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October 7, 2012

Unearthing Hidden Treasures: A Review of “Epcot: The First Thirty Years"

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Unearthing Hidden Treasures: A Review of "Epcot:
The First Thirty Years; An Unofficial Retrospective"
by Jeff Lange and Kevin Yee

Just in time for Epcot's 30th Anniversary, Jeff Lange and Kevin Yee have written a new book that provides a panoramic overview of its attractions, both past and present. The book is not exactly a history of the park-although it does start with an introduction that takes the reader through the basics of Epcot's creation-but is more of a "look back" at the various attractions that have surfaced in the park over the years. As the "retrospective" in the subtitle points to, the book provides the reader, both in words and photographs, a survey of Epcot over the years.


Unearthing Hidden Treasures
takes readers on a journey through each of Epcot's pavilions, first in Future World, then World Showcase. Each current and historic pavilion has an entry-in alphabetical order-that includes a description of the pavilion and its attractions, and is accompanied by a number of color photographs. (The print edition that I reviewed included color photographs, but I understand that there are both print and Kindle editions, that include black and white photos instead.) While the alphabetic order is useful for letting readers find the descriptions of favorite attractions quickly, I found it a bit hard to follow, for instance, when the Test Track and World of Motion attractions were not described together (as they occupy the same pavilion space).

The Land - Unearthing Hidden Treasures:  A Review of Epcot: The First Thirty Years

As a relatively recent visitor to Epcot (my first visit was in 1999), I found the accounts and photos of attractions no longer in existence to be fascinating. For instance, I have heard many Disney fans lament the demise of Horizons, but I never understood what the attraction was about, or how it worked (multiple endings?), but after reading the description of the attraction, and seeing the amazing pictures, I can now see what it is that others miss.

Horizons - Unearthing Hidden Treasures:  A Review of Epcot: The First Thirty Years

I was also happy to revisit in the book's pages long-shuttered attractions that I did have the good fortune to experience before they were closed (Body Wars, anyone?), and to read about the evolution of pavilions that have not been shuttered, but rather have transformed substantially over time (for instance, The Land and The Living Seas with Nemo and Friends).

The Living Seas - Unearthing Hidden Treasures:  A Review of Epcot: The First Thirty Years

Not only did I get a glimpse of attractions that I never got to experience, but the book is chock-a-block with Epcot trivia. For instance, did you know that there was once a show called "The Magical World of Barbie" in the America Gardens Theatre (alas, no pictures!) or that Canada is the only pavilion in the World Showcase built with neither funding nor support from the country that it represents (oh, Canada, tsk, tsk)? Neither did I! I also now have a better understanding of why some of the attractions that I never quite understood are the way they are (Journey into Imagination with Figment-I still don't get that one).

Lange and Yee also include sections on Entertainment (including my personal favorite, the now-defunct Tapestry of Nations parade), Events (Flower and Garden Festival, International Food and Wine Festival) and several Epcot Tribute Displays. They conclude with a helpful Timeline and a full Index.

Unearthing Hidden Treasures:  A Review of Epcot: The First Thirty Years

What I really liked about this book: It was like an Epcot travelogue! The hundreds of beautiful photos will provide readers with an illustrated trip around the park any time they feel the need for an Epcot fix.

What I wish was included: For me, more than any other of the Disney Parks, Epcot is about shopping and eating. I wish that the authors had dedicated some space to coverage of the various shops and restaurants, as many of those are destinations in themselves, and I'm sure must have changed and evolved over time, just like the attractions housed in the pavilions.

Happy 30th Anniversary, Epcot! And thanks to Jeff Lange and Kevin Yee for producing such a lovely tribute.

Link goes to Amazon Affiliate Book Store for AllEars.

Images provided by the authors.

Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was ten years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited Disney parks all over the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.

October 8, 2012

Jack Skellington and Sally's First Meet and Greet at Walt Disney World!

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by Sandi Lamborne

In honor of the upcoming movie "Frankenweenie," Walt Disney World celebrated a special weekend in honor of the director, Tim Burton, at Downtown Disney, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, September 28-30.


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As part of that weekend, Jack Skellington and Sally from the director's film "The Nightmare Before Christmas", had their first-ever Meet-n-Greet at Walt Disney World. Jack and Sally were scheduled to meet their fans from 6 to 11 p.m. each night. They were located right outside the AMC Theater next to the Harley-Davidson shop.

Fans started lining up hours before the scheduled time. My husband Dave and I got in line at 5 p.m. and there were approximately 100 people in front of us already, some with chairs and umbrellas. Most of the fans in line had dolls or T-Shirts or hats depicting Jack because he is so popular.

Everyone was wondering how Disney would outfit Jack so that he would still appear to be a skeleton. He appeared to the cheers of the crowd with a mask covering his face from the lip up. He was able to talk and asked us if we went through a door to get there. His voice even sounded like the real Jack, and Sally just batted her very long eyelashes and looked confused when I shook her hand, as if to signify that she didn't know what shaking hands was all about. Dave told her she looked nice and she smiled and said thank you.

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The cast members kept the line moving quickly. There were no autographs allowed and you could take a photo as an individual or group, but not both. When we got to the front of the line, a cast member took our camera and bags while another cast member ushered us to Jack and Sally. Our camera was handed off to another cast member, who took a picture along with the PhotoPass photographer (who took only two). Our bags were given to another cast member, who then collected our camera and they were waiting at exit so that the line kept moving along.


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We're all hoping that Jack and Sally show up for Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party!

October 9, 2012

Taking Tweens and Teens to Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival

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We are just a few weeks away from our (nearly) annual visit to the International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot. The hotel reservations have been made, plane tickets purchased, and Advance Dining Reservations are in place. I have prepared the latest version of The Spreadsheet, mapping out every minute of our itinerary (ok, not every minute, but pretty darn close).
Our approach to visiting the Festival and enjoying its offerings has changed over the years, although I must say that we have yet to only scratch the surface. The first year we went, when our kids were elementary school-aged, we were happy to discover (almost by accident) that the Festival was taking place at the same time as our four-day fall visit, which happened to (and still happens to) coincide with our school district's long four-day weekend, which, by the way, is meant to be set aside for parent/teacher conferences. (I would like to take a moment to apologize sincerely to all of my children's teachers who have had to reschedule Miller Family conferences over the years. Thank you for your understanding.) At that time, we focused ONLY on getting Mom and Dad a few bites and glasses of wine from the Festival Marketplace booths. Then, we moved on to trying to get the kids to try some of the offerings. Last year, Mom and Dad attended a very special event on their own, and the whole family enjoyed an entertaining and informative culinary demonstration.

Here are some pointers that I have for enjoying the Food and Wine Festival with tweens and teens in tow:

1. The International Marketplace food booths provide a great opportunity to expand your child's food experiences. Plan at least one lunch or dinner that will consist entirely grazing from one booth to the next. When the kids were younger, my husband and I had a difficult time getting them to make a meal out of the food offerings at the International Marketplace food booths. They thought that the food was just too strange. (A hint for parents of young children who may not be interested in the Festival food offerings: The American Adventure is halfway around your noshing route, and "American" fare can be procured for your picky eaters at the Liberty Inn as you make your way around the World Showcase. Do not let your young picky eaters stand between you and the Shrimp on the Barbie with Pepper Berry Citrus Glaze, and its accompanying Rosemount Estate Traminer Riesling!) As they have gotten older however, they have found some favorites, including the Cheese Fondue and Trio of Artisan Cheeses at the Cheese booth; the Kerrygold Cheese Selection from Ireland (the girls LOVE cheese, do you see a pattern here?); the Pork Potstickers in China; the Seared Filet of Beef with Smashed Sweet Potatoes and Braai Sauce from South Africa; and their new favorite, Ropa Vieja from the Caribbean.

2. Expensive events are not necessarily a good buy for kids. We had never actually done any of the larger, more expensive events associated with the Festival until last year (see #5, below), because it did not seem to make a lot of sense from a financial perspective. When the kids were younger, they simply did not have either the attention span or the interest in sitting still for several hours while "weird" food was being served. Now, even though they are much more likely to be interested in the food, since wine (or other spirits) make up much of the cost for these events, it still does not seem to make much sense, unless your older kid is particularly interested in a particular type of cuisine (or dessert-is dessert a cuisine type?). I was ready to do one of the more expensive events this year, but the festival schedule did not quite cooperate. The only one that really might have worked for us was The Party for the Senses, and that was not one that I really wanted to do, particularly with all of the confusing pricing tiers. Oh, and we are going to miss "the Cake Boss" by one day. Oh, well, maybe next year.

3. The less expensive Culinary Demonstrations might be a huge hit. Last year, we decided to try one of the Festival's Culinary Demonstrations. I checked the demonstration schedule, and found one that was being led by a local (to us) chef (David Guas of The Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Virginia, who will be returning this year) who would be preparing something my kids might like (in this case, the vague description was "Pastry"). For a very reasonable price (demonstrations are priced at $11 and $14 for 2012) we got an hour-long cooking demonstration from a very entertaining chef, four glasses of superb champagne (yes, the French stuff from Champagne) and substantial tastes of the apple cake that Chef Guas was preparing. Since the kids are not old enough to drink, Mom and Dad each got two glasses of wine, and the kids were served some apple juice. Not bad, and we all loved the experience. We will be doing it again this year. (With a different chef, but again, the description for the event is a vague "Pastry." Do you see another pattern emerging here?) I considered booking more than one demonstration, but I thought better of that idea, and will leave it at one. While the girls enjoyed the demonstration last year, teenagers bore easily, and I wouldn't want a very nice experience to be turned into a total drag.

4. Take an interest in cooking home with you. Last year, my kids loved the Ropa Vieja from the Caribbean booth so much that they talked me into buying the festival cookbook ("Epcot International Food and Wine Festival Cook Book: Passport to a World of Flavors," $14.95 in 2011). While we were not able to exactly replicate this yummy beef stew at home, it ended up being a reasonable facsimile, and it got my kids cooking. It is a well-known fact that kids will be more likely to try new foods if they are involved in its preparation. (At least that is what "the experts" say. My older daughter will help cook just about anything, but there are still lots of things that she won't eat-especially if they are green.) (By the way, does your family pronounce the word Car-RIB-bean or CAR-ib-BE-an? Let me know. The Miller family cannot agree on this one.)

5. The ability of the kids to look after themselves for a few hours opens up opportunities for Mom and Dad to enjoy some of the more expensive events on their own. Last year my husband and I splurged on the "Best of Bocuse" dinner that was held at the Bistro de Paris. The very high price tag meant that this was not an event that we wanted to include the kids in, but they were able to walk over to Epcot with us from the Boardwalk (see #6, below), do some touring on their own, and return to our room by themselves before we got back, with periodic check-ins via text message). We had the amazing opportunity to sample some iconic dishes from the great chef, and they got to experience a bit of controlled independence.

6. If you can, stay in one of the Epcot resorts. It is much easier to return to one of the Epcot resorts after touring the Festival. We find that a leisurely walk back to the Boardwalk (our favorite) after sampling yummy food and beverages is a good way to wind down and let the food settle before taking an afternoon break, or getting ready to sleep.

7. The "Eat to the Beat" concerts are a great way to introduce your teens and tweens to the really good (or pretty good) music of your youth. I love the fact that most of the musical acts playing at the "Eat to the Beat" concerts were popular bands that I listened to when I was a teenager. (Some, it appears, are now bands that were popular when I was a young adult, and they are now considered "classic." I refuse to admit that I am getting old, and do now consider myself to be a "classic" as well.) I don't know about your kids, but mine think that their generation invented popular music. This year, we will be introducing them to the great Howard Jones (we will unfortunately just miss .38 Special!). Last year it was Night Ranger (returning again this year). Follow the concert with a lively discussion over something sweet (I recommend the Crème Brulee au Chocolat au Lait from France) about whose music is better. I guarantee you will have fun with this one!

8. Be careful about overindulging in the wine bit of the Festival. Young children might not notice if Mom and Dad get a little tipsy, but teenagers will count every drop of alcohol that passes your lips, and then will comment loudly about any tiny sway they might see in your steps. The Festival is a good opportunity to show tweens and teens how to enjoy a glass of wine with amazing food, and how adults can drink responsibly. In any case, make good use of Disney transportation, and please don't drink and drive. Your teen will thank you.

Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was 10 years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited Disney parks all over the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.


October 14, 2012

Scooting Around Walt Disney World on an ECV

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For the past five or six years I have suffered with arthritic knees and it has had a significant impact on my ability to enjoy all that Walt Disney World has to offer. For the first few years it merely slowed me down, but unfortunately it also slowed down all those I was travelling with. That made me feel a bit guilty!

Finally my condition deteriorated to the point where I had to break down and rent an Electric Convenience Vehicle, commonly called an ECV or scooter. It was a bit of a blow to my ego but a big boon to my enjoyment.

It also gave me a whole new perspective on mobility. It was a real eye-opener!

I developed an understanding of the difficulties those with mobility issues face on a regular basis and I also saw how Disney does as much as they possibly can to make life easier for those with mobility challenges.

You've all seen scooters at home and at Disney so you know what they look like but I'll take a minute to describe how easy they are to operate. There are only three main controls, a key to turn the scooter on and off, a dial you turn to adjust the speed and a flipper you press to make it move. Press the flipper on one side and you move forward, press the other side and you back up.

ECV controls

The battery packs hold a charge which will get you through a rigorous day at the parks but be sure to plug them in to recharge overnight!

The ECV's come in 3-wheel and 4-wheel models. The 4-wheel version is a bit more stable to operate but the 3-wheeler has a tighter turning circle and is easier to manoeuvre with. I prefer the 3-wheeler.

Disney rents 4-wheelers at each of the theme parks. The current cost is $50.00 per day plus a deposit of $20.00 which is refunded when you return the scooter at the end of your day. There is no guarantee scooters will be available. Also, you can use your receipt at a different park on the same day, but again, no guarantee of availability.

Disney ECV

You can also bring your own ECV as long as it falls within the 32" x 48" size required for use on the Disney Transportation System.

There are also many other vendors such as Buena Vista Scooters who will deliver an ECV to your resort for the full duration of your vacation and then pick it up when you leave. This is much more economical than renting from Disney and gives an added advantage - you can use the scooter everywhere, not just at the parks. The one disadvantage is that you have to transport the scooter from your resort to the parks.

ECV models

All Disney buses, monorails and many of the boats are accessible but you need to back the scooter onto the ramp before loading it on the bus. Be sure to practice backing up!

We normally stay in our motor home at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and we always ensured that the ECV we rented would fold up and fit in the trunk of the car we tow to Florida.

AllEars has some much more detailed information on ECV's here.

Now let me describe my experience in the parks.

There are a few impediments to travel on a scooter, the principal one is the curbs along the roadside. Anything higher than about 2 or 3 inches is impassable for an ECV. Fortunately there are ramps located at all the major crossing points so there's always one nearby.

The queues for most attractions are wide enough for a scooter to maneuver quite easily and once you have boarded the attraction a cast member will move the ECV to the unloading area so it's waiting when you finish your ride. Some attractions, such as The Haunted Mansion, Spaceship Earth and Star Tours have special boarding arrangements; a cast member escorts you to the unloading area where you have a bit of extra time and space to get settled in your car.

Whenever you encounter stairs, such as near the entry to the Jungle Cruise, look around - there will be a ramp for ECV's, wheelchairs and strollers nearby.

There are special viewing areas for Illuminations, Fantasmic, the nightly Wishes fireworks show and the new Celebrate the Magic castle show which will debut in November. These areas are set aside for people in wheelchairs and scooters and they all have great sight lines. If you don't use one of these areas you will probably see nothing more than the back of the person standing in front of you! Ask a cast member for directions to the nearest viewing area. These areas are filled on a first come, first served basis so plan to arrive early. Once you get there a cast member will direct you to the front of the roped off area where you will have an unimpeded view. Everyone else in your party can stand behind you and all the others seated in chairs and ECV's.

Overall Disney has done a terrific job of ensuring that all areas of every park are accessible. There were very few impediments to travel on my ECV and only a few minor delays. I did not find a single attraction that I could not enjoy.

For more complete details on accessibility at Walt Disney World look here.

Scooters at EPCOT

Here are a few important things you should know about ECV's and a few tips as well:

1. Scooters have no brake pedal and they don't stop on a dime. When you release the throttle (that little flipper that makes it move) the electric motor acts as a brake to slow you down fairly quickly and then when you are almost stopped you will feel a slight "clunk" as the motor locks to hold you in place. It's sort of an automatic parking brake.

This becomes very important when a child darts in front of you. Since you are at Walt Disney World you will encounter lots of children who are so wrapped up in the magic that they lose track of their surroundings. They dodge and dart everywhere and that is not going to change . . . it's a natural result of all the things we enjoy about Disney! Always leave a safe distance in front of you and stay alert! I'm still surprised that in all my scooter travels I didn't mow down a child!

Unfortunately, the same is often true for adults. They get wrapped up in the magic too, but there's also another issue. When they are standing and you are seated you normally fall below their line of sight. When they look around they often look over top of you and you do not register in their consciousness. Once again, leave a safe distance in front of you and stay alert!

At times things will get really congested, such as after a parade when everyone is heading toward the exit. When this happens it's much easier and safer to just pull off to the side for five minutes or so. The crowd will disperse in no time and you can be on your way.

2. Keep your speed appropriate to the traffic you are in. The ECV's Disney rents are slow; their top speed is just a nice walking pace. Some of the other vendor's scooters will zip along at up to 20 mph . . . far too fast for a busy theme park. Take it slow and easy and always leave plenty of room in front of you!

3. Practice backing up. As I mentioned earlier, you will need to back the scooter onto a small ramp in order to load it on a Disney bus and it will save time and inconvenience for you and for others if you can hit the ramp correctly the first time you try. It's also a good idea to back into an elevator so you can drive straight out when you get to your floor. Practice makes perfect!

4. All scooters have a basket on the front. This is a great spot to carry a bottle of water, sunglasses, a rain poncho, your camera and all the other things you need to survive a day at Disney. Use the basket . . . DO NOT hang anything from the handlebars. One time on our way to Soarin' I was waiting for the elevator in The Land. The elevator door opened and a lady on a scooter came flying out at full speed . . . 20 mph . . . her eyes were like saucers as the hurtled across the elevator foyer and crashed headlong into a vending machine. She had hung her purse on the handlebars and it got tangled with the throttle flipper. She was a little dazed and so was the man who was servicing the vending machine, but fortunately no one was seriously hurt.

5. When you leave the ECV be sure to remove the key, this will extend your battery life and prevent someone from accidentally taking your scooter. There is a little lever under the seat which cast members will flip to put the scooter in neutral so they can move it; they do not need the key. Also be sure to remove all valuables from the basket. I have never had anything go missing from the scooter, but better to be safe than sorry.

6. Take your time and pace yourself. You will not be able to move as quickly with the ECV as you could on foot so be sure to allow some extra time - and take time to enjoy the experience of your magical Disney vacation.

Scooters are a reliable means of transport but they can be a source of fun too. Some of our friends decorate their ECV's for the season.

Our friend Ray at Christmas

A few of my friends played a prank on me one day. They decorated my scooter while I was off riding Tower of Terror. When I returned it was festooned with pink balloons and streamers. A sign taped to the front proclaimed my new nickname - Princess Poopy-Knees!

Princess Poopy-Knees

I proudly rode around with balloons and streamers the rest of the day. The ECV was very easy to locate, it was one-of-a-kind!

Fortunately I am now the proud owner of two brand new knees so my scooter days are behind me . . . hopefully for a long while to come! I am thankful that the ECV allowed my to enjoy several vacations I would have otherwise missed. It was a good experience, it really opened my eyes to the challenges many people face.

If you are holding back from a Walt Disney World vacation because you have mobility issues - a scooter might be the solution you're looking for!

Rent an ECV and go have some fun!

October 21, 2012

Nine Dragons: World Showcase's Overlooked Restaurant

Andrew Rossi

I have had the opportunity to dine at nearly all of the restaurants in World Showcase, but there has been one that has continually eluded me. With all the various cuisines and dining options available throughout World Showcase the idea of dining in China has always been low on my priority list. After all, Chinese restaurants are so common and I could even have Chinese food delivered to my own house rather than going to Epcot. When dining at Disney World I tend to prefer the types of dining experiences that are less common, but recently I finally decided to give Nine Dragons at Epcot's China pavilion a try.

I realized that, even though I have had Chinese food at numerous locations, I should not be so quick to group Nine Dragons together with all of them. Italian restaurants are just as common as Chinese restaurants and yet I still greatly enjoy Via Napoli for its authentic pizza and hibachi-style Japanese restaurants are becoming much more prevalent but I still continue to dine at Teppan Edo. I hoped that the same would hold true for Nine Dragons.

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Overview:
One of the primary goals of World Showcase is deepening Guests' understanding and appreciation of the countries they are visiting. World Showcase is a place to educate and entertain, somewhere Guests can experience first-hand the cultures, histories, sights, and sounds of eleven different nations. As such, every aspect of these World Showcase pavilions helps to offer insight into their country's culture and people; their attractions, shops, and restaurants all have different stories to tell. With Nine Dragons this story starts with the restaurant's name.

The name Nine Dragons is very fitting because both the number nine and dragons have special significance in Chinese culture. In China, dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers such as control over water, rainfall, hurricanes, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck. Throughout the country's history, the Emperor of China has used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial power and strength.

The number nine is likewise special in China, as it is the largest possible single digit, and is considered to be an extremely lucky number. Dragons are frequently connected with the number nine. Dragons are usually described as having nine characteristics: its head is like a camel's, its horns like a deer's, its eyes like a hare's, its ears like a bull's, its neck like an iguana's, its belly like a frog's, its scales like those of a carp, its paws like a tiger's, and its claws like an eagle's. Chinese dragons also traditionally have 117 (9x13) scales and have nine offspring. Throughout China, Nine Dragons Screens (walls with images of nine different dragons) are typically found in imperial palaces and gardens. Thus Nine Dragons at Epcot is firmly rooted in Chinese history, culture, and traditions which is reinforced even more with the visual imagery used throughout the restaurant.

Atmosphere:
Visually, China has one of the most beautiful pavilions in all of World Showcase. The architectural beauty and attention to detail is truly breathtaking. Thus, you begin to be immersed into Chinese culture before even setting foot inside any of the buildings. A lively color palette of red, green, blue, and gold really make the buildings stand out and then all the tiny details lend an added sense of authenticity.

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Some people may pass these buildings by without giving them a second look, but if you really take your time you can fully appreciate all the craftsmanship that went into their design. One of my personal favorite touches is the figures on the corners of the roof:

Nine_Dragons_Exterior_Details

The interior of the restaurant is a blend of traditional and contemporary and dragon imagery is carried throughout. This is evident from the moment you enter the restaurant and are greeted by a beautiful glass mural depicting two dragons chasing a glowing pearl.

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Even more impressive is when you look up and see the decorative artwork on the ceiling featuring a golden dragon motif. The intricate details in this are truly something to behold.

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Even the woodwork continues the dragon imagery and serves to highlight the skill and craftsmanship of the Chinese artisans who created the works.

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Along the one of the walls of the dining room is a display featuring a variety of delicately crafted glass artwork, all of which pays tribute to the more classical Chinese style.

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Despite all these traditional Chinese touches, the dining room has more of a modern feel. Sleek and streamlined, the dining room itself is a nice reflection of modern-day China where old and new, classic and contemporary, blend together harmoniously. The tables are all aligned in straight rows, but I felt as though they were placed very close together. I dined here at lunch when it was not very crowded, but I can imagine it might feel slightly tight and cramped during the busier times of the day.

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The dining room itself is very large, but it is divided into a series of smaller sections by rosewood wall panels.

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One of my favorite aspects of the décor was the restaurant's lighting, which provides a modern spin on classic Chinese lanterns. The lanterns add a splash of color to an otherwise restrained color palette. Also, the more subdued lighting adds a touch of intimacy to the dining room.

Nine_Dragons_Lighting

Another nice aspect of the dining room is its huge windows overlooking the World Showcase promenade and lagoon. If you are dining here I would definitely recommend requesting a seat by the windows. It is a great place for people watching during the day and at night would offer a nice, although somewhat obstructed, view of Illuminations.

Nine_Dragons_Windows

Overall, the detail and theming of Nine Dragons exceeded my expectations. While the contemporary touches give it a more upscale feel it is still a calm and relaxing setting to enjoy your meal. If you are looking for a more quiet dining experience I would definitely recommend going for lunch rather than dinner, but it is an atmosphere that can be enjoyed by families with children and adult couples alike.

The Menu:
Nine Dragons features separate menus for lunch and dinner, but both are very similar with just a couple of dishes that are exclusive to dinner. The appetizers are divided between hot and cold. The Cold Appetizers include Cucumber Salad ($5.98), Fragrant Chicken ($5.98) served with a fragrant green onion dipping sauce, and Spicy Beef ($8.68) tossed with a cilantro-chili dressing. For those who cannot decide on just one, there is the Appetizer Trio ($11.98) that features all three.

Hot Appetizers feature several traditional Chinese favorites in addition to some less conventional items. For the traditional there are Pot Stickers ($6.98), which are sautéed pork and vegetable dumplings, as well as Shrimp and Chicken Egg Rolls ($7.98). For someone looking for something a little different there is the Walnut Shrimp Toast ($7.98), which is actually classic Chinese snack. Other appetizers include Shrimp and Taro Lollipops ($9.98) that present a playful take on a traditional dim sum favorite and General Tso's Chicken Dumplings ($10.98) which provides an innovative twist on a classic, featuring steamed dumplings drizzles with a tangy Chinese Red Sauce.

While many of the entrée selections are the same for lunch and dinner, the prices are different. For the following entrée, the first price listed is lunch and the second is dinner. Among the entrees featured are Honey Sesame Chicken ($16.98, $18.98), Sweet and Sour Pork ($15.68, $16.98) served with lightly spiced spinach noodles, Peppery Shrimp with Spinach Noodles ($17.98, $21.98), Kung Pao Chicken ($15.98, $17.98) accompanied by peanuts and dried chili peppers, Canton Pepper Beef ($15.98, $18.98) stir-fried with onions, green, and red peppers in a savory broth, Fragrant Five-Spiced Fish ($21.98), Nine Dragons Fried Rice ($15.98) stir-fried with shrimp, chicken, ham, eggs, vegetables and touch of chili spice, and Chinese Chicken Salad ($12.98) featuring savory sliced chicken, mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, golden raisins and walnuts with your choice of sweet ginger or peanut-coconut dressing.

Among those entrees available just for dinner are Spit Roasted Beijing Chicken ($18.98) served with a side of smooth mashed taro, Shrimp and Steak ($26.98) featuring grilled shrimp and steak served with bok choy and drizzled with sweet lightly spiced Chinese red sauce, and the Zha Jiang Noodles Sampler ($19.98) which allows you to mix and match your noodles with fresh vegetables and two classic sauces: sweet and savory minced pork and spicy diced chicken.

The dessert choices are somewhat limited and include Coconut Rice Pudding ($7.98) topped with cinnamon and wonton crisps, Chinese Ginger Cake ($6.68), and two choices of ice cream, either Strawberry-Red Bean or Caramel-Ginger ($3.98).

For an appetizer I was very tempted to try the Pot Stickers, but I have had these at so many other Chinese restaurants and wanted to try something a little different and instead opted for the Walnut Shrimp Toast. When it was served to me it did not look at all like I was expecting. I had thought it would be similar in appearance to a bruschetta, with thin slices of toasted bread topped with shrimp and walnuts. Instead the bread was cut much thicker, although it was still nice and crusty.

Walnut_Shrimp_Toast

What was very surprising was that I did not immediately notice any shrimp. However, I quickly found that the entire top of the toast was coated with a finely-chopped layer of shrimp which at first glance had actually looked like cheese. While it may not be the most visually impressive appetizer it was very tasty. I really liked the combination of the shrimp and walnuts, which presented a nice contrast in flavor and texture and yet went together really well. The toast came served along with sweet and sour sauce for dipping which provided even extra flavor.

For my entrée I chose the Sweet and Sour Pork. I really liked the presentation of the dish, simple yet effective. The bold reddish-orange color of the pork really popped on the white plate. The pork was lightly battered, cut into small, bite-sized pieces, and was very tender. Looks can be a little deceiving. Because of the small pieces of pork and the large size of the plate it first looked like the portion size was not very big, but when I actually started eating I was surprised to find there was much more food than first appeared. I found the sweet and sour sauce to be slightly more on the sweet side and had a fairly thick consistency, which I really enjoyed. Accompanying the pork were cubes of pineapple, which added a light and refreshing flavor to the dish the complimented the pork extremely well.

Sweet_and_Sour_Pork

Also served alongside the pork were what the menu called lightly-spiced spinach noodles. I think the lightly-spiced is a little of a misnomer because the noodles had a ton of flavor. If you are not a fan of garlic you would probably not care for these noodles because that was the predominant flavor along with a slight hint of crushed red pepper. These noodles had a definite kick to them and they presented a nice contrast to the sweeter-flavored pork.

Spinach_Noodles

Overall, it was a very good meal that offered something a little different from what I normally order at Chinese restaurants.

Service:
I think the service at Nine Dragons can best be described as courteous but quiet. My server was certainly attentive to all my needs and quickly responded whenever I needed anything, but she was also very reserved and almost shy. I think this can be attributed more to cultural differences than anything else. This is one of the things that I enjoy most about dining in World Showcase. It does not matter what country you are dining in, the servers there will be natives of those countries. This makes them more than just waiters and waitresses, but rather cultural representatives who, along with the atmosphere and the cuisine, help with the overall sense of immersion into that particular country. At other restaurants around World Showcase I have had great conversations with my servers about their homes and have been able to gain a little more insight into their various cultures. I was not able to have that same type of interaction at Nine Dragons, although I did find that my server's English was very good and easy to understand (which is not always the case when dining in World Showcase).

Dining on a Budget:
When it comes of dining at Nine Dragons, I would definitely recommend going there for lunch rather than dinner. Not only is the restaurant less crowded, but the menu is largely the same and the prices a little less expensive. Some dishes, like the Fragrant Five-Spiced Fish for $21.98 and the Nine Dragons Fried Rice for $15.98, are the same price for both lunch and dinner. However, others like the Honey Sesame Chicken, $16.98 for lunch and $18.98 for dinner, are a little less expensive.

Another good value, for both lunch and dinner, is the Treasures of the Dragon prix fixe menu. The lunch option is $29.68 and includes an option of Hot and Sour Soup or Chicken Consomme for an appetizer, Fragrant Five-Spiced Fish, General Tso's Chicken, or Beef Sichuan for an entrée, and Chinese Ginger Cake, Strawberry-Red Bean Ice Cream, or Caramel Ginger Ice Cream for dessert. The dinner option is $33.68 and includes a Chinese Dim Sum appetizer featuring pot stickers and vegetable spring rolls, an entrée option of either General Tso's Chicken, Fish Sichuan, or the Happy Family Duet, which is comprised of stir-fried slices of beef and chicken with water chestnuts and vegetables alongside spicy and tangy shrimp, and either Chinese Ginger Cake, Strawberry-Red Bean Ice Cream, or Caramel Ginger Ice Cream for dessert. These prix fixe menus are a good way of sampling a greater variety of the countries cuisine. While you do not save a ton of money, it usually works out as though you are getting the dessert for free as oppose to ordering each of the items separately off the menu.

Nine Dragons is on the Disney Dining Plan and is one table service credit for both lunch and dinner. The restaurant does participate in Tables in Wonderland with members receiving its 20% discount. Annual Passholders can also save 10% on food and non-alcoholic beverages Monday through Friday during lunch hours. Disney Vacation Club members receive the same 10% discount for both lunch and dinner.

The Overall Experience:
Nine Dragons definitely exceeded my expectations. It is more than just your typical Chinese restaurant that you might find in your home town and get take-out or delivery from. Everything from the atmosphere's fine details and intricate craftsmanship to the cuisine and even the service all helped to immerse you into Chinese culture. While the menu did feature many traditional Chinese dishes that are common on the menus of many other restaurants, I was also pleased to see that they had some less-conventional items as well.

All that being said, there are so many restaurants in World Showcase that there are quite a few that I would choose to dine at before going back to Nine Dragons again. I am not saying that my meal here was bad. In fact, it was quite the contrary. It just does not have the same level of uniqueness that makes some of the other World Showcase restaurants so special and popular. If I am making the trip to Epcot, I have several other restaurants that I like a lot more than Nine Dragons. I am certainly glad that I tried the restaurant because it was something new and different for me, but it will probably be some time before I dine there again. If you have never tried Nine Dragons before, it is certainly a possible alternative if you are not able to obtain reservations at some of the other World Showcase restaurants.

See past reviews by Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Nine Dragons and post your own too!

October 28, 2012

New Disney Outlet Opens at Wrentham Village Premium Outlets

by Scott Lopes
AllEars Guest Blogger

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I recently had the pleasure of previewing a new Disney Store Outlet during its soft opening. The store, located in Wrentham, MA, is a great addition to the portfolio of more than 300 Disney Stores located worldwide.

As soon as I entered the door I was greeted by a friendly Disney Store cast member who was eager to assist me. I could easily tell by the behavior of all the cast members that they were both excited and proud to be working at the new store. So let's take a look around the new store:

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The store stocks a variety of great items, such as Mickey and Minnie clothing and Princess Costume Collections along with Cars and Toy Story clothing.


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As with anything Disney related, there has been a lot of effort to include details such as character themed light fixtures:


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The store held a grand opening ceremony on Saturday, October 20, and gave out free Mickey ears to celebrate (Pictured below).


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About October 2012

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in October 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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