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October 29, 2008

WDW Food and Wine Festival Week - Day 6

Considering our late night Sunday night we got up fairly early on Monday, since we wanted to be at the Studios when it opened to try to get a couple of rides on Toy Story Mania.

It was another absolutely gorgeous day - clear and sunny, but a little bit cool - most of us were wearing jackets in the morning, but didn't need them the rest of the day.

We arrived on Hollywood Blvd just as the park was opening. As expected, most everyone headed for Toy Story Mania. We went straight to the Fastpass machines, which had pretty long lines...in the time we waited, the return time went from 9:45 to 10:15! Unfortunately Toy Story Mania was not yet up and running, so we couldn't ride it then. :-(

We wandered into One Man's Dream instead. The video on some of the exhibits wasn't working, and some of the sound in the movie was really awful - and the worst of it was Julie Andrews' narration - which was not something recorded over 40 years ago like the various excerpts of Walt's voice.

Over at the ABC Commissary we had breakfast. The last time we did that they were still serving stuff like eggs, bacon, french toast, etc., but they have really cut down on the menu - there was a bagel sandwich, hot or cold cereal, fruit, yogurt, and pastries available. Which was actually ok for us, but anyone wanting a more substantial breakfast would have been very disappointed!

The next Voyages of the Little Mermaid show was seating when we went by so we went into that - Lee and I hadn't seen that in a couple of years - not because we don't enjoy it, but mostly because the queueing and pre-show areas are so unpleasant - they pack you in like sardines. Which I guess is appropriate giving the theme of the show, but still. Anyway...this show was not full, and we walked straight into the pre-show area, and didn't have too long a wait before the doors opened. I really enjoy the puppetry, especially in the "Under the Sea" song. I think whoever plays Eric must have one of the easiest jobs in the parks, though - he's on stage for what, 3 minutes maybe?

By then it was time to use our Toy Story Mania Fastpasses - fortunately it was up and running by then. We had a longer wait in the Fastpass line than we did the other day, but it still beat the 60 minute standby line.

Lee had read some tips on the web the night before on how to score higher on the ride by cooperating, so we tried those - we were successful with one but not with the other. Overall it hurt our scores, though, and we didn't score as high as we did the other night.

Prince Caspian was hanging out in his meet and greet spot when we walked by - he wasn't too busy, so he was spending a lot of time with the kids (including the not-so-little girls!) that came to see him.

We went over to Epcot after that to eat around the world again and do a little sightseeing. We saw Serveur Amusant in France - or Sherry and I saw it, at least - Lee doesn't like it - he says it makes him nervous - and Jim was off getting some Crawfish Etoufee from the Louisiana booth. They have changed the chair-stacking routine a bit since we last saw it. The guy who actually does the balancing used to appear to be a tourist who was pulled out of the audience, and now he is one of the "waiters", and obviously a part of the show.

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Ran into an AllEars.net reader at the Tokyo booth - she saw my AllEars hat and asked about it. I'm sorry I didn't get your name, but if you're reading this, it was nice talking to you!

I was very disappointed to look at the entertainment schedule and find that Voices of Liberty was not performing at all. :-( That's one of my very favorite things at Epcot. Lee and Jim and Sherry consoled themselves with food (and beer) from the Hops and Barley booth, and then they went to the Beer School, which they enjoyed. While they did that I saw a cooking demonstration down at Italy - the chefs were making petate - the Italian version of fried dough balls. They looked pretty good, but unfortunately we didn't get to taste them. :-(

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As we ate our way around the world we explored a couple of the other entertainment options, like the two Circle-Vision films in China and Canada. I've only seen the Canada film a couple of times since it started showing - Martin Short's narration is fairly amusing.

Things we tried on our eating adventure around the World:

Goat Cheese and Leek Quiche - France

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Crawfish Etoufee and Pecan Praline Bread Pudding - Louisiana
Lamb Slider and Bay Scallops -New Zealand

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Spicy Tuna Roll - Japan

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Lobster Roll and Crabcake - Hops and Barley

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Boxty and Cheese Plate - Ireland

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It was a bit after 4:00 by then, and we had a 5:30 reservation at Jiko so we made our way back to the room to get a chance for a short nap before dinner. Lee set his alarm for 5:00 - good thing, because otherwise we would have all slept too long!

We still arrived at Animal Kingdom Lodge in plenty of time. Something that was new to us - when we went through the guard shack the guard gave us a parking pass on which he had written "Jiko". So I guess they are cracking down on parking a bit more now? Since we had some time we wandered around the lobby a little, and down to the Arusha Savanna - saw some birds and a zebra, but that was all.

At Jiko we were quickly seated at a nice table next to the window. And we had a wonderful dinner. Jiko has changed their menu quite a bit since we were last here a year ago, and I think it's even better. We shared two appetizers - the BBQ chicken flatbread and the vegetable samosas. Both were great - the samosas were especially good. We'd had samosas at the Food and Wine Festival and at Tusker House the day before, but these were SO much better!

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Our waiter had recommended a wine made from South Africa's pinotage grape and we shared that bottle. It was also really good.

For entrees, Jim and I had the maize crusted halibut, served with vegetables of the moment, and that was wonderful. Lee had our server's favorite - the beef short ribs with crushed potatoes and garlic. He'd told Lee it was so tender it would fall off the bone, and that's exactly what happened. Sherry had the Swahili Curry Shrimp with coconut rice - we all got to try some of her shrimp. Lee, Jim, and I cleaned our plates - our server told us he was going to show the chef how clean how plates were. :-)

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We were pretty full, so we decided to split two of the desserts - again, we went with our server's recommendations and had the Pistachio Creme Brulee and the Tanzanian Chocolate Cheesecake. They were both quite good. The cheesecake had a great chocolatey flavor but was not too rich. It was served with lavender ice cream, though we really couldn't taste any lavender.

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It was really a great meal - definitely the best of our trip. Jiko made a good impression on Jim and Sherry - whew. :-) (Yeah, because they have been SO hard to please this week...NOT!)

After dinner we went outside to see if there were any animals visible on the Uzima Savanna (the one next to the pool) but we didn't see any.

We headed back to the room after that - it was after 8:00 by the time we got back. We were all pretty tired after a couple of late nights, so no one was interested in trying to go to Illuminations or Downtown Disney.

October 28, 2008

WDW Food and Wine Festival Week - Day 5

(Yes, I know this is a day late, but those people we're with have been keeping us SO busy that I haven't had a chance to blog!!! :-) )

After our late night at the Tower of Terror 13K, we didn't get up very early on Sunday morning. It was almost 10:00 by the time we got moving - we thought we'd go to the Boardwalk Bakery for breakfast, but the line was huge, so then we thought we'd try the Bellevue Room in the hotel, but all they had left were 3 muffins, a banana, and a few containers of Sugar Pops.

Sooo...we headed to Animal Kingdom, hoping we'd get there in time for breakfast. Just outside the park entrance Jim spotted the coffee/pastry stand, which had NO line, and we picked up some coffee beverages and some pastries. They had a really nice cinnamon roll.

Jim and Sherry wanted to see It's Tough to be a Bug - it's been a LONG time since I've seen a line for this, but we were backed up a ways into the queue. We still got into the next show, and they enjoyed it - Sherry didn't even scream too much. :-)

Next we took them back to Kilimanjaro Safaris, and had one of the best safaris we've ever had - there were lots and lots of animals. One of the giraffes was *right* next to the road. The driver turned the sound way down on the "Warden Wilson" stuff, too, and downplayed the poacher stuff, which we really appreciated.

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After the Safari we caught one of the gorillas taking a nap. :-)

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And took a quick turn into Pangani Forest Trail, where the keepers were doing a training session with the Colobus monkeys. They were presenting different body parts to the keepers on command, and getting rewarded with various treats. It was pretty interesting to watch.

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We had a late lunch at Tusker House - we had not been here since it was converted from a counter service restaurant to a buffet. When we saw Jack the other day he'd told us it was "Boma without the soups", and since Boma is one of our favorites, we were hoping it would measure up.

And we all really enjoyed it. I thought the variety of food was actually better than I've seen at Boma the last few times I've been there. The Marrakesh couscous with roasted vegetables was outstanding - I had two servings of that. Lee and Jim really enjoyed the prime rib.

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I *was* disappointed in the desserts, though - they had a chocolate lava cake, but it wasn't very good at all - tasted like a boxed cake mix with Hershey syrup. The coconut macaroon was not bad, and Sherry and Lee enjoyed the pecan bar.

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Still, overall it was an excellent meal, our favorite of the trip so far.

We wandered over to Dinosaur to use our Fastpasses - the ride stopped for a while but eventually we got on. They thought that was fun, too.

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We were going to the Halloween party at the Magic Kingdom later that day, and Sherry had decided to get her face painted as part of her costume, and found a place in Dinoland to do it. (We wanted to do Primeval Whirl, but it was closed for rehab! :-( )
The lady did a really nice job - I've never seen anyone do the face painting before - it was fun to watch the process. And it actually held up VERY well, and still looked great 9 hours later!

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We left Animal Kingdom and I came back to the room to do finish some laundry, iron my costume, and take a short nap, while the other three went into Epcot to deal with some last-minute costume details for Jim and Sherry. That plus Jim and Lee needed a Samuel Adams beer fix. I think they are determined to try every beer at the Sam Adams booth before we leave.

The Mickey's Not So Scary Party started at the Magic Kingdom at 7:00 - we left the room about 6:30, and only waited a couple of minutes for the bus, so that worked out well.

Don't we look cute in our costumes???

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Once inside the park we got our wristbands (and they WERE checked by CMs several times early in the evening) and trick-or-treat bags and headed off for the Haunted Mansion. All of the CMs get to wear ghastly makeup for the party, and they look really cool. Sitting outside the Mansion on the lawn was one of the guests from Master Gracey's ball inside - she said she needed some air. :-)

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We hadn't had dinner yet, so we grabbed a quick bite at Pecos Bill's. It was nice to have additional tomatoes from the toppings bar to add to my chicken wrap! It was ok, but a little too much dressing - and waaay too much wrap and not enough filling.

Just down from Pecos Bill's we found an excellent front-row spot to watch the Boo to You parade. I really love this parade - after Tapestry of Nations, I think it's my favorite Disney parade ever. I used the movie mode of my camera, and was able to get a fairly reasonable photo of the Headless Horseman - he goes by so fast!

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There's just so much fun stuff in this parade, like the characters in costume, and the chicken "singing" Ghostriders in the Sky, and especially the Haunted Mansion segment, with the caretaker and his bloodhound, and the ghostly dancers, and, my very favorite, the zombie gravediggers shovel and drill team.

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Love the Villains, too - "It's Good to be Bad" is a very catchy little tune!

Speaking of the Villains...after the parade we rode Big Thunder Mountain (always way more fun at night!) and hit a couple of treat stops on our way to the Villains Mix and Mingle show at the castle. That was a rather surprising show - the music and the dancing were rather more, uhhh...suggestive, than we expect from Disney. Lee had the best line about the show: "Who knew that Maleficent had boy toys?" :-) Whew...is it hot in here???

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Since it IS a Halloween party, it was nice to see the Villains get their due, and this particular show had elements to appeal to the big boys and girls, too!!!

Quick break at Mrs. Pott's Cupboard for ice cream (where Lee's root beer float truly ranneth over - we'd never seen a root beer eruption but that's what happened as the ice cream sank down into it! :-) ) And then it was time to scope out a spot for the fireworks. Which it turned out we really didn't need to do very early - even when the fireworks started there was plenty of empty space. (I think this party was NOT sold out, and not as busy as the one we attended last year, which was very nice! It also didn't rain on us at all like it did last year.)

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What can I say, I LOVE the fireworks show, too.

Next up was Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. After doing Toy Story Mania, this ride, with all the little red dots that look all alike so that you can't tell which one is yours, was a lot more challenging, but we still enjoyed it.

Since Sherry was made up as Tigger, we HAD to go on the Pooh ride. And hit a few more treat stops on our way back to Frontierland to see the second parade. (See? I like the parade so much I wanted to see it again!)

It was just as much fun the second time. We went to Pirates of the Caribbean after the parade, and then over to Space Mountain. Space Mountain turned out not to be a good idea...the ride had stopped and the line was fairly long so we ended up waiting a lot longer than I'd planned. Towards the end of the ride some of the stuff I was carrying in my basket came out - I thought I'd gotten it all before I got out, but on the way out of the ride I realized my watch was missing. Told a CM and they checked for it but didn't find it. So now I have a Lost and Found report out on it...hopefully it'll turn up.

Unfortunately between the long wait for the ride and then me losing my watch it was after midnight and the party was over. We were pretty tired, though, and ready to head back. Just outside the park there were CMs with treat bags handing out Ghirardelli chocolate squares - I got in two different lines to get those. :-)

Fortunately the bus was already at the bus stop when we got there, and it wasn't packed as we drove back to the hotel.

A few random observations about the Halloween party.

This is my favorite of the Disney parties that I've attended. It's such a fun atmosphere - the Cast Members seem to be having a wonderful time themselves. We saw a lot of guests in costume this year - there were some very elaborate ones, too! We saw a Cinderella in a beautiful ballgown, and a really excellent Jasmine and Aladdin, and even Clopin (from Hunchback of Notre Dame) complete with the puppet on his hand.

I mentioned the CMs in makeup at the Haunted Mansion earlier - there were also other "ghostly" surprises...like some ghostly singing miners in Frontierland, and a ghostly river pilot on the riverboat (which is not called the Mark Twain here, but I don't remember the name.) I have photos, but I'll have to get post them later.

The party was a lot less crowded than the one we attended last year - even though the weather was a lot better this year (it rained on us last year and we missed the second parade). I'm guessing it's partly because our party did not have a discounted advance purchase price, making it a little less attractive to local residents. It was great for us, though - shorter lines for the attractions and at the treat stations.

While I think the Halloween Party at Disney's California Adventure has better decorations, Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party has the parade and the special fireworks show that make it really an outstanding event. We all had a wonderful time.

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 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 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. :-)

November 1, 2007

Walt Disney World - What's New?

New to us, that is - since we haven't been here since last December. That's one of the things we really enjoy about Walt Disney World - it seems like every time we're here there's always something that's new, whether it's a new attraction or exhibit or live entertainment group.

Contrary to what you might think we aren't just eating around the world, though in the first four days of our trip it seems like that's about all we did (well, there was that little 8 mile run on Saturday night...) We did actually get out into the parks and try a few new things that weren't food-related.

Our first night here was Extra Magic Hours at Epcot, so in addition to eating, we had the opportunity to see all the new (to us) things at Epcot. First was the Gran Fiesta Tour in the Mexico pavilion. While I don't miss the annoying street vendors at all, I do miss the narration in the first section when you were floating by the pyramid, and they talked about the ancient civilizations. Now it's basically "it's a small mexico" with the Three Caballeros. My favorite part was something Lee pointed out to me - the "it's a small mexico" kids whacking away at a Donald Duck-shaped pinata. :-) I'm not sure it's really an improvement over the previous version, but in any case it's not something we'll be in a hurry to do again any time soon.

We also visited the Epcot 25th Anniversary Gallery behind Club Cool. (We recognized the room - it's where they originally held the Segway Training sessions!) We had the exhibit all to ourselves, and enjoyed seeing the concept art and the original costumes and the various models. If you're interested in more information, as well as lots of photos, see Linda Mac's excellent blog entry on the Gallery, which is HERE.

At The Seas with Nemo and Friends we rode the clam-mobiles. We had done this before, but I hadn't seen it since I'd ridden the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage at Disneyland, which employs similar technology in producing the visuals of Nemo and Friends in their underwater environment. I think it's much better here at Epcot - especially the section where the Nemo gang appears to be out in the tank with the *real* fish. The clam-mobiles are also a lot more comfortable than those cramped submarines!

What was new since our last visit was the new (and much bigger) theater for Turtle Talk with Crush, though the show itself isn't very different. We lucked out and arrived just as they were loading the theater for a show. Crush always makes us smile. Awesome, dude. :-)

At Disney-MGM Studios (or is it now Disney Hollywood Studios?) we did a couple of new things - saw the Jedi Training Academy on its new and permanent stage - though it was the same Jedi Master we'd seen 2-1/2 years ago. And we watched Mulch, Sweat, and Shears on the Streets of America. They're a "Rake n' Roll" band working as landscapers while they wait for their big break. They put on a good show, performing songs by the Rolling Stones, Eagles, etc.

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During Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party on Tuesday night we had a chance to do the two new things at the Magic Kingdom - and we were glad for the excuse to get out of the rain, too. I'm not enough of a Haunted Mansion aficionado to recognize many of the changes that were made during its recent rehab, but we noticed the creaking of the stretch room as it starts to stretch, the glowing eyes in the wallpaper, the glowing footprints overhead, and Madame Leota's floating crystal ball. And of course the creepy bride in the attic, with the husbands disappearing from the wedding portraits. Nicely done.

The Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club was fun - I'd heard some not-too-positive reviews of it, but we enjoyed it. (I have to say that there were members of the audience who seemed to be enjoying it a little TOO much, though - both kids and adults. At any other park I'd blame it on alcohol, but since it was Magic Kingdom during the Halloween party I'll attribute it to sugar overload.) Like Turtle Talk With Crush, this show also features real-time animated characters who can interact with the audience. (Disney is getting a lot of mileage out of that technology!) Most of the jokes are pretty corny but it was fun - and part of the fun is laughing with the audience members that they pick on and show up on the big screen. There are some truly awful puns, though.

Today (Wednesday) we finally made it to Animal Kingdom. The only new thing that I'm aware of there is a new spiel for Kilimanjaro Safaris - I'd heard they eliminated at least some of the annoying elements. The entire "Warden Wilson Matua" recording is different - it sounds like it could be the same voice, but I can't tell. That silly Miss Jobson, who doesn't realize that Thompson's gazelles are called "Tommies", is gone, though - as is the whole "Tommie" thing, which I always thought made Wilson sound like an idiot. No more Big Red and Little Red either - just a baby elephant that the wardens found which had gotten separated from his mother. But Wilson is still chasing poachers, and towards the end our mission (which we weren't even given a choice to accept!) was to help drive the poachers towards him. I have to say that it was less annoying than the original, but I still wish they would offer a poacher-free safari. We DID learn something new from our driver, though - elephants frequent the red clay pits because they rub their tusks in the red clay and then eat it - it gives them extra minerals, apparently.

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Coming up...More Food and Wine Festival, our thoughts on our first stay at Animal Kingdom Villas, and Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party - not necessarily in that order. So many things to write about, so little vacation left!

October 31, 2007

Eating Around the World - Day 1

This blog entry is a bit late, since up until now I've been concentrating on writing about the Tower of Terror 13K - but I think I've said all that I have to say about that now. :-)

This is only the second time we've been to Epcot's Food and Wine Festival - the first time was two years ago, and we had a great time. But we love early December and all of the Christmas festivities, too, and we can't really justify two trips to Florida within 4-6 weeks, so we've decided to alternate the two.

We arrived at Walt Disney World on Friday evening and checked into the Boardwalk - always a great choice when you're planning to spend a lot of time at the Festival! Hard to get during F&W, though - I made our reservations almost 11 months in advance.

We'd planned to meet Deb Wills at the Festival, but she wasn't feeling well and had to cancel. :-( It was an Extra Magic Hours (EMH) night at Epcot, and it turns out the F&W booths were open during Extra Magic Hours, too!

Since it was Friday night the park was quite crowded, between the locals that had come in for the evening and the resort guests who had come for EMH. We stood in some fairly long lines (10 minutes or so) for food at a few places.

Our first stop was the Canada booth, where we tried the Maple Glazed Salmon with Roasted Corn and Arugula and the Cheddar Cheese Soup. Both very tasty, but not really new to us. That had a long wait because there had been a salmon run (pun intended) and they were grilling more. While we were waiting, one of the Cast Members asked us questions about Canada, and gave a glass of wine to the adult who answered first. I knew the Canadian dollar was called the "Loonie", so I won a glass of the Mission Hill SLC Chardonnay. This must have been aged in steel barrels instead of oak because it didn't have that dry buttery flavor so many chardonnays have which I dislike so much and I thought it was pretty good - especially for the price! :-) I made the mistake of giving it to Lee so he could take a couple of sips, and he finished it!

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The Dominican Republic booth was new this year, and we'd heard good reviews on the Pastelon de Platanos Amarillos, and we also tried the Mofungo. I couldn't really detect any banana flavor in the Pastelon - it was a veggie-type casserole topped with cheese and guacamole - and was quite tasty, though I couldn't really tell you what flavors were in it! The Mofungo was mashed yucca with pork cracklings, served with two shrimp. It had a very interesting flavor and I liked it - it was also quite filling. The shrimp were only so-so - a bit overcooked, I think.

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Lee tried the Beef Empanada at Argentina - this is another item that hadgotten really good reviews. He said it was quite good. (Quite a few of the highly rated F&W selections this year are some kind of beef, which unfortunately I can't eat, so Lee sacrifices himself and tries them for me. :-) )

Mexico again has Chilaquiles this year - something we both really enjoyed two years ago, and it's just as good this year. It's basically a chicken enchilada casserole with green (tomatillo) sauce. Really yummy, and still ranks as one of my favorites, and it's also a fairly generous serving. We also had the Conga Juice, and Lee had a Dos Equis.

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At Ireland we pretty much said "give us one of everything!". And it was all good. The Boxty is a potato pancake topped with bacon bits, caramelized onions and garlic butter. Very tasty. The Potato Leek Soup was served with a cheese breadstick - it had a nice flavor but we both thought it would have been better warm than chilled. The Irish Cheese Plate came with three slices of Irish cheese, some apple chutney and brown bread. The cheese was good, but we didn't think it worked with the chutney. The brown bread was more like pound cake than bread - LOTS of butter. We tried the Meade Honey Wine - and that was delicious - sweet but not syrupy.

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We tried the "one of everything" tactic again at India - but they were out of Samosas, so we had to content ourselves with the Curried Butternut Squash soup and the Coconut Indian Rice Pudding. The soup had a little bit of a kick to it but was quite tasty, and Lee really liked the rice pudding. I'm not much of a rice pudding fan but I enjoyed it also - it had some little bits of pineapple in it, too.

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It was getting close to time for Illuminations, but we wanted some dessert, so we tried the Apple Strudel with Vanilla Sauce at (where else?) Germany. I also had a glass of the wine recommended as a pairing with the strudel - the S.A. Prum Riesling Spatlese It was a bit sweet (but I like sweet!) and I enjoyed it.

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Stay tuned - there's lots more Food & Wine Festival eating to come! Though we have been doing some other things, too...

August 12, 2007

Attraction Comparison: Splash Mountain

Continuing my series of attraction comparisons...I decided to stick with the mountains, and compare the Splash Mountain attractions at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom (MK) and Disneyland (DL).

Both are located in about the same area of the park - though at MK this area is in Frontierland, and at DL it's in Critter Country. Since it's inspired by characters from Song of the South, placing it in Frontierland seems a bit odd - I think DL's Critter Country is a better fit....though since MK doesn't have that, I guess Frontierland works better than Adventureland or Liberty Square!

DL's Splash Mountain opened first, in July 1989, while MK's attraction opened in October 1992. The distinctive outline of Chickapin Hill is quite visible in both parks. One other thing both attractions have in common is a VERY long queue that winds around and around and back and forth and inside and around some more. Before Fastpass (which both attractions have) I've stood in those lines and wound around and around...

(Below: MK's Splash Mountain, DL's Splash Mountain)

Splash Mountain Walt Disney World Splash Mountain Disneyland

Upon reaching the loading area you'll notice differences in the "log" vehicles. In DL's there are six "seats" (riders actually straddle a bench) per log - the last seat is larger and can accommodate a parent and child). At MK there are four rows of two seats so people can sit side-by-side - it's a lot more comfortable. Though the MK logs always seem to have a musty/mildewy smell - yuck.

(Below: MK's logs, DL's logs)

Splash Mountain Walt Disney World

Splash Mountain Disneyland


The layouts of the ride are similar - each culminating in the drop down Chickapin Hill at the end - but the scenes inside the ride are pretty different. I really prefer MK's Splash Mountain - it actually has a much more coherent storyline about Brer Rabbit leaving home in search of adventure, and outwitting Brer Fox and Brer Bear before deciding that home isn't so bad after all. I've never quite figured out what the storyline is at DL - or if there even *is* one...mostly it just seems to move from scene to scene, each featuring many audio-animatronic characters recycled from the America Sings attraction (which I loved - pop goes the weasel!).

Anyway...I think the MK version is a lot bigger and brighter, and I love the jumping fountains in the cavern. You see a lot more of Brer Rabbit, too - I think he makes two or three more appearances at the MK than he does at DL. Though one thing I prefer about DL's version - as you begin the final ascent to the "Laughing Place", the tone changes, and the mood becomes ominous as Mama Mole sings: "What can poor Brer Rabbit do, to keep from becoming rabbit stew", and then Mama Rabbit joins in with: "Stay away from the Laughin' Place, you must beware, the fox is there". And then there's the two vultures perched overhead who also have less than encouraging things to say. It sure enhances the whole "I have a bad feeling about this" atmosphere.

While both attractions have the potential to get you pretty wet, in general I find I stay drier at DL - especially if I ask to sit in the back of the log (which I always do). And I make sure never to sit on the right side of the log at MK, because that's the wetter side. :-)

Everybody has a Laughin' Place - what's yours?

Laura

July 8, 2007

Attraction Comparison: Space Mountain vs. Space Mountain

As a blog topic, Deb Wills suggested that readers might be interested in a comparison of attractions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. It sounded like an intriguing idea to me...see what you think!

I thought I'd start with one of my favorites: Space Mountain. Which is at Disneyland in California, and at Magic Kingdom in Florida. Both are Fastpass attractions, and from the outside they look pretty similar - both housed in a circular futuristic-looking white building. (Below is Space Mountain at Disneyland, below that is Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom.

Space Mountain Disneyland

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But once inside, I find they are markedly different. Magic Kingdom's (MK's) version has two loading areas, and two tracks, whereas there's only one loading area and track at Disneyland (DL). The ride vehicles at DL feature three rows of two side-by-side seats, while those at MK feature a car that looks more like a rocket, with three single passenger seats. (Each ride has two cars per "train".) DL's vehicles have a lap bar (every rider has their own bar), whereas MK's vehicles have a T-shaped bar that goes between the legs and across the lap. Personally I find MK's vehicles to be very uncomfortable - you sit so far down in them that with your legs stretched out in front of you that it's very awkward to get up out of them! Though they look a lot swoopier than DL's cars. (Below: DL rocket left, MK rocket right.)

Space Mountain Walt Disney World.jpgDisneyland Rocket

Space Mountain Walt Disney World.jpgDisney World rocket.jpg

Once the ride begins, I think you might as well consider them to be two completely different experiences - about all they have in common is that both are a roller coaster ride in the dark (or in the case of MK, in the semi-dark).

As you leave the loading area at DL you start hearing futuristic space music in your ears...while at MK all you hear are the screams of fellow riders. The music really adds a lot to the experience at DL - the crescendoes of the music seem to be synchronized with the drops and twists of the ride. The DL ride is also DARK - quite unlike the MK ride, where it's light enough to see the track in front of you, and you can see what's coming. That's my biggest complaint about the MK version of the ride.

Space Mountain at DL re-opened in 2005 after an almost two-year rehab - and the improvements really show. Though it was smoother than MK's attraction even before the rehab, now it's even better, and I think it's a little faster, too. I find MK's Space Mountain to be rough and jerky - more like the Matterhorn at DL. I feel pretty beat up after getting off of Space Mountain at MK, but I feel exhilarated after a ride on Space Mountain at DL.

Near the end of DL's ride the cameras capture your photo, and you have the opportunity to see (and purchase) it after the ride. I do have to say that the exit to the attraction is a lot more interesting at MK - at DL you simply climb a set of stairs and go through some space station-y looking hallways, while at MK the escalator passes by various scenes - that whole "lab retriever" thing always cracks me up.

I think it's probably very obvious that I much prefer DL's Space Mountain to MK's...The music makes a huge difference, but even without the music I find it to be a smoother, faster, darker, and better-themed attraction.

To Infinity...and Beyond! (Oops, sorry, wrong attraction...)

Laura

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