Epcot Festival of the Arts

We visited Epcot International Festival of the Arts at Disney World in Orlando. The tram let us off directly in front at the entrance instead of making us detour like last time due to construction. There was plenty of that going on inside the park. I liked how the baggage inspection is now in a shadier location with fans and multiple personnel so the process goes quicker. Spaceship Earth was open but the whole rest of the central portion of Future World was sectioned off due to remodeling.

We made our way around to the Land and watched the new film Awesome Planet. The scenery depicted was awesome indeed, including simulated flashes of light in the auditorium to accompany lightning on the screen and a sprinkle of water on my wrist when the screen showed rain. The film made me want to go right out and sign up for a conservation effort. We need to preserve our beautiful home planet so it’s safe for future generations.

At World Showcase, we turned left toward Mexico. Along the way, we stopped at the Pop Eats booth and sampled the sous-vide chicken roulade ($6.75). The dish was artistically presented and very tasty.

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Next we tried the red wine-braised beef short ribs ($8.00) at Germany. The meat was very tender, accompanied by a dollop of mashed potatoes and broccolini. It was really good but didn’t leave much room in our stomachs for more.

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I’d seen a dessert I wanted back at Pop Eats, so we returned there after making a full rotation around the lake. My husband got the cookie with strawberry filling ($4.50). I had the almond frangipane cake ($4.50) as I’m a fan of rainbow cakes. This was nice and moist. I’d ordered the popping bubbles cocktail as well. This champagne drink has gel pearls that burst in your mouth with extra flavor ($10.50).

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There were other dishes I might have liked to try, but I got too full. Plus, it was hot out with temps in the eighties, and I was beginning to wilt. After a very long walk to the exit, we boarded the tram to the parking lot and headed home to relax in our air-conditioned condo.

Epcot Flower Festival

We spent a couple hours at the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival the other weekend. Construction is going on at the front entrance, so we veered around the barriers to the package inspection station. From here, we headed into one of my favorite spots, the building with free cola drinks from around the world. I like the raspberry-flavored one the best.

Epcot Flower & Garden Festival

Next we ventured outside and to the right toward Canada. One of our party had the Citrus-Poached Salmon at the Flavor Full Kitchen. I tried the Roasted Beets with Cashew Cheese. It was delicious. Between this dish and the beets we ate recently at a Publix cooking class, I could make a meal from this vegetable.

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At the Honey Bee-Stro, we sampled the Roasted Cauliflower with Carrot Puree, Rice Pilaf and Asparagus. It was good, but I like my roasted cauliflower recipe better. Also from this booth, a member of our group had the Honey Tandoori Chicken Flatbread. It looked good, although maybe not as crispy as I like flatbreads.

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Our kids sampled the Fruit Sushi called Frushi from Hanama in Japan and a few other items. By now, I was too hot to eat any of the meat dishes and the heat had sapped my appetite. We finished our rounds and left for the day.

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Later, my husband and I visited Disney Springs. We had lunch at Paddlefish. While enjoying a lovely view of the lake, we ate New England Clam Chowder and the Crabcake appetizer with corn relish that was more than enough for a meal. We watched the amphicars glide past from the Boathouse Restaurant.

clam chowder

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Others meals we had were at Seasons 52 and Bahama Breeze. And now that we’re home, it’s time to go back on our healthful diets.

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Hollywood Studios and Beyond

We spent an afternoon last weekend strolling around Disney World’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida. Turning right at the first main intersection, we passed the fast food places on our left and gift shops on our right. Straight ahead was the Tower of Terror. I went on this theme park ride for one time in the past, and it was my only time. However, I like to admire the structure because it reminds me of Dead Roots, my haunted hotel mystery. I had this attraction in mind when planning the layout for my fictional resort, which was also inspired by the delightful Tower of Terror movie.

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Many of the former attractions were closed and we couldn’t access the back streets. Remodeling is underway for the new Mickey and Minnie Runaway Railway and the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

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We viewed the tourists along with this local resident.

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Then we went into Star Wars: Path of the Jedi to see a 12 minute film and get cooled off in the air-conditioning. The film follows Luke Skywalker from when he began his journey as a Jedi to when Rey took up the challenge in the latest saga film.

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We saw the new Star Wars Solo movie at Disney’s Dine-In Theater. The action kept me on my toes throughout along with keeping track of the various political factions. I especially liked how Han met Chewbacca and Lando. If you want a good escapist film, I’d recommend it for an entertaining couple of hours.

We ate at several restaurants in the area. Here’s the stuffed mushroom appetizer we enjoyed at Longhorn.

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Breakfast one day was at Wilderness Lodge.

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Dinner at Ahi Sushi.

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We also went to the Farmer’s Market in Winter Park and then strolled along the shops at Park Avenue after lunch.

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This was a welcome break. Back home, I completed my final read-through of Trimmed to Death, #15 in the Bad Hair Day mystery series. Now it’s ready for production!

 

Magic Kingdom is Magical

All your dreams seem possible at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. This is where my husband and I came to celebrate our engagement over forty years ago and again when I sold my first book. That title was Circle of Light, and The Lion King had just come out with the song, “Circle of Life”. To this day, I associate that song with my very first published title.

Since we have annual passes and have been on most of the rides, we usually take a stroll, have lunch, and leave. I took a few short videos which you can watch on my YouTube Channel. These include a live show on the main stage beneath Cinderella’s Castle, the train ride, and the ferry from Magic Kingdom back to the Ticket and Transportation Center.

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We ate lunch at Harbour House across from the Haunted Mansion. It’s a fast food place but with more healthy choices. We split a cup of clam chowder and a tuna sandwich on multigrain bread, if I remember the items correctly. It was enough for the two of us.

My favorite attraction, the People Mover, had a line for the first time I can ever remember. We bypassed that one and headed to the Carousel of Progress, another favorite. I love the cheerful song with its message of hope, and how the people in each era thought their time was the most progressive. Don’t we feel that way now about our technology and ease-of-living devices?

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What’s your favorite attraction when you visit the Magic Kingdom?

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Pandora – The World of Avatar

We visited Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and set out to explore the world of Avatar. Our entrance into this magical land took us past a lounge that looked inviting.
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We skipped the new rides, not having fast passes and not caring to wait two hours in the standby line. It was delightful to stroll around and view the amazing flora and fauna. Disney did a wonderful job making you feel you’re on an alien planet.
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Mountains rise in the distance, past this floating masterpiece, while musicians welcome visitors to their land.
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Hungered by our journey, we entered the canteen where healthful choices tempted us. I had the chicken bowl with rice and vegetable slaw. Others in our party had cheeseburger pods or vegetable curry pods. My non-alcoholic drink, a Pandoran Sunrise, was green and tasted like melon juice.
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Inside the gift shop, you can buy all sorts of theme-related wares. It was fun to browse although we left with our wallets intact.
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It took us a couple of hours to stroll around. If you go on the rides, allow more time. You’ll still have the rest of the day free to explore the Animal Kingdom. I love the lush greenery of this theme park anyway, and the new addition adds to the allure.
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Magic Kingdom Revisited

The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida represents family outings and celebrations. My husband and I went there after we got engaged. We went there again to celebrate when I’d sold my first book. This sale culminated a long, hard struggle as I wrote six books before selling a three-book contract to Dorchester. My first published title, Circle of Light, sold about the same time The Lion King came out. Every time I heard “Circle of Life” playing, it reminded me of my book with a sense of joy and wonder that my career had finally taken off. And since Circle of Light, winner of the HOLT Medallion, was a scifi romance, Tomorrowland was a particular favorite of mine. Speaking of which, I enjoyed the movie by that name. We’ve returned to Disney World every year, often several times, from when our children were babies to now with them as adults. We have annual passes and still enjoy the beautiful landscaping, the happy ambiance, and the place where dreams can come true.

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We went on It’s A Small World and People Mover rides this time. It was too hot for waiting in lines. Lunch was at the Colombia Harbour House opposite the Haunted Mansion. I had a hummus, tomato, and broccoli slaw sandwich.

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As we strolled back to Main Street, we came upon a delightful entertainment:

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The Magic Kingdom is still a magical experience. I’m hoping the family memories we create there will pass on to the next generation.


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Star Wars at Disney Springs

We spent Christmas Day at the movies as is our tradition. This year, we saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens at Disney’s Dine-In Movie Theater. I love this experience where you lounge in comfy seats, order a meal, and dine during the film showing on a big screen.

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As for the movie, I loved it. It has action-packed scenes and emotional resonance similar to the original film that started it all. The new characters are complex and engage your interest right away, while seeing familiar faces brings you back to an earlier era when the same universe fired your imagination. It appeals to both old and new fans and satisfies both. Surprise plot twists will startle you even if you thought you saw them coming. As for the final scene, all I could say was, “How can they end it NOW?” We breathlessly await the sequel to see if it will bring another reveal. Meanwhile, I’m ready to pre-order this DVD.

After the movie, we strolled along the west end of Disney Springs amid the Christmas Day crowds, crossed the bridge and headed for a glimpse of the new Hangar Bar. This themed lounge is very small so be prepared to wait for a seat.

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We passed by the Boatyard, a popular restaurant which we’d tried before. It’s next to a landing where you can rent an amphibious car to cruise the lake. We went over to Morimoto Asia instead for drinks and appetizers. I had the sake sangria and an order of steamed dumplings. Reservations are suggested for a seat in the dining room. Otherwise, you can sit in the bar area and order food.

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The mobs of people discouraged us from exploring further changes at Disney Springs, so we headed home.

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Disney’s Hollywood Studios

We took a stroll this past weekend around Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando. It was already mobbed when we got there around ten o’clock. Up ahead, the main stage heralded “Frozen” along with signs from every direction.

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We veered left, past the Theater that now holds a Frozen Sing-Along show. Jedi action was in full swing at Star Tours, with little kids learning light-saber fighting skills on a stage front and center. Having been on the ride before, we dipped into the shop to see what was new. Merchandising for Disney’s Star Wars acquisition is evident throughout the park. You can even buy a Jedi robe for a Halloween costume. I resisted the urge, however, and moved on toward the backstage sets. We like the Writer’s Stop, where you can buy coffee or a snack and check out the books and videos for sale in a cozy atmosphere. Both stunt shows are still viable, Indiana Jones and the race cars. But the Backstage Studio Lot Tour is closed. The attendant said it will be torn down for a new attraction. The park will be renamed as well. Meanwhile, The Great Movie Ride supposedly has new narration and scenes added to the finale movie clip. I wish they’d updated some of the sequences in the ride itself, but I suppose it retains classic value.

We ate lunch at the 50’s Prime Time Café, which is always fun. The menu is mostly dinner-type choices with not a sandwich in sight. I had fried chicken with mashed potatoes. My husband had chicken pot pie that wasn’t baked in a crust but had a flaky pastry on top. As before, the waitress admonished us “children” to eat our vegetables.

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Over by Tower of Terror, it got even more crowded. Dark clouds scudded overhead. Sensing a thunderstorm about to invade, we hustled to our car. We’d had our morning walk, indulged in a hearty lunch, and were ready to return to our condo for a nap.

 

Epcot Food & Wine

As per our annual family tradition, we attended the Epcot Food & Wine Festival last weekend. The weather was perfect, delightfully cool in the morning and warming into the 70’s in the afternoon. World Showcase opens at 11am so we arrived by lunchtime, turning left toward Mexico. For those of you not familiar with this event, each country has a little pavilion where they offer samples of food and drink for a fee.

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Here are some photos from previous years. I didn’t bring a camera this time; too busy eating.

We passed on the entries at Chile, Brazil, and Puerto Rico but stopped at Argentina for the grilled beef skewer with chimichurri sauce and boniato puree ($4.75 per portion) and a glass of Kaiken cabernet ($5.50). Delicious. Next came Mexico. They have a whole new area across from the pyramid with a dine-in restaurant and counter service café with outdoor seating under cover. Our kids got the taco at their festival pavilion. We went past Poland, then came to China and just had to get their barbecue chicken stick. This was a generous portion and very tasty. We skipped South Korea, although the honey ginger tea sounded good.

At South Africa, the seared beef tenderloin with mango barbecue sauce and sweet potato puree is a good choice. I had to taste the shrimp cake with noodle salad at Singapore next ($3.50 each). Another tasty dish. Am I making your mouth water yet?

By now I was full, so I strode by Germany, Italy, the U.S., Japan, Australia and Morocco. I’d had some of these foods at previous forays anyway. Belgium was new and there was a long line. The baked Belgium waffle with berry compote and whipped cream was to die for. Very luscious and reasonably priced at $2.75. The Godiva chocolate liqueur iced coffee was expensive at $7.25, but I had to try it. Lip-smacking good.

Too full to eat more, we passed by Spain, resisted the chocolate crème brulee at France and the warm chocolate lava cake at Ireland, even the maple glazed salmon at Canada. Would have loved to try the items at Greece or the lamb slider at New Zealand, but we’ll save those for next year. My stomach always gets satiated halfway around World Showcase.

Harry Potter

We finally got to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando. The weather, cool and sunny, was a delight and perfect for entering Hogsmeade with the “snow-covered” rooftops. The village is quaint like in the stories. The tall buildings have slanted roofs with fake snow and chimneys and historical looking shop window displays. Some are real; some are not, like the old bookstore with Lockhart Gilderoy’s (sp?) books on view. You can go into the candy shop, although there was a line the day we went. Prices are high for things like chocolate frogs, jelly beans, and such.

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The magic shop didn’t seem to have anything unusual either. Wands cost $28.95 in an assortment of styles. Scarves were popular in the cool weather, and I indulged in buying one myself. I got the red Gryffindor scarf, made in China, acrylic fabric, for around $30. You could buy a school robe for $99 if you need an expensive costume.

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After waiting in line for over an hour, we entered Olivander’s wand shop where the old shopkeeper himself chose a “student” from the crowd and matched her to a wand amid special effects. It was cool, and she got to keep the wand, but this was, like, a ten minute show after a very long wait.

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We went into The Three Broomsticks for lunch. Here we entered another line to place our order wherein we were given a number and shown to a table. We ordered the platter for four, consisting of barbecued chicken and ribs, corn on the cob (with decorative husks still remaining), roasted potatoes and vegetables, and salad. It was a pretty good deal considering the feast we got, $49.99 for four. We all got Butterbeer with its white foamy top. You can get it with or without a souvenir plastic mug. It’s like very sweet cream soda with maybe a hint of root beer. Too sweet for my taste.

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I had Pumpkin Juice later, which comes in a cute plastic bottle topped with a little pumpkin. This was also heavy on the sugar with apple juice and pumpkin puree. Anyway, the décor in the restaurant is cool. There are very high slanted ceilings with wood staircases going in all directions like you see in the movies. Tables and chairs are all wood. You can almost imagine the dining hall where Harry and friends eat, except there weren’t any floating candles in the air.

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Hogwarts Castle is very imposing, a huge mountain of a fortress atop a fake hill, looking every bit as ominous as in the movies. We had no wait when we entered. There were two lines, one for people going on the ride (they had to wait inside as they wound around the premises) and one for people just wanting to tour the castle. Here we split up. I went into the latter line and followed the narrow passages inside the structure.

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As you climb a staircase, figures in portraits on the walls talk to each other. In one room, you see Dumbledore’s office as the headmaster addresses you from afar. Another chamber is like a great hall with a balcony at the far end. Standing on this balcony are holographic type images of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They make snow fall and use their invisibility cloak. It’s all very cool. Too bad it was dark inside and photos wouldn’t come out. Inside one display case was a newspaper with a talking photo. That’s all I remember. Our son said the ride was fun. You’re strapped in and have to leave loose items in a locker. Your feet dangle and you twist and turn, sometimes on your back, but it isn’t a roller coaster or a simulator. Sounds like a cross between Soarin’ and the dinosaur ride in Animal Kingdom.

We enjoyed the food and the ambiance and the reality of this adventure, but it would be nice if there were more shops to explore with less crowds and perhaps some interesting merchandise beyond souvenirs. Since we’re not thrill ride lovers, we didn’t partake of much else in Islands of Adventure.