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November 1, 2009

Guest Blog: Observations from a First Time Disneyland Visitor

"So, what did you think?"
Observations (and photos) from a first time visitor to Disneyland
by AllEars® Team Member Cathy Bock

"So, what did you think?" - I've been asked that question several times since returning from my first trip to Disneyland. Short answer, I loved it! Going to the original Disney park has been a dream of mine since the days of watching Walt speak of it on Sunday nights. Having been to Walt Disney World multiple times, I wondered if Disneyland would be as exciting as I had anticipated for all these years. Well, once I walked under the train track and left today behind, I was hooked!

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Main Street: It felt familiar - different shops and restaurants in different places - but the same general feeling of Main Street WDW, a return to another place and time. I had been warned that Sleeping Beauty castle is smaller than Cinderella Castle in Florida. So that didn't surprise me when I turned the corner and saw it for the first time. Honestly, I expected to be disappointed. What I saw, however, was a simpler, yet charming castle, that I would stop to gaze at time after time. Walking through it for the first time with the realization that this is where Walt walked, that's as good as it gets for this Disney parks geek!

The early morning castle:

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The cloudy afternoon castle:

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Lay of the Land: Exploring the park was a bit surreal - things were similar enough to feel comfortable but different enough to be an adventure. Being in a new park meant relying on a map! Where are the Pirates? How do I get to Fantasyland? And where the heck are the bathrooms? Then there were Critter Country and New Orleans Square - new lands to explore. I'm sure I took the long way around a few times but by the end of the trip, I had my bearings. It helps that Disneyland is a bit smaller than the Magic Kingdom and the attractions are a bit closer to one another.

Halloween: Such a great time to visit the parks. Last year, we were at WDW in October and thoroughly enjoyed the decorations and Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. Likewise, Disneyland was all decked out for the holiday. Hands down, the highlight of the Halloween spirit at DL are the attraction overlays - Haunted Mansion Holiday and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy. Both are extremely well done! That being said, I absolutely adored Haunted Mansion Holiday - an overwhelming "WOW" and straight back to the entrance for another ride. (And I would return twice more.) Ghost Galaxy was the opposite but that's not the fault of the ghost. I confess to not being a Space Mountain fan in the first place, and haven't been on the WDW version in a couple of years. But I'd heard that Disneyland's version is smoother and has a better sound system, and besides, I wanted to see the ghost. I did it, I survived it, won't do it again. I liked the ghost effect but the ride itself just isn't for me. If you're a Space Mountain enthusiast, go for it! Halloween Screams - the fireworks show for the season - was also very well done. Lots of villains and hosted by Jack Skellington. I liked it as well as Hallowishes from last year at WDW.

Another highlight for me was the Big Thunder Ranch area, filled with carved pumpkins and Halloween decorations. The ranch also features a petting area with goats and sheep, which was a nice treat.

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Disney's California Adventure was also decorated for Halloween. I didn't get a chance to attend Mickey's Trick or Treat party but saw a lot of families heading into that park for the party. AllEars team member Lisa Berton attended the party and has a review HERE. MNSSHP at WDW is my favorite party so I would have liked to compare the two. Hmmm... maybe another trip?

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Fantasmic! This isn't one of my must-do attractions in Florida. Not that I dislike it, but I'd rather be sure to see Illuminations or Wishes. In Disneyland, there is no stadium for the show so folks start staking out spots well in advance. Luckily, we had gone the route of reserved dessert party seating, so other than standing in line to check in, we didn't have to spend a long time waiting for the show. I'm not sure I would have fought the crowds to see it - the area tends to be very congested even when folks are "on the move" and the crowds were very heavy on the nights we were in the park. Fortunately, the powers that be added a third show on those nights so that more visitors could enjoy it. The show is much the same as its Florida counterpart except for larger ships (LOVED the pirate ship!) and a new and improved dragon (even though it didn't breathe fire the night we were there). As with Florida, I liked it well enough but am not sure I'd camp out to see it.

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Other Highlights:

The Indiana Jones Adventure - a great fit for Adventureland. I'd love to see
this one in Florida.

Pirates of the Caribbean - now one of my favorites in two different parks.

"it's a small world" - the fa├žade is beautiful, and there is a cute outside show every quarter of the hour.

Splash Mountain - very similar to the Magic Kingdom's version and yes, I did get wet.

Toontown - exploring this land with the AllEars "Toons" was a blast!

AllEars Meet - thanks to all who came by to say hello - it was great to meet you and hear of your passion for the parks. And Lisa, it was fun to meet your posse!

Club 33 - never in my wildest dreams would I have expected my first trip to include this restaurant. Many thanks to those who made it possible.

Grand Californian Resort - a very pleasant surprise was the proximity to the parks. Take one exit and you're in Disney's California Adventure; take another exit and you're in Downtown Disney and within walking distance of Disneyland. No buses, no cars!

Disney's California Adventure - Unfortunately, I didn't get to spend as much time in this park as I'd have liked. Soarin' over California and the Tower of Terror were highlights - those are two of my favorite attractions anyway. It was nice to experience some unique attractions as well. Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue was too cute - great family fun. And the Aladdin Musical Spectacular was one of the best park shows I've ever seen. (and had comfy indoor seating!) This park has real potential, especially with the new attractions (Carsland, the Little Mermaid, World of Color). I'm looking forward to returning.

Other than Space Mountain, there were really no lowlights for me. It would have been nice to have lighter crowds or better weather. The first weekend was overcast and cool, the second weekend was sunny but hot. Neither the weather nor the crowds stopped the fun though.

So what did I think? For a while, I left today behind and entered a world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy. That, my friends, is the magic of Disney parks. My other expectations - clean park, friendly and helpful cast members, and a variety of attractions - were exceeded many times over.

Thanks Walt, I enjoyed your park.

2009 Epcot Food and Wine Festival - Day 3

We got started a little bit earlier today - we were out of the room by about 9:15. We had a private bus to Animal Kingdom! We had to run to catch it, but there was no one else on it, and we didn't pick anyone else up at Swan or Dolphin, either! The bus driver took us straight to AK instead of stopping at Blizzard Beach like they usually do.

It was another sunny day, but not as warm as it had been at the same time yesterday morning - though that didn't last. Animal Kingdom was relatively uncrowded when we arrived at 9:35 - there weren't even very many people back in Harambe when we went to get Safari Fastpasses.

Not too many options for breakfast at AK, so we went to Pizzafari. I had just yogurt and and a fruit cup, but Lee tried the breakfast pizza, which was topped with scrambled eggs, cheese, red and green peppers, and a white sauce. He said it was pretty good.

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We had some time before our Fastpass so we wandered around some of the animal exhibits. But there were no otters, no lemurs or cotton-top tamarins - we did see some kangaroos bouncing around, though.

When we went into the Fastpass line Lee was actually selected to carry the "time pass". There were a LOT more people back in Harambe than there had been 40 minutes earlier - the crowds were really picking up at Animal Kingdom.

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We had a pretty good safari - there were lots of elephants, and we even saw two of the cheetahs.

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The best part, though, was the male lion - he was awake and vocalizing - these little short roars that we think are called "chuffing". Our driver said it's a territorial thing where he's announcing his presence - and she said it had no doubt driven the neighboring warthogs deep into their burrows!

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There were lots of people on the Pangani Forest Trail - more than I've seen there in a long time. This meerkat was really taking its sentinel duties seriously - up on the highest point in the enclosure, and looking all around for threats.

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One of the male silverback gorillas on the bachelor side was carrying around a palm frond, then settled down with it - and the big silverback male on the other side was doing the same kind of thing.

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We took the train to Rafiki's Planet Watch, which we haven't done in a long time. We saw a big manure truck, and also one of the white rhinos in a backstage enclosure.

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Inside, one of the bird keepers had a Harris hawk named Storm. They think she is about 18 years old, and she's been blind for years - they think she was about 4 when she was rescued, suffering from a gunshot wound. :-( But she does just great even without her sight, and apparently is very calm and easy to handle, and does very well out in public. Beautiful bird.

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For Halloween, Planet Watch was doing a Special, Not Spooky promotion where they were extolling the virtues of spiders, bats, snakes, and other creepy crawlies.

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They've already put Prince Naveen to work - and his movie isn't even out yet!!! :-)

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They had decorated one of their lab areas for Halloween with lots of stuffed animals who were wearing Halloween hats and costumes - it was really cute.

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They were also holding a pumpkin-carving contest where guests were invited to vote for their favorite pumpkins done by various teams at Animal Kingdom.

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My favorite was this owl, done by the Bird Team, but another one that I thought was really clever was the face of a goat with part of an Animal Kingdom map hanging out of its mouth - the Mammal Team did that one. (That one is second from the right in the photo above.)

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They also had small pumpkins that kids could decorate with colored pens.

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And they had this critter out for guests to greet - he is an agouti, and comes from South America. He was perfectly happy to let people pet him as long as he had his celery sticks (which had peanut butter in them) to chew on!

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We enjoyed our time there - not something I'd want to do every time, but it was interesting, especially since they had special things going on for Halloween. Though we noticed that their goats didn't get to wear Halloween bandanas like the goats as Disneyland do! As we pulled back into the train station at Harambe this sign made me laugh.

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We went over to the Maharajah Jungle Trek in Asia. The Cast Member at the tapir exhibit cracked us up - he was doing his best Dr. Frankenstein imitation and talking about his greatest creation - the Frankentapir. :-) (Which, when you think about it, really does look like an animal designed by a committee.) The tigers were of course sleeping - the day had warmed up considerably. The white-cheeked gibbons (the ones that live in the "ruined temple" near Kali Rapids) were putting on a show, though - there are four of them - mom, dad, and their two daughters. The daughters were doing aerial acrobatics in the trees, and it was a lot of fun to watch. From the cast member we learned that the babies are blond when they are born, then they all turn black when they are about 7 months old, and then the females turn blond again a year or so later. The younger daughter is black now, while the older daughter is blond again.

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We watched the Flights of Wonder show and then took the bus back to the Epcot Resort area - we got off at the Beach Club since we were going to Epcot.

And then, guess what - it was time for Eating Around the World - Round 3! :-) We started at Morocco, where I had the Falafel Pita Pocket and Lee had the Kefta (Ground seasoned beef in a pita pocket). As far as serving size went, these were one of the better values of the Festival, but they were both a little dry.

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It was really a warm afternoon, which I guess kept the crowds down, because we never had too much of a wait at the food booths. At Louisiana I had the Crawfish Etouffe, which was quite tasty - though I would have enjoyed it more on a cooler day. And Lee had the Chicken and Andouille Gumbo, ditto. Actually the two also looked similar - can you tell which is which in the photos below? :-)

Crawfish Etoufee

Chicken and Andouille Gumbo

(The etoufee is the top photo, the gumbo is the bottom photo.)

We also had the Praline Bread Pudding which was quite good - though not as good as my friend Jan's! Lee also had an Abita Amber, which I had several sips of as well, and it was drinkable (coming from me that is high praise for a beer).

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Let's see...we watched the World Showcase Players in Italy perform an abbreviated version of Romeo and Edna because their "stage area" was in full sun. I don't blame them at all for cutting it short!

From the New Delhi booth I ordered what is called the Rice and Lentil Crepe with Potato and Onion Filling on the menu, but is called Rava Masala Dosa on the receipt. The crepe part is made to order so I had to wait a few minutes. Lee didn't really care for some spice that was in this, though I thought it was ok - not as good as the samosas and curried butternut squash that they have had in the past, though.

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Lee went to the China booth and came back with the Rice Pancake with Beef and two pork pot stickers. He said the rice pancake was good, but unusual - thicker with a heavier more solid texture than he expected. He covered it red pepper sauce, which impressed the cast member. :-)

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The pot stickers were, well, pot stickers. They were fine, but nothing exceptional.

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At that point we both wanted something cold and slushy - alcoholic was a bonus. :-) Lee got the frozen pina colada from the bar next to San Angel Cantina (we hadn't realized that they sold pina coladas in addition to margaritas!), and I had the frozen Dragon Berry Colada from Puerto Rico. Mine was a lot smaller than his, but it had more rum, too - he was wondering whether his had any alcohol at all! I enjoyed mine - it was mostly strawberry-flavored, and really it was just about the right size.

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We walked back to our room after that to take a break from the heat - and a nap. Tonight we went to the Party for the Senses at Epcot, but I'll have a whole separate report on that.

Other thoughts on today...it was Halloween, and there were a lot of people, both kids and adults, wandering around both Epcot and Animal Kingdom in costume - we were surprised to see that, since I didn't think adults were allowed in costume except at the Halloween parties at the Magic Kingdom. But maybe they bend the rules a little on Halloween itself.

We were also surprised at the big Halloween event going on at the Boardwalk - they had a stage set up on the back lawn with various craft stations set up, and there were also trick-or-treat stations set up along the Boardwalk. Mickey Mouse was there posing with kids and families - there was a huge line to see him. Like I said, we were surprised - we did not receive any literature on this at check-in, nor did I see anything posted in the lobby over the past couple of days. It was really nice for the resort to do this for the kids and families, though, since it was free!

It was another good day - though I wish it would cool off, but according to weather.com we're stuck with this for the remainder of our visit. Oh well...we'll be spending a lot of time inside at the Festival Center tomorrow since we are doing Sweet Sundays and two wine and cooking demonstrations.

November 2, 2009

2009 Epcot Food and Wine Festival - Day 4

I'd planned this to be a blog about Sweet Sundays, and the Culinary and Wine demonstrations we attended today but it's late and I'm too tired to finish writing about all of that, so for now I'm just going to do Eating Around the World - Round 4 instead. That's what we did tonight with Catherine after we met her along with several other RADP friends (Chad, Kerry, Kim, and Rob) when we were leaving the Festival Center after the last demo we attended.

It had been another very warm day, but it had cooled off nicely by 6:00 and was pretty comfortable. And the park wasn't very busy at all - most of the food booths had either no lines or very short lines, except for Germany - not sure why Germany's line was so long!

Anyway...since we were coming from Future World we started at Argentina, where Lee got the Beef Empanada. He enjoyed the empanada, but he said their beef skewer, which he sampled the other day, was "great".

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At the Cape Town booth Lee tried the Seared Beef Tenderloin with sweet potato puree and mango barbecue sauce. He said that was really good - very reminiscent of something you'd get at Boma. I tried the sweet potato and the sauce, and they were both very tasty.

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At Australia we tried the Seared Barramundi (that's a fish) with blistered cherry tomatoes, arugula and lemon oil. A little bland...the fish didn't have much flavor. Though it was nice to have something that wasn't beef, pork, or chicken!

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We also had the lamb chop with red wine sauce and Murray River sea salt. That was pretty good, though it's rather a small serving for $5.50.

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From the Hops and Barley booth both Catherine and Lee had beers - they were pretty happy about that. :-)

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I tried the Cosmo Slush from France - there was a line there, but it moved quickly. I enjoyed that - it's VERY red, though!

Both Lee and Catherine had something from Canada, but it was things we'd tried before so I didn't take any pictures. I had the chicken souvlaki from Greece - this was served on pita bread with tzatziki sauce. Pretty good, though the chicken was a bit dry.

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At Chile, we had the corn and cheese arepa - basically a corn meal cake with cheese. It was ok, but it needed some salsa or something. Lee used to make these at home - and his were better.

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While I was picking up the arepa, I saw the rock shrimp ceviche and decided I had to try that - it had popcorn on top! I asked about that, and was told that the popcorn somehow brought out the flavor. It was not bad, and had a little bit of a kick to it. Still, not something I would probably get again.

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We turned around and headed back around the way we had come, stopping at Canada to catch the last two songs of Off Kilter's set - we hadn't seen them at all on this trip. At Morocco I had a glass of sangria and a piece of baklava. The sangria was very good, and the baklava was also pretty good - not so syrupy and sticky as many are. I think it was made with pistachios.

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Our final stop for the evening was Louisiana where both Catherine and Lee got beers, and they split the praline bread pudding.

We finished our evening by meeting up with Rob and DebK, and watching Illuminations - we've seen it all four nights of this trip! That's a first.

We'll have time for one last abbreviated round of Eating Around the World tomorrow before we leave for the airport.

November 5, 2009

2009 Epcot Food and Wine Festival - Sunday Culinary Demos

Getting back to Sunday's events, which I didn't have time to finish writing about while we were in Florida...

The end of Daylight Saving time meant an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning - yay!!! We finally left the room to walk to Epcot at about 9:15, and as we walked out to the boardwalk, who should we see strolling by but the Koma family! They were also going to Epcot, so we all walked together, and heard about their fabulous dinner at Victoria and Albert's the night before.

They went to Test Track while we went to the Festival Center and checked in for our Sweet Sundays session. Deb attended Sweet Sundays about a month ago, and posted her review HERE. She found it a little difficult to face three desserts so early in the day - but I don't have that problem. :-) Sweet Sundays is one of my favorite Food and Wine Events - this is the third year that we've done it. (And I was very happy when they also brought the event to Disney's California Food and Wine Festival earlier this year!)

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This event is held in the Chef's Showplace, the same place the Culinary demonstrations take place. In previous years it has been at the former Odyssey restaurant, which I think was a little nicer, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well the event worked here. I was concerned there might be a lot of noise from other things going on in the Festival Center but that was not an issue. At the Odyssey they had used round tables, which actually wasted quite a bit of space - the 18 rectangular tables, each seating six, were a much more efficient use of space.

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Pam Smith, the official host of the various Food and Wine events, welcomed us and we toasted with a glass of Martini and Rossi Prosecco. We had water and juice at our place settings, and our servers brought us coffee or tea. Table by table they sent us out to the two breakfast buffet stations that were set up just outside - both stations were identical.

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It was called a "light breakfast buffet", but it was quite a bit of food. There was a very nice fruit plate, and then several kinds of breakfast pastries - danishes, chocolate chip muffins and banana nut bread. The best thing, though was the baked sweet potato doughnuts, though they were really more like mini-muffins. Moist and really good.

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There were also breakfast potatoes with leeks.

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There were two fritattas: four cheese and sun-dried tomato and spinach, and also chicken and apple sausages.

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Also French Toast sticks:

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They gave us about 30 minutes to eat and then introduced our guest pastry chef: Geraldine Randalsome from Geraldine's Creative Cutters in Ontario, Canada. She was an interesting speaker - rather a wry sense of humor, and apparently she's infamous with her employees for doing things more by intuition than by following a recipe. Which is actually very interesting for a pastry chef - baking is much more chemistry than anything else, and modifying ingredients even slightly can sometimes lead to a baking disaster.

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The first thing she made was the Creme Brulee Macaroon. Disney, as they usually do, they had provided the recipes to us so that we could follow along and make notes. First she made the macaroon cookie base. When you think "macaroon" you think "coconut", right??? Wrong...this was made with ground hazelnuts - not a flake of coconut to be found! She and Pam Smith demonstrated how to pipe the batter into circles on a silicon baking sheet. She said that refrigerating the cookies for about 30 minutes before baking produces a lighter cookie.

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I should mention - we were seated toward the back of the room, but they had several large flat panel screens on both sides of the room so we could get a closer look at what was going on.

The creme brulee was a typical creme brulee, except that she uses vanilla paste instead of vanilla extract, which gives a much more intense vanilla flavor. The creme brulee was also unmolded on top of the cookie instead of being served in a ramekin - that's quite different. But she assured us that if you use plenty of butter to coat whatever you bake the brulee in that it will come out fine.

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The plates were garnished with a chocolate hazelnut syrup, which was yummy. This was Lee's favorite of the three desserts. I liked the macaroon cookie part the best, and those are something I will probably make myself in the future.

The Mango Ginger Cheesecake was next. I have to admit I looked at the title of this one and thought: "Eh", but it ended up being my favorite. It's an unbaked cheesecake made with cream cheese, cream, and mango puree, and thickened with gelatin. Then you split that in half and add melted white chocolate to one half and melted dark chocolate to the other.

The "wow" factor of this dessert is that it was cone shaped, with three layers: the white chocolate mango mousse, the chocolate mango mousse, and a layer of ginger cookie crumbs on the bottom. She did this using a plastic mold, but showed us how it could be done by making cones out of parchment paper.

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Oh, they served us a glass of Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante with this one.

By this time she was running very short on time (only 15 minutes left), so the actual demonstration of the third dessert, Cranberry Pecan Tart, was pretty short. This is her improvement on pecan pie, which she doesn't really care for because it's too sweet and gooey. This is still plenty sweet, but adding fresh cranberries does cut the sweetness.

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I did not think she was quite as good a teacher as some of the other chefs I've seen at this event - she tended to jump around a lot and was not very methodical, so I found it somewhat hard to follow what she was doing. But I learned a couple of things, and I'm sure I'll be making the macaroons and maybe the cheesecake in the future.

We got out of there a little after noon - the staff quickly got to work as soon as people left the tables because they had to get them ready for the first Culinary/Wine Demonstration of the day, which was at 1:00! And we had tickets for that, also. We needed to get outside and walk around a little bit, though. Lots more people in the park, but still not too bad. It had warmed up a lot, though.

Back at the Festival Center we were seated for the cooking demo by Walter Staib. He's a German chef, but he oversees the City Tavern in Philadelphia, which is owned by the U.S. Government because of its historical significance - apparently Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the like used to hang out there while they were fomenting rebellion. :-) His specialty is using recipes and cooking techniques from the 18th century - though of course the cooking techniques have to be somewhat modernized! He actually has a new PBS series titled A Taste of History which is just starting its run. In it he goes to historic kitchens and cooks with authentic techniques over open hearth fires. He actually prepared a meal in the kitchen at Monticello - the first time that kitchen has been used in about 40 years.

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For this demo he made salmon cakes with remoulade - which he had made (and we had sampled) at the Party for the Senses the night before. It was one of our favorites. In the 18th century this was a very economical dish, since it was made with scraps of salmon and stale bread. It was served on a bed of herbed barley - they didn't have ready access to rice in the 18th century, so barley was the starchy grain of choice.

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These demos also have a wine pairing with them, though the wine serving is very small - maybe an ounce? With the salmon we had the Louis Jadot Rose. It was really good, but a larger serving would have been even better!

We actually had a couple of hours back in our room before going back to the Festival Center for the next demo. This one started with The Mystery of the Missing Chef. Apparently they were looking for him backstage so that they could get the demo started, and then they discovered that he was sitting out in the audience visiting with guests and didn't realize that they were looking for him! After they found him he came and sat at our table, which was in the front of the room. His name is Christopher Prosperi, and he's the chef at Metro Bis in Simsbury, CT. Really a delightful presenter - kind of silly and irreverent and really a lot of fun.

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He was telling us about his addiction to crock pots (he has 9!), and how he was annoyed at how the cord kept getting in the way - so he cut a hole in the table for the cord!!! The men in the audience (Lee included) thought that was a fine idea, while the women agreed with his wife that he had ruined the table.

He also demonstrated the same dish he had made for the Party for the Senses - a shrimp and gazpacho shooter. There's a lot of chopping involved, but he told us that if you don't have sous chefs like he does, then the chopper that you see on infomercials actually works! He used one of his new favorite ingredients in this - tomato vodka. He passed around a small bowl of it so we could smell it - it really does smell like fresh tomatoes!

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The small wine sample for this demo was the Biltmore Century White. It was really good and cut the spiciness of the gazpacho.. The bottle is etched and quite lovely in and of itself - I took this picture of the bottle of red wine that they had in the wine shop, which shows the detail a little better.

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The next demo was ratatouille - he grilled the vegetables before chopping them. On our table we had noticed a small container of something black that smelled kind of like ash from a fire. This was actually smoked sea salt, and he told us to add just a little bit to the ratatouille. It was really good!

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So after Sweet Sundays, the salmon cake, and then the gazpacho and ratatouille you'd think we wouldn't really need to do much Eating Around the World that night, would you? But we did - though we took almost two full laps around World Showcase in the process. But I talked about all of that in Day 4.

November 8, 2009

Fun Friday at Disneyland

"Laura Gilbreath...you just returned from a long weekend at Epcot's Food and Wine Festival...what are you going to do next?"

"I'm going to Disneyland!!!" :-)

It's certainly not the first time that I've followed up a trip to Disney World with a trip to Disneyland a few days later! I wanted to see the new Tiana's Showboat Jubilee, which started on Friday. (Blog entry on that still to come.)

I arrived not long after the park opened at 9:00 - the first Jubilee wasn't until 11:15 so I some time until then. Town Square looks rather empty without the big Mickey pumpkin - but in another week it will have the Christmas tree, since the Christmas holiday celebration gets fully underway on November 13.

I went back to ride Space Mountain now that it's been un-Ghost-Galaxyed. I found it actually kind of boring without all the Ghost Galaxy signs and just the normal video display in the launch bay. (And, for my ET, yes, I did the dying goose! :-) )

After I rode Big Thunder Mountain and Haunted Mansion Holiday (no line for either one) I went to the Mark Twain Riverboat. It's all decorated for Tiana's Showboat Jubilee, but they were still doing riverboat cruises before (and between) shows. I went up on the upper deck and said good morning to the cast member there. He asked me how many were in my party, and when I said it was just me, he asked if I'd like to ride in the wheelhouse!!! In all my years of going to Disneyland I've never gotten to do that before! To get into the wheelhouse I had to climb up a short ladder - someone tall would have to watch their head. Once up there I signed the log book and Captain Daniel encourage me to take as many pictures as I wanted.

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It was really a lot of fun! I got to steer and pull the cord to ring the bell, and pull the other cord to blow the steam whistle.

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Captain Daniel was a wealth of information about Disneyland and its history and told me all kinds of interesting things. One thing I didn't know, was that four days before Disneyland opened, Walt and Lillian celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary with a party in Frontierland.

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He pointed out a really great view of the castle and the Matterhorn.

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Our voyage around the Rivers of America was full of the sights of animals, a settler's cabin (he apologized that they had left the laundry out. :-) ), and even a Native American village. I managed not to steer us into the rocks, and got to ring the bell and blow the whistle twice more before we docked again.

When we docked Captain Daniel presented me with my Pilot's Certificate, and then we climbed back down to the deck.

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It was so cool!!! Definitely one of my most memorable Disneyland moments ever. Thank you, Captain Daniel, for a wonderful opportunity!

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After I saw the Jubilee I went over to DCA to see how Paradise Bay is looking now that they have started filling it with water again. There's still a long way to go before it's full - it's only up to the bottom of the platform now.

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They were working on these really interesting-looking things - I assume this is one of the water whips.

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Between the Golden Zephyr and the viewing area I could see where the water was flowing in.

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Stitch was hanging out in Sunshine Plaza and didn't have too many people around so I posed with him.

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It was a beautiful day and really not very crowded at all. They have a lot of the Christmas decorations up already even though the official holiday season doesn't start until November 13 (yes, that is in fact Friday the 13th!). I found this one Thanksgiving-themed display in the Candy Palace on Main Street, though.

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I took a stroll through Downtown Disney - they have re-opened the Taqueria at Tortilla Jo's since I was here a few weeks ago - it's very colorful. The menu isn't nearly as extensive - they no longer have the Mexicones, which were one of my favorites. The new menu is HERE.

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I really had a wonderful day - I enjoy just walking around the parks and taking pictures, especially on a day that's not very busy. But getting to be a riverboat pilot was definitely the highlight!

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November 10, 2009

Tiana's Showboat Jubilee

Tiana's Showboat Jubilee premiered at Disneyland on Friday, November 6. This colorful celebration features the stars of the the upcoming film The Princess and the Frog in a jazzy procession through New Orleans Square to the Mark Twain Riverboat. The show continues on board the riverboat as it steams around the Rivers of America and the live jazz band and cast perform musical numbers from the movie. There are multiple performances daily through January 3, 2010.

The procession begins towards the back of New Orleans Square (near the train station, I think), but the music doesn't actually start until they get to the terraced area in front of the French Market. Dancers carrying parasols and dressed in Mardi Gras colors lead the procession, followed by Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen, the jazz band, and more dancers who are handing out Mardi Gras beads.

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The procession makes it way to the riverboat dock where they board the Mark Twain. The boat pulls away from the dock to the festive strains of "Going Down the Bayou".

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The riverboat stops in front of New Orleans Square for a show that's about 15 minutes long. Tiana is featured in the first song: "She's Almost There".

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Louis the alligator takes center stage next and performs "When We're Human".

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The sinister Dr. Fasilier appears in a shower of sparks and a darker mood prevails in "Friends on the Other Side".

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Then it's time to "Dig a Little Deeper".

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The show ends with "Dreams Come True".

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As the riverboat moves on, there's a reprise of "Going Down the Bayou".

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Lee edited together some video I took which gives you a pretty good idea of what the show is like: (Warning - From personal experience I can tell you that a couple of the songs have serious earworm potential - listen at your own risk! :-) )


There are 20 or so guests that participate in each show aboard the riverboat. About 30 minutes before the show, costumed cast members are out in front of New Orleans Square selecting people to be a part of the show. They perform several roles: waving banners and oversized musical notes, and portraying a tamborine-playing gospel choir.

I really enjoyed this. It was energetic, colorful, and great fun to watch. It was also great to see that the guests selected to participate were really performers in the show who added something to it. It looked like something that would be a blast to do!

There were lots of guests watching the show on Friday. But it's really hard to get a spot where you can see both the procession and the show. The procession takes place on the terraced area and not down by the river (which is where the best spots for seeing the show are). So you have to pick and choose - or you do what I did, and watch the show twice - once to see the procession and once to see the show. :-) People were staking out the prime spots down by the river about 30 minutes in advance. For the show stop, the riverboat stops in the center of New Orleans Square, which is pretty much in front of Cafe Orleans.

If you have the chance, I highly recommend seeing this show!

November 27, 2009

The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

The holiday season began a little earlier at the Disneyland Resort this year than it has for the past couple of years - it began on November 13 and runs through January 3, 2010.

Lee and I visited on Friday, November 20 and managed to catch most of the special holiday events. If you're familiar with Disneyland's holiday activities, then really, not much has changed this year.

DCA still has pretty minimal holiday decorations. With all of the construction they have moved the Christmas tree from the entrance to Paradise Pier to the boardwalk area next to Ariel's Grotto. Santa has a little holiday gazebo there where he does meet and greets.

The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

There's still oversized holiday decorations at Flik's Fun Fair:

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And the city sidewalks in the Hollywood Studios Backlot are decorated in tinsel - what else would you expect from Tinseltown?

The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

Is it just me, or does anyone else think it would be really cool if they put a big Santa hat on Grizzly Peak???

There's a big Christmas tree at the end of Downtown Disney, but otherwise it didn't seem very festive to me.

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It looked like the front of the tree was a nice place for a holiday family photo-op, though:

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The shops had some holiday merchandise, though - of course World of Disney had a pretty good selection, but there is also holiday merchandise at Build-a-Bear, Basin and Marceline's Confectionary. Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen has a gingerbread house decorating workshop with sessions on December 12, 13, 19, and 20. Though maybe more geared towards kids it still sounds like a lot of fun to me - if any of you have done it, let me know what you thought of it!

Though Downtown Disney and DCA seem a little under-decorated, of course there's still lots of decorations at Disneyland! Snowflakes over the entrance turnstiles, a big Santa floral Mickey just inside, and the "can't-miss-it" Christmas tree in Town Square.

The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

We watched the A Christmas Fantasy parade from the hub - where the parade turns left onto Main Street after coming out of Fantasyland. Nice spot, since the parade was coming straight towards us before turning, so we had an excellent view of the floats.

The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

New this year were the sleds that Pooh and Tigger were riding (and driving!) - they replaced the sleigh with Genie, Aladdin, and Jasmine.

The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

And Eeyore also got a new sled...but his got overturned and he has to pull it along himself! Poor Eeyore. :-(

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Lee and I both commented on the snowmen - they have fixed expressions, and are so roly-poly they can't move much, but even so, they manage to display a lot of personality - you can tell who is flirtatious and who is a little shy.

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Over at Santa's Reindeer Roundup at Big Thunder Ranch they have had to squeeze things together since the Celebration BBQ takes up half of the space. The reindeer still inhabit the corral, though - at least until Christmas Eve when they will have other work to do, I suppose! There is a small area next to the cabin with several tables set up where kids can do crafts - either coloring or making some reindeer finger puppets.

The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

Santa and Mrs. Claus were both posing for pictures when we were there - I don't remember seeing Mrs. Claus before. Santa was inside the cabin, and Mrs. Claus was sitting on a bench outside. When Santa went for a cookie break he took a brief moment to sit with the Mrs. and pose for this picture.

The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

When we left Big Thunder Ranch it was about 4:45 - and there was a veritable gauntlet of characters all along the Big Thunder Trail from the ranch entrance back to the Fantasyland exit. There must have been at least 20 characters - I don't remember them all, but we saw Brer Fox and Brer Bear, Woody, Jessie, Friar Tuck and Little John (from Robin Hood), Meeko, four or five of the Country Bears, Koda and Kenai, and four penguins from Mary Poppins. Quite an opportunity for those interested in seeing the less common characters (I don't think I've ever seen Friar Tuck before!) - I have no idea if that's something they do every day, or if we were just in the right place at the right time.

The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

The Castle lighting was supposed to start around 5:00, but it was almost 5:30 when it finally did its little show. It's very sparkly and shiny! :-) While we were waiting, we noticed the wonderful soundtrack of holiday music that plays on Main Street during the holidays - with some less-well-known songs like The Christmas Waltz, Caroling, Caroling (Christmas Bells are Ringing) and I'll Be Home for Christmas.

The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

Holiday "it's a small world" is a little different this year. For the past few years they had been using the projectors that they use during the fireworks show to do an animated holiday sequence on the facade every 15 minutes after dark...but they aren't doing that this year. :-( Though just the "normal" lights are beautiful, too.

The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

It's a little different inside, too - some of the Disney characters that they added early this year have been a bit dressed up for the holidays. There's Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella wearing holiday aprons:

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The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

In the Africa scene, there's a nice gift of bugs from Simba to Pumba.

The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

My favorite, though, is the new "America", scene, where the pop-up prairie dogs are wearing Santa hats. :-)

The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

The Believe...in Holiday Magic fireworks show is unchanged as far as I could tell. On the night we saw it there was almost NO wind, so the smoke wasn't getting blown away and it actually obscured some of the fireworks!

The Holidays at Disneyland - 2009

Everything seemed to be running 15-20 minutes late that evening - I mentioned the castle lighting. Fantasmic! also started about 20 minutes late, and so did the fireworks. Did someone forget to wind the clocks???

We had a great day, though unfortunately I didn't get a chance to research/sample any of the special holiday treats that are available at this time of year. I saw the seasonal krispie treats and the Mickey-eared gingerbread men, but that's all - I know there are others!

November 30, 2009

Epcot's Lights of Winter

As I'm sure most of you have heard, Disney decided not to put up the Lights of Winter arches at Epcot this year. This is one of our very favorite things about the holidays at Walt Disney World, so Lee and I were both very disappointed to hear this. We always ended at least one evening of our holiday visits by sitting on the planters near the arches and watching a full set of the light choreography, which took about 20 minutes.

So, in memory of the Lights of Winter, I found some of my favorite Lights of Winter photographs over the last few years and thought I'd share. I wish I had video, but this is the first year Lee would have had the HD camera there, so I guess that is not to be. Sigh.

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About November 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Salute to All Things Disney but Mostly Disneyland in November 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

October 2009 is the previous archive.

December 2009 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.