For the whole story thus far, check out the first few parts here: Part One, Part 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.
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.