Florida 2015: ALL THE FOOD (featuring Le Cellier, Be Our Guest, Via Napoli & The Leaky Cauldron, among others)

And, as if by strange and sad magic, we’re back. Two glorious weeks in unseasonably baking weather – which wilted but did not wither this fragile British blossom – and it’s back down to (spaceship) Earth with a bump.

I dare say there will be a few things I will be keen to blog about over the next few weeks, but being of Mediterranean origin I’m going the traditional Greek route of telling you about everything I ate since we last met. Food was always going to be a major part of the trip, from classic US diner breakfasts (yes, Brits are obsessed with the likes of Cracker Barrel, Perkins and Denny’s because they might be ubiquitous cheapie chains to you, my American brethren, but to us they’re  ZOMG biscuits and proper pancakes) to a date night in Epcot, because why would a date night involving me be anywhere else?

So, here is a brief(ish) rundown of the highlights, with just a few of my favourite things. Continue reading →

A brief personal history of Walt Disney World, with pictures

No-one who knows me IRL can fail to have heard about my family’s upcoming trip to Walt Disney World. It’s going to include quite a few members of my extended family, all packing our noisy selves into a villa barely seven miles from the Epcot parking lot.


Now, I could write a whole lot of actually useful stuff about using My Disney Experience (excellent customer service when something weird – not Disney’s fault – went wrong with the tickets), booking FP+, making our Advance Dining Reservations including a date night at Le Cellier… but, you know, the world is already heaving with places to find that information. I’m totally happy to answer questions and share tips, but there are people who devote their entire lives to WDW holiday planning (not least the Disney Parks Moms Panel) – more people than you can shake a stick at, frankly. And instead, I just want to share my excitement through photos.

Don’t get me wrong, I know things have changed. Obviously things have changed. I mean, my Dad labelled one of the photos below as “E.P.C.O.T. Center” (yes, with the unnecessary dots and yes, he can still tell you what it stands for). There are attractions that are never coming back (we don’t have to name The One; come to think of it, maybe we all have a different One). There are attractions that are changed beyond recognition, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. The place that I fell in love with when I was four is not the same place that my daughter, aged four, will now fall in love with. There’s a part of me that’s a little sad about that, but it’s a mistake to ever try to recreate your experience in your child; you are not the same people. It is not the same time. And, as for yourself – well, you can never really go back. I’ve made my peace with that.

But I’m also aware – and, honestly, grateful – that I will carry with me the rose-tinted specs of 1984 and see things through that lens. The new memories I create will be drawn on the top of the ones that are already inked on me, a hundred hidden Mickeys stamped all over, invisible but indelible, each layer smudged, blurred but never wiped out over time.

This week, I found these photos from my first visit. They are the set which went with this one.  They make me very, very happy. I cannot wait to have the uniquely wonderful experience of seeing it all unfold through R’s eyes; I got a hint of it at Disneyland Paris, but this is it – the Mother Ship!

And no, I will not be wearing short shorts.




Disney Parks Announcement Bingo: Play Along at Home!

I joke sometimes that because I deal with online communities all day in my professional life, I don’t have the energy to get involved with them in my personal life. This is nonsense, of course (just look at how much I tweet), but I can have a mild aversion to forum-style interaction, because over time it becomes a bit of an echo chamber, without the ease of unfollowing.

So, I’m not a member of many Disney communities, and I choose my interaction carefully. After all, so much of it is not for me. It’s for people who have this amazing Disney centred life in Florida or California or at least some part of the US. Which means, perhaps, that I get to focus a different lens on the whole thing. And it’s kind of amazing and funny and brilliant to me that I now know the lay of the land well enough to roll my eyes – fondly, affectionately – every time there’s a new Disney Parks announcement. Because you are guaranteed – guaranteed – to hear at least four of the below with every one of those. From the gushing excitement that verges on stalking (guilty of that) to the harking back to a golden era (that too) and the pining for a certain long lost attraction that just won’t die (yep), you know you’re going to hear it all. Again.

Sometimes I think it’s the comforting predictability of it that brings me back for more. If we’re all a bit nuts, let’s be nuts together, publicly – strength in crackers numbers.

Disney Parks Announcement Bingo

The 21st Century Begins…

I’m pretty much always sad that I’m not at Walt Disney World. But today has an extra element of bittersweet longing as it’s the thirtieth anniversary of the best theme park in the world, ever: EPCOT Center (okay, Epcot. And yes, even now,  with Horizons* gone and that ending to Spaceship Earth and no new countries for decades. Today, I have all of the love and I don’t care).

This is where, just two years after opening, I fell in love with Disney.  And it’s why it doesn’t matter how old I get, I will always feel like an excited child at those gates. For some people it’s Cinderella Castle; for me, it’ll always be that monolithic golf ball.

Happy birthday, Epcot. I miss you.

*Okay, guys, I know it can’t come back. I get it. But take that extraordinary immersion – that incredibly long, detailed and rich experience – and bring it back in another form. I’m okay with that. I dare you.

Review: The Epcot Explorer’s Encyclopedia – R. A. Pedersen

It seems that now I’ve started blogging more, I can’t stop.  And since I’ve just read a book I really enjoyed, for a number of reasons, I feel the need to share this with you.

It’s no shock to anyone that I’m a big Disney parks fan, and anyone who’s ever asked knows my favourite park is Epcot. Since I first visited a mere two years after it opened, it’s always been the park I’ve looked forward to the most. Being a bit techy, a bit foodie, a bit of a traveller, a bit of a geek, it’s the best possible theme park in the world (or World) for me. And knowing that it started life intending to be the model of a future city is just insanely appealing. But I’m an Epcot fan, not an Epcot history buff; I live too far away and visit, by financial necessity, too infrequently to spot every update or track every plan for the space.

Pedersen, a former Unofficial Guide researcher, has taken all that insane appeal and married it to an Epcot (and EPCOT Center) geekery that is truly admirable and a little scary – in a good way. This is not a guide book but a history; it describes the evolution of every single attraction in the park, from Mission: SPACE to the Mexico pavillion and back again. Drawing on planning permits, information released by Imagineers, decades of Walt Disney World promotional literature and much more, it balances scene-by-scene detail with little forays into fun fact territory.

Picking apart an attraction might sound negative, but it’s actually fascinating. Far from destroying the magic, it heightens it; in the case of lost and lamented Horizons, it’s practically the only way those of us who can’t make it to a WED Convention might hope to relive it and share it with those who never got a chance to experience it. The encyclopaedia* layout also means it’s easy to skip over parts that are less personally interesting; I admit the development of Innoventions etc. is not half as interesting to me as the growth of the World Showcase pavillions, so I more-or-less skim read the list of stalls and stands.

I was not tempted to skim elsewhere, however, because the writing style is full of wit, lightheartedness, self-awareness and passion. It made me laugh out loud a couple of times, and smirk a few times more. It could do with a little tidying because annoying language fascists like me might be a little distracted by the odd typo, but given the overall eloquence I feel I’m nitpicking. (Now you know how much I liked it; when have I ever been that laissez-faire about language before?!)

Really my only criticism is that there isn’t more of it. The abrupt ending after the last bit of World Showcase miscellany has been thrown in made me feel a little bereft, especially as there was an engaging introduction. Admittedly I’m unsure what else there was to cover, but I was sorry to see it end and somehow wasn’t expecting it. Perhaps that’s the curse of the Kindle.

The UK edition is currently available from Amazon for Kindle, but a paper copy is forthcoming. You can also follow the author, @EPCOTNRG, on Twitter and visit his website, devoted to the ‘flora, fauna and fun of the world’s greatest theme park’.

*US spelling in the title, UK spelling in the review. So there.

Holiday Post: Disney Days

Well, I promised to greet you from the Disney side…

We landed around 3pm on Thursday and have so far packed in a trip to Sarasota to see my auntie and visit St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church in Bradenton for a Good Friday service, an evening stroll around the Magic Kingdom taking in Pirates, Small World (Ash’s insistence) and Snow White,  a hot air balloon ride, a day at Epcot and a trip to Tarpon Springs followed by an evening at Downtown Disney.

My feet really hurt.

Ash has done all the driving. I’m generally a good and confident driver and enjoy being on the road but when we rented an “intermediate” SUV we forgot that size is different on this side of the Atlantic. The monster Jeep Patriot Dollar handed us scares the living daylights out of me; while I’m not a typical woman in many ways, sadly I fit right in the lousy stereotype category when it comes to spatial awareness. I’m used to a Toyoto Yaris – I ain’t getting behind the wheel of the gargantuan tank in the car park.

The weather has been pleasantly sunny – I have a hint of a burn from the day at Epcot – but we’re due thunderstorms the next couple of days so we’ll probably spend tomorrow indoors trawling the malls, and maybe try Hollywood Studios or hitting Magic Kingdom properly on Tuesday if it starts to get warmer. Then Wednesday we have a fun day planned at Kennedy Space Centre. I haven’t been to Cape Canaveral since I was about 8.

Highlights so far:

  • Soarin’ @ Epcot – absolutely fantastic gliding simulator. Wish it was longer, but the queues are long enough already!
  • Test Track and Mission: SPACE are just as good as I remembered too, although the More Intense Training route of the latter does your head in for quite a long time afterwards if you’re even slightly sensitive to motion (Ash doesn’t get motion sickness and felt thoroughly weird for ages).
  • Lovely lunch at Plaka in Tarpon Springs.

Alarming moments so far:

  • The ‘venomous snakes’ sign at the rest stop on I4 East (see Flickr).

Anyway, it’s late(ish), I’m tired, and a warm shower and an episode of Family Guy are calling.

Ten Days of Disney: EPCOT

Now, I appreciate that the Magic Kingdom is the symbol of Disney in every sense. Not only was it the original theme park from which I have pictures of a four-year-old slack-jawed Alex watching a parade in absolute, blissful awe, but the image of Cinderella Castle – particularly with fireworks breaking in the sky above – is absolutely synonymous with everything from film idents to promotional materials.

But it’s not my favourite park. Oh, don’t get me wrong, Pirates of the Caribbean and the newly-refitted Haunted Mansion are totally on my “don’t leave without seeing” list (It’s a Small World not so much but then I’m no longer a small person). But as much as the Lands of Fantasy, Frontier and more delight me and fill me with excitement and joy, it’s EPCOT that I really look forward to visiting.

The giant silver golf ball that marks the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow makes my heart race when it hoves into view from the monorail. I was always, always a techy, geeky kid. Fascinated by computers, the first one to figure out how to programme the VCR to record. I took after my mother – she was the one setting timers and changing plugs in our house, and she’s taught herself HTML in her 60s just because she felt like it, really. So heading into a whole world of beeps and whistles, a supercharged collection of the most fun science museum stands, was tremendously exciting. EPCOT, with its Spaceship Earth based around communication, is really an inevitable choice for a social media and online communications bod, isn’t it?

More than that, though, there was the World Showcase. A brilliantly multi-cultural idea from a company who could at times seem a bit sterile and white, it’s also by far the best place to eat in the whole of WDW (especially Morocco). Oh, and the best vantage point to watch the gorgeous Illuminations light and firework show over the lake.

This year is my first visit to Animal Kingdom. It was open when I last went in 2004 but I was only there for a week and chose to revisit old friends rather than trying to spend time getting to know a new park. I imagine it will be a great experience, but my first priority will be introducing my complete Disnewbie of a husband to EPCOT.

Ten Days of Disney Day One: Howard Ashman & Alan Menken