Magic Kingdom Repeals Prohibition; “Be Our Guest” to Serve Beer and Wine

Disney CEO Bob “Beer Me” Iger announces the new Be Our Guest menu

Well, kids, the drought is over.  The Magic Kingdom, notoriously “dry” since it’s opening in 1971, will soon be serving alcohol.  Love it or hate it, Disney announced this week that the “Be Our Guest” restaurant in the new Fantasyland will be offering beer and wine to dinner guests.  The news has sparked a firestorm of controversy on the web, with many women people dismayed at the decision.

Disney strategically made the historic announcement with very little fanfare, opting to sneak in a mere fleeting mention of it in a post touting the new restaurant’s French-influenced menu on the Disney Parks Blog.

To clear some things up:  This does not mean fighting off hordes of drunken college kids with your family to get through Fantasyland.  There will be no beverage carts in the middle of the park, and the beer and wine will not be allowed “to-go.”  They will be offered at dinner only, and exclusively in Be Our Guest.  Anyone familiar with dining in Disney knows that with such a highly anticipated restaurant as this, getting in without an advanced dining reservation will be impossible, so exhausted parents can forget about just “popping in” for a cold one.  Unlike restaurants like Hollywood Studios’ ’50′s Prime Time Diner, there will be no separate lounge area.  And despite its name, the nearby counter service option of Gaston’s Tavern will offer only non-alcoholic libations.

The beer and wine selection did not escape Disney’s eye for detail.  Guests can choose from a variety of imports, headlined by the French Kronenbourg 1664 (“After all, Miss, this is France!”) and including a selection of high quality brews from neighboring Belgium.  The wine list will boast, naturally, mostly French wines, with bottles from the most popular regions.

Now let’s break down the debate, shall we?

Main Street, USA residents speak out against the sale of alcohol in the Magic Kingdom

The biggest argument I’ve heard against the change is that it’s “going directly against Walt’s wishes.”  Walt envisioned Disneyland (with the exception of the private Club 33), and thus Magic Kingdom, as completely dry.  The reason was not because Walt was anti-alcohol.  He actually enjoyed a Scotch and water after work each day, like most men of his time.  In fact, his daughter Diane Disney-Miller accounts in her book that she remembers him being a bit tipsy the evening of Disneyland’s opening.

The reason Walt didn’t want alcohol in his park was because in visiting amusement parks and fairs at the time, he saw all too often a father hand his children money or tickets and park himself at the nearest bar or drink stand while they rode the rides and played the games.  Walt wanted families to experience Disneyland together, and having an area that corralled uninterested parents would hinder that.  He knew he could make a park so great that dad (or mom) didn’t need a drink to have fun.

That being said, the way Disney is handling this seems to be in keeping with Walt’s wishes.  This is for a glass of wine at dinner, not to get blasted.  We won’t have to worry about drunken Disney characters (which is for the best: Piglet starts to stutter, Donald gets belligerent, Lightning McQueen can’t walk home without a DUI, and once Princess Aurora passes out, she’s IMPOSSIBLE to wake up!).

Storm the Castle!

This decision is, in my opinion, a good one.  The argument I very much understand, however, is that people are fearing this is just the beginning.  Admittedly, a glass of Chianti with my Tony’s Town Square pasta at the end of the day would be a blessed treat.  But many of us have had the annoying experience of dealing with groups “drinking around the world” at Epcot (I have not.  I’ve always been in those annoying groups instead).  And that’s part of the Epcot experience.  But beer carts and drink stands would be a sore fit in Magic Kingdom, which needs nothing as is to enhance its storytelling.

It should be noted that I work in the liquor industry.  Liquor is my livliehood, and I love it.  I love beer, wine, and cocktails.  I love the craft of the drinks themselves and the social aspect of them as well.  Liquor, when used responsibly and in moderation, can be a wonderful thing.  But I also see, on a daily basis, people who are controlled by it.  People whose lives have been ruined by it, without them even realizing.

Is it so bad to have one place…just ONE…where alcohol isn’t a part of the fun?  Disney has done alright without it until now.  There’s something to be said for a place that can hold so many happy memories for so many millions of people, all without something that’s available everywhere else.  If the trend spreads, I’m all for responsible, controlled libations at dinner in sit down restaurants.  But after the wine’s poured and the napkins freshly pressed (thank the Lord), I do hope it stops there.  Time will tell.

Cheers,

-Steve

One supporter of the new menu

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The Very Merry Not-So-Scary Wedding Trip–Part Seven: All Good Things

The rest of the report:

Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six

Saturday morning arrived, as it is wont to do at the end of each week, and with the rising sun came the unsaid–but not unnoticed–knowledge that we could now each say, “I’m going home tomorrow.”  As I packed my wallet with the day’s budgeted cash, the tickets for our return flight glared at me from the back of the hotel safe.  Tomorrow’s date seemed to be glowing, reminding me that no matter how used I’ve gotten to living the Disney life, real life was waiting for us a mere 36 hours away.  I sighed and locked the safe one last time, vowing not to let our looming imminent departure get in the way of our last full day.

We were up early, arriving in Animal Kingdom just after park opening. We weren’t there long, however.  Lauren doesn’t particularly care for Expedition Everest.  To her credit, she did try it once, which is more than could be said for the Rock and Roller Coaster (she has a fear of both going upside down and Steven Tyler).  Although I’m not against riding anything alone, I didn’t feel like waiting in line all morning.  We also wouldn’t be there long enough to use a FastPass.

So after a ride on Dinosaur (one of favorite rides in all of WDW) and strolling through the walking trails (where most of the animals were out-of-sight and/or sleeping), we had pretty much had it.  Animal Kingdom, despite being built with the best of intentions in mind, is a horribly laid-out park.  That’s just my humble opinion, of course, but no matter what the time of day, time of year or crowd level, it is ALWAYS a good thirty degrees hotter than anywhere else in Florida, ALWAYS crowded as all hell, and ALWAYS leaves me leaving a bit crankier than when I walked in.

Narrow bottle-necked pathways, uneven terrain, humidity-trapping tree canopies, and a downright confusing layout make getting around a real pain-in-the-donkey.  I mean, I GET it.  I GET what Joe Rhode and the Imagineers were going for.  They want it to feel natural and organic.  They want you to discover things on your own and happen across wonderful little surprises along the way.  And this would be wonderful if there were no crowds, which a better park layout would alleviate.  At it’s fullest, Epcot (by comparison a smaller park, by the way), rarely makes you feel as if you’re a canned sardine.

“Wow!  Talk about detail,”  I remarked as we pushed and shoved our way through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds in the tiny walkway through Anandapur.  I thought about the travel shows I’ve seen highlighting the harrowing street markets of Dehli.  “It really feels like we’re in India!”  The experience was heightened by the fact that hardly anyone around us was speaking English.  So after checking the wait time for Kilimanjaro Safaris (no dice…and I’m pretty sure the Return Time over the FastPass distribution said, “Next Tuesday”), we trekked back to the hotel to recover and rejuvenate.  Although we weren’t there long, we certainly felt as if we had just returned from a week-long safari.

After a nap and shower, we walked over to Epcot.  Most of our time this trip had been spent at Epcot, but we had yet to grow tired of it.  Part of it, I’m sure, was simply the convenience of proximity to the Swan/Dolphin.  But as far as relaxing, easy-going Disney vacations go, World Showcase is such a great place to not do anything in particular.  For late-lunch/early-dinner, we decided to share some plates around the world.

We split a “slider platter” in Morrocco, and chicken curry in Japan (both very very yummy), and of course, we stopped in France for yet another round of Grand Marnier slushies.  After browsing the wine shop, the craving for another French wine flight kicked in.  That’s when things started to go downhill.  I have found that wine flights, by nature, are consumed faster than a full glass of wine, which leads to the alcohol having a more immediate and responsive effect.  The round of Grey Goose lemonade slushies that followed didn’t help, either.

I was in good spirits now.  We strolled down to Canada to try their specialty drink, the Toronto-politan (don’t remember what it was, but I’m pretty sure it contained maple syrup and beaver pelts), only to discover that their Toronto-politan making machine was “oot of order”.  What disappointment!  Ah, well.  Two more Grand Marnier slushies helped us get over it.

Arm-in-arm, we stumbled back to the Swan, a regular Nick and Nora Charles.  Waiting for us there was a bottle of sparkling moscato that was included in a “welcome bag” sent over by the bride and groom.  It was our last night there, and I didn’t want to pack it, so no use in letting it go to waste, I figured.  After the bottle was kicked, we had standing plans to meet the rest of the crew at the Beach Club bar, and we diligently trudged over.

The rest of the night was awash with gin-and-tonics.  After watching a big (albeit retrospectively fruitless) Celtics win, a hearty goodbye was said to Jason and Jenny, who were off for their honeymoon cruise the following day.  The rest of us had a late afternoon flight back to reality.

*                                 *                             *

Sunday morning crashed violently through our hotel window, yanking me out of a dreamless, drunk slumber and smashing me around the room, kicking me in the head several times in the process.  My eyes were red and bleary.  My mouth was dry and tasted faintly of juniper and curry.  I simultaneously cursed the fact that I had to fly in this condition and thanked God we didn’t have an earlier flight.  Although it was almost the last thing I wanted to do (next to riding Mission: Space), I showered, finished packing and we poured ourselves down to the lobby to check out.

We stored our bags at the bell stand, and once more boated back to Epcot.  We met up with Darlene and Jeremy, who generously treated us to a fantastic small-plate lunch at the Italy pavilion’s Tutto Gusto.  But although the food and company was delightful, words can’t describe the remorse and shame one feels of being in a perfectly crafted Old World wine cellar, and being too hungover to have wine.  My brain’s desire to enjoy a Brunello di Montalcino in an authentic setting was not enough to overcome my stomach’s desire to reject anything with a trace of fermentation.  Damn you, vixenish siren song of the Grand Marnier slushie!

Darlene and Jeremy at Tutto Gusto

After lunch (and a post-lunch crepe), we parted ways for the time being and left Epcot for the last time.  The rest of the day was spent sitting and waiting; first for the town car to the airport, then for the plane, then for the plane to land.  As we waited, the magic of the week slowly faded away and our real lives faded back in.  Our thoughts shifted from park-layouts and wedding plans to work schedules and those bills that had piled up while we were gone.  Then, later that night, we were home, lying in our not-so-heavenly bed.

The memories of the magic were kept alive, for awhile anyway, by Jenny and Jason themselves.  They’ve since gotten married again–to each other, I should mention–this time blessed by their church with a larger group of family and friends present.  There was the familiar routine of rehearsals, tux fittings, cake-cutting and toast-giving, and they got to share their love with those that could not make it down to Walt Disney World.

It was a beautiful ceremony and a blast of a reception, but I found my eyes occasionally darting to the door to see if Mickey and Minnie had arrived yet.  Every so often I checked my watch to see if Wishes had started yet.  It took a while to remind myself I where I was.

There was, however, plenty of Disney influence present.  Each table was named after a place in Walt Disney World, and held a framed picture of Jen and Jason at that particular place.  The guest book was filled with pictures of the happy couple, most of which from Disney World (I was informed that it proved to be a challenge to find so many pictures of them alone together, without me somehow sneaking into, or blatantly walking in front of the shot).  In lieu of clanging champagne glasses, guests were required to sing a few bars of a Disney song to get the newlyweds to kiss (I helped out by singing backup-soprano for “It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” but fellow groomsman Evan, bridesmaid Samantha and best man Jimmy James from Canada really knocked it out the park with a beat-boxed “Hakuna Matata”).

Even though I’m already counting the days until I’ll be back in Walt Disney World, the memories from this particular trip are so cherished, and so different from every other trip.  We proved that a more leisurely, relaxing Disney trip is indeed possible.  Being in Jason and Jenny’s wedding was an honored experience, and I can’t thank them and their families enough for their welcoming generosity and friendship.

Thank you for reading about our adventure, and one last congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Fazzina!  Have you ever seen a couple so in love?

The best picture I could find of the happy couple

Don’t forget you can “Like” See Ya Real Soon on the Facebook, and follow us on the Twitter.  Your questions and comments are always appreciated.  Also, keep an eye out for our podcast coming out later this year, hosted by yours truly, and featuring Lauren, Darlene, Jeremy, Jenny and Jason.  Cheers!

See Ya Real Soon,

-Steve

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The Very Merry Not-So-Scary Wedding Trip–Part Six

Catch up on the whole trip herePart One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five

Thursday, the day after the wedding, we slept in.  It was amazing.  That was not the case, however, for most of the wedding party.  Bill, the bride’s father, was leaving that night, and being a Disney first-timer, his family was determined to show him in one short day just what his daughters have been so crazy about for the better part of a decade.  It needed to be proven that Walt Disney World was no ordinary place.  Bill is the type of guy who would prefer a cold beer, a lawn chair, and a stack of Ernest Tubb records to most things, but was more than willing to see what all the fuss was about.  “The fuss” being the years and years of listening to his daughters, Jenny in particular, hound him about how great Disney was, insofar as trying to convince him that it was indeed, despite his resistance, better than even Dollywood.

So the bride and groom rose early and checked out of their Grand Floridian wedding-night sweet and hauled poor unsuspecting Bill off to Hollywood Studios.  Jenny and Darlene knew their “Disney Daddy-Daughter Day” was a success when upon seeing John Wayne in the Great Movie Ride, Bill remarked, “Gosh, I feel like I’m twelve again.”  It wasn’t long before he was swept up in the magic of the park.  He even surprised everyone by going on the thrill rides like the Tower of Terror.  “Yeah, I went on it,” he told me when we ran into them later in the day.  “Don’t look at the back of my shorts, though, but I went on it!”

Thursday was Hollywood Studios day for Lauren and I as well, though we went later in the day.  We decided to eschew the ongoing Star Wars Weekends events, not because it’s not the most awesome-est nerdtastic thing ever, but because we didn’t feel like fighting the crowds.  Most of the rides throughout the day were walk-ons (save for Toy Story Mania, of course, which I’m convinced has a 70 minute wait-time even when the park’s closed).  We rode the newly re-vamped Star Tours (incredibly AWESOME ride; it’s still too warm in there though), and drooled over the Fantasyland expansion model in One Man’s Dream.  By mid-afternoon, we ducked back to the hotel for some down time (gotta love the proximity to the hotel), only to return again for late reservations at the Hollywood Brown Derby.

The Brown Derby was our big splurge for the trip.  Although it was a penny-pinching vacation, we wanted to allow ourselves one fine dining experience.  After poring over the menus and reviews for all of Disney’ “signature” restaurants, we decided on the Brown Derby (alas, Le Cellier and Bistro de Paris, we shall meet another day).  Something about the restaurant just seems to suit Lauren and I.

The decor is straight out of 1930s Hollywood, with celebrity caricatures gazing down from the walls.  Lauren ordered a delicious sangria, and I a Yeungling (my first of the trip–I don’t know how I had made it that long.  As of yet, Yeungling is not available north of New York, so I savor it when I can).  The Brown Derby’s actual Hollywood flagship is known for the creation of the Cobb salad (named for former Derby proprietor Robert Howard Cobb), so we couldn’t very well not order it.  It was prepared tableside, and was the most finely-chopped salad I’ve ever had.  It was delicious.

For our entrees, Lauren ordered a steak, and I the leg of lamb.  The lamb was absolutely succulent. It was served with lyonnaise potatoes, garlic buttered hericot verts (which Lauren scoffed at my distinctly American pronunciation of), with a red Zinfandel sauce.  I would have thought this was the second best thing I’ve had all trip (second to the Grand Marnier Slushie of course), were I not to have tried Lauren’s steak.  As good as the lamb was, Lauren won this round of dinner.

The charred filet of beef was glazed with a red wine reduction and Cabernet and roasted shallot butter, and served over a Westin Heavenly Bed (it was that good) of white truffle forest mushroom whipped potatoes.  I have had the privilege to have had many awesome steaks in my life.  I’ve had filet mignon at Tom Collichio’s CraftSteak, cowboy ribeye at David Burke’s Prime, and New York strip at Fleming’s.  I’ve had American Wagyu, Japanese Kobe, and the mouth-watering, cooked-in-butter-hotter-than-the-sun steaks at Ruth’s Chris.  But this–this was actually the best one yet.

The Steak to End All Steaks

First of all, the marriage of the steak and sauce and butter and potatoes and truffles was a match made in heaven, probably by God himself.  And let’s face it:  Truffles are awesome.  Truffles and potatoes:  More awesome.  Truffles, potatoes, and a perfectly cooked, crispy-on-the-outside, red-on-the-inside steak:  Hold on to your flippin’ hats.

After one bite off of Lauren’s plate (and a rather embarrassing “When Harry Met Sally” moment), I looked down at the lamb I had been thoroughly enjoying up until now and scoffed.  It was now a forty-dollar piece of cardboard.  The steak had ruined all food for me.  I was now destined to spend eternity wandering the earth’s steakhouses, fork in hand, searching in vain for the rush I got from that one bite.  Nothing would ever compare.  Nothing could ever possibly come close.  Fifty years from now, you can find me in some dive bar in Texas or Wyoming or Montana, regaling stories to all poor souls who are within earshot about the steak that got away.  “I had to get the lamb,” I’ll cackle through my long white beard, affectionately caressing a tear-stained picture of the steak I printed out from the DisBoards and now carry around in my shabby wallet.  “It cost me my wife, my kids, my job, and my sanity, but I got the lamb! What a fool I was! Someday, my sweet little petite cut, we shall be together again!  I WILL FIND YOU AND MAKE YOU MY OWN!”

*Ahem*

So anyway…

This inner turmoil and flashes of the inevitable events-to-come was let out in the form of a weak smile and a, “It’s good,” when Lauren asked how I liked it.  I dutifully finished my lamb and my beer and kept my angst to myself.  No use ruining a dinner over order-regret. I did, however, consider ordering a whole other steak for myself after finishing my own entree (this, in Hollywood, I believe is known as “Pulling a Hitchcock”), but we were woefully on a budget.  I would settle for an after-dinner cappuccino.

All kidding aside, I should note that despite my love of Lauren’s steak, the lamb (and everything else) was indeed terrific, and in my opinion worth every penny.  I would not hesitate for a second to recommend the Brown Derby to anyone looking for signature dining in Walt Disney World, I definitely will be back.

After strolling out of Hollywood Studios, we tried, unsuccessfully, to grab a few drinks at the Dolphin’s poolside bar, but they rolled up the joint as soon as the sun went down.  So we thought we’d amble over to Jellyrolls on the Boardwalk.

This was our first time in Jellyrolls, a dueling piano bar.  It was a lot of fun, singing along and watching the performers, but I think it would have been an absolute blast were we with a large group of people, sitting closer to the stage.  The service was, frankly, not great.  We were all but ignored in favor of groups that were clearly regulars.  All in all, though, it was a nice, different, no-frills place to grab a couple of cocktails with some entertainment.  As exhibited in the karaoke bar a few nights earlier, finding a place JUST FOR ADULTS in Walt Disney World is becoming more and more difficult, but Jellyrolls fits the bill perfectly.  It’s no Adventurers Club, but alas, what is?

The next morning we were out early for the opening of Magic Kingdom.  We rode our favorites for one last time, and strolled through Tomorrowland.  For the first time EVER, I beat Lauren in Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.  Also for the first time ever, we decided to NOT go into Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress.  One less Sherman Brothers song to get stuck in our heads.  Though we couldn’t in good conscience leave without an obligatory ride on the TTA.

We then caught the monorail to Epcot, where we had lunch reservations at Via Napoli.  There, we shared a pizza with artichokes, mozzarella, and truffle oil (remember kids, truffles make everything better).  It was hands down the best pizza I’ve ever had, even beating out Gepetto’s in Providence’s Federal Hill.  We shared a pistachio gelato, and I enjoyed a glass of Frangelico.  Gazing out the window into the courtyard of the Italian pavilion, I couldn’t help but think that this was truly la dolce vita.

Hand-Blown Glass Chandelier in Via Napoli Foyer

We adjourned to the hotel for a nap, and returned to Epcot that evening to watch Illuminations.  I may be in the minority, but I still contend that Illuminations is ten times better than Fantasmic.  That night was Epcot Extra Magic Hours, so we lingered behind after the crowds cleared out following the fireworks.  We grabbed some late dinner at Mexico’s counter service (awesome as always), and leisurely strolled around World Showcase.

I had never been to the p.m. Extra Magic Hours at Epcot before, and I must say it was a real treat.  We felt like the only people there (making it a weird experience to be alone in the rear of the Moroccan pavilion, hearing the hustle and bustle of the atmospheric street sounds they pipe in).  We sampled wine flights in Germany and France, and spent a long time sitting together on a bench next to the fountain outside of Les Chefs de France.  It’s one of my favorite spots in all of Disney World, but in the daytime the crowds and heat make it often intolerable.

The twinkling lights of Paris were all around us, and I whistled along to La Vie en Rose with my arm around Lauren.  By this point in the week, the stresses of normal life were distant memories.  The only worries were dining reservations and FastPass return times.  Gone were work deadlines, invoices, scheduling conflicts, due dates, payment arrangements, and even gas prices.  Now was just me, my best friend and love of my life, and France, as told by Disney.  If I were a tad more neurotic, this would be a Woody Allen movie.

In forty eight short hours, we would be on a plane, barreling back to reality.  But for now, out of all the great moments this vacation, this one is the one I cherish the most.  We didn’t say all that much, just watching the lights dance off the fountain, and the tuxedoed waiters clean up after their last service in the window-lined bistro.  It had been a long road to get here.  And I knew it would be a long road to get back.  But at least, I thought, we’d always have Paris.

Stay tuned for the seventh and final installment, coming your way real soon.

Cheers,

-Etienne

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The Very Mery Not-So-Scary Wedding Trip — Part Five: THE BIG DAY

Catch up on the tale so far:  Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart Four

Wednesday morning finally arrived.  Lauren and I rose early and parted ways, her to her hair-styling appointment with the girls at the Yacht Club, and I to the Boardwalk Bakery to meet the boys for breakfast.  Lauren later reported that the ladies at Periwig’s Salon, although they were short-staffed, were delightful and accommodating.  My morning was spent lounging on the Boardwalk.  The bride’s father and three brothers had arrived, and we lunched at the ESPN Club.

After lunch, I returned to the Swan to shower and pick up stuff for the wedding.  I ambled back to the Beach Club, past the tourists returning from the parks for early afternoon pool time, and past the ever-jogging U.S. National Soccer Team.  As I entered the Beach Club Lobby, I stopped dead in my tracks.  On the second floor promenade circling the lobby, the door to the bride’s room flung open.  Jen, the bride, in full dress and make-up, rushed out surrounded by bridesmaids, on her way to the first round of picture-taking.

As I saw her, two images simultaneously flashed in my mind.  The first was of Jenny herself, but as the little girl I met fifteen years ago, insisting I buy her cotton candy at my church festival.  The second was the iconic image of Cinderella rushing from the ball.  Jenny truly looked like the princess herself.  It helped, of course, that her wedding gown was Cinderella’s from the Disney Princess collection.

I wasn’t the only one frozen slack-jawed by this vision of beauty: several little girls around the lobby had stopped to stare as well, their eyes growing bigger than saucers.  I really believe that Jenny, just by being there, has made a few poor guys’ lives a bit more difficult twenty years from now, when these girls will insist on nothing less magical for their own fairy tale wedding.  The picture of Jen in her perfectly beautiful dress with her perfectly beautiful hair and her perfectly beautiful make-up in the happiest place on earth would stay with them, as it will with me, for the rest of their lives.

Although it felt like I was indeed watching a scene from a Disney fairy tale, I did not go unnoticed.  As the bride disappeared momentarily behind a column, I heard my name being mentioned.  I had been spotted.  I took advantage of the moment to make myself disappear, sprinting under the promenade and down the hallway.

The next few hours rolled by in a blur.  We changed into our tuxes and took the limo to the Grand Floridian, all the while strategizing with the girls so Jason, the groom, wouldn’t accidentally see his bride before the wedding.  The payoff, we all knew, would be extra sweet, because Jason hadn’t even seen the dress yet.  All he knew was that it was from the Disney Princess collection.  Cinderella, knowing Jenny, was the obvious choice, but a few misleading clues planted by Jenny herself had led Jason to believe it was either Tiana or Snow White.

After pictures in the Grand Floridian, we made our way to the Wedding Pavilion, and the great waiting game began.  Jason, his family, and the groomsmen were cloistered into the groom’s quarters.  Meanwhile, the bride and her party were being rushed around and kept busy up to the very moment she was launched down the aisle by the wedding planner.  We, on the other hand, were forced to watch the seconds tick by.  I can only imagine how agonizing it was for Jason.

After a while, we were joined by Rev. Tim, who regaled us with sordid stories of weddings past, none of which did anything to ease the nerves in the room.  Jason, who normally developed a trademark case of rosacea when excited or nervous, sat white as a ghost.

The planner and her minions coordinated with each other with the efficiency of Navy SEALS.  There was another rundown of another checklist, the turning off of cell phones and the stocking up of tissues, and we were lined up and ready to go.  The pavilion’s rear doors opened up to the airy, golden chapel.  The wedding planner sent us out down the aisle, one by one.

As I processed in, I tried to remember everything from the blur of a rehearsal the day before.  Not too fast, not too slow, hands by your side until you reach the front, don’t be nervous, try not to reduce yourself to a blubbering fool too soon…I think I got everything.  That’s everything, right?  No, it wasn’t.

As I approached the front, a small voice from the direction of the groom’s mother chided, “Smile, Mr. Reney…”

Ah, right.  I should probably be smiling.  This is, after all, only the happiest of occasions.  Oops.  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

The rest of the bridal party processed in.  I wish I could remember every little detail, like which Disney songs the organist played (I’d like to think one of them was “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan, but it probably wasn’t).  When everyone was properly lined up at the front, the air seemed to rush out of the room.  The organist was muted, and everything except the rear door shifted out of focus.

The world suddenly moved in slow motion, reducing speed until time had stopped altogether.  For generations now, Disney has been synonymous with storytelling.  Above all else, it’s what they do.  From the early days of animation, to the latest movie and television show, to every theme park attraction, story comes first with Disney.  They know how to manipulate human emotion.  They tugged at heartstrings when Bambi heard a shot ring out in the woods.  When Carl and Ellie montaged through life together in “Up.”  And every night during “Wishes” in the Magic Kingdom.  And now, Disney was telling the story of Jenny and Jason.

The music swelled, and time resumed as suddenly as it had stopped.  The rear doors flew open, revealing the bride and her father.  Cinderella was about to get her Prince Charming.

The service was short (I think, anyway.  My sense of time was still a bit wonky), but absolutely beautiful.  The bride’s brothers each had a reading, including an emotional original poem called “Magic Kingdom” by Steven Manchester (read it on his blog here; and–shameless plug alert–be sure to keep an eye out for his new book, Twelve Months, being released this August).

I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when Jason and Jen read each other their vows.  The love they’ve shared for each other since high school shone through with every word.  There was a ceremonious lighting of a candle, and just like that, they were pronounced husband and wife.

It was then of course time for more pictures.  Everyone lined up for a “staged exit,” with Jen and Jason skipping down the aisle as fistfuls of rice were thrown in their faces.  I don’t know if they actually got any good shots of this event; some of us got really into it.  Like too much into it.  I think I threw my left shoe and a bridesmaid at them.

After an hour or so of picking rice out of the happy couples hair, more pictures were taken outside, and the we were rushed away to the reception at the Grand Floridian.

The reception was, frankly, one hell of a party.  Every piece of food–from the cocktail hour hors d’oeuvres to dessert–was unbelievably delicious.  The DJ was entertaining, and things ran smoothly and flawlessly.  The newlyweds had even arranged a visit from Mickey and Minnie themselves.  They danced with the group (no amount of drugs–legal or otherwise–would ever be able to replicate the trippy feeling you get while having Mickey Mouse standing next to you, throwing his hands up to the Black Eyed Peas, or watching Minnie dance the Cupid Shuffle with your friends).

They graciously posed for pictures, and then it was announced the next slow dance would be “mouse’s choice.”  Mickey chose to dance with Jenny, and Minnie chose, despite my best attempts at making eye contact, Jason.  Meanwhile, maid-of-honor Darlene was trying to explain to her father, a Disney first-timer, that this kind of thing doesn’t just happen.  People just don’t get to run into Mickey and Minnie.  Lots of planning and waiting and fighting off other people is involved.  They are, after all, the main attraction.  It truly felt like we were partying with real celebrities.

After the wedding was clear of mice, the wedding planner made an announcement:  her favorite Grand Floridian “Wishes” viewing spot had opened up nearby.  All of the guests were led to a patch of lawn overlooking the lagoon, with the Magic Kingdom spread out before us.  Although the music was tough to hear, the fireworks were no less incredible.

All in all, the wedding can only be described as magical.  There’s no one cookie-cutter “perfect” wedding.  Weddings are good only if they embody the couple getting married.  And this wedding was very much Jason and Jen.

Stay tuned, much more to come…

Cheers,

-Steve

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The Very Merry Not-So-Scary Wedding Trip — Part Four

Catch up on the story so far here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

On Tuesday morning the alarm on my iPhone woke me up about seven hours earlier than I would have liked. The alcohol-and-food-overdose the day before resulted in a dreamless, restless coma of a sleep that night. As my phone (fittingly) rang out the song “Almost There” from the Princess and the Frog, I contemplated throwing it violently against the far wall, where it would smash into a million little iPieces. “You can’t hurt anyone anymore,” I would sneer triumphantly, ebbing back into unconsciousness.

But the soft pillowy comfort of the Westin Heavenly Bed prohibited such sudden movements. Plus, I was getting enough use out of the Disney Mobile Magic app to make me reconsider. I would have to settle for a couple of snooze button cycles.

I finally managed to roll out of bed and into the shower. As I left the room, I glanced enviously at Lauren, still cocooned in the bed’s embrace. Ah, well. Even on vacation, duty called. The groomsmen had a tux fitting at the groom’s suite in the Beach Club. As soon as I stepped outside and the warm Florida morning air hit me, I finally awoke.

The path between the Swan/Dolphin and Yacht/Beach was near empty, save for a handful of early morning joggers. I moved to the side as the oncoming phalanx of the U.S. National Soccer marched on by. As they passed, I couldn’t help but think that a 2014 U.S. World Cup victory could possibly hinge on whether or not I stuck my foot out to trip someone at this very moment. I also realized that I was in desperate need of coffee.

The tux fitting was as about as exciting as a tux fitting could be, I suppose. The gentleman conducting the fitting later identified himself as Gepetto. Whether this was his real name or not was unclear; as he had both a dry sense of humor and a passing resemblance to Pinnochio’s papa.

As he adjusted my tie from behind me, he spoke into my ear. “Are you married?”

“Er, no…,” I replied. Where exactly was he going with this?

“Ah,” he said, tightening the tie. “Then you will be unfamiliar with this sensation of a noose tightening around your neck.”

Lauren would be happy to know I fought the urge to comment and instead responded with a mere chuckle.

My tux fit fine, but that could not be said for everyone in the party. Measurements taken at our local tux place were sent down, and some of them proved incorrect. Gepetto chalked the inconsistencies up to us all being Red Sox fans, and therefore difficult, and assured us all would be made right in time for the wedding. Thankfully, it was.

The rest of the morning was spent with incredible laziness. The wedding rehearsal was at four, and we opted to skip the parks that day. I brought Lauren breakfast in bed, and we strolled the Boardwalk before getting ready for the rehearsal.

To get to the wedding pavilion, we were going to take the boat to Hollywood Studios, then a bus to the Grand Floridian. But after seeing the enormous line for the Studios boat, we decided instead on a bus to the Magic Kingdom, and the monorail to the Grand. It was a bit strange taking Disney transportation while being dressed up. With Lauren in a dress, and me in khakis and dress shoes, people on the Magic Kingdom bus must have thought we were real amateurs, unaware of the evening of walking, heat and crowds waiting for us in the park.

The wedding rehearsal, in hindsight, was a bit of a blur. I found myself immensely distracted by the beauty of the Wedding Pavilion. Cinderella Castle towered in the distance through the window behind the altar. The sun poured in from every direction.

The wedding planner lined everyone up and ran through the whole sequence of events. A thorough checklist was discussed, making sure every last detail was covered.

The presiding minister, Rev. Tim, was a downright hoot. He had a dry wit that immediately put you at ease. His inherent southern charm reminded me of Hershel from The Walking Dead, without the zombie-laden farmhouse of course. Toward the end of the rehearsal, he turned to the groomsmen with an uncharacteristically stern warning. “Now, boys,” he drawled, “I have one rule, and one rule only. No alcohol in the groom’s room!” This was greeted with faux-earnest nods from the guys and snickers from the girls.

We later learned that this rule was one created out of necessity. After several disastrous ceremonies in a row, including one in which the best man left the altar to be sick in the shrubbery outside, and another where an indignant groom thought it would be funny to respond, “Hell, no!” in place of the more traditional, “I do,” Rev. Tim had good reason for the ban.

The rehearsal was followed, naturally, by the rehearsal dinner. We made our way back to the Beach Club and the Cape May Cafe, where a seafood buffet awaited us.

We, the group, are from New England. We know good seafood. While not everything at the buffet was quite up to the finicky standards of this particular New Englander (the fried clams, while tasty, were actually clam strips…you can’t fool me, Disney), the meal was incredibly delicious. All-you-can-eat chowder, mussels, fish, hand-carved steak, pork, chicken, ribs, and the star of the show, crab legs. It tasted like summer. After two (or three…who’s counting?) rounds of food, I fell in love a little with the Oreo bon bons. If I could live on a diet of Dole Whip floats, Grand Marnier slushies, and Oreo bon bons, I may only live a few months, but boy would I die happy.

Speeches were made, gifts exchanged, and we made plans for some after-dinner cocktails and karaoke at Kimonos in the Swan.

The particular karaoke machine they have is a bit slow in highlighting the words, making for some terrible confusion if you don’t know all the words already. This wasn’t a problem for Rick, step-father-of-the-groom, who belted out a version of My Way worthy of the Copa Room at The Sands hotel. This also wasn’t a problem for a pair of young children, who were too young to read but allowed to sing and dance on stage anyway (even while other patrons were attempting to power through their selections).

Now I understand you’re on Walt Disney World. I understand there are more people with kids there than without. But at eleven o’clock on a Tuesday night, the atmosphere in the bar–because that’s what it is, a bar–wasn’t exactly kid-friendly. And nor should it be. For heaven’s sake, allow adults one little area away from children. We’ve been listening to your whiny, overtired kids all day. Don’t drag them into a bar. A roomful of adults working on getting buzzed do not want to hear your kids sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in-between drunken versions of Journey and Sir Mix-a-Lot classics. It’s only cute to you. Trust me.

Don’t get me wrong: There wasn’t anything inappropriate or risqué going on in the place, but there were quite a few inebriated individuals there when we arrived, and I personally wouldn’t want my children exposed to a bar scene like that, nevermind participating in one. I couldn’t help but think of the dearly departed Adventurers Club (may it rest in peace), where it was not uncommon for one of the several talented actors to crouch down in front of a child there later-than-they-should-be, and ask in a lilting, sing-song voice, “Does mommy bring you into bars often, sweetie?”

At last, after a run of nursery rhymes, made-up-on-the-spot stories that weren’t even songs, and a godforsaken Miley Cyrus number, the kids were allowed to go to bed, and the playhouse became a bar once again. When we weren’t on stage singing, we were singing (or more like shouting) along in our seats (especially representing Fenway Park during Sweet Caroline). I was very surprised the groom had a voice for his wedding.

…OR DID HE?

Find out in the next installment, The Wedding!

Cheers,

-Steve

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The Very Merry Not-So-Scary Wedding Trip — Part Three: Putting the Party in Wedding Party

For the whole story thus far, check out the first few parts here:  Part OnePart Two

On Monday morning, we rose with determination.  We silently went about our morning routine with an orchestrated efficiency.  We showered in turn, and donned our armor.  As I laced up my sneakers, Lauren applied her war paint (it was sunscreen).  Today, we were not tourists.  We were not “guests.”  We were not vacationers.

We were warriors.

For today was not an ordinary day in the parks.  This was not Small World-riding, parade-watching, Princess and Fairy Disney World.  This was battle.  This was war.  This was an epic challenge that many have attempted but many have also failed.  It would not be easy.  It would not be pretty.  But today, we were an army.  Today, we would conquer new lands and leave our great mark on the World Showcase Lagoon.

Today, we were Drinking Around the World.

Lauren and I grabbed some breakfast at the Swan’s Java Bar, a small coffee counter in the rear of the lobby.  We ate outside in one of the two courtyards, surrounded by balconies, near a gloriously tacky swan fountain.  We dined on only coffee and croissants, knowing that for us, drinking around the world also meant eating around the world.  This was not our first time at the rodeo, boys, but with hard work and determination, it could be our most glorious.

We got some of the rides in Future World out of the way before meeting up with the rest of the gang.  Darlene, the bride’s sister and maid-of-honor, handed out matching pins.  Our badges of honor.  They read, “Cheers!  Drinking Around the World 2012, Manchester-Fazzina Wedding.”  This would let people know that were serious.  We weren’t messing around here.

For those unfamiliar with the grand old game of “Drinking Around the World” (perhaps because you make the mistake of bringing children to Walt Disney World — poor thing), it’s an unofficial challenge taking place in Epcot’s World Showcase.  There are very many variations, and even whole websites dedicated to the game, but the basic premise is as follows:

There are eleven countries represented in World Showcase, stretching out in the 1.3 miles around the Lagoon.  The goal is to get one drink from each country, and not die.  My personal version of the game plays a little looser with the rules, in order to not get blackout drunk (and stay somewhat budget-friendly).  I figure, as long as I buy something from each country, be it booze, food or water (as long as the majority of it was booze, of course), I can check that country off the list.  The first stop would be Mexico, working clockwise toward Canada.

Let the Thirsty Games begin!  And may the odds be ever our favor…

Mexico boasts a tequila bar inside, and a margarita stand outside.  Although beer is available in every country, I’ve found that it would quite frankly fill me up too fast, making for a very short excursion.  Lauren and I opted to share a strawberry margarita.  I’m not a huge tequila fan (Senor Cuervo and I had a falling out many years ago, and we have tried not to talk to each other much since), but the margarita was smooth and delicious.  Granted we shared it, so it was only half a margarita, but it still had a kick to it.  After we snapped our obligatory photos with the humorously-oversized-sombreros-that-everyone-tries-on-but-few-people-ever-actually-buy (I mean, how would you pack that?  And I’m not wearing it through the airport), it was on to Norway.

As we approached the pavilion, one couldn’t help but thinking, “You are not the first to pass this way.  Nor shall you be the last” (probably because I kept saying it). The best drink in Norway is definitely the Viking Coffee.  However, it was, as it usually is, simply too hot for coffee in the mid-day sun.  Steering away from beer as we were, I decided on a snack in lieu of a drink.  The Norwegian schoolbread is one of the best snacks in Epcot, a must-try for anyone who likes sweet pastries.

Next up was China.  We didn’t venture into the pavilion itself, instead stopping at the snack stand on the perimeter.  Lauren and I split an order of egg rolls (delicious), and were brave enough to try a specialty drink, called “Tipsy Ducks in Love.”  I don’t know where in the world they got the name, but the sign boasted it as a Hong Kong-style Yuan Yang drink, made with creamy cold tea and coffee blended with chocolate, and of all things, traditional Bourbon whiskey.  From the ancient Chinese province of Kentucky, I gather.

The first half of the drink was awesome, one of the best drinks I’ve ever tasted.  I mean dangerously good.  However, although it was mixed in and poured from a machine, it wasn’t mixed very well.  As I got toward the end (which didn’t take long; it was so good I was sucking it down like water), it began to taste more like straight Bourbon.  I happen to like straight Bourbon, but it was unexpected and not exactly refreshing on a hot, crowded day.  I also think with all the cream and chocolate, it would be a fantastic way to get sick were you to have too many of them.

Germany was next, which made me excited.  I can’t pass through without getting a bratwurst with sauerkraut.  Lauren was kind enough to help me eat it, and discovered that she actually like bratwurst. The sauerkraut, though a simple side dish, is unparalleled anywhere.  We also got a glass of Liebfraumilch, a sweet German wine.

After a stop in Italy for Bellinis (peach puree and prosecco), it was time for the American Adventure.  We opted for a water break, to try to replenish some of what we were sweating out and counteract the dehydration of the alcohol.  Plus, we had technically been drinking in America the whole time anyway, right?

After the U.S., we skipped ahead a few countries to the United Kingdom.  We had reservations at the Rose and Crown.  We were seated, and both ordered a Cider and Black, a Strongbow Cider with black currant juice.  It was light and soooo good, and keeping with being traditionally British without the heaviness of being beer (though it was difficult for me to be in an English pub and not order a Guinness…).

I ordered the cottage pie (like shepherd’s pie, but made with beef instead of the traditional lamb), and Lauren ordered the fish and chips.  We also, out of curiosity, shared an order of mushy peas.  The peas were, shockingly, just peas.  Only mushy.  It only perpetuated the stereotype of bland English cuisine.  I don’t mean to sound snobby; it is what it is, there’s not much reason to change it.  I was just expecting something a bit different, I guess. The cottage pie, however, was out of this world.  It was seriously delicious.  Lauren’s fish was perfectly fried.  That is a major compliment: being from New England, we know good (and bad) fish and chips.  This particular version was not greasy, and very, very tasty.  Stereotype busted.

The downside of a full, homestyle meal is the fullness factor.  We still had more of the world to conquer, but at that point I would find it difficult to fit anything else down.  As we rolled out the restaurant, past the energetic Hat Lady playing traditional songs in the pub, Lauren decided the heat, walking, drinks and food had proven enough for her, and she bid adieu to the group at the International Gateway to recoup at the hotel.

Who says Drinking Around the World is easy?

The rest of us doubled back to Japan for plum wine, Morocco for specialty cocktails, and then, at long last, to France.  France was the one pavilion I had been seriously looking forward to the whole day.  Actually, I had been looking forward to it since I was last there four years ago.  The legendary drink stand there is home to the one drink worth travelling 3,000 miles and park admission just to get.

The Grand Marnier Slushie.

It’s good.  I mean really good.  Like stab-your-grandmother-to-get-one good.  Okay, perhaps I embellish, but it is really delicious.

After blacking out from the uncontrolled ecstasy brought upon my the sweet juicy nectar of the gods that is the Grand Marnier Slushie, I came-to to realize there was only one country left: Canada.

We were all winners that day. Pay no attention to any Photoshopped balloons…nothing to hide…

We all pretty much had our fill at that point, so we shared, as a group of twelve, one beer.  Good enough!  We had successfully survived eleven countries.  True, I didn’t drink in each, but eleven drinks in a relatively short amount of time would probably make me regret it later that night.  And I was there to enjoy myself, after all.  As it was, walking back to the International Gateway through the UK, my ears were already ringing.

But wait, that wasn’t in my head at all…something was actually ringing…

I feel I must preface this next story with an explanation of thought process.  Walt Disney World, as you probably know, is not like any other place.  You see what they want you to see, and hear what they want you to hear.  If something is within reach to be touched, they expect people will be touching it.  Heck, they’ve made it so that you’re virtually encouraged to touch things.

At the back of the Chapeau on Main Street, there’s an old fashioned phone. If you pick it up, you can listen to a conversation in progress on a party line.  Or sit down next to the Goofy statue in the Town Square and listen to what he has to say.  You may even hear a trash can talk to you in Tomorrowland.  At Hollywood Studios, as you walk by a well in the area of the Indiana Jones stunt show, if you pull on the rope tossed down the well, you’ll hear that someone’s stuck down there.  Excuse yourself out of the queue for the Muppets 3-D show to look under the security office’s doormat, and you’ll find a key.  Grab the umbrella on the lamppost at the end of New York street and watch in rain down on you.

These are just some of the hidden gems in Walt Disney World.  With that in mind, if you happen across a ringing phone, and the phone does not look off-limits, wouldn’t your instinct be to answer it?

Jimmy is one to follow his instincts.

As we passed a small landscaped space just before the UK pavilion, we noticed the phone.  It was right on the side of the path, low to the ground.  The only closest cast member was busy with a customer a nearby souvenir stand.  She was too far away to hear her, but in defense, she truly looked as if she was saying, “It’s alright, you can answer it.”  In retrospect, it was probably more like, “It’s alright, I got it.”  But Jimmy, the groom’s cousin and best man, was not going to let a good phone go unanswered.

“Hello?” he answered.  We could only hear his side of the conversation, but we quickly realized he was getting in over his head.  The other party seemed to have inquired to whom they were speaking with.  “This is James from Canada,” was his reply.  I didn’t know if he meant he was visiting from Canada, or he worked at the Canada pavilion.  Neither was true.

“How are you?  So…What are you wearing?”  Around the World Showcase rang the unmistakable sound of eleven people slapping their foreheads.

I don’t know what the response was, but I think it was at this point James from Canada started to realize, for the first time actually, that he maybe should not be using this phone.  This was confirmed by a glance toward the nearby cast member, who was clearly in a panic, trying to hastily finish her transaction with her customer.  Meanwhile, on the other end of the phone conversation, the caller had some questions for James from Canada.

“No, I’m actually off-duty right now.  I’m not even in costume.”  Not exactly a lie.  Then, in an effort to back out, “Wait…should I not have answered this phone?”

The cast member was now upon us, leaping the surrounding shrubbery in a single bound.  I think she pushed several small children out of the way, too.

“I’m going to go now.  Goodbye.”  He handed the phone off to the stricken cast member, who for all we know, was on a plane back to Heathrow that very night.

James from Canada

Perhaps the alcohol had dwindled Jimmy’s inhibitions too much, but to be honest I don’t think the alcohol had anything to do with it.  I don’t blame him for answering the phone; the cast member seemed to have approved it, and it’s not like he jumped a fence to get at it or anything.  But whereas I personally would have been flustered as all hell when I realized this was not part of the Disney magic, Jimmy took it in stride, and from henceforth was called James from Canada.

We walked back to the hotel.  I decided to go via the Boardwalk (the rest of the gang was staying at the Beach Club).  We made plans to meet for drinks in the Beach Club bar later that night, and parted ways.  What should have been a five minute walk to the Swan turned into over an hour.

As the sun set over Crescent Lake, the twinkling lights of the Boardwalk came to life.  The area was the liveliest I had seen, and would see, all week.  Lines formed for carnival games and face painting.  I paused to watch a magician perform, only to encounter another one a few steps away after that. I ducked into the candy store and got a couple of Mickey Mouse Rice Krispie treats.

I sat alone on a bench facing the water, yawning as the effects of the day’s alcohol at last caught up with me.  The blazing hot sun was gone now, replaced by the cool dry air of the evening.  Kids were laughing.  Soft 1920s Dixieland jazz was playing. People of every age strolled by, on their way to restaurants, hotels, and the dance club.

If only I could capture this moment and go back to it whenever I wished.  For me, this simple moment was Disney.  Not Space Mountain or Tower of Terror or even Carousel of Progress.  People of all types, all backgrounds, united with no cares, no worries.

Suddenly, the sky lit up from Epcot’s Illuminations.  Fireworks shot up over the opposite end of the Boardwalk. I finally convinced my feet to get moving again, and strolled back to the hotel, savoring the night.  My waxing poetic was interrupted, however, by tinkle of a small bell and a sudden shout in front of me.

“RUNAWAY SURREY!”

I ducked out of the way just in time as a family of four careened down the hill, coming to an abrupt rest in front of Jellyrolls.  The father got out from the backseat, yelling unintelligible curses not unlike the dad from “A Christmas Story.”  He ordered his kids in the back, commandeering the controls.  Although the parents were not amused, the two children were delighted by the wild ride and the absurdity of the situation.  That’s the magic of Disney, I suppose.  Not even a cranky parent can ruin your good time.

Stay tuned for Part Four as we get closer to the wedding day.

Cheers,

-Steve

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The Very Merry Not-So-Scary Wedding Trip — Part Two

Read Part One of my trip report here

            As I had mentioned, we arrived later on Saturday evening.  By the time we checked in and got settled, it was a little too late to hit the parks.  We walked from the Swan to the Dolphin, getting our bearings and learning the layout of the resort.  We had stayed at the Dolphin for a short trip many years ago, but we weren’t in the hotel much at all, and they have completely renovated it since.  The newer decor, while using most of the same elements, has cleaner, more subdued colors.  Standing in the promenade between the two hotels is awe-striking.  The gigantic clamshell fountain cascading down the Dolphin, the large, illuminated fountains high above the Swan, and the canopy-lined walkway evoke a whimsical, yet modern feel.

We decided to grab a quick dinner at Picabu (pronounced Peek-a-boo) Buffeteria.  This 24-hour cafeteria serves something for everyone; full meals in addition to prepared sandwiches, salads, and snacks, all at fairly reasonable prices.  It also boasts a small marketplace, with a stock of essentials, plus chips, cookies, and other goodies.  They even have a s’mores kit for the campfires on the resort beach.

We both opted for a simple bacon burger.  They were made to order, and were so big I couldn’t even finish mine.  There were two patties and thick-cut bacon with fresh tomato and lettuce.  After a long day of travelling, frankly, I would have been happy with a crappy, typical food court burger (which is what I was half-expecting), so the fresh, delicious burger I got was a delightful surprise.

After dinner, we met up for drinks with Jen and Jason, the bride and groom-to-be.  The majority of the rest of the wedding party weren’t arriving until the following day.  We shared a few cocktails at the Dolphin Lobby Lounge, which doubles as a coffee shop in the morning, before heading back to the room for an early night in.  Our particular room, on the fourth floor, had a lovely view of a rooftop below, and the main entrance.  However, the Tower of Terror and Earful Tower could be seen to the right, and we found if we craned our necks sharply to the left, we could catch a glimpse of Illuminations over the Boardwalk Resort.

As we sank into the Heavenly Bed, it didn’t take long to drift off to sleep, knowing that unlike most nights, when we dreamt we were in Disney World, we would wake up actually there.

The next morning, Sunday, we rose early and headed again over to Picabu for breakfast.  Although a decent variety of breakfast items were available, we each decided on just coffee and pastries to start the day.  The coffee was, as in the room, Starbucks.  This is, in my opinion anyway, a huge step-up from the NesCafe offered in Disney Resorts (although NesCafe never tastes as good as it does in Disney).

We then caught a bus to the Magic Kingdom, and arrived just after opening.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t tear up after entering through the train station and saw the castle towering over Main Street (even if it was partially obscured by the scaffolding in front of the Bakery).  Pluto and Daisy Duck frolicked with kids in the Town Square.  A horse-drawn carriage carrying singers and dancers sauntered up the street.  I was home.

Our first order of business was to meet Mickey and Minnie before the crowds got too big.  Lauren had never met either Mouse, and I was anxious to see the Town Square Theatre.  I definitely miss the Exposition Hall.  It was a nice, quiet, air-conditioned hideout, away from the hustle and bustle from the parks.  The new Theatre, however, is a great (and greatly needed) use of the space.  I was impressed by the moving “posters,” as well as the very clever use of more than one “dressing room,” and the lengths gone to in order to conceal them (wink, wink).  The theming throughout the area was terrific, and Mickey and Minnie were gracious hosts.  Minnie was very excited that Lauren had on a polka dot dress.

Because we’ve been so many times, we decided this trip would not be dashing madly from ride to ride and attraction to attraction.  We would take it easy, and prove that there is indeed such a thing as a relaxing Disney vacation.  The result was lovely.  We strolled through the park, exploring shops neither of us have actually been into before, admiring the details, and going on rides as we happened across them.  It certainly didn’t hurt that we didn’t have to wait more than ten minutes for any attraction that day.

I showed Lauren the secret party-line phone in the Chapeau, introduced her to the Country Bear Jamboree and Hall of Presidents (the former she thought was “cute,” the latter was admittedly a bit drier than I remember), and for the first time since it was retro-verted, we saw the Tropical Serenade in all of its original, restored glory.

We sought out the Orange Bird, and explored the new (to us) interactive queue in the Haunted Mansion, (which we were both very impressed by and amused with).

  

We grabbed some lunch at Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Cafe, a switch from our usual go-tos of Columbia Harbour House or Cosmic Ray’s.  After being herded around by about thirteen cast members, ordering, picking up our food, and then herded around by twenty more cast members, we were finally shown to a seat.  I had a delicious barbeque pork sandwich, and Lauren opted for just a side of chili cheese fries, which were equally as tasty.

After lunch, we decided to snake our way through Adventureland back to Main Street, and head back to the hotel.  The midday sun was starting to beat down, and the crowds were getting heavy.  We figured it was time for a break before coming back for Extra Magic Hours later that night.

When we got back to the hotel, we changed into swimwear and made a stop at the Cabana Bar, which adjoins the Dolphin lap pool.  The Cabana Bar had a trendy South Beach feel, and the bartenders were courteous and professional.  After a drink, we dove into the sprawling Grotto Pool.  We ordered another round of drinks poolside, but found ourselves waiting a very long time for them (which was okay; we certainly weren’t in any rush, thank heavens).  We were lucky enough to nab two chairs in the shade, and spent the rest of the afternoon doing absolutely nothing.

We eventually peeled ourselves up and ambled back to the room.  We changed and decided to grab a bite at the hotel before going back to the Magic Kingdom.  We opted for seats at the bar at Il Mulino New York Tratoria, in the Swan.  We split an appetizer of arancini (fried balls of rice) and a pepperoni pizza (both were awesome).

When we got to the Magic Kingdom, the first thing we did was check out the new Storybook Circus area.  It’s a bit claustrophobic still, with most of the space surrounded by construction walls, but the theming is great (I loved the peanut shells embedded in the ground around the Dumbo ride).  I can’t wait to see the area once it’s finished.  Over the walls, the Seven Dwarves Mine is taking shape, and Prince Eric and the Beast’s castles loom in the distance.  The rock work for both areas looks nearly complete.

We trekked over to Adventureland to grab that staple of any Disney trip, a Dole Whip Float.  After several food-gasms, we fought our way to Splash Mountain through the crowds gathering for the Main Street Electrical Parade.  At Splash, we met up with the bride and groom, and their families who had arrived earlier in the day.

We backtracked through Adventureland, making stops through the Jungle Cruise and Pirates along the way.  Our Jungle Cruise skipper was fantastic (it’s really the personality of the Cast Member that makes or breaks the ride), and others on our boat were very tolerant of the groom shouting out most of the punch lines before the Skipper got to them.  Pirates seemed to be having some technical difficulties while we were there; earlier in the day Lauren and I had gotten stuck for some time at the very top of the big drop.  When we finally got moving again, the water cannons in front of Barbossa’s ship weren’t operating, just the red lights under the surface.  Later in the trip, someone in our travel party had gotten soaked from a mis-timed water cannon.  The rest of the attraction was as great as ever though.

We made it out to around the hub just in time to catch Wishes.  After some confusing laps around the center, we found a decent spot on the bridge from Adventureland to the hub.  After the show, the crowds cleared out considerably.  We crammed as many rides as we could before collapsing from exhaustion (much of the party that arrived that day were running on no sleep from the night before), including one last trip on Snow White’s Scary Adventure.

As we dragged ourselves down Main Street, a small crowd had gathered to watch a Cast Member draw Disney characters on the street with water and a squeegee.  He seemed unaware of his audience, with an air of, “What?  This is how I clean the street every night!”  It just proves that when you have employees that truly love their job, even if it’s cleaning sidewalks, it shows.  Even the lowest level Cast Members take pride in their work and try to enrich the guests’ experiences.  That’s Disney magic, folks.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of my report, the pre-wedding festivities.

See ya real soon,

-Steve

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Filed under Food and Dining, General WDW, Hotels and Resorts, Magic Kingdom