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.

I. AM. SO. EXCITED.

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.

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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: Landscaping

tinkNow, I know what you’re thinking. You came here for stuff about Disney and I give you… gardening?! Seriously, though. There’s more to Disney’s extraordinary landscaping than you might think.

Before you even start on the amazing Disney topiary contests (always more impressive in person than in pictures), everything about the way the Disney parks are laid out is wonderful. The attention to detail from leaping fountains and peaceful waterways to lovely swathes of parkland that you watch zooming by from the monorail is just wonderful. It very cleverly makes what’s essentially a huge man-made development fit very sympathetically into place. It’s not an urban blot on the landscape but an attractive marriage of nature and architecture. You’ve got to love that (and we’ll go onto architecture on another Day of Disney, no doubt).

Despite involving tonnes and tonnes of concrete, bricks and paint, a visit to WDW always seems like a visit to a rural park. I imagine this will only be better in Animal Kingdom’s mock-safari areas, and I look forward to seeing that and the gorgeous Tree of Life I’ve heard so much about. Much of Orlando is inescapably touristy and industrial – which serves a useful purpose but isn’t exactly attractive – so it’s great to go into a tourist area and yet not feel like you’re in a concrete pit.

Day One: Howard Ashman & Alan Menken

Day Two: EPCOT

[Image Source: Tink Spinning Topiary from Princess Shari on Flickr]

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