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May 3, 2008

Food and Wine Festival - How to Bake a Chocolate Souffle

Warning: This blog entry contains explicit chocolate photos. Not recommended for non-chocoholics.

Chocolate Souffle was the star of the first Sweet Sundays demonstration of this year's Food and Wine Festival, prepared by Napa Rose's pastry chef Jorge Sotelo, and his assistant Sergio.

Chocolate Souffle

Makes 8 servings

6-1/2 ounces 62% Scharffen Berger Dark chocolate (or other chocolate with cocoa content no higher than 72%)
1/2 C. plus 6 T unsalted butter
5 large eggs, separated - bring to room temperature before separating, 4 hours or overnight
1/4 C. plus 3 T sugar
1 T all purpose flour

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All the ingredients were set out in advance.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a pan of water barely to a simmer. Place the chocolate and butter over the pan of water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is melted.

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Chef Sotelo finishes melting the chocolate.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar together until thickened slightly and lighter in color. Whisk in the flour and then the chocolate mixture.

Place the egg whites in a metal bowl and place over hot water until warmed slightly. Add 1 T of sugar and whip with an electric mixture on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1-1/2 tablespoons more sugar. Turn the speed to high and add the last 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar and whip until the whites form stiff peaks.

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Chef Sotelo warms the egg whites.

Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg whites.

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Sergio pours the chocolate as Chef Sotelo mixes it into the egg whites by hand.

Divide the mixture among 8 buttered ramekins, filled 3/4 full. Place the ramekins on a baking tray and bake about 9 to 10 minutes. The tops should be puffed and feel firm to the touch but are very liquid in the center.

The batter can be made the day before and poured into the ramekins. Remove from the refrigerator one hour before baking.

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Chef Sotelo demonstrates the technique of making fancifully shaped garnishes out of hot sugar "taffy".

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He finishes a heart-shaped decoration, while a finished corkscrew-shaped decoration sits on the counter.

And voila, the finished souffle, garnished with a white chocolate medallion, a crunchy cookie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Looks good enough to eat! It was yummy.

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May 5, 2008

Dinner at Napa Rose at the Grand Californian Disneyland

Ever since the Napa Rose restaurant opened at the Grand Californian in 2001 I think most of us have heard how wonderful it is. Hard to believe, but up until a few weeks ago Lee and I had never tried it - it was one of those things we always planned to do. Since it's only open for dinner, and we so rarely stay up there so that we have the opportunity to dress up a bit for dinner (you'll want to wear something a little nicer than park attire!), we'd just never gotten around to doing it.

You'll definitely want to make Priority Seating in advance to dine at Napa Rose - we had a 7:45 time, and were seated within a few minutes, but walk-ins were told they had nothing available for the rest of the evening.

The restaurant has a very open, but comfortable, feel to it, and it's actually relatively quiet. The furnishings and decorations combine the classic Craftsman style with a very modern-looking bar and kitchen area

Napa Rose - Bar area

Our server was Steven, and he was really excellent. He was knowledgeable and helpful and not at all stuffy or snooty - always ready with wine recommendations that took into consideration what we told him about our likes and dislikes. He was quite generous with the wine, too...but I'm getting ahead of myself. :-)

The Napa Rose menu changes several times a year, but the four-course Vintner's Table tasting menu changes weekly, depending on what the freshest ingredients are for that particular week. We opted to order off of the regular menu, which you can find HERE if you're playing along from home.

For our first course, we decided to share the California Endive and Forelli Pear Salad. As you can see below it was quite beautifully presented, and included the largest dried cranberries I've ever seen, as well as candied walnuts and blue cheese, with a cider vinaigrette. To "pear" with the salad and the appetizer plate we selected, Steven recommended the Forstmeister Geltz Zillikin 2004 Reisling. (A German wine, in case you couldn't tell! :-) ) That was really excellent - just a little sweet and very refreshing. Steven decided there wasn't enough left in the bottle for another glass and left the bottle for us to finish - I think he underestimated a bit because we each got another half glass out of it. :-)

Napa Rose - California Endive and Forelli Pear Salad

Steven also brought us a basket of bread - four different kinds! There was a ciabatta-style bread, a classic sourdough, an olive bread and a crispy flatbread. And Vermont butter to go with it, which really WAS different than normal butter. It was all delicious...I had to really restrain myself to keep from filling up on the bread. Sigh.

Our next appetizer was really interesting - The Sizzling Beach Rock. It was served in a Japanese-style Bento box. In the center was some white gravel, with a fist-sized black beach rock in the middle. A hot beach rock, as it turned out - one of the shrimp was sizzling on it when it was served. All of the food was already cooked, but Steven told us we could put the individual pieces on the rock if we wanted to brown it a little more. There were two garlic-seared shrimp served over a delicious black bean "soup", two soy-glazed spare ribs served over udon noodles, and, our favorite, two lemon grass chicken skewers served over kimchee. (They called it kimchee, but I think the only relation it has to kimchee is that both are made of cabbage. This was more like a cole slaw with vinegar dressing.)

Napa Rose - Sizzling Beach Rock

After all that we still hadn't gotten to the entrees yet! I had the Cashew Crusted "Tai Snapper" with a large tempura-fried shrimp served over fried Himalayan red rice with pineapple and tangierine-coconut vinaigrette. Oh my...the fish was so moist, with a nice delicate flavor. It was two good-sized pieces also. Steven recommended the Laura Aschero Pigato 2005. And how could I turn down a wine named "Laura?" :-) It was fine, and paired nicely with the fish, but I enjoyed the riesling a lot more.

Napa Rose - Cashew Crusted Tai Snapper

Lee ordered the Colorado Lamb Double Chop, which came with sweet potato raviolis. Underneath the lamb chop there were pieces of braised lamb shoulder and kale, in a Petit Syrah jus. The lamb was excellent, but I thought the sweet potato raviolis were even better - they would make a nice entree all by themselves! Steven had two wine recommendations, and eventually he and Lee decided on the Andrew Murray 2006 Syrah, and Lee enjoyed that. Towards the end of the dinner he also brought Lee about a half glass of the other wine and he was able to compare the two side-by-side.

Napa Rose - Lamb Double Chop

Steven suggested a side for Lee, and recommended, of all things, the Brussels Sprouts. Lee said he didn't like them, but Steven told him that the Napa Rose Chef doesn't like them either, but has come up with this way of doing them which makes them really good. They are shredded like hashed browns and sauteed with garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese and chili flakes. They actually were pretty good, but they still tasted "green". Lee enjoyed them, but it was a very large serving, and with all of the other food he couldn't eat very much of them.

Napa Rose - Brussels Sprouts

Unfortunately when it came time for dessert I was too full, which was very disappointing since there were two chocolate desserts I was interested in trying - the signature Scharffen Berger Chocolate Velvet Pate, and the Valrhona Chocolate Truffle Cake. Sigh. But Steven came to my rescue - he brought me a small Napa Rose box containing four different truffles that I could eat later. And I enjoyed them after I got home.

Lee managed to find room for the Warm California Strawberry-Coconut Crisp. He really enjoyed the strawberry-coconut flavor combination.

Napa Rose - Strawberry-Coconut Crisp

It was really an incredible dinner and a wonderful experience - we had a really good time. Dinner was a relaxed affair - we were there for over two hours. While it wasn't something I'd want to do for every meal it would be a great way to celebrate some kind of occasion. We'll definitely return!

Back from Disneyland - A Few Observations

I'm just back from a short overnight trip to Disneyland - we went up to attend Taste - the final signature event of this year's Food and Wine Festival. Taste was fun - I'll have more information and pictures up later.

We stayed at the Paradise Pier - the last time I stayed there was almost 11 years ago, when it was still called the Pan-Pacific. We had a room with a view of the Paradise Pier area of DCA - it was really pretty at night:

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And in the early morning:

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It also gave us quite an interesting perspective for viewing the Pixar Play Parade, which has changed (again) from what I saw a couple of weeks ago, as I reported in this blog entry. Lightning McQueen and Mater were back at the beginning and end of the parade. And the stilt-walking chefs of Ratatouille also returned - though there were only three of them.

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From the room we could see many of the floats on the parade route

The biggest change, though, is the return of the "bug's life" parade unit - Heimlich and his many parts plus the float. The float was modified significantly - only the front part with Flik and Atta on the swing is there now. It looks a little odd when you compare it with the size of the floats for all of the other units.

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Even with the "bug's life" float back, the weird Toy Story Tinker Toy creature is still part of the parade (but don't get me wrong, I think it looks pretty cool):

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The acrobats have not returned to the Toy Story float - it's still just the monkeys hanging on the bar.

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A while ago I talked about the Prince Caspian Pre-Parade that was coming to Disneyland at the end of April, and I had a chance to see that. I didn't notice any swooning females, but Caspian looked pretty good. And the horse was quite beautiful, and BIG.

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He had quite an entourage - the banner bearers in front, the standard bearers, plus the courtier leading the horse - but it was his final attendant who cracked me up - The Royal Pooper Scooper. :-)

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During Magic Morning I had a chance to get a close look at Jingles, the lead horse on the King Arthur Carrousel, which was dedicated to Julie Andrews last month. If you look closely you can see Mary Poppins' umbrella on the rump. Her initials, JA, the number 50, and Mary Poppins' boots and flying silhouette are on the saddle. It's really beautiful - so detailed!

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The sparkling/chasing lights that are on the floral Mickey at the entrance to Disneyland cooperated with me a lot better than they did when I was there with Lisa Berton back in March - this time the light show was running almost continuously. It's more impressive in person when you can watch the lights as they move and twinkle, but hopefully you get the idea.

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And now that I'm back from Disneyland I'm leaving for Disney World, where I'm planning to blog live this week. A little bonus trip for me - but I'll be writing more about that in my next blog entry.

May 6, 2008

My Bonus Trip to Walt Disney World - Part 1

I'm blogging live from WDW - and a couple of months ago I certainly didn't expect to be here right now!

Lee is attending a conference for work at Coronado Springs, and back in January asked me if I wanted to come with him. But I had work commitments - at that point in time we had the roll-out of a new system scheduled for the beginning of May, so I knew I wouldn't be able to go. But in March we found out that it had been delayed, so yippee, I could come along, too!

So I get to be a conference spouse and play in the parks while Lee works all day. It's a tough life. :-) The Flower and Garden Festival is going on at Epcot, which is one of my favorite events. If you've seen any of my trip reports you know that I love flowers. And the topiaries and bonsai and other garden displays around Epcot at this time of year are very nice.

We're staying at Port Orleans Riverside - the only other time I stayed here was December of 1997 when it was still called Dixie Landings. We're so used to staying in DVC resorts that this is going to be a little different, though the main thing that's going to be so shocking to me is that I can't walk to a theme park. We usually stay at Boardwalk Villas, and I'm very spoiled by being within walking distance to Epcot and the Studios.

As this trip approached I found myself looking forward to it and getting more excited about it than my "usual" WDW trips - I think that's because it was an unexpected bonus. It's also very unscripted - apart from getting together with Lisa Berton I have NO plans at all, so I'm free to indulge whatever whim takes my fancy - I can wander around and amuse myself or maybe even relax a ittle bit. Relaxing on vacation...what a concept. :-)

So...we've arrived and checked in - we're in the Acadian House in the Magnolia Bend area. Very few cars in the parking lot - we're not sure if that's because the resort is empty (hard to believe) or if there's just not as many people renting cars these days, and instead are relying on Disney transportation to get them from/to the airport and the parks.

It's our first night, so of course we had to go to Epcot! We didn't get there until almost 7:00, and first thing we had to do was get a new Annual Pass for me, since mine expired in November. It's very nice having the DVC member discount on that - saved us about $100!

Our first stop was Spaceship Earth, since we haven't seen the new version of it. I've seen a lot of less than favorable reviews of it but I thought that it's not that bad, and actually some of the narration made us chuckle - like the reference to the first "backups" provided by the Jewish and Middle Eastern scholars. We thought the whole interactive section at the end was kind of fun, though I can see that it would get old quickly. We ended up vacationing in spaceships in the future, as you can see below. Though the coolest thing was when we went to email the postcard to ourselves, and the face recognition stuff actually picked out our correct photo all by itself!

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The games down underneath looked fun - we played the "shuffleboard" energy game, and Lee tried the game that tested his reaction time, memory, and hand-eye coordination. It's a lot harder than it looks!

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And Lee wants me to point out that we were riding attractions at Disneyland yesterday and at WDW today.

On the way into World Showcase we passed the Stitch topiary - the first of many that I will photograph this week. :-)

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Since today was Cinco de Mayo we HAD to stop and get frozen margaritas at the stand in Mexico. It was really a very nice evening to be outside in shorts and t-shirt - while I wouldn't want to be doing vigorous exercise, it was quite comfortable for walking - even walking at our (fast) pace.

We had dinner at our traditional first night spot - Tangierine Cafe. They no longer have the Shawarma sandwiches, but I think the wraps are just as good. I had a chicken wrap and Lee had the lamb platter. We sat outside where we could hear Mo'rockin's last performance of the evening - could even see a bit of them.

And of course it's not a first night at Epcot if we don't watch Illuminations! There weren't too many people in the park, and we got a pretty good spot in Norway about 5 minutes before the show started. We love that show.

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Afterwards it was very strange to be walking out to the *front* of the park...normally we're walking out the International Gateway! There's a lot more people who go out the front! :-) And we saw a number of Cast Members wearing Mickey gloves who were saying good night and waving goodbye to people as we left.

So tomorrow...who knows what I'll be doing tomorrow? There's a good chance Disney buses and theme parks will be involved, though. :-)

May 7, 2008

My Bonus Trip to Walt Disney World - Part 2

Lee got up bright and early at 7:00 (which is VERY early when you just came from the west coast!) and kissed me goodbye when he left for his conference. I'm trying not to gloat too much about this whole "you're working and I'm not" thing... :-)

I actually got up not too long after he left and went out for a walk around the resort area - it was a very *bright* morning, but really comfortable for walking. I brought my runner's GPS with me on this trip, and I know that I walked 3.5 miles (you can walk a lot of miles on all of those serpentine paths in the Alligator Bayou area.

It was really a very nice walk - I saw a fair number of joggers on the main paths, and lots of bunnies and ducks. And I enjoyed the reflections in the Sassagoula River.

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I walked down to Port Orleans French Quarter, also - I'd never noticed King Neptune riding the sea serpent at the pool before. Of course, that may be because he was hidden by palm fronds...he may be King of the Ocean, but apparently he has no lordship over trees!

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I did something this morning that I have never done before - I bought a refillable mug! We're usually at the Boardwalk where it just isn't convenient to use one. We'll see if I get my $12.50 (plus tax) out of this one. So far I've gotten two drinks.

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And then I did something else I hardly ever do...took a bus to Epcot! That just seemed so wrong somehow. :-) I waited maybe 10 minutes. Though it was weird that the first three buses that came by were all going to Blizzard Beach and Animal Kingdom. Not too many people riding any of the buses at that time of morning (about 11:30). The Port Orleans bus stop at Epcot is one of the closest ones to Epcot's entrance.

The Flower and Garden Festival has a surf theme this year, and the topiaries inside the front entrance reflect that. And I loved the background music - it's all Beach Boys songs! I couldn't help singing long as I walked through there - and I wasn't the only one.

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At Epcot I did something else I've never done - got a Fastpass for Mission:Space - I'd never ridden it before. I had about 50 minutes to kill so I rode Test Track using the Singles line - I walked right into the briefing room (briefing was almost over) and then had just two other Singles in front of me, so that certainly didn't take long. I was watching the speed indicator on my GPS, which was kind of freaking out during the speed loop. :-) It thinks that my fastest pace today was a 51 second/mile pace - so that's pretty consistent with the 64 mph maximum speed you supposedly get on the ride.

I visited Minnie's Butterfly Garden, which is always one of my Festival favorites. Not too many really colorful/unusual butterflies were out at this time, though.

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After I rode Journey into your Imagination it was time to use my Mission:Space fastpass. Interestingly enough, it was the first time for all four of us inside my pod - two other ladies were a bit nervous about it, but we all worked together and it was a successful mission. I was the Navigator. I really enjoyed the ride - even without the spinning the motion simulator sensations were interesting.

I always enjoy playing the Space Race game in the post-ride area, and a game was just starting when I got off the ride. I uploaded 19 fixes, which I think is a new record for me - I came within about a second of getting to 20. My team, Orion, won the race. :-)

I had about 20 minutes to get from there to the American Adventure pavilion, where I wanted to see Voices of Liberty at 2:00. Which reminds me...The weather was really great today - it was supposed to be 90, but I don't think it got higher than 85, and it wasn't very humid. I made it with 5 minutes to spare - even stopped to take a few pictures on the way.

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And the crowds were fairly minimal, too - 20 minute standby lines for Test Track and Mission:Space, though of course Soarin' had a 60 minute wait, and Spaceship Earth, since it was still morning, was 35 minutes.

The Voices of Liberty performed America the Beautiful, Yankee Doodle, Oh Susanna, and, one that I'd never heard from them before, Old Man River. Oh my...that was awesome, and gave me chills. About half the singers were new to me, including the bass who sang the solo on Old Man River. Incredible voice.

I did something else I'd never done - ate at the Liberty Inn. I had the Vegetable Wrap with apple slices - and I threw on some more tomato slices and lettuce from the topping bar. It was pretty tasty - it was lettuce, chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, shredded carrots, a big slice of zucchini, and mild roasted red peppers wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. It needed some dressing, though...I put some mustard in mine.

The Spirit of America Fife & Drum Corps was just starting their set as I was finishing eating. In addition to some other patriotic tunes they played a medley of all four of the military service anthems - The Caissons Go Rolling Along (Army), From the halls of Montezuma (Marine Corps), Anchors Aweigh (Navy), and Wild Blue Yonder (Air Force).

By then it was 2:40, and I had planned to see the Block Party Bash parade over at the Studios at 3:00. Not even I can make it from the American Adventure to the Studios (over 1.5 miles) in 20 minutes - but I did it in about 25.

Unlike any of the other Studios parades that I remember, this one starts from the end of Hollywood Blvd near Sid Cahuenga's, rather than from Star Tours. So it effectively blocks the entrance for people trying to come into the park. They were routing people over to Sunset Boulevard via the super-secret gate by Oscar's Gas Station (normally used by people who have the Fantasmic! dinner package).

People were lined up at least 2-3 deep all around the parade route - I never saw it that crowded at DCA (which is where it came from), even when it was new. Nice to see people in Florida enjoying it. I think it was pretty much the same as the version in California, though it seemed a little shorter, but I couldn't tell you why.

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One cool thing I noticed before the parade - Cast Members had different activities set up along the parade route before it started to entertain the kids - I saw hopscotch, a limbo contest, and bubble blowing, among other things.

Lisa Berton called me as I was on my way to the bus stop - she'd also seen the Block Party Bash, so I just missed her at the Studios. We're going to try to meet up tomorrow, and for sure plan to get together on Thursday.

I took a short break back in the room - downloaded photos and worked on this blog entry mostly. Lee's conference had a private party at Animal Kingdom tonight, but he came back to the room to change clothes and drop stuff off. On the way to Animal Kingdom he dropped me at the Boardwalk and I walked back to Epcot from there. It's almost exactly 1/3 of a mile from the Boardwalk lobby to the International Gateway.

I arrived at the America Gardens theater about 10 minutes before The Tokens took the stage - there were still PLENTY of seats left. And who are The Tokens, you might ask? I wondered that, too. They are best known for "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", a song they recorded about 40 years ago! They really put on a good show, though most of the songs they performed were hits they produced for *other* artists, like The Chiffons (He's so Fine and One Fine Day) and Tony Orlando and Dawn (Candida). They did a really fun version of Wipeout (pictured) where they all put on surfer shirts. The show was 30 minutes long, but didn't seem that long at all - I wish they could have played longer.

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While I was walking up towards Future World I took this sunset photo...

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Dinner was from Sunshine Seasons - I had the rotisserie chicken dinner, and picked up some chocolate mousse cake and a chocolate brownie that Lee and I can share later.

According to my GPS I walked about 11 miles...It was One Fine Day!

May 8, 2008

My Bonus Trip to Walt Disney World - Part 3

Lee decided he was going to stick around the room for a while this morning and do work stuff - he had a bunch of email that had come in over the last couple of days that he was working through. And since he *is* working this week, unlike some of us...

I showed him where the Riverside Mill & Market (aka the food court) was located, and asked him to pick up a cinnamon roll for me - they have really yummy cinnamon rolls here! Flaky and cinnamony and not too much frosting. I went out and walked/ran for 45 minutes. It was a little warmer and much more humid this morning than yesterday. Whew.

I called Lisa Berton about 9:30 to find out where she was, and left a message. Lee was still working when I left. I decided to let Fate decide where I would go, and took the first bus that showed up, which happened to be to Blizzard Beach and Animal Kingdom. (I had no wait for the bus, and in fact had to hustle a bit to catch it!).

Expedition Everest was my first stop, since I have a friend who is working there now. Unfortunately he had just gone on his break, so I rode Everest using the Singles line. That was quick, and in fact the Standby line was only 20 minutes at that point. It's still a great ride...and I still feel like I'm going upside-down during the backwards, in-the-dark part. Very disorienting, but not unpleasant. I wandered over towards Theater in the Wild - it was 10:30, but people were already lined up for the 11:30 Nemo show! That's a bit extreme, I think...the park wasn't *that* busy.

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Lisa called me and I arranged to met her over at the Magic Kingdom, and then I went and found my Cast Member friend. He was working, of course, so it was a short chat, but it was nice to see him! Lee and I will probably get over there on Friday (Lee reallly likes Animal Kingdom) and we'll see him again then.

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I sort of let Fate decide my next step, too...since I was going to the Magic Kingdom I actually had three bus choices: Grand Floridian/Wilderness Lodge, Transportation and Ticket Center, and Polynesian/Contemporary. The latter arrived first, so I took it. I was the only one on the bus until we stopped at Blizzard Beach and picked up two other people. The first resort stop was the Contemporary, so I walked to Magic Kingdom from there. And took this picture of the under-construction-tower-which-everyone-knows-is-a-new- DVC-resort-but-Disney-won't-confirm-it.

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Met Lisa outside the Exposition Hall, she'd been taking photos for AllEars and her photo blog. She wanted to take some more in Fantasyland, and she needed a model, so I got drafted. :-) We went to Dumbo - and this was yet another "first time" experience for me on this trip - I'd never ridden Dumbo at the Magic Kingdom before. The line was about 25 minutes, but we were chatting and the time went quickly. I got the same color Dumbo that I had at Disneyland on Sunday - the bright blue one.

And there were these two Wild Animals in a cage near the ride...

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We got Fastpasses for Pooh (even it had just at 30 minute Standby) and had lunch at Cosmic Ray's. I had a veggie burger and made good use of the toppings bar...the sauteed onions were especially good.

It was not quite time for our Pooh Fastpasses, and I'd told Lisa that I liked the Buzz Lightyear ride, so she suggested that. It had less than a 5 minute wait. As we got to the last turn in the queue we noticed Dream Team members with a stack of what looked like lanyards...but they weren't handing them out yet. Darn. Once we got off the ride we went around again, and they were handing them out, so Lisa and I got Dreamed!

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We won a pass for an event tonight called Magic Kingdom Special Park Dream Time Event. On the back it says:

Congratulations!

Have you ever dreamed of staying in a Disney park after closing time to experience the magic just a little bit longer?

Well, that dream is about to come true during tonight's Special Park Dream Time Event - created just for you as part of the 2008 Disney Dreams Giveaway.

Join us in Tomorrowland at MAGIC KINGDOM® Park just after the Park closes for the Special Park Dream Time Event kick-off.

(There's a whole bunch of conditions and disclaimers, but I'm not going to type those.)

To be honest, I was expecting it to be a Dream Fastpass, so I didn't ask if I could have one for Lee. When we got off the ride I saw a Cast Member at the Photo counter who had several in his hand, and I asked if he knew where I might be able to get one for my husband, who wasn't with me. So he just handed one to me. I think I probably could have gone to Guest Relations, but it was nice to not have to do that!

So now the question was: What exactly had we won? It's not very specific. Lisa asked a Cast Member at a Photo kiosk - he didn't know, but he called someone. That person didn't know either, so he called someone else, and was told that it was Tomorrowland only, and only for an hour after park closing. I guess we'll find out more tonight. Lee and I had talked about going to MK tonight anyways, to see the Wishes fireworks, which I really enjoy. And *they* don't get canceled frequently like certain fireworks shows in California which shall remain nameless.

I left after that - Lisa was going to go photograph "it's a small world" - which is something I've never done at Magic Kingdom, because I refuse to do it. :-) Besides, I'd promised myself some pool time today!!!

I was surprised to see that Port Orleans - French Quarter and Port Orleans - Riverside had separate bus stops. The French Quarter bus was already there, and since there was *no one* in line for the Riverside bus I figured I'd just missed it. Besides, it's a nice walk between the two along the Sassagoula River. (Nicer when it's not close to 90 outside, though.)

Our room is in Acadian House, and only 50 yards or so from one of the quiet pools. There weren't very many people there, but I discovered there are no towels there, either - you had to go to the main pool on Ol' Man Island to get them. That's a bit inconvenient! I was headed that direction anyway since I was going to use my refillable mug (refill #4 for those keeping track - Lee used it for coffee this morning) to get some iced tea.

I had some nice sun and reading time, and went in the pool to get wet, but the pool was so warm that it wasn't very refreshing - I cooled off more from evaporation when I got out of the pool than I did when I was in it!

This will probably be it for my blog entry today, since with the MK event tonight I'll be getting back a little too late to blog tonight, especially since Commando Lisa wants me to meet her bright and early at Epcot tomorrow. Of course she's going to this thing tonight, too... :-)

Let's see...I did 3.6 miles this morning, and an additional 6.3 miles up until now. Not quite up to the 12 I did yesterday, but there's still tonight!

May 9, 2008

My Bonus Trip to Walt Disney World - Part 4: We Got Dreamed!

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry, Lisa and I received lanyards entitling us to admission to some kind of after-hours event at the Magic Kingdom last night, but we didn't actually know what it was going to be.

Lee didn't get back to the room until after 7:00...we decided to eat here at Riverside instead of at the Magic Kingdom (we wanted to get to the MK in time to see the fireworks at 9:00).

We both decided to have the roast turkey dinner - it was *real* turkey breast, carved right before our eyes, and served with corn bread, and choice of two sides: mashed potatoes, corn, or mixed vegetables. It was actually really quite good - we both had the potatoes and the veggies. The corn bread was just a little sweet and had pieces of corn in it. And the price was quite reasonable, too - $8.99.

It was almost 8:00 by the time we got out to the bus stop, and found a bunch of other folks waiting for the MK bus, also. Apparently they had been waiting for a while, since the bus got quite a cheer when it arrived. Fortunately we all fit on the bus, though it was standing room only.

We staked out a spot about half way between the hub and the ice cream shop for Wishes - we could have gotten closer but we know from past experience that it's possible to be *too* close. This turned out to be a really good place.

What can I say...Wishes is a wonderful fireworks show. So many different kinds of fireworks, and the beautiful light show that goes on on the castle iself is great. I think Disneyland's Remember...Dreams Come True is a little bit better, in terms of the integration of the castle lighting projections, music, and fireworks, but Wishes is a whole lot more reliable - barring something like a hurricane I don't think it gets canceled.

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We waited for the traffic to subside before going to Tomorrowland, which was where we were supposed to be for the start of the Dream event. We arrived just as they were counting down to the start of it (it started at 9:30), and people starting streaming out of the fenced-in area.

Apparently if you arrived at 9:00 like they told you to (but we wanted to see the fireworks) they put you in a fenced-in area once you showed your lanyard. There was a stage and a DJ playing music, and Mickey and Minnie were there, too. I assume they told people about what was going to happen, and what would be open, but we missed that part. Fortunately, Cast Members were handing out a special event Entertainment Schedule (just like the usual ones you pick up in all of the parks) which had information on the event - including important details on how long it was (9:30-10:30) and what attractions were open.

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Lisa and I were told earlier in the day that only Tomorrowland was open, but that wasn't the case - there were attractions open all over the park! That's a lot of ground to cover in just an hour. Lisa had called Mike Scopa earlier who did some Googling and found that they only give out 9600 lanyards the day of the event, and of course not all of those people attend, so the park seemed pretty empty.

Our first ride was Buzz Lightyear, since Lee hadn't yet done it this trip...and it actually had a line, and we had to wait for at least a minute to get on. :-) We *really* miss the removable laser cannons that they have in California.

Remember that I said the park seemed pretty empty? That made things even spookier over at the Haunted Mansion. One nice thing about it was that we could hear all the sounds coming from the mansion, which you normally can't hear over all the noise from the people. Wolves howling and stuff like that.

We split up after that - Lee and I rode Thunder Mountain, which seemed especially fast and more of a thrill than the one in California (which we just rode on Sunday). Or maybe it was because we aren't used to the ups and downs and turns here like we are there. It was fun. Lisa went to Pirates of the Caribbean, and after we finished on Thunder Mountain Lee and I went there too - that was our last ride of the evening since it was just after 10:30 by the time we got off. Sigh...the hour went much too fast! And hour and a half, or even two hours, would have been much better!

On our way back to Main Street we saw this:

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Who knew that they let homeless people sleep inside the Magic Kingdom? :-)

On our way out of the park, Mickey and Minnie were waving goodbye from the train station, and some management type was talking and thanking us for coming, etc. It really was a nice event - just too short!

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We said goodbye to Lisa and went to our respective bus stops. Lee and I stopped at the Food Court on the way back to our room to pick up some dessert - I had ice cream and he had a brownie. They aren't as good as the brownies from the Boardwalk Bakery, though.

So that finally brings us to today. After breakfast Lee dropped me off at the Boardwalk and I walked into Epcot via the International Gateway. I called Lisa, who was still finishing up with her packing (since she was going home this evening), but she said she'd call me when she arrived at the park.

So I wandered around the park enjoying the flowers and the topiaries, and taking some pictures. Over in Norway I noticed something I'd never noticed before...look closely at the upper window in the right hand side.

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There were trolls in this window, and in many of the other windows around the Norway pavilion. I didn't realize that this was a troll couple until I unloaded the pictures off my camera! There was also a troll couple perched on the Stave Church.

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I did another (successful) training mission at Mission:Space (green, non-spinning side, of course!), and Lisa called me after that. We sampled some beverages in Club Cool, and as we were walking back towards World Showcase we noticed they were setting up for some kind of a shoot. Lots of people and cameras and lights. It was a promo for the High School Musical - Get in the Picture thing that is touring the country - we saw the setup they had at DCA last weekend. Lisa pointed out Nick Lachey - good thing she knew who he was, since I never would have known. :-)

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We wandered back towards the UK pavilion, taking pictures of flowers and topiaries. We went into one of the shops in the UK and noticed a quiz posted next to the cash register, with questions like: "Name 5 Disney movies set in the UK", and "Where does the P.M. live?" The Cast Member there gave us a "Certifiable Magical Moment" certificate for participating in the UK Quiz, and told us there were additional quizzes in the other UK shops.

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We checked in at Rose & Crown where we had a lunch reservation. Lisa had the Fish & Chips - the chef came out before her meal to discuss her dietary restrictions, and then he personally delivered her meal to the table! He was pretty cute, too. :-) I had the Vegetable Curry, and that was pretty tasty.

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After lunch we visited the other UK shops and found two more quizzes - one of them had a list of American words, and we were supposed to come up with the UK equivalent. Like "elevator" is "lift", and "vacation" is "holiday". Some of themn we had no clue about, like "pacifier", "eggplant" (eggplant???), and "bun". Unfortunately the CM in that shop wasn't into it at all - she just told us what the answers were, and didn't offer to give us a certificate.

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I said goodbye to Lisa then, and went back to Riverside for some relaxation time. It seemed hotter today than yesterday, and I was getting a little too warm.

It was nice to have several relaxing hours to nap and read! Lee came back and picked me up and then we both went back to Coronado Springs where one of his co-workers was having an impromptu pizza and beer party on the beach behind the cabana he was staying in. I really like Coronado Springs, even though I've never stayed there. I was hoping we'd get in there this time, but it was sold out of conference rooms by the time we booked.

Lee doesn't have any conference events on his schedule tomorrow, so we'll spend the day doing whatever he wants to do since it's his only day to play...AK and Epcot for sure, maybe the Studios.

May 11, 2008

My Bonus Trip to WDW - Part 5

You can blame commando Lee for the fact that there was no blog entry yesterday. Since it was his only day to play in the parks he made the most of it - we got a short afternoon break back in the room, but that was it.

We started our day with a three mile walk around the resort area - it was warm and muggy already. After breakfast (and after he did some work stuff) we drove to Animal Kingdom. It was a lot more crowded than when I was there on Wednesday - the standby lines were double what I experienced.

After we got Fastpasses for the Safari we visited the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Where we learned the first of several new things that I learned that day: Never get into a staring contest with a Komodo Dragon. They only close their eyes to sleep or to protect them from the sun.

The tigers were doing what tigers do best - sleeping. Though at least they were sacked out right up against the windows of the viewing area so people could see them.

Over at Expedtion Everest we asked for our CM friend - and of course he was on his break. A nice CM went and found him, though, and we had a brief chat before he had to go back to work. Lee and I went to see the Flights of Wonder show. Which we've seen many times, but we still enjoy it. There was a new (and much younger) actress playing Guano Jane this time. And even a few new jokes and puns. We also saw some different birds - instead of the crow who usually does the dollar bill schtick, it was a parrot. And this particular parrot was fairly new, and hadn't mastered the part about returning the money - he kept putting it back into the trainer's pocket. :-) Eventually Guano Jane had to take it back, doing her best flapping her arms bird imitation. Which was pretty scary, actually.

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And here we learned a second new thing...there was a grackel who had taken offense at some of the birds in the show and was dive-bombing the owl and the Harris hawk when they were out - even though they were much larger than he was! The trainer said this behavior is called "mobbing", and the birds do it in defense of their nesting areas. It didn't seem to bother the larger birds very much, though.

The standby line for the Safari was approching an hour - we're used to zooming right on with Fastpasses, but even the Fastpass line was backed up quite a ways. Once we got to the point where the Fastpass and Standby lines merged it stopped completely, since there were no jeeps showing up! After about 10 minutes they finally announced that there was a "wildebeest migration on the savanna" that had delayed the jeeps. One finally showed up...and then there were no more for another 10 minutes. It was definitely the longest I've ever waited for a safari when I had a Fastpass!.

The safari itself was just ok - not as many animals as we sometimes see, though quite a few on the savanna. Where we learned something else that was new - the male sable antelope are darker, almost black, while the females are the lighter brown color.

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In Pangani Forest the four gorillas in the bachelor troop were all out and moving around - that was quite a treat to see all of them!

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One of them picked up a branch and carried it around before sitting down to strip the bark off and eat it.

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Before we left the park we rode Everest (where our friend collected our Fastpasses!), and then had ice cream from the colorful truck there. It was melting pretty fast on such a warm day! I think they have the best soft-serve in the parks.

Back at the room we relaxed for a little while and made a late lunch out of the cold pizza Lee's coworkers had insisted we take the night before. I went through some photos and we took a short nap before leaving again around 5:00 - this time we took the bus.

We didn't have to wait too long for the bus and soon were on our way to the Studios. We noticed that the pre-recorded bus spiel that plays automagically when you get close to the park still talks about the Stars and Motorcars Parade, which is no longer running. Oops.

I'm not quite sure why Lee wanted to go to the Studios, since it's our least favorite park, but it was his day to do what he wanted. Lines here were pretty minimal - posted 10 minute standbys for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. Though the queue for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster completely stopped moving not long after we got in it - no explanation as to why, but after 5-10 minutes it started moving again and we rode with no further incident. We were starting to think we were a jinx! (Why does everyone feel like they have to run their hands over those glass doors at the ride's entrance? Does anyone else find it as annoying as I do?)

After we'd twisted and turned on the streets of L.A. and made a visit to the Twilight Zone, we walked around the park a bit, and rode Star Tours, which only had a 5 minute wait. As we headed out of the park there were a lot of groups of kids coming in - there were signs posted for some kind of Disney-Josten's Grad Night event. Even though it was 7:00 by then the sun hadn't gone down and it was still quite warm. Very different than the weather in California where it just doesn't stay hot all afternoon and evening!

We walked to Epcot from there - it had Extra Magic Hours that night and would be open until midnight. And besides we'd only walked about 8 miles so far that day. ;-) It seemed very strange to be walking past the Boardwalk and not going into it, though.

Once inside Epcot we got our Extra Magic Hour wristbands and caught Off Kilter's final set of the evening and got dinner from the Fish and Chips shop in the UK pavilion. They seemed to have changed the brand of malt vinegar they use - it didn't have much of a bite to it at all. We sat on a curb and listened to British Invasion while we were eating. They performed several songs from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I think British Invasion has been performing together longer than the Beatles did.

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After the show an AllEars reader (who noticed the logo on the shirt I was wearing) came over to talk to me for a few minutes. Unfortunately I forgot to ask her name, but if she's reading this, it was nice chatting with you!

Over in France we got in line at the Patisserie to get something for dessert before Illuminations. We both had the chocolate mousse, which was pretty good. There were a lot more people in the park than when we were here Monday night, but we still found a spot in our favorite area near Germany, and the people in front of us obligingly remained seated on the ground for the entire show!

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Most people were headed out of the park but we went into the Seas pavilion and rode the Nemo ride. Man, that is a looooong queue!!! Fortunately it was pretty empty, and we just kept walking all the way to the loading area. The ride is cute - I liked the starfish that's up against the glass at the end who talks to you - one of her comments was something like "I saw 18,352 people yesterday!" Lee wanted to "talk turtle" so we went in to see "Turtle Talk with Crush", and that was fun, as always.

From there we Jouneyed into Our Imaginations. And watched the fountains outside, which were very pretty at night.

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At 10:30 at night Spaceship Earth actually had a line, though it was only a few minutes long. There were several people in line with us who did NOT have wristbands, but the CMs weren't checking, and let them on anyways (we noticed that at Imagination, also). So much for a "Resort Guest Only" event...Once we got on the ride we discovered we'd apparently managed to break another ride...though we could hear Judi Dench's narration, the rest of the audio soundtrack was silent. So no music or instructions, and it was sort of eerily silent when Judi Dench wasn't talking.

The computer in the Project Tomorrow area wasn't as good with its facial recognition this time and we had to tell it which photo was ours. A photo I would have included here, but it doesn't seem to have been emailed to me - which is what happened with the first one, too.

It was almost 11:00 by then, and we were tired, so we headed to the bus stop. The Port Orleans bus was there, but there was a line - I thought there was no way we'd get on but we did - and there were even 10-15 people who got on after we did. Standing room only of course, but it's a pretty short ride. We were back at the room about 11:15. Kind of a long park day for us, though! But it's all Lee's fault. :-)

We walked about 13 miles yesterday.

So today was departure day...sigh. We went to breakfast at Boatwright's. Lee had the Sweet Potato Pancakes and I had the French Toast. The French Toast was actually *real* French toast, made with thick slices of French bread. Of course then it was battered and deep fried and coated with sugar...but it was really good. :-)

Since we only had carry-on bags I suggested we get our boarding passes printed at the resort. This took a lot longer than I thought it would because of some problems with people ahead of us in line, and Lee was grumpusing at me for wanting to do it. But I looked like a genius when we got to the airport and the Continental check-in line was insanely long.

By the way...I was not real happy with Advantage Car Rental - they are off-site and we waited over 15 minutes for the shuttle to the airport - and there were people ahead of us that had waited longer than that. They couldn't get everyone who was waiting on the bus, either. They said that they only had two shuttle buses. Not good.

Some final thoughts...

It was very nice of Lee to take me with him to enjoy myself while he worked - thank you, dear. :-)

Though I missed being within walking distance of a theme park, I really liked a lot of things about Port Orleans Riverside. It's a lovely setting, and the paths around the resort are nice for walking/running - just not quite long enough. Lee and I thought there should be a path all the way along the river that connects it to Old Key West, and then to Saratoga Springs and Downtown Disney. The room was comfortable, though it was very inconvenient to have the outlet for the internet connection behind the nightstand rather than over next to the table. And I could've done without the annoying sound of the turbo-toilets flushing overhead - we were on the bottom floor, and one night I think I heard it 8 times between midnight and 7:00. The bus service was good - I never waited more than 10 minutes, and usually it was less than 5 whether I was at the resort or a theme park.

The Food Court was great, though - SO much better than anything available at any of the DVC resorts. There was really quite a selection with all of the different stations - you could order an omelet made-to-order at breakfast, and pasta and salads made-to-order the rest of the day. There were sandwiches and pizza and grilled items available, also, and I already raved about the turkey dinner. The bakery section was pretty good, too - the cinnamon rolls were especially delicious. And I thought the prices were very reasonable, also. And I enjoyed using my refillable mug. :-)

It seemed to be a good time to be at WDW, at least from a crowd standpoint. Mid-week (Monday-Thursday) the crowds were minimal - even at Magic Kingdom. The weather was pretty good, too. Not even a hint of rain, and the heat/humidity was not too bad, even for this wimpy southern Californian (though it got progressively warmer as the week went on and by yesterday afternoon I was starting to drag.) It is very nice not to even have to think about carrying a jacket at night, though!

I enjoyed the displays of Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival - there were a lot of topiaries that were new to me. Though I was disappointed in the Rose Walk this year - there didn't seem to be as many rose bushes, and not as much of a variety of roses, either. I enjoyed the Flower Power concert I attended. And I really wish our trip had been one day longer - I could've seen Davy Jones (I hear he puts on a great show), and we could've gone to the Toy Story Mania Annual Passholder Preview. Oh well...it'll be opening in California next month.

Speaking of Flower and Garden Festival...AllEars reader Susan tells me: "As part of the Flower and Garden Festival trolls have been hidden all through Norway." So that explains the ones that I noticed. I'm glad that I haven't just been unobservant all these years! :-) Thanks for the information, Susan!

It was really cool to get "dreamed", and to be able to attend the "Special Park Dream Time Event- event at the Magic Kingdom!

As usual, I didn't have nearly as much time to relax as I thought I would...though every day it was my plan to be back at the resort by 2:00 I never made it - though I came close on Thursday. There's just never enough time to do everything.

Thanks for reading!

May 22, 2008

Disneyland - Upcoming Events

Here's some info on some upcoming events at Disneyland...

Annual Passholder previews for Toy Story Mania will be June 9-12. Unfortunately, unlike AP previews at Walt Disney World, you can't just show up with your AP and get in - AP holders must register on the Disneyland.com web site ( http://www.disneyland.com/ap) and then be selected by lottery. I've got my name in, but I'm unlucky with these things... I'll know around June 2, though. The attraction officially opens on Tuesday, June 17.

There *is* a Passholder preview event open to *all* Passholders, though -- special viewing of the Innoventions Dream Home. Here are the dates:
June 17 - 8:00-9:00 a.m.
June 18 - 8:00-9:00 a.m.
June 19 - 8:00-9:00 a.m.
June 20 - 8:00-9:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.
June 21 - 8:00-9:00 a.m.
June 22 - 8:00-9:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.

According to the AP web site, this is what's inside:

"Discover a 5,000-square-foot home of the future inhabited by the dynamic Elias family and learn how the technology of today -- and the technology of tomorrow -- seamlessly interconnects within the home, the surrounding community and the whole world.

* Help the Elias family celebrate their son's recent soccer victory and plan their upcoming trip to China for the World Championship.

* Explore this beautiful Taylor Morrison Home and sample the benefits of a digital lifestyle provided by Microsoft, HP and Lifeware.

* Visit the adjacent party tent and explore new technology in a fun, hands-on environment."

Starting May 22, the Indiana Jones Summer of Hidden Mysteries begins at Disneyland. You can read more about it in this press release. It sounds like a lot of fun: "random acts of Indy" in Adventureland, following a map with clues to find artifacts and symbols, special Indy-themed surprises on the Jungle Cruise, and a new photo op location. There's also going to be a new show called Indiana Jones and the Secret of the Stone Tiger. It will be presented in the Aladdin's Oasis area, replacing (at least temporarily) Aladdin and Jasmine's show. I hope to see that (and some of the other new Indy stuff!) on Monday.

Tickets for this year's Halloween party at DCA are now on sale. The event has been renamed this year, from Mickey's Halloween Treat to Mickey's Trick-or-Treat Party. Other than the name change it sounds the same, though. Still no fireworks show or a real parade -- they are still calling it a "Character Cavalcade". I hope that will be at least slightly expanded from last year. Discounted tickets are available to Annual Passholders for selected dates only, and *all* tickets for the party on October 31 are priced at the day-of-event price of $37. There's more information on the Halloween party page on AllEars:
http://allears.net/dlr/tp/dca/mh t.htm

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About May 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Salute to All Things Disney but Mostly Disneyland in May 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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