a-Looz Stitch and Sulley); and headed to Basin to browse the delightful bath products and give ourselves a free hand scrub. We then hit up Team Mickey, the pin store, Tren-D, and Once Upon a Toy, followed by a quick browse through Mickey’s Pantry. Unlike our October trip we didn’t really fall in love with many souvenirs we’d have to take home, so we headed over to Earl of Sandwich for sandwiches and sodas and a rest in the shade. We rounded out our Downtown Disney visit with a brief visit to the Christmas store and the everything-under-$10 store, and then it was off to Target in Kissimmee to pick up some toiletries and some pre-packaged Starbucks coffee to tide us over in the early mornings.
Shopping completed, we headed back to the BoardWalk to relax with a beer on our balcony before heading back to Epcot around 7pm. We leisurely strolled, taking pictures of the topiaries and beautiful gardens in France, and then decided to browse the stores there before taking in the Impressions de France movie. The moving showing turned out to be delayed, as it was announced that a gentleman in an earlier showing had lost his wedding ring, and staff were currently scouring the theatre in hopes of finding it for him. (We never did learn how it turned out.) A French Cast Member entertained the growing crowds with a French song singalong and France trivia, and soon enough we were seated and taking in the lovely film.
Afterwards, we headed over to Japan for one of our favorite snacks: Kaki Gori. We sat outside the Japanese quick-service restaurant and fought off some wicked brain freeze as we ate. Our sweet tooth satisfied, we headed into the Mitsukoshi Department Store for our traditional souvenir binge. As before we purchased lucky cats and owls, sushi plates to use for mise en place when we cook, an adorable stuffed Totoro for CP, and – my favorite find of this trip – a beautiful spring scarf that goes with most everything I wear and that is a terrific reminder of our trip. Several bags in hand, we climbed to the top of the Japan pavilion outside of Teppan Edo to stake out a spot for IllumiNations. The show was wonderful as always, save the loud cell phone conversation had by the woman standing next to us about all things gross and medical – really, is there not a better time you could talk about catheters?
Show over, we waited out the crowds and leisurely strolled back to the BoardWalk, where we browsed through the main gift shop and headed up to our room for showers and sleep. A long day, but a pretty fantastic one.
Friday, May 6th.
In spite of going to bed at 1am we were both wide awake before 8am. We dressed and headed out to this fantastic Whole Foods, where we stocked up on breakfast food and snacks for our room (again, the fantastic benefit of having both a rental car and a studio with refrigerator, microwave, and dishes), and then created a custom six-pack of beer, which included some old favorites and some new samplings from Florida breweries.
For those of you who are curious, the total was around $82, which included the six-pack of beer, some reusable bowls, plenty of fresh fruit, cereal, and yogurt, and snacks. After that we made a quick stop at a local Starbucks for coffee and a breakfast pastry, and then we headed back to the BoardWalk to unload our groceries.
By 10am we’re back in the Camry and headed to the Magic Kingdom, where we are scheduled to have our traditional (tradition because we’ve done it once before) first-day Magic Kingdom lunch at the Plaza Restaurant. We arrive a bit before our scheduled 11am lunch, and thus take our time browsing the shops on Main Street. It’s sprinkling lightly, and is very grey and damp. By the time we reach the Plaza it’s outright raining, so we hope by the time we eat the weather will clear and we can enjoy an afternoon in the Magic Kingdom.
Our server is Ileana, and she is lovely and friendly without being overbearing; although the Plaza sees its fair share of visits from the Mayor and other “streetmosphere” characters, they seem to have a good sense of which tables are into that sort of thing (not us), and who wants to just enjoy a meal and observe the action. CP orders a Diet Coke and I order a strawberry milkshake (hey, it’s vacation!), and we split a vegetarian sandwich and a Plaza club. We certainly enjoyed our meal, but we were seated in the main room this time (unlike our last visit, where we had a table in the solarium) near several tables of loud diners. We didn’t linger, thanked Ileana, and were on our way.
Sadly, by the time lunch was over the rain had gotten worse, not better. We had umbrellas with us, but after a few minutes of traipsing through the rain trying to dodge strollers and large families (and again feeling like we were swimming upstream through crowds), I turned to CP and admitted that I just couldn’t do it. Maybe if we didn’t visit as often as we do I’d feel more compelled to push through bad weather or no, but we both just weren’t feeling it. We headed back toward the entrance, stopping for a few minutes to listen to the Dapper Dans sing to the gathered crowd, and then walked back to our car and returned to the BoardWalk.
By the time we returned to the hotel the rain had let up, so we walked around the BoardWalk, snapping pictures, watching the boats go by, and enjoying the
creak of the wooden boards beneath our feet. We returned to our room to nap, as the rain had started again and we couldn’t think of anything else that sounded better than a snooze on a grey afternoon. We awoke around 3:30, and after some last minute hemming-and-hawing on my part, decided we would in fact keep that evening’s Jiko reservation for dinner. We showered, dressed in our fancier duds, and decided to stop by Downtown Disney before our 5:35pm reservation.
This is yet another moment where no amount of trip planning can make up for momentary insanity. It was Friday afternoon. It was a beautiful day. Add those two things together and of COURSE DD was going to be mobbed. After deciding not to voluntarily place ourselves in that madness, we drove back to the BoardWalk, because – neurosis alert – I couldn’t remember if I had turned off my flat iron before we left.
CP ran in and confirmed that I did, so we got back in the Camry and headed to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, since we had decided to browse the hotel and the savanna views before dinner. We poked our head in the Zawadi Marketplace, arguably one of Disney’s best resort gift shops, and then visited the Arusha and Uzima overlooks to take in the animals.
Around 5:30 we checked in for dinner and were promptly seated in Jiko’s wine room, a cozy, dark-paneled dining room that featured a floor-to-ceiling wine rack than ran the expanse of a long rounded wall. For nearly half an hour we were the only diners in the room, and our server, Stephanie, was phenomenal from start to finish. She helped me select a lovely South African pinotage and CP a tasty Kenyan beer, Tusker. After bringing us warm cloths to wash our hands, Stephanie helped us select appetizers – originally we were going to have a (ubiquitous in Disney) tasty-sounding flatbread, but Stephanie suggested the “Taste of Africa” breads and spreads and two salads: the Jiko salad for me (with peaches, plantains, hazelnut praline and goat cheese) and the Market salad for CP (with poached egg, homemade croutons, bacon, and greens). The Taste of Africa included lentil papadum, fresh naan, and pita, and for spreads included chermoula, kalamata hummus, lentil and spinach dip, and sambal. We greatly enjoyed our appetizers, sitting in the quiet wine room taking in the sights. Even the family seated next to us with four children was lovely, with Stephanie doting on the children and the children behaving themselves admirably.
For our entrees, CP ordered the Peri Peri chicken, a fantastically spiced dish named for a former college program cast member at AKL who shared the dish’s recipe with the staff. As for me, I splurged and ordered the $41 (!) oak-grilled filet, which was served with tender roasted potatoes and fresh grilled asparagus and which was worth every single penny.Full but undaunted, we continued with dessert, CP ordering something chocolate (which wasn’t on the menu then, nor is it now – it was perhaps a pastry chef’s experiment?) and me ordering the Cape Malva pudding, a terrific bread pudding served with two fruit sorbets and a lovely vanilla custard. My dessert was accompanied by a terrific South African dessert wine, and CP ordered a pot of the most delicious chai tea either of us have ever tasted.
Our meal at Jiko was by far the best either of us have had…ever? We felt this way not only for the food, but for Stephanie’s impeccable service. She was attentive without being overbearing, was honest about her suggestions and took the time to chat with us and really get to know us. We had hoped to make a return trip to Jiko on this trip, but ended up not going back for fear of having an experience that could diminish the joy of this one.
Floating on cloud nine, we departed Jiko and headed back to the BoardWalk, where we freshened up, ditched our bags, and walked to Epcot via the International Gateway. Well, first we debated going to Epcot, as at this point CP wasn’t sure if she was feeling well or not (dinner? something else?). So before we (maybe) left for Epcot, I decided to walk the BoardWalk by myself, taking pictures, watching the street performers, and just generally enjoying the atmosphere. A few minutes later, however, CP called my cell phone, asking where she could meet me so we could head to Epcot. Success! When we arrived the park was mobbed that night (not surprising, given that it was an Extra Magic Hours evening and the Magic Kingdom had closed at 7pm for Grad Nite), so we decided to avoid the IllumiNations crowds and headed instead to Future World.
We browsed the Art of Disney store, road Spaceship Earth, and ended with a browse through MouseGears, which was nearly empty until IllumiNations ended, at which point it was instantly packed with people. To avoid another swim upstream through yet another hot and sweaty crowd, we saw outside MouseGears and people watched, and headed back to the BoardWalk to get a good night’s sleep, as we were determined to give rope drop a fair shake and see if it would change our WDW experience. Oh, would it ever.