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May 16, 2016

Disneyland Resort Updates - 5/13/16

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Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Friday, May 13, 2016.

Since Laura covered the re-opened and new attractions I will use this post to check in on the projects around the resort. This trip marked my 13th trip of the year, appropriately enough on Friday the 13th.

Let us start off with a check of the Star Wars construction. They have removed more backstage buildings since my last visit and it appears they have now done the initial demo work on all the buildings and the fence line/perimeter of the project is set. Here you can see the far end of it stretches all the way to the Winnie the Pooh show building.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

A short video overview of the site taken from the Mickey and Friends parking structure.





Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

Looking toward where the Big Thunder Ranch used to be. In the distance you can see the old Fantasyland Skyway building.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

There were several large earth movers cruising the site adding to the large mound of dirt on the former Circle D site.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

Another video clip of the site.

A large mound of dirt has been created on the former ranch site using the old berm and river banks dirt.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

Working on clearing the plants and other debris from the berm near Critter Country.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

A second Starbucks is slated to open this summer, it is being painted now.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

The Monorail is closed for renovation.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

The House of Blues closes the end of the month.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

LittleMissMatched is gone and Chapel Hats has moved in.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

The closure list for today.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

Pirates is closed and rumor is FastPass is returning.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

From the bridge near Splash Mountain. In the distance you can see the parking structure where I took the earlier pictures.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

Looking through the fence.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

From the Hungry Bear.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

A video clip of the Star Wars work from the Hungry Bear.



Star Wars work from the Big Thunder Trail.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

A video clip from the Big Thunder Trail of the Star Wars work.



Big Thunder this afternoon.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

The Super Hero HQ sign has been removed.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

The Paradise Garden Grill closed several weeks ago, internet reporting is due to budget cutbacks around the resort.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

The swings are closed for renovation.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

Grizzly River Run is closed for renovation too. No signs of work going on, though.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

The Rambler had the tailgate open today.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

There was audio coming from the car too. Here is a video clip so you can hear the music playing.

Gone Hollywood has become a Star Wars and Marvel store.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

A look around. On the right when you enter is Marvel.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

On the left Star Wars

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

The Pixar Play Parade rolling by

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

The Studio Store in Hollywood Land now features some Alice & Dory merchandise.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

Zootopia has been removed from the Animation Building.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

The animation building was busy this afternoon.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

Soarin' will receive a new film on June 17th featuring global sights. In preparation for this the signage now sports the new logo and many California references have been removed over the past several months.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

Walked through Elias and Company. A lot of Finding Dory merchandise is available now.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

Back to Disneyland. The restrooms at the Space Mountain exit are closed for renovation.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

Watched Paint the Night from Main Street.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

Found a spot for Disneyland Forever

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

Showtime

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, May 13, 2016

Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of the Disneyland Resort. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Disneyland Update I posted on my site, https://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.







2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend - Part 3, The Food

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2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

I'd say that we didn't eat like pixies this weekend...except that I really don't know what pixies eat! :-)

Thursday evening after the Expo we visited one of our favorites: Earl of Sandwich. Even when it's busy the lines are never as long as they are at the one in Florida. I had my favorite Holiday Turkey Sandwich with turkey, cranberries, stuffing and gravy. So good.

Earl of Sandwich Holiday Turkey

Lee had the All-American, a turkey sandwich with cranberries, cheese, lettuce and tomato.

Earl of Sandwich All-American

Last time we were here we'd really enjoyed the brownie bites. I went looking for them while we were standing in line. There was one container left, and in the time that that I traveled the length of the counter looking for more, someone came and grabbed them! Argh! So we had one of the regular brownies instead. It was pretty good.

Friday morning after the 5K we had breakfast at White Water Snacks at the Grand Californian. It was fairly busy since it had just opened and there were a number of other 5K runners with the same idea. At WWS you order any hot dishes at the register, and they give you a number, then deliver it to your table. It can sometimes be a very slow process, but it went pretty quickly that day.

I had the Breakfast Burrito with scrambled eggs, tomato, cheddar cheese, bacon and red bliss potatoes. It was quite good, though it didn't come with any salsa, and all that was available was bottled hot sauce. I appreciated that it came with fruit.

White Water Snacks Breakfast Burrito

Lee tried the Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwich with fried eggs, smoked bacon and cheddar cheese. The "biscuit" was more like a burger bun - not really very biscuit-like. But otherwise he enjoyed it, and it was very filling.

White Water Snacks Breakfast Biscuit

Lee had to participate in a conference call for work, so I went to DCA by myself for a while. It was a coolish drizzly morning, and when Ghirardelli opened I went there to try their Sea Salt Caramel Hot Cocoa. It was good - I got a medium, but I would have been satisfied with a small.

Ghirardelli Sea Salt Caramel Hot Cocoa

We had lunch at Rancho del Zocalo in Disneyland. I tried something different this time: Chile Verde, chunks of pork braised in a tomatillo sauce, served with rice and beans. It had a really good flavor, but I thought the pork was a little dry. It wasn't really tender at all.

Ranch del Zocalo Chile Verde

Lee had the Carne Asada & Red Chile Enchilada Platter - carne asada and two cheese enchiladas with tortillas, rice and beans. He always enjoys this.

Rancho del Zocalo Carne Asada and Red Chile Enchilada

That evening we had an early dinner at Al Fresco Tasting Terrace at DCA. We split the Flatbread Two Ways - it has fig, apple, and arugula on one side and tomato, olives, and pancetta on the other.

Al Fresco Terrace Flatbread

Lee enjoyed the Beef Tenderloin Sliders.

Al Fresco Terrace Beef Sliders

I had the Bruschetta, which is one of my favorites.

Al Fresco Terrace Bruschetta

Since we only had a 10K the next day we enjoyed some wine, too. :-) I had a glass of the Silverado Sauvignon Blanc. Lee tried the Red Blends Wine Flight. The wine flights are not presented as nicely as they used to be - they used to bring a carrier with all three glasses, and include a card that had information on the three wines. This time the server simply brought the three glasses and told Lee what they were.

Al Fresco Terrace Red Blends Flight

The Terrace is really a lovely area - it's always very peaceful and relaxing up there. The Pixar Play Parade was going on during part of the time we were there, but it was still very easy to tune it out.

Saturday morning we went to Disneyland for Extra Magic Hour which started at 8:00. After the park opened at 9:00 we went to Rancho del Zocalo for breakfast. Several months ago it replaced River Belle Terrace as the breakfast location in Frontierland, and we had tried it yet. Most of the breakfast menu is similar to the one that was offered at River Belle - in particular the Mickey Mouse Pancakes - but Mexican-inspired entrees like Chilaquiles , Fajitas, and a Chorizo and Egg Burrito, are also available. But the item that didn't come over from River Belle was my favorite: the Cinnamon Roll French Toast. I missed that.

Lee had the Tamales for breakfast. Two pork tamales with rice and beans.

Rancho del Zocalo Breakfast Tamales

I ordered the Kid's Fruit Plate, which came with sliced fruit, a mini oat bran muffin and vanilla yogurt. I also ordered a side of scrambled eggs. The fruit and muffin were quite good, but the yogurt is that artificially sweet yogurt. It's too sweet and leaves a funny aftertaste.

Rancho del Zocalo Kid's Fruit Plate

The "American" selections are served at one counter and the "Mexican" selections at another. The Mexican selections didn't seem to be nearly as popular, so I wonder how long they will be available. The kitchen area is larger than in River Belle and there seemed to be more people working so the lines moved a lot faster than at River Belle. And at Zocalo the beverages are self-serve, so that seemed to help, also.

Rancho del Zocalo

Other than the absence of the Cinnamon Roll French Toast, we thought Zocalo's breakfast offerings were very good. While there's no indoor seating, there is quite a bit that's covered, in the event of rain.

We had lunch with friends at Carthay Circle Restaurant. Our server, Melynda, was a hoot, and really played well with us. One of the guys asked that there be at least 42 grains of rice with his entree. She explained, with a perfectly straight face, that it only came with 41, but that she would personally talk to the chef and see what she could do. :-) (She really exceeded herself - there were at least 200!)

There are a few set items on the Carthay Circle Restaurant menu but there are always seasonal specialties, too, especially the soup and salad. I ordered the seasonal soup and salad in lieu of an entree. The soup was Spicy Tropical Sun Gold Tomato Broth, with jerked pork shrimp, mushrooms, pineapple, and mango. It had a very pretty color and a good flavor - it was a little bit spicy.

Carthay Circle Spicy Sun Gold Tomato Broth

The Carthay Circle Escarole Salad salad was also very nice. It had strawberries, tangerines, and jicama with citrus vinaigrette. I particularly enjoyed the vinaigrette, as it wasn't overly citrusy.

Carthay Circle Escarole Salad

Lee had the Tangerine Ginger Grilled Chicken and Soba Noodle Salad. It had all kinds of things in it: edamame, cucumber, macadamia nuts, heirloom tomatoes, mint and cilantro. He enjoyed it.

Carthay Circle Soba Noodle Salad

The friends we were with tried the Meyer Lemon Custard Tart for dessert. The white squares on top are made of crispy meringue. It was a beautiful dish and they said it was very good.

Carthay Circle Meyer Lemon Custard Tart

That evening we met a friend for a pre-half marathon dinner at La Brea Bakery Cafe. I'd never considered this for a pre-race dinner, but they had several pasta choices in addition to the usual salads and sandwiches I associate with this restaurant.

I had the Mixed Greens Salad, and I had them add pan fried salmon to it. It was a very nice salad. The salmon was a little underdone in the middle, but I didn't bother to send it back.

La Brea Bakery Mixed Greens Salad

Lee had the Kabocha Squash Ravioli. He really enjoyed it. I tried some and it was very good - just a little hint of sweetness.

La Brea Bakery Kabocha Squash Ravioli

Our friend Jill had the La Brea Bakery Burger with sweet potato chips. She said it was really good. I tried a couple of the sweet potato chips and they were very tasty.

La Brea Bakery Burger

Sunday morning after we'd finished the race and showered we went into Downtown Disney to have breakfast at the UVA Bar and Cafe (our friend Eddie had clued us in to this place!). There was a line, but we only waited about 10 minutes for a table.

We both wanted celebratory glasses of bubbly! They have a very nice prosecco here. But I was very surprised when she brought it in stemless wine glasses...there had been a big demand for sparkling wine that morning (go figure) and they were out of clean flute glasses! This photo just doesn't have quite the same impact without a champagne flute in it.

UVA Bar Prosecco

On race mornings they do a subset of their regular breakfast menu, because they are SO much busier than usual. I had the Farm Fresh Eggs - scrambled and served with country potatoes (but no peppers!), choice of bacon or sausage, and choice of white/wheat toast or English muffin. Nothing fancy, but it tasted good.

UVA Cafe Farm Fresh Eggs

Lee had the Chilaquiles. He was very happy with this. I tried a little bit, and it was quite good.

UVA Cafe Chilaquiles

Think he was hungry? :-)

UVA Bar empty plate

That was our final meal for this trip. It was nice to try some different places, but we enjoyed visiting some of our favorites, also.








May 14, 2016

Disneyland and DCA - New Attractions and Shows

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On our recent trip I had the opportunity to experience some new shows and attractions that have recently opened. I say "new", but two of them were actually updates of existing attractions that just came out of lengthy refurbishments.

The first is the Jungle Cruise, which just re-opened on May 6. The biggest change was to the dock area, to help keep the boats more stable during the loading/unloading process. The dock that you seen on the right side of this photo was added, which helps to confine the boats and limit their movement.

Jungle Cruise dock

Here's a view from the boat - you can see the boats also had bumpers added to them.

Jungle Cruise dock

A closer view of the bumper.

Jungle Cruise dock

There really weren't any changes to the ride itself - everything was just freshened up. The skippers still tell the same corny jokes. (Here was our first sign of "Danger.")

Jungle Cruise

I thought the piranhas sprayed more than I've seen before.

Jungle Cruise

We had a slight wait before going to the dock to unload, so heard a longer version of the menu at the "Cannibal Cafe" - rump roast, toe-fu, ladyfingers, Girl Scout cookies, cold shoulder...

Jungle Cruise Trader Sam

The elephant was added to the roof above Tropical Imports.

Jungle Cruise

It was nice to see the Jungle Cruise return - it's a classic attraction.

Another refurbished classic attraction is the Tomorrowland Autopia. The big change is that Honda is now the sponsor rather than Chevron. There's a whole new color scheme now.

Autopia

Autopia

Autopia

Autopia

The cars are still the same, though some of them have an updated body with a Honda logo. Others appear completely unchanged.

Autopia

You can see some of the old and new cars in this photo.

Autopia

The load process is still the same.

Autopia

I hadn't done this ride in a long time. I thought that the graphics on the screen in the loading area and inside the building part of the queue were new, but I could be wrong.

Autopia

Autopia

Some of the graphics on the outdoor screen were fun.

Autopia

Autopia

Autopia

The track is still the same - some interesting views.

Autopia

There is still a short "off-road" section. It had rained earlier on the day we did it, so that area was a little muddy.

Autopia

There's still the booths on the exit ramp where for $5 you can get a photo taken to put onto your Autopia Driver License.

Autopia

Autopia

We had to laugh when looking around the queue - I'd say that 2/3 of those riding were parties of adults WITHOUT children. Pretty high nostalgia factor for this one.

Autopia

One change: Autopia is no longer a Fastpass attraction.

Over in DCA...

Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters, which replaced Luigi's Flying Tires, opened in March. It's the first attraction in the U.S. Disney parks to use the trackless vehicle technology that they have in the overseas parks. The cars are Luigi's cousins from Carsoli, Italy, who are demonstrating some of the traditional dances from their village. The cars move all around the floor as they whirl around each other, and at the end they all dance and spin in formation.

Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters

There are five different songs, most of them accompanied by lots of beeping.

It's quite finicky about operating conditions, though. I saw it E-stop because someone's hat blew onto the surface, and on this recent trip I was on the ride when it stopped because of light drizzle. (Cast members had warned us that might happen - they gave us a pass that was good for almost any ride in either park.)

Autopia

It's a cute ride, and the spinning at the end is fun, but a lot of us preferred the Flying Tires.

Over in the Animation Building, the Turtle Talk with Crush show has been updated to include characters from the upcoming "Finding Dory" movie. Dory and Destiny the Whale Shark appear together in an extended scene, as does Bailey the Beluga.

Turtle Talk with Crush and Finding Dory

Turtle Talk with Crush and Dory

There's also Marlin, Hank the Octopus, and a hermit crab.

Turtle Talk with Crush and Finding Dory

Turtle Talk with Crush and Finding Dory

Turtle Talk with Crush and Dory

I saw this several times - it seemed much more scripted than it has in the past. I think that's mostly to get the appearances of the "Finding Dory" characters in there. Still a cute show, though, and it was very popular with the kids.

Finally, I saw the new sneak peek of the upcoming Alice in Wonderland film: "Alice Through the Looking Glass." Instead of the "It's tough to be a bug" theater, where the sneak peeks are usually held, this one is in the former Muppets Theater, now that the "Frozen" sing-along has moved out. The theater has been renamed the "Sunset Showcase Theater." On the outside are some of the oversize props from the Mad T Party.

Through the Looking Glass preview

On the inside, though, it still looks like a hall in the Kingdom of Arendelle.

Sunset Showcase Theater

There's something fun in the pre-show area: two booths that will transform you into different characters from Alice in Wonderland. I thought it was pretty well-done. To get started you answer a few questions on the touch panel in front of you, and then look into the mirror above. After some initial process takes places you can use the touch panel to select which characters you want to see yourself as - Mad Hatter:

Alice Mad Hatter

Queen of Hearts:

Alice Queen of Hearts

White Queen:

Alice White Queen

Cheshire Cat:

Alice Cheshire Cat

White Rabbit:

Alice White Rabbit

At the end you choose one of them and mug for the camera. Then, if you have supplied an email address during the introductory portion, it will email you a video.

It was fun to do, and fun to watch. There's a line off to the side for those who wish to try it. It takes several minutes for each person.

The movie clip itself was in 3D. There were just a couple of "4D" effects. Not really my cup of "tea", though. The movie opens June 10; the sneak peek is scheduled to run through June 12.

Alice Through the Looking Glass

While this wasn't a new attraction or show, it was still something new...ducklings! They were in one of the planters near the hub. It's always fun to see the new babies every spring.

Disneyland ducklings

We still have some more new things to look forward to - the new Frozen - Live at the Hyperion musical, as well as the new Soarin' Around the World film. Frozen opens May 27; Soarin' is scheduled for June 17.







May 12, 2016

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend - Part 2

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2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

Saturday, May 7 - 10K

We didn't run the 10K this year - the first Tinker Bell 10K we've skipped. It felt strange not to be running it, but it was very nice to sleep in! As we made our way to Disneyland for Extra Magic Hour we crossed the race course very close to where the final participants were going by - they probably finished just before 8:00.

Sunday, May 8 - Half Marathon

Happy Mother's Day!

This still seems to me like it's an odd weekend to hold this particular race...And in fact registration was down this year...the half marathon never sold out. Whether that's due to the date or to some combination of the price and the number of runDisney race weekends now available is hard to say.

When runDisney changed the race date from January to May one of my concerns was the weather - it can be HOT in May. Fortunately, we've had cool weather for these first two years. Even a little bit of rain both years - unusual for southern California in May.

On Sunday the weather was just about perfect - 55 at the start, and low 60s at the finish. A little bit of sun, but not too bad.

This year the pre-race/finish areas for the Tinker Bell half marathon (and 10K) moved from the Paradise Pier to the traditional finish line by the Disneyland Hotel. Which meant there were adjustments to the course as well, but I'll get to that later.

Have I mentioned yet how nice it is to do runDisney races in California where we can walk from our hotel to the start area (and back)? After the bus experience with Star Wars - the Dark Side in Florida last month, it was especially nice to not have to deal with buses for this race weekend.

By the time we reached the pre-race area a lot of runners were already going to their corrals. We met my friend/co-worker Janet - she was running her second Tinker Bell Half Marathon, and hoping to improve her time from last year. (Yes, she did: 2:08 last year, and 2:04 this year!)

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

We visited the porta-potties one last time (no lines!) and then started our trek to the corrals. To get to the corrals we had to walk back toward the Paradise Pier Hotel and then out to Disneyland Drive. And we also had to go through a security bag check twice: once near Downtown Disney as we entered the pre-race area, and then again near the Paradise Pier to access the corral area. Neither was a problem, and the second check was especially quick because by than runners had checked their gear bags, so the most any of us had was a race belt. It still had to be checked, but it was fast.

Lee and I were in Corral B this year. I was in A last year, but this year they made A smaller, and my proof of time missed the cutoff by a minute. It didn't really matter, because I would have gone back to B anyway...but it's awfully nice to be in A.

Carissa and Andrea, the race announcers, had taken a short break, and didn't come back onstage until 5:25 - and the race was supposed to start at 5:30! That didn't seem like much time, since we still hadn't had the National Anthem. As soon as they came back they introduced the Disneyland cast member who sang the anthem. I don't remember her name, but she did a beautiful job.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon National Anthem

Minnie and Daisy came on stage with Carissa and Andrea.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

And then it was time to start the race. No fireworks or fire pots or anything like that this year - just the graphics on the big screen over the start line. That was very anti-climactic.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

Corral B started 5 minutes after A. One thing I really like about this course is that it's nice and wide right out of the start - we have all of the northbound lanes of Disneyland Drive to run on. I could mostly run the pace I wanted to, or get around slower runners fairly easily. That was how it was for me the whole race - I never experienced much course congestion. The worst issues I had were other runners who either suddenly stopped or changed direction right in front of me so I had to pull up quickly to avoid running over them. People, when you're in the middle of a race course please look behind you before suddenly changing direction.

The first part of the course was the same one we're used to - right on Ball, up and over the freeway overpass, right on Harbor, and up and over the freeway again (I heard several runners grumbling about the "hills"), then past the mile 1 sign, and a right turn into a backstage area of Disneyland. The first water stop was there. But from there on the course was quite different: instead of going to DCA and running all around that park and then going to Disneyland, we went to Disneyland first.

We ran into Disneyland in Tomorrowland next to The Launch Bay (originally the Carousel of Progress) out to the hub, then a quick 180 onto Matterhorn Way. The first character stop was there: Tinker Bell and Iridessa. The line was pretty long so we didn't stop.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Tink and Iridessa

We ran back toward the opposite side of Tomorrowland, then left around the Matterhorn, and then past the Tea Cups into Fantasyland. The Lost Boys were riding the Carrousel, but they all jumped off and came to the fence for photos. One of them asked me if I was going to be their new mother, and if I would tell him a story. I started off with "Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess..." - and he instantly fell asleep. :-)

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Lost Boys

From there we ran through the castle. LOTS of PhotoPass photographers there. A little congested, but not too bad - everyone was still running.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

I'd lost Lee when I stopped for the Lost Boys, but I caught up to him when he was at the head of the line at the next character stop in Frontierland next to the Golden Horseshoe. Fawn and Vidia.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

We ran along the Rivers of America and then did another 180 near the Haunted Mansion and ran through Adventureland, over the bridge, back to the hub, and then down Main Street. Then out of Disneyland and briefly into Downtown Disney before going into DCA next to Soarin'. Even with all of the Disneyland construction, we still managed to see most of the areas of the park - we missed Critter Country and Toontown.

The mile 3 sign was along the road around Grizzly Peak.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Mile 3

We went right around Paradise Bay. This time the World of Color fountains were running (they weren't during the 5K, which was too bad, because they would have shown up much better in the dark than they did in the early morning light), and we stopped for a quick photo by the PhotoPass photographers.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

The next character stop was at Silly Symphony Swings. It was non-Tinker Bell characters, so we stopped, even though the line was a little bit long. This picture cracks me up because it looks like Goofy is eating Lee's wing. :-)

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

From there we wound around backstage behind California Screamin', and eventually entered Radiator Springs under the arch again. Then we went past Flik's Fun Fair and the Tower of Terror, where there was a character stop at the end of Hollywood Blvd. Just Rosetta for us, but Silvermist was with her at other times.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

We ran down Hollywood Blvd to the mile 4 sign.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Mile 4

There were pirates on Buena Vista Street.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

The next part was quite different from what we've done in the past to take us off Disney property and into the residential area next to the Mickey and Friends parking garage. In the past we've done Disneyland after DCA, then run out of Disneyland and through Downtown Disney and past the Disneyland Hotel, then out towards the Mickey and Friends parking garage before turning left and then right out onto Walnut St. Just about the time we exited Disney property was where we reached mile 6, almost halfway done before we left property. And I really enjoyed that stretch through Downtown Disney and the hotels because there were lots of people cheering for us, which is very energizing. The Red Hat Society ladies were always outside the Disneyland Hotel.

This year we went out of DCA and instead of going through Downtown Disney we turned right and ran around most of the outer perimeter of the park behind Radiator Springs Racers and Paradise Pier. Then we crossed Disneyland Drive south of the Paradise Pier Hotel and ran through the parking lot and back behind the DVC preview center to get out to Walnut Street. Frankly through some not very attractive backstage areas, though at least it wasn't too far. I really missed the cheering crowds at that point.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Mile 6

Once we were on Walnut Street heading north it was pretty quiet because we were in the residential area. There were a few people who had come out to watch us - some in their bathrobes. :-)

We crossed over I5 again and headed east towards downtown Anaheim. There were some very nice houses along that area, but it was still pretty quiet.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

Once we reached downtown there were cheerleaders and bands. And just about mile 8, was the Red Hat Society! This was a wonderful place for them to be, because we really needed some encouragement by then. And I think there was more room for them to spread out than they had in the spot near the Disneyland Hotel. As you'll see from the video below, it took me two minutes to walk past all of them! They were so wonderfully enthusiastic and supportive. I love seeing them every year - it's always one of the highlights of the race for me.

We made a u-turn at the Muzeo and were on our way back toward the finish.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Anaheim Muzeo

Though once we reach Ball Rd comes the cruelest part of this course: we can see the Matterhorn ahead of us, but we turn LEFT and head away from the park, because we're not much past mile 10 at that point. We wind through the industrial district a little bit, go under I5 ( the fourth and last time we cross it, though at least this time it was under and not over) and then past some of the hotels that are just east of Disneyland along the freeway.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Mile 10

We went backstage at Disneyland again and ran under the bus/tram area (one last hill - ugh!) and then all the way around the backstage of DCA - again. This was looking a little too familiar - we passed the mile 5 sign again. I was surprised that the clock on it had stopped, but I didn't stop for a photo. I didn't take any photos in the last three miles because I was hoping to make it in under 2:20, so I was pushing my pace as much as I could. Just didn't quite have it in me, though, and I finished in 2:21:43. But considering photo stops I was pretty happy with that. There were 13,145 finishers this year, and 1740 were men - I think that's the most men ever in this race.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Finish

The last .3 miles of the race were the same as all of the other half marathons now - around the Paradise Pier Hotel and then between the west side of Downtown Disney and the Disneyland Hotel to the finish line just north of it. I high-fived Minnie as I crossed the finish line, though unfortunately the photographer didn't get a photo of that.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

As a Legacy Runner I received the same medal, but it had two ribbons on it instead of one - the second says "Legacy Runner" on it.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Legacy Runner medal

And then I went to the Challenge area to pick up my pink coast-to-coast medal - I received that one for completing the Princess Half in Florida and the Tink Half in California. There were runners who were receiving BOTH the blue and pink C2C medals, which surprised me, since they had used the same two races to qualify for it. Quite a departure from a couple of years ago when they were being pretty stingy about it - now it seems like they are using every opportunity to give away a C2C medal! I had received my blue C2C at Princess, since I'd run Star Wars in California in January.

There were different photographers to go to depending on whether you had the pink medal or the blue medal, or the Pixie Dust Challenge medal.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

I had my photo taken and got my water, and then I got a text message from runner tracking that Lee had finished so I waited for him. That way we could visit the final set of photographers together to get a finisher photo of both of us.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

We got the runDisney box and exited into the Family Reunion area. It was a WHOLE lot more crowded than it had been for the 5K! Janet was waiting for us, so we heard her good news about her excellent finish time.

There were a couple of photo opportunities in the area - this really long Tinker Bell sign was one. But I didn't want to wait in line so never got a good photo of it.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

The Legacy Runners sign was out, too.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

We'd finished early enough that the Awards ceremony was going on (though I think it was almost over), and we watched a bit of that before leaving.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

As we walked by ESPN Club on our way back to the hotel, we could see the live feed of the finish line displayed on their marquis.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

It was another good race for us. The weather again cooperated, and it was really very nice for both races that we did. I didn't like this version of the course as much, especially all of the running behind DCA. I hope that we'll get the old course back, though I have a feeling we'll have to wait until 2018 or 2019 for that. I did think that the placement of the Red Hat Society downtown was a much better location for them.

Overall I didn't think I saw as many costumes this year. But I can't really talk since I didn't wear a costume for the half this time. Lee at least wore his wings. I saw some really good costumes, though. One of my favorites was a man and woman running together: he was dressed as Peter Pan, and she was all in black as Peter Pan's shadow. I also saw someone dressed as Queen Clarice - that's the first time I've seen that. There seemed to be more regular Disney costumes as opposed to Pixie/Never Land costumes this year.

I was disappointed in the characters this year. In looking back at my blogs from previous years there were significantly fewer characters this time. Only four character stops in the half marathon, plus the Lost Boys. Last year there were six, plus the Lost Boys and Jack Sparrow. The year before that there were seven or eight.

I was also disappointed in the medal. Usually on the 5 year anniversaries the medal is almost completely re-designed, but the only change this year was the added colors and the "5 YEARS" banner across the top rather than the date. Maybe that seems overly picky, but runDisney has lead us to expect that kind of thing.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon medal

I'm still enjoying the change to Disney's PhotoPass as the official race photographers. I didn't get quite as many photos from the half marathon as for the 5K, but there were still more than MarathonFoto seemed to get. And since the downloads are free for me as an Annual Passholder, that's a significant benefit.

It was fun to finally be a "Legacy Runner" for a Disney race. Here's all five of my Tinker Bell Half Marathon medals.

2012-2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon medals

We haven't really decided if we'll try to remain "Legacy Runners" for this race. Kinda hate to let it drop, though. We'll see. Registration opens on September 20, so we have some time to "Tink" about it. :-)

"Only" three medals this weekend, since we didn't do the Challenge. :-) I didn't really miss the challenge itself, but I do like a good 10K, and we've enjoyed the Tinker Bell 10K.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend medals

Before I finish I must say "Thank You" to the "Red Hat Ladies" and to all of the other cheerleaders and bands and everyone else who came out to cheer us on. And thank you to all of the volunteers and cast members for all of their efforts - the race wouldn't be possible without them.

Thanks for reading!

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon







World of Color Dessert Party - Disney California Adventure

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World of Color Dessert Party Desserts

Back in March Disneyland added a new premium viewing experience for World of Color - the World of Color Dessert Party. Recently Disney invited me to bring a few friends and experience it for myself.

There's more details below, but my initial reaction? Wow. If you're going to purchase a viewing package, then THIS is the way to see World of Color!

Check-in begins 45 minutes before the show starts at one of the entrances to the World of Color viewing area along Paradise Bay. That was a little bit slow - we had arrived about 30 minutes before check-in began and were at the front of the line, and it was about 8 minutes before we were seated. Everyone received wristbands, and then a cast member escorted us to our table.

World of Color Dessert Party

Yes, that's right, I said table. Not only do you get to sit at a table to enjoy your desserts, you get to stay seated for the entire show!

The tables were on the level just below the check-in area. Approximately the center of the viewing area right behind those who were standing in the "Premium Dining Package" viewing area. There were two rows of table along the front and back of that area. Most of them looked like they sat four people. (We were told that had our party been less than four, we would share the table with others.)

World of Color Dessert Party Tables

In the back was the bar/beverage station.

World of Color Dessert Party

In addition to soft drinks, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, adults could choose to enjoy a glass of sparkling wine and their signature World of Color cocktail - which was a lovely shade of blue. (Made with blue curacao, coconut rum, Sprite and some thing else. It did not contain much alcohol.)

World of Color Dessert Party Cocktail

We were told that kids under the age of 10 would receive the World of Color glow cup, but I didn't see anyone who had them. There is also supposed to be sparkling cider available to kids or adults who would prefer that.

There was a dessert menu on our table.

World of Color Dessert Party Menu

Our server quickly arrived and brought us a basket of bread, and told us she'd like to bring our dessert plates first so that was could get started on them and then take our drink orders. Since by this point we only had about 30 minutes until the show started, we appreciated her haste.

World of Color Dessert Party Bread Basket

The dessert plates had a lovely selection of items. I was so much more impressed with these than with what was offered in the Fantasmic! Dessert box. Most of that was always dry and inedible. But this was much more my idea of what should be available at a dessert party! We had three cheeses: Manchego, Brie, and mild cheddar. Also a bunch of green grapes (though mine were not the freshest). For sweet items there was a chocolate mocha bundt cake, a Mickey coconut macaroon, waffle bowl with berries and lime yogurt mousse, Dulce de Leche filled shortbread cookie, and a mini French macaroon (various flavors of these - between us we had pistachio, raspberry, and caramel).

World of Color Dessert Party Plates

Disney can accommodate special dietary requirements - just provide that information at the time of booking.

Our server took our drink order and returned with small bottles of water, sparkling wine AND the cocktail for two of us (we were allowed to have one of each as part of the Dessert Party), and coffee and hot chocolate for the other two. She returned just before the show started and asked if we wanted anything else, and then returned near the end of the show to ask again.

World of Color Dessert Party

Even though we were seated, we were still high enough that we had an excellent view of World of Color - Celebrate. Lee and I had seen it before but our guests had only seen the original version, and they really enjoyed this one. Unfortunately for us on the night that we saw it, the projection screen on the Fun Wheel was not in use because of wind. So all of that content was on the smaller California Screamin' screen, where it was harder to see.

World of Color Dessert Party

There was only a single show that night, so after the show was over we were able to linger at our table without being in the way and delaying preparations for a second seating. Our server, without any prompting from us, asked us if we wanted boxes to take some of our uneaten desserts home in. I'd intentionally eaten the less-travel friendly ones in anticipation of that, so we went home with some cheese, shortbread, mini macaroon and Mickey macaroon, and chocolate bundt cake. I enjoyed them later that weekend - the bundt cake was especially good. It really was a very nice dessert selection.

The price for the Dessert Party is $79/person, which includes tax and gratuity. As I mentioned, we were Disney's guests for this one, but if I wanted a premium experience I'd be willing to pay for it. I felt like I really received a premium experience. I had a seat for the show, I had someone serve me yummy desserts and cocktails, and I had time to enjoy it. My only real complaint is that I would like them to admit Dessert Party guests an hour before the show starts - as it was we felt a little rushed. Either that, or go down the line an hour before and do pre-check-in and give out the wristbands. That would speed the seating process once the seating area is opened.

World of Color Dessert Party

There's no question that this is a "splurge" experience. The regular World of Color dining packages, where you receive a three-course lunch or dinner, run anywhere from $30-$62 for adults, not including tax and tip. Less expensive, and a lot more food. Those packages give you access to an excellent viewing area, but it's standing only, and it's still pretty crowded. If you want a prime spot right within the viewing area you'll still need to line up at least an hour and a half in advance of showtime. The Dessert Party is more expensive, but gives you a seat and a more exclusive experience. You have to decide for yourself if it's worth it to you.

The World of Color Dessert Party can be booked up to 60 days in advance either on-line at https://disneyland.disney.go.com/dining/disney-california-adventure/world-of-color-dessert-party/ or by calling 714-781-DINE or (714-781-3463). Full payment is required at the time of booking. Reservations may be canceled up to 24 hours in advance.

Disclaimer: I was an invited guest of the Disneyland Resort at the World of Color Dessert Party. This did not affect my review, and my opinions are my own.








May 9, 2016

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend - Part 1

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2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo

It's Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend at Disneyland again. This time around we decided to run the 5K and the half marathon rather than doing the 10K/Half Marathon Challenge. Many people have told us that it's the best 5K Disney offers, and we wanted to try it for ourselves. And I was very disappointed in the Pixie Dust Challenge medal - I think it's ugly. No change to it this year, unfortunately.

This year is the 5th anniversary of the Tinker Bell Half Marathon, so we hoped there would be something special (like a new medal) in recognition of that. In addition, this is the first Disney race that we have been "perfect" in for any length of time, and since this was #5 we hoped there would be some recognition of that, as there has been for other Disney races at the 5 year mark.

Thursday, May 5 - Expo

Since we were running the Never Land 5K on Friday morning, we arrived late Thursday afternoon instead of Friday afternoon as we usually do. Our first stop, as always, was the Expo. It was held in the usual place in the Disneyland Hotel's Convention Center garage.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo

There are about 950 Legacy Runners in the Tinker Bell Half Marathon. There were two large banners in the bib pick-up area with the names of all of the Legacy Runners.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Legacy Runners

Lee's name was easy to find. :-)

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo

And we found my name, too.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo

Bib pickup was fast. As Legacy Runners, that is noted on our bib, and we also were told to go to another booth to pickup our "Legacy Gift". I wasn't really expecting much - but I should be grateful that there was anything at all, right? :-) So...what we received were these Tinker Bell compacts. Just a couple of mirrors inside - no space to hold anything. And it is very hard to open!

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Legacy Runner Compact

It makes Lee feel pretty, though. ;-)

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Legacy compact

The Dooney and Burke bags and the special Tinker Bell Pandora charms were also on sale in the bib pick-up area.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Dooney and Burke bags

We went upstairs to the Expo area, where we felt "fairy" special as we walked the green carpet to enter.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo

It was a little odd not to be doing the Challenge, and to have two different bibs and two different shirt pick ups. I liked the 5K shirt. This one is made of cotton.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Never Land 5K shirt

The half marathon shirt is a very nice shade of green - it's the usual tech shirt fabric. I liked the designs of all of the race shirts this year. No pink ones. :-)

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Never Land 5K shirt

There was still a line (at 5:20 p.m.) to enter the Official Merchandise area, but it moved quickly.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo Merchandise Line

At that point, it seemed like most of the race merchandise was still available. There was one aisle that was almost exclusively generic runDisney items, but I don't know if it had started that way or not. I guess that might be the difference between arriving on the first day of the Expo and the second day, which is when we usually arrive, since we had a similar experience at Star Wars - The Dark Side, where we also went to the Expo in the late afternoon of the first day.

There were lots of different women's shirts, many with designs on the front and the back.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt


2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt


2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt


2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt


2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt


2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt


2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt


2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Croc shirt


2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Tink shorts

The jacket was still available - I also thought this one was nicely designed.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon jacket

There was also this jacket, which I thought was an awful shade of pink...but people will certainly see it coming!

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

The race weekend shirt was the only unisex shirt we saw.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

There were "I Did It" shirts for all of the race distances.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt


2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

It looked like all of the race pins and mini-medal pins were still available. I picked up the Never Land 5K mini medal, since that was going to be a new race for me.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon mini medals and pins

Race weekend magnets were also available in what looked to be all of the styles. I didn't get one this time, though.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon magnet

There were even some temporary tattoos.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon tattoo

In one corner there were two different styles of shirts that must have been left over from the Star Wars - The Dark Side weekend.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Star Wars shirt

Water bottles have been very popular items, and there were several different styles.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon water bottle


2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon water bottle


2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon water bottle

And mugs. I didn't see any Tinker Bell-specific wine glasses - just the generic "Every Mile is Magic" version.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

I liked the hat - but I don't wear hats.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon hat

So we got out of there very inexpensively - I bought the 5K mini medal and that was all.

We took a tour through the rest of the Expo exhibitors, also. Pandora had a HUGE booth - which I suppose makes sense, as they are the main sponsor.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo Pandora Booth


2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo Pandora Wings

Otherwise, it seemed as though the usual exhibitors were there. The show floor was not very busy that evening, which was nice for us.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo

Even the New Balance show booth was not very busy - it looked like they were taking anyone who walked up.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo New Balance shoes

The New Balance booth had some pixie-themed attire as well as shoes.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon New Balance shirts


2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon New Balance outfit

I was hoping that the runDisney booth would have the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Weekend medals, but I asked, and they haven't been released yet. But that's where we learned that after we finish the race on Sunday we will also receive a special Legacy Runner ribbon for our medal.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon ribbon

There was a nice photo backdrop in the lobby outside the show floor, and only a couple of people in front of us.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon photo op

Friday, May 6 - Never Land 5K

As I mentioned earlier, we had never run the 5K before, but everyone who had said that it was Disney's best 5K. The main reason being that it starts inside Disneyland!!!.

But it started at 5:00 a.m. - even earlier than the 10K and half, which started at 5:30. We headed over to Disneyland at about 4:10. We had to go through the regular security check as we entered the Esplanade, but we didn't have any bags, and that was quick.

At the Disneyland gates they were carefully checking to make sure that everyone had a bib. There weren't very many people in the park yet, and Main Street was still pretty empty! We stopped to watch the Peter Pan Enchanted Window at the Emporium - that seemed like an appropriate thing to do. :-)

2016 Disneyland Peter Pan Enchanted Window

Disney's PhotoPass was the official race photographer for this race weekend, also, just like they were for Star Wars - The Dark Side. There's a code on the back of the bibs and you add your bib number to that, then link it to your PhotoPass account to get your photos. Free downloads for Annual Passholders! I'm really enjoying this - we had pictures taken several places where I didn't bother with getting them to take one with my phone because I knew I would get much better ones from the PhotoPass people.

2016 Never Land 5K

There weren't formal corrals with this one - they were gathering the runners on either side of the hub in front of the castle. Those who arrived earlier were in Corral A on the right side, and those who arrived later were in Corral B on the left side. We made it into the A Corral with just a couple of minutes to spare.

2016 Never Land 5K

There was a pre-show on a stage in front of the castle but we couldn't see it. No big screens or any other visual aids.

Just before the race started, Tinker Bell flew around the castle! Very cool.

The start line was actually on Matterhorn Way, near the exit of Pixie Hollow, so after Tink flew Corral A moved in that direction. I was surprised that there really wasn't a starting line - no archway or anything. The race was not officially timed - we didn't have timing chips on our bibs. I wasn't really sure where the start line was, so I just started my watch when I passed Carissa Bealert, one of the race announcers.

2016 Never Land 5K

(This was the first runDisney race that I'd ever done where long-time announcer Rudy Novotny wasn't there. Many runDisney participants were very disappointed when we heard that his contract had not been renewed, and we would not see him for Tinker Bell weekend. It really was different not hearing his voice at the start line. I missed him.)

The course took us toward "it's a small world" and into Toontown. We couldn't run at all for the first tenth of a mile or so because it was so crowded and there were so many walkers, and I was pretty concerned that it was going to be like that, but fortunately once we went backstage at Toontown it started to clear out.

In previous years this race has started in Disneyland and ended in Disney California Adventure, but this year, because of all of the construction, we had very limited time in Disneyland. Most of the race was in California Adventure until we ran through Downtown Disney and finished at the Disneyland Hotel - at the usual finish line used by all of the other race weekends.

So, once we ran through Toontown, that was it for Disneyland. We ran backstage, under the bus area, then backstage behind DCA. That's where the mile 1 sign was. I should also mention the music...we had music for just about all of the race. A loop featuring "A Pirate's Life is a Wonderful Life" and "Follow the Leader", from Peter Pan. I enjoyed it, though I felt a little sorry for the cast members who were having to listen to it over and over and over and over again.

2016 Never Land 5K 1 mile sign

We ran down Hollywood Blvd, and stopped for a quick photo with Walt and Mickey.

2016 Never Land 5K Walt and Mickey

I was very surprised that we hadn't seen any character stops. There were a few pirates in front of Grizzly Peak.

2016 Never Land 5K Pirates

By this time we were among the front runners, and there weren't very many people running around us. It was great to be on a mostly empty race course! And it meant we got lots of photos taken by the race photographers, because they didn't have nearly as many subjects.

2016 Never Land 5K

We ran through Flik's Fun Faire and then backstage behind Cars Land, then into Cars Land from the Pacific Wharf side. The two mile mark was in front of Luigi's.

2016 Never Land 5K 2 Mile sign

We made a left and ran up Route 66, then left toward Paradise Pier. I expected there might be a character stop there but no - just a couple more generic pirates.

2016 Never Land 5K Pirates

We ran all around Paradise Bay. I was surprised that the World of Color fountains weren't on. The Lost Boys were at King Triton's Carousel, but not really available for a photo. The lighting was terrible, too.

2016 Never Land 5K Lost Boys

There was a photo stop with the Fun Wheel in the background.

2016 Never Land 5K

I took a photo looking back just before we turned towards Grizzly Rapids - still not a lot of people back there!

2016 Never Land 5K

FINALLY, just before we left DCA next to Soarin', there was a character stop!!!

2016 Never Land 5K Peter and Wendy

There were a fair number of people in Downtown Disney who had gotten up very early to cheer us on - it was still really dark. We made a brief stop at the Mile 3 sign.

2016 Never Land 5K 3 Mile Sign

And then it was a dash that last tenth of a mile to the finish line! There were a number of photographers in that area and we had lots of photos of us in our PhotoPass accounts.

2016 Never Land 5K

We got a shout-out from the race announcers for our wings. :-)

No official time for this one, but by my running watch my time was 32:40. Not bad considering photo stops, and a first mile that was a bit slow.

2016 Never Land 5K Finish Line

We had our finisher photo taken and got our runDisney snack box, etc.

2016 Never Land 5K Finisher Photo

The snack box seemed identical to what we received for Star Wars.

2016 Never Land 5K snack box

There was hardly anyone even in the finishing area! Really no reason to linger at all. So we went back to our room. Let's see...the race started at 5:00, and we were back in our room at 5:47. I'm really liking this whole 5K thing!

2016 Never Land 5K Stage

We received the rubber medallion rather than a "real" medal. It's cute, though.

2016 Never Land 5K Medal

There were somewhere between 4000 and 4500 people in this race - so it was very small compared to the races that we usually run. It was so much fun being so far in front of most of the rest of the pack, and having so much running room! Now we know how our fast friends, like Eddie McCoy, feel. It really is quite a different experience.

All those people who told us that it was a really good 5K - I agree with them. Starting inside Disneyland, with Tinker Bell flying overhead, was special. Even at 5:00 in the morning. :-) Though it was disappointing that because of the construction we really didn't get to run through very much of Disneyland.

The thing that most surprised and disappointed me was the character stops - or lack thereof. Peter Pan and Wendy - that was it for us. From other runners' photos I saw that Captain Hook and Mr. Smee were in Toontown, but we didn't see them. Still, I thought only two character photo stops in a 5K was a very poor showing.

Next up - the Tinker Bell Half Marathon







May 6, 2016

Review: "Captain America: Civil War"

Guest Blogger: Amanda Bulat

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One of these days the good people at Marvel Studios will make a bad movie. Today is not that day.

With the third installment of the Captain America standalone saga, "Captain America: Civil War" isn’t merely an Avengers 2.5, instead it’s an organic exploration of the characters we’ve met previously and the addition of two newcomers (Black Panther, Spider-Man) to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Russo brothers returned to helm what will surely be another summer tent pole, while most of the cast from last summer’s "Avengers: Age of Ultron" returned to a world where consequences are real and heroes are held accountable.

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"Captain America: Civil War" bears little resemblance to its comic book event namesake and thankfully so. Offering brutal and raw action sequences, the film, at its core, is still a true "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" sequel and presents a genuine denouement for the saga of Steve Rogers and James “Bucky” Barnes. Closure seems to be the be the recurring theme du jour for CA:CW as we see many characters searching for it in some form or another: the death of a parent, the death of a significant other, the Sokovia aftermath, a mission gone awry, etc. And as it so often happens with closure, not all methods are healthy. The main conflict in Civil War stems from an unwilling Steve Rogers, Captain America, to accept UN oversight for the Avengers, which then leads to Rogers’ eventual harboring of a fugitive (Barnes).

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The schism in CA:CW is believable since we see clear character development from heroes on both sides. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is motivated by extreme guilt that has been percolating since the first Iron Man film while we see Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers choosing personal feelings over the greater good. Actions have consequences and there’s no statute of limitations on emotional trauma in this film.

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A few things to note:

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--Chadwick Boseman’s turn as the iconic superhero, Black Panther was one of the best parts of an already outstanding genre film. Filled with gravitas and oozing deadly intent, Black Panther makes a stunning debut and I cannot wait to see him in his own standalone.

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--Tom Holland is an adorable Peter Parker. While his addition felt slightly shoehorned into the film, there is no doubt an ebullient sense of wonder when he makes his appearance as a part of the team.

Whether you’re #TeamIronMan or #TeamCap, be sure to pick your side when Captain America: Civil War opens in US theatres on May 6.

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"Captain America: Civil War" is presented by Marvel Studios and directed by Anthony & Joe Russo. Rated PG-13, it stars Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Marisa Tomei, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, Martin Freeman with William Hurt and Daniel Brühl. The film was produced by Kevin Feige, with Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Patricia Whitcher, Nate Moore, and Stan Lee serving as executive producers. The screenplay is by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely.

“Captain America: Civil War” releases in U.S. theaters on May 6, 2016.

DISCLAIMER: I viewed “Captain America: Civil War” at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.

May 4, 2016

"Captain America: Civil War" Part 2: Team CAPTAIN AMERICA - Press Junket

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This May 6th marks the debut of Marvel Studio's latest film, "Captain America: Civil War." Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, the start of Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase III sees the Earth's Mightiest Heroes splintered into two factions over the question of government registration and oversight--Team Iron Man, advocating for accountability, and Team Cap, dedicated to free will and independence.

[All non-attributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

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At a recent press junket the two sides made an appearance to discuss the new film--separately, of course. We heard from Team Iron Man here--today belongs to Team Captain America, represented by Chris Evans, (“Steve Rogers / Captain America”) Sebastian Stan, (“Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier”) Anthony Mackie, (“Sam Wilson / Falcon”) Jeremy Renner, (“Clint Baron / Hawkeye”) Elizabeth Olsen, (“Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch”) Paul Rudd, (“Scott Lang / Ant-Man”) Director Joe Russo, and Producer Kevin Feige. Guest Blogger Amanda Bulat attended for AllEars.Net.

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Some points of note from the video above:

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Joe Russo on bringing action to life on film: "Action is very important to us, these movies are about action, the characters express themselves through action...action has to have storytelling to it for us, or it's vacuous and superficial. You know, you'll get tired of an action sequence if it's not either defining the character or moving the story forward in some way. It takes an incredible amount of effort and thank God we have such an incredible team of collaborators including Kevin and [screenwriters] Markus and McFeely and [executive producer] Nate Moore who works at Marvel as well who can work with us and keep us honest in terms of the storytelling. And this cast, who are also the caretakers of the characters in a way that we never could be. It's by far and away the hardest thing to do on a film."

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Paul Rudd on being a fanboy: "How I felt as far as being the fanboy of the group: There was very little acting required in that scene for me. You know, they've all worked together and done this before--I've just seen the movies. I mean, I've seen all the Marvel movies so to be there on the day...I kind of couldn't stop geeking out about it. I thought Oh my God, there's The Shield and I thought there's that arm! [To Stan] You weren't looking, and I was just like [touches Stan's arm] 'Wow! Gol dang, man!' And so...even when I was getting the suit on, you know there's this area where we get changed and stuff, and it's like oh there's Iron Man's suit [plays with suit] ...and there they all are! I did feel that, that excitement of what? I can't believe I landed here! This is nuts! So it was really cool."

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Kevin Feige on whether the darker tone of some of the Marvel TV series will bleed into the MCU: "What I love is you're now seeing in the film medium and the television medium the reflection of what the comics have always been. There's always been that great diversity of tone within the comics and I love that we're seeing more and more of that on various screens."

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Jeremy Renner on why Hawkeye joined Team Cap: "He's the one who called. I didn't write it! Talk to these guys! They wrote it! No, I think probably retirement was quite boring, and then...go help a friend. And the moral compass is not a far cry from Cap's sort of thinking as well, anyway."
Russo: "He owes a debt to Scarlet Witch, and her brother, so when she's under duress, it's a call to arms."
Renner: "Yup."

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Chris Evans on how to deal with the success of the Captain America franchise: "The first couple years of your involvement with the franchise, you're very internal, you're scared about being the thing that's going to cause it...you're going to be awful and you're very terrified in a very egoic manner. But as you kind of continue on the journey, you kind of realize how amazing it is what they're doing and what they're accomplishing, and how fortunate you are to be a part of it, this unbelievable interwebbing of stories...and I say, keep going. Let's let the wave get bigger and bigger because it's not stopping. It's not like they're making bad movies. They're making great movies. If you want to keep putting them in this superhero box, you can, but the fact is, it's still good movies. Especially the Russos--they ground them in such an authentic way. It's real humans, real stories, real conflict. Good cinematic storytelling with like a streak of superhero flavor in it. So I say, keep it going. Like, if you can keep doing it, keep doing it."

May 3, 2016

"Captain America: Civil War" Part 1: Team IRON MAN - Press Junket

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This May 6th marks the debut of Marvel Studio's latest film, "Captain America: Civil War." Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, the start of Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase III sees the Earth's Mightiest Heroes splintered into two factions over the question of government registration and oversight--Team Iron Man, advocating for accountability, and Team Cap, dedicated to free will and independence.

[All non-attributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

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At a recent press junket the two sides made an appearance to discuss the new film--separately, of course. Team Iron Man was up first, represented by Robert Downey Jr., (“Tony Stark / Iron Man”) Don Cheadle, (“James Rhodes / War Machine”) Paul Bettany, (“Vision”) Emily Van Camp, (“Sharon Carter / Agent 13”) Director Anthony Russo, and Producer Kevin Feige. Guest Blogger Amanda Bulat attended for AllEars.Net.

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Some points of note from the video above:

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Robert Downey Jr. on Tony Stark's emotional center: "I'm still reeling from the fact that Paul Bettany was Jarvis and now he's Vision...If you just stop, you go 'so here's what's going on with Tony,' I go 'waitaminute. Did he make a guy?!' Look at him!"
Bettany: "Dad!"
Downey Jr.: "So proud of you."

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Anthony Russo on technological advances in film-making: "You sort of reap the benefits and you sort of push forward every film and this movie has a very remarkable sequence I think where Robert Downey Jr. plays a twenty-year old man...which, you know, is pretty incredible."
[Downey Jr. begins to have a stroke.]
Bettany: (Reassuringly) "Wait a second, I don't think it's that hard to believe!"
Russo: "I mean, he plays someone who's around the age he was when we all first saw him on the screen."
Downey Jr.: "Aw. It's nostalgic. Very expensive nostalgia, I'm told."

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Don Cheadle on War Machine getting new upgrades: "Thank God somebody finally laid it bare...I think we'll see. It's not over...unless it is, 'cause I haven't seen the movie. Do...I live? Does War Machine live? (That's some hubris.) You'll see in the next one...wait a minute..."

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Kevin Feige on the casting of Black Panther: "It was relatively early on in the development process of the movie that Joe and Anthony and our screenwriters Chris and Steve thought it would be very valuable to have somebody...people who weren't quite as invested. We wanted somebody who perhaps was invested but didn't have allegiances to any one side. Who was essentially in it for very personal reasons himself. We knew we wanted to make a Black Panther movie at some point, but at that time we weren't sure exactly when that would be, but as these discussions were going on, we thought 'I think we're going to bring Black Panther into this movie...' I'm not kidding when I say Chadwick (Boseman) was the only choice. His performance in '42,' his performance in 'Get on Up,' how different those performances are...and my memory is that we called him on the conference room speaker when we were developing the movie, and...he was in his car either about to get out or had just gotten back in, and we said 'have you ever heard of Black Panther,' and he went 'YES. YES. WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME THAT.' And we said 'do you want to play the part,' and he was very excited.

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Emily Van Camp on hitting a stride in portraying Sharon Carter: "I think I was definitely slightly intimidated in the first one, in 'Winter Soldier,' you know, just kind of getting used to it. I think that lent itself well for the character, she was sort of more in like a rookie stage, and it's great to see her come back in a little bit more of a mature light, she's confident..."
Moderator: "And she's still good with guns, girl!"
Van Camp: "Still good with guns!"

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Paul Bettany on Vision's process of finding himself while establishing relationships with other characters: "You find Vision in 'Age of Ultron,' he is just born and omnipotent yet naive, and then in this movie you find him trying to figure out what humanity is, and how you have loyalty, because logic doesn't afford loyalty. So I think he's really interested in working out what love is, and there's this woman who has a similar problem that he's facing, which is he doesn't know the limits of his power, nor does she. Of course, love can make you feel loyal, and at the end of this movie, I think it's double-edged sword, because his response at finally having a human response, is he makes a big mistake. Which is interesting."

April 30, 2016

2016 WDW Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - Part 3 - The Food

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What's a Disney race weekend without the opportunity to enjoy a little food? And some adult beverages, too. :-) One of the things I was looking forward to on this trip was the opportunity to sample foods from the food booths at Epcot's Flower and Garden (aka mini Food and Wine) Festival.

Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

Lee and I arrived fairly late on Wednesday night. We were headed to the Boardwalk Bakery when we noticed that the Trattoria al Forno pizza window was still open...so that's what we had. We were hungry, and scarfed it down pretty quickly, so there's no photos. :-) My cheese pizza was just ok - it had been sitting around under the heat lamp for a while. Lee really enjoyed his piece of the Boardwalk Signature Pizza, though. (This is the stock AllEars.net photo of the cheese pizza - mine didn't look quite this good. :-) )

Trattoria al Forno Pizza Window Cheese Pizza

The next morning we went to the Bellevue Room at the Boardwalk, which sells "Continental Breakfast" types of foods in the morning - pastries, bagels, cold cereal, yogurt, fruit cup/whole fruit, and beverages: coffee, tea, juice, milk. We were planning to visit the food booths at Epcot, but needed something to eat since they didn't open until 11:00.

When we walked into Epcot I picked up a "Garden Passport". This little booklet had the menus for all of the food booths, and there was a place to get a stamp at each booth.

Epcot Flower and Garden Festival Passport

All of the food booths had unique stamps, and there were some really interesting designs. There were stamps for the butterfly garden, the Festival shops, playground, and tours, also. No reward (such as a pin) for getting all of the stamps - just the completion stamp. But I had fun doing it anyway.

Epcot Flower and Garden Festival Tasting Passport stamps

The first thing we sampled was Seared Pork Tenderloin with Mushroom Ragout, Spring Vegetables and Marble Potatoes from Urban Farm Eats. It was excellent, and a good-sized serving for $6.00. I appreciated the fact that it had some vegetables - pieces of asparagus, onion, and beans - in addition to the sliced potatoes.

Seared Pork Tenderloin from Urban Farm Eats

Next was "Adult Soft Serve", as the Pineapple Promenade CM called it: Pineapple Soft-Serve with Parrot Bay Coconut Rum for $10.00. Oh wow. This was SO good! The rum was on top so we had to make sure we got a little on our spoons in addition to the pineapple soft serve - but once the ice cream level was low enough we could mix it in. We liked this so much that we went back later in our visit to share another one.

Pineapple Promenade Pineapple Soft Serve with Coconut Rum

One thing we really enjoyed about the food booths was that there were no lines! Mostly we walked right up to the cashier, or at most waited behind 2-3 other people. Very different from the Food and Wine Festival.

Hanami Japan Food Booth

From La Isla Fresca we sampled the Jerk-spice Grouper with Mango Salsa, Chayote and Green Papaya Slaw with Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette. This was another good one though I had to eat around the red and green peppers.

La Isla Fresca Jerk Spice Grouper

We also tried the Frozen Simply Tropical Juice Drink with Cruzan Mango Rum. I was surprised that this had chunks of mango in it - but I thought that was the best part. It was all pretty tasty, though.

La Isla Fresca Tropical Juice Drink with Cruzan Mango Rum

At the coffee kiosk near Mexico I tried the Tiki Torch - a passion fruit slush with Grey Goose vodka. I was expecting it to be more slushy, but it wasn't really frozen. It was fine, but Lee enjoyed this one more than I did.

Coffee Kiosk Tiki Torch

At Lotus House in China Lee tried a Gaoli Beef Bun, which a friend had recommended. He really liked this.

Lotus House Gaoli Beef Bun

I had my first sparkling wine at Germany's Bauernmarkt: Farmer's Market - Hugo-Charles de Fere "Organic" Brut with Elderflower and Mint. This was good - fortunately the mint was not overpowering, so I could taste the elderflower. Lee tried the Kostritzer Schwarzbier Black Lager, which he enjoyed.

Bauernmarkt Brut with Elderflower and Mint

From Primavera Kitchen at Italy we ordered Mezze Lune Primavera - Egg Pasta stuffed with Ricotta and Spinach in a Creamy Sauce with Spring Vegetables and Pecorino Cheese. This was...OK. It seemed a little bit dry.

Primavera Kitchen Mezze Lune Primavera

At THE SMOKEHOUSE at The American Adventure we tried most of the food items. The Pulled Pig Slider with Crispy Onions and Coleslaw was pretty good, but not great. I think I liked the coleslaw more than the slider.

Smokehouse Pulled Pig Slider

We also tried Smoked Pork Ribs with Roasted Corn Salad. I thought these were better. They were pretty meaty and tender. Lee liked the corn salad.

Smokehouse Smoked Pork Ribs with Roasted Corn Salad

For topping the BBQ offerings there were three BBQ sauces at the condiment station to choose from - I had North Carolina (nice and mustardy) and Lee had the classic.

For dessert we tried the Warm Chocolate Cake with Bourbon-Salted Caramel Sauce and Spiced Pecans. This was just ok. The top part of the cake which had the caramel sauce and nuts on it was the best part. And when they say "spiced" pecans they mean spicy hot and not spicy cinnamon. These had a kick to them.

Smokehouse Chocolate Cake with Bourbon Salted Caramel Sauce

That was pretty good for a first round of tastings. The last thing I tried was the La Vie en Rose Frozen Slush - Grey Goose vodka orange, St-Germain liqueur, white and red cranberry juice at France. Lee didn't care for it, but I thought it was tasty. I knew I had to finish it before we could leave the park, though. :-)

La Vie en Rose Frozen Slush

That evening we went to Disney Springs for dinner at Morimoto Asia. This was our first experience driving ourselves there and parking in the "Orange" garage. The "smart garage" worked really well - when we first pulled in the sign told us which parking levels had the most spaces, and then once we chose level 4, each row told us how many spaces were in it, and there were green lights on the ceiling of the garage over each open space to identify it. Super easy! We arrived about 5:20, so it might be more of a challenge when it's busier, but we had no problem.

We were a little early at Morimoto Asia - instead of a pager, they told me they would send a text message to my phone instead. We were seated in less than 10 minutes, but had a nice conversation with a blog reader (Hello!) while we were waiting. Our table was the outside corner of the middle block nearest the hostess station - I was concerned it might feel very busy with the aisle right next to us, but it was fine.

I'd been to Morimoto in February, but this was Lee's first visit. We started off with a couple of glasses of wine from their "Spring Selections" list. They were both very good. We also shared two appetizers. The first was the Tempura Rock Shrimp. It was $16, and I was expecting it to be just a few pieces of shrimp, but it was a very generous serving! Easily an appetizer for 3-4 people and not just two. Very good, also.

Morimoto Asia Tempura Rock Shrimp

Our other appetizer was Kakuni Pork Bao - steamed buns, braised pork belly, lettuce, spicy mayo. This was also excellent, and very filling. Lee was concerned that the pork belly might be very fatty but it wasn't. I was expecting it to be more of a traditional bao (sort of a large dumpling) rather than the something more like a taco, but we definitely got a lot more filling this way.

Morimoto Asia Kakuni Pork Bao

And then the entrees arrived. Honestly, after the appetizers I didn't need much more to eat!

I ordered something different this time and tried the Lo Mein Noodles with Chicken - stir-fried egg noodles, Napa cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, and scallions. This was good but not awesome - the Shrimp Pad Thai I had last time was much better. I still enjoyed part of it (I was too full to eat much of it), and took about 2/3 of it with me, figuring it would taste good after one of the races (and I ended up eating it after the half marathon, when it tasted REALLY good).

Morimoto Asia Lo Mein Noodles Chicken

Lee tried the Singapore Laksa Noodle - creamy coconut and spicy curry, rice noodle, chicken meatballs, and soy marinated egg. He was disappointed in this. He didn't care for the chicken meatballs, and thought the curry didn't have enough coconut flavor. I tried it, and it was a bit too spicy for me. He also ended up taking about 1/2 of it with him, which he also ate after the half marathon. Things taste a lot better after a half marathon when your body is just saying: "FEED ME", and you're shoveling it in as fast as you can. :-)

Morimoto Asia Singapore Laksa Noodle

We'd left some room for dessert. I would've liked to have had the MM Parfait again, but there was no way the two of us were going to make any serious inroads on that! So we tried the Churro Fondue instead. Housemade churros, with Nutella and vanilla cream sauces. The churros were freshly made and hot, but I thought they were a little doughy inside. They were dipped in sugar - I would've preferred cinnamon sugar, though. I really liked the Nutella sauce, but Lee preferred the cream sauce. I didn't think it was very creamy - it was a little too thick.

Morimoto Asia Churro Fondue

When our server brought us the dessert menu, I had a chuckle over a typo under the tea selections. I guess this is not the Mos Eisley Cantina, and they serve droids here. :-)

Morimoto Asia Tea Menu
Cylon Tea

It was still a really good dinner - we loved the appetizers. Next time (and there will be a next time!) we might just do appetizers/sushi/dessert and skip the entree. This is not a quiet intimate experience - the restaurant is very noisy. Though our table, being along the edge, wasn't as noisy as the one I sat at the last time. I think one of the tables along the outside wall might be better, also.

Friday morning we went to Animal Kingdom. As a snack we tried the Smoky Cheddar Grits, served with pulled pork and bread-and-butter pickles, from the Smiling Crocodile kiosk. We'd wanted to try this in February but the kiosk was closed, so we were happy to see that it was open. At $5.99 it's a pretty small serving - the size of the bowls you get at the F&W Festival. But it was really good - once Lee pulled the green peppers out of it. Ick. The pork was moist and flavorful and the grits were very cheesy - even had little bits of cheese in them. Yum.

Animal Kingdom Smoky Cheddar Grits

That afternoon we went back over to Epcot to sample from some of the food booths we hadn't yet tried. First was the Cider House at the UK. We wanted to sample three of the food items. Unfortunately they had just run out of the corned beef and cabbage that Lee wanted to try, and wouldn't have more for 15-20 minutes. But we tried the Land-harvested Field Greens with Apples, Dried Blueberries, Stilton Cheese and Apple Cider Vinaigrette. This was a nice salad, though I don't care for blue cheese.

Cider House Land Harvested Field Greens

We also ordered the House-made Potato and Cheddar Cheese Biscuit with Smoked Salmon Tartare. We both really liked the biscuit. I also enjoyed the salmon tartare, especially with the little bit of fresh dill, but Lee let me eat most of that. :-)

Cider House Potato and Cheddar Cheese Biscuit

We washed it down with two of the ciders: Keel & Curley Mad Man Blueberry Hard Cider for Lee and McKenzie's Black Cherry Hard Cider for me. We tried what the other had ordered, and both were happy with our own choices.

Cider House Blueberry and Black Cherry Hard Ciders

Next stop was Hanami in Japan, where we ordered all of the food items. First up was a Chicken Edamame Bun: Steamed Bun filled with Chicken and Edamame and topped with Curry Sauce. It was very good - maybe my favorite Festival item. The curry sauce was more like a curry aioli, but it really added a lot of flavor to the bun and the filling inside. Yummy.

Hanami Chicken Edamame Bun

One of Lee's favorite items was the Beef Teriyaki Udon: Thin-sliced Beef, Onions and Noodles tossed on the grill with Soy and Ginger. We ordered this and the steamed bun again on a later visit.

Hanami Beef Teriyaki Udon

We also tried the Frushi - Fresh pineapple, strawberries and melon, rolled with coconut rice, topped with raspberry sauce, sprinkled with toasted coconut and served with whipped cream on the side. These were tasty, though the fruit leather they were rolled in was a bit odd. And they gave us an awful lot of whipped cream - we didn't use very much of it.

Hanami Frushi

We decided that Japan won the award for most attractive presentation of their food items. They really were very pretty.

I also tried a Desert Rose from Taste of Marrakesh at Morocco. It was sparkling wine with pomegranate liqueur. It was very pretty, though a little too sweet. At $7.00 it was the cheapest sparkling wine I had, though!

Morocco Desert Rose

That evening we met friends at the Crew's Cup Lounge at the Yacht Club for dinner. I hadn't realized this place existed, much less that they served food! It was a really nice place to hang out with friends and enjoy some beverages and conversation. I tried the Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwich. It was excellent - plenty of thick-sliced fresh mozzarella, with nice slices of tomato and pesto sauce on toasted sea salt foccacia. The bread was very good also. I had a choice of house-made chips, French fries or pasta salad and chose the chips - they were crisp and salty and yummy.

Crews Cup Lounge Tomato Mozzarella Sandwich

Lee ordered the Angus Cheeseburger - he had his choice of cheese, and it came with lettuce, tomato, onion, and French fries. He said it was an excellent burger.

Crews Cup Lounge Angus Cheeseburger

Saturday morning after the 10K we went to the Boardwalk Bakery to get something to eat. I got a great big Sticky Bun. After a 10K I figured I was entitled to it. The pastry at the bakery is lighter and not so doughy, which I really like. So this was not as huge and filling as it looked, though I was still surprised that I ate the whole thing.

Boardwalk Bakery Pecan Sticky Bun

We went to the Studios later that morning...after using our Star Tours Fastpasses we were hungry, and the Backlot Express was about to open. This place has a Star Wars overlay menu now. We both had the Dark Side Chicken and Waffles, though Lee had the adult portion and I had the kid's meal. I wasn't expecting chicken nuggets as the chicken part, though at least they were tasty chicken nuggets.

Darth Vader Chicken and Waffles

I was surprised that my kid's meal came with fries - the menu said carrots and applesauce, which was actually what I wanted. I enjoyed it all, though, and it was plenty of food for me. At $7.99 the price was not too bad, either, especially since it included a small bottle of water.

Backlot Express Kids Chicken and Darth Waffles

The friends with us got their food on the lucky orange tray, which meant that they were invited to choose a free dessert. They chose the BB-8 cupcake, and shared with the rest of us. It was lemony, and just ok. We were all glad that no one had paid for it. The "pebbles" on the outside were candy covered chocolate - but very inferior chocolate.

Backlot Express BB-8 Cupcake

Saturday evening a group of us went to Il Mulino in the Swan Hotel for our pre-half marathon Italian dinner. Our reservation was at 5:00, which was when the restaurant opened. We were seated pretty quickly at our table for 11 people. The server was a little slow getting drinks and initial orders taken, but after that things moved along ok.

Lee and I ordered Parmigiano Reggiano for Two as an appetizer. I think I forgot to take a photo of it. But it served more than two people! Quite a lot of really yummy cheese for $10. We passed it down the table and a few other people partook and we still had about 8 pieces left that we took with us at the end of the meal.

We also shared an Insalata Trattoria, which our server split onto two plates. Nice selection of greens with fennel, red onions, and pine nuts.

As an entree I chose a half order of the Pappardelle Pasta with a tomato basil sauce. I'd had this before and thought there wasn't quite enough sauce, but this time it was a more generous serving. Still very tasty and I enjoyed it - and a half serving was plenty for me.

Il Mulino Pappardelle Pasta

Lee tried the Spaghetti Carbonara - spaghetti with pancetta, cheese and egg. He ordered the full serving, and managed to finish all of it.

Il Mulino Spaghetti Carbonara

While most of us enjoyed our dinners, one of our fellow diners ordered the Pollo Parmigiana and did not like it at all. It was very tough, and she couldn't cut it. Our server apologized, offered to bring her something else, and did not charge her for the entree. Unfortunate, but they tried to do the right thing.

The restaurant is pretty noisy, but fortunately it wasn't packed with diners, so it wasn't as loud as the last time I'd eaten here. (Obviously I came back, because I did enjoy the food I had last time.)

We all passed on dessert though the Torta Di Cioccolati (flourless chocolate cake) was tempting.

I found Il Mulino to be a nice alternative to the Disney restaurants like Mama Melrose, Via Napoli, and Trattoria al Forno which always seem to be disastrous dining experiences on the night before a half marathon. And actually there were a number of menu items that I'd enjoy trying when I don't have a race the next day.

For "breakfast" on Sunday after the half marathon we finished our Morimoto Asia leftovers. :-) That afternoon we went to Afternoon Tea at the Beach Club - but that is going to be a whole separate review coming soon to the All Ears Team blog. It was a very nice experience.

Sunday evening we had dinner at The Hollywood Brown Derby with our friends Dave and Holly. The restaurant was very busy and loud...so we were very pleasantly surprised when the hostess led us to a separate room at the back of the restaurant. It was so nice and quiet in there! There was one large group in there, plus two tables that were set for four people. It was really, really a very welcome oasis of calm. So nice to talk to each other without shouting!

Our server was not very good. He seemed to keep getting lost, or forgetting about us. It was a long time before we got any water or bread. Dave's drink order was messed up (though that might have been the bartender), and there was confusion about Lee's wine and he brought me the wrong salad.

I ordered a sparkling wine flight, with a prosecco, Iron Horse Fairy Tale Cuvee, and Rosa Regale. It was very nice.

Brown Derby Sparkling Wine Flight

Holly had a martini flight, with a gin martini, citrus vodka martini and cosmopolitan. Such cute little martini glasses!

Brown Derby Martini Flight

For an appetizer, Lee and I both ordered the Local Greens - tossed in champagne vinaigrette, with blueberries and peaches, Laura Chenel goat cheese, spiced candied pecans. It was a really nice salad.

Brown Derby Local Greens Salad

Dave tried the Tomato Soup.

Brown Derby Tomato Soup

As an entree I ordered the salmon, which was very tasty. It came with roasted potatoes, crispy leeks, English peas, and cauliflower puree.

Brown Derby Salmon

Lee and Holly both ordered the Charred Filet of Beef - Cabernet and Shallot Butter, Forest Mushroom and White Truffle Oil Mashed Potatoes, Sautéed Rainbow Carrots, Haricot Verts, and Red Wine Reduction. They were both pleased with it and the way it was cooked to order.

Brown Derby Charred Filet of Beef

Dave had the Pork Three Ways with a grilled wild boar chop, pork rillette, and crispy pork belly. Served with sweet corn and chili spoonbread.

Brown Derby Wild Boar special

Desserts are served as a choice of three mini desserts now - no full-sized servings of anything (even the famous Grapefruit Cake). We were disappointed in the dessert choices, so didn't order any of them. Our choices were: Amaretto Flan and Opalys White Chocolate Whip (whatever that is), Warm Blueberry Cobbler, Chocolate Mascarpone Sphere, Double Vanilla Creme Brulee, Banana-Toffee Cake, and the aforementioned Grapefruit Cake.

The food was good, the service was so-so. The company was terrific, and we really enjoyed being in the "quiet room" - we were sorry to leave it. And we probably lingered longer than we would have if we'd been in the main dining room.

Monday was our final park day - we had an evening flight home. We started with breakfast at Trattoria al Forno. We've eaten breakfast here several times since the conversion from Kouzzina. Mostly because it's the only place to get a hot breakfast at the Boardwalk rather than because we really love the food.

I ordered something new this time: Breakfast Pizza, with sliced potato, tomato sauce, and cracked egg. Normally it also comes with fennel sausage but I requested bacon instead. It was really good, and VERY filling - it was unfortunate that it was our last morning because otherwise I would've had most of it to take with me. As it was I ate the eggs and two pieces of the pizza, and picked off the potatoes and bacon from the rest.

Trattoria al Forno Breakfast Pizza

Lee had the Frittata - with red peppers, prosciutto, onions, potatoes, and pecorino romano cheese topped with arugula. It was served with breakfast potatoes and a multi-grain croissant.

Trattoria al Forno Frittata

Monday afternoon we made one last circuit of the food booths at Epcot. We had a few favorites a second time, but also tried some new items. Lee was able to get his Pear Cider-brined Shredded Corned Beef with Braised Cabbage and Pears and Branston Dressing from Cider House this time, and enjoyed that.

Cider House Corned Beef and Cabbage

We also tried the Lemon Scone with Créme Fraiche and Mixed Berries. I thought this was very good - it wasn't overly lemony (and that's a good thing). I was very surprised to read that this was gluten-free - it certainly didn't taste like it.

Cider House Lemon Scone

Lee sampled a Frozen Strawberry-Lemon Sunset – Layered frozen Strawberry and Lemonade topped with Grey Goose Vodka from the coffee kiosk near the American Adventure. He said it would've been better without the vodka. :-)

Frozen Strawberry-Lemon Sunset

From Florida Fresh we ordered Kale Salad with Dried Cherries, Almonds, Goat Cheese and White Balsamic Vinaigrette. This was very good - I think it was the best salad I had anywhere the entire weekend.

Florida Fresh Kale Salad

We finished our food adventure at Japan, where we ordered the Chicken Edamame Bun and Beef Teriyaki Udon again. And I also tried a Yuzu Plum Wine Slushy. It was different...not bad, but not my favorite beverage.

Hanami Yuzu Plum Wine Slushy

I really enjoyed the mini Food and Wine Festival aspect of the Flower and Garden Festival. It wasn't nearly as busy, so it was a much more pleasant experience. And with fewer food booths it seemed like there were more tables set up - only rarely did we not find an open table. I enjoyed the selection of foods and beverages - with fewer food booths the choices weren't so overwhelming.







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