Friday, March 30, 2012

Epcot's 2012 Flower and Garden Festival

Mater and Lightening McQueen greet guests in the Japan Pavilion.

This year's Flower and Garden festival at Epcot is extraordinary. I've only seen it May, at the end of the festival, and while it was beautiful, I had no idea how incredible it is at its peak.

Floating pots of flowers dot the water.

Kids will be thrilled to see their favorite characters in the form of topiaries.

Cogsworth, Chip and Lumiere ham it up in France.

Cinderella and Prince Charming  dance by the World Showcase Lagoon.

Woody and Buzz.

And of course, Mickey, shown here at the entrance to the park.

Exhibits ranged from cute and clever for kids to innovative and fun for grown ups.  I loved the bright colors of this outdoor living exhibit.

Cute little kitty made of moss.

One of the highlights of the festival are the play areas for kids.

Playhouse in the outdoor living area.

A great spot for dad to watch the kids while mom
shops in the World Showcase?

Walking back into Furture World.

My favorite part of the entire festival was the Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden.



Another play area for the kids.


Gazebo in the play area.

What better way to spend an early spring day than walking around a gorgeous park, eating, and talking to friends? Simply a beautiful day.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Let's Talk about the Fantasyland Expansion, Shall We?

You may remember a post I did back in December about the Fantasyland expansion. In it, a cast member explained that the Little Mermaid, as well as certain other parts of the expansion, would be open by early summer. I surmised that given that Disney never opens an attraction during the busy season, the Little Mermaid might open as early as May, much as they did with other attractions such as Toy Story Midway Mania and the refurbished Star Tours.  Well, sadly, that's wrong. I was wrong.  The cast member looking very official in front of the Fantasyland wall--he was wrong too.

Some of you may know that I was lucky enough to tag along with a blogger friend of mine who knows some Imagineers last week. I'd love to tell you that I have the inside scoop on when Fantasyland is opening (wink), but the truth is, all you have to do is look over the walls the next time you're riding the new Dumbo to know the answer. By the way, not to digress too much, but the new Dumbo is incredible, so much more than just a "ride," it's truly a work of art.  When you look over the walls and into the project, you realize that the expansion has a long way to go.

The issue is that there's really no way to easily get guests into completed areas of the expansion. If you look at these pictures, you can imagine the crowd control issues that would arise if an attraction was open in the midst of all this construction.  This wasn't an issue with Storybook Circus, since you already had effective ways for guests to enter and exit the area.  So even though the Little Mermaid is basically complete inside, getting guests over to the attraction in a safe manner is impossible, at least for now.  Originally we were told that the expansion would open in sections. Now it's being widely reported that it will open all at once, when it's completed.

When you look at these pictures or see the expansion in person, you get little hints of what's to come. If Storybook Circus is any indication, the effort, detail, and story that goes into the expansion will make it one of the most extraordinary parts of any Disney park. We're just going to have to wait a little longer than we originally hoped. For now, if you're visiting Walt Disney World in the near future, go to Storybook Circus and really let it sink in. There's art right in front of you, in the tiniest details. Go and enjoy. There's lots more to come.

Want a really detailed look at Storybook Circus? You can read more about it here

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quick Bites: Lobster Mascarpone Ravioli from Palo on the Disney Fantasy.

I'm glad I travelled with an experienced DCL cruiser or I might not have known to make a reservation at Palo, one of two adults-only restaurants on Disney cruise ships. There's a small additional charge of $20, but it's worth every penny.  Everything at Palo is first class, but the stand out item on the menu is the lobster and mascarpone ravioli.  You can order it as a full entree, but we were getting the filet so we ordered this in an appetizer size (Note: The portions are small and you can order two entrees or more). 

Of everything I ate on the Fantasy, and honestly, I ate quite a bit, this dish was my absolute favorite:  Tender homemade pasta filled with sweet lobster and creamy mascarpone, covered in a burro bianco sauce (white butter sauce), it was heavenly. I could literally have eaten this dish every single  day and still want it the next day.   The lobster was almost sweet, with just a hint of the sea, so non-seafood fans might just want to give it a try. The texture of the pasta was perfectly al dente, giving you a little resistance when you bit into it. And the sauce was like nothing I have ever eaten. It was addictive. I was tempted to lick the plate.

I can't wait to try this incredible dish again.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Castaway Cay.

On the last day of the preview cruise, the Disney Fantasy docked at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island. Other cruise lines have private islands, but Disney's is the only one where you don't need a launch to reach it.  Instead, you just walk right off the ship.  On your way, you might meet a character or two.  Jack Sparrow was on the walkway to the beach.

Pretty umbrellas and a beautiful blue sky.

This friendly little fellow lives on the island. The cast members take care of him but no one seemed to know his name!

There are shops on the island selling souvenirs, T-shirts, and practical items like beach toys, sunblock, and even bathing suits.

The first area you'll come to is the family beach.

The family beach has a diving platform called Pelican Plunge. You'll need to be able to swim to get out there as the water is quite deep.

There's plenty of places to sit and relax.. 

Guests over the age of 18 can also visit Serenity Bay, the adults only beach. It's less "themed" than the family beach, but a nice spot for relaxing.  Just like on the ship, there's a ton of food. At lunch, they serve up grilled burgers, steaks, hot dogs, ribs, and sides. There's also an ice cream bar.  Sodas are free but you'll be charged for bottled water.

On our way back to the ship, we were treated to a visit from the Fantasy's sister ship, the Disney Dream.  It was the perfect way to end the day.

Quick Bites: The Butterfinger Cupcake

Who doesn't love chocolate and Butterfinger?

Walt Disney World has no shortage of specialty cupcakes, with the different parks and resorts each offering a variety of flavors for one to try. And at under $4.00, or one snack credit on the Disney Dining Plan, they are a great value. 

Having heard legendary stories about one particular cupcake though, I had to  try it for myself -the Butterfinger Cupcake, at Starring Rolls, inside Hollywood Studios. This decadent dessert/snack/breakfast item (don't judge me) consists of a chocolate cupcake, fudge filling, whipped cream icing, and a hard chocolate ganache covering, all topped with crushed Butterfinger pieces.

This thing is dense! I actually felt the weight of it when they put it onto my tray, which you can't say for many snacks. As for size, the pictures are no exaggeration, it really is easily enough for two (or more) people to share. 

Can you ever have too much of a good thing? In this case, yes.

If there's a downside to this cupcake, it's that it's too rich, as if it's trying to be all things to all people. While the cake itself is moist, the fudge creamy, the whipped topping fluffy, and the Butterfinger crispy and crunchy, the combination of everything makes it all too much to handle. My wife and I couldn't even manage more than a few small bites each before both saying it was too sweet; the combination of flavors was simply overkill.

If however, you think you've got a big enough sweet tooth, or perhaps a large group traveling with you you can share this with, this cupcake might just be for you!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Disney Fantasy Photo Tour: Part 2

Hello faithful readers (and new readers, too!).  Here are some more photos taken aboard the Disney Fantasy for you to enjoy. Hope you're having a wonderful weekend. 

Simply stunning. 

The detail grabs you the minute you board the ship and are announced to applause of the crew, such as this Dale Chihuly designed chandelier that hangs in the lobby. 

Mademoiselle Minnie Mouse is the atrium statute, reminiscent of cruise travelers in the 1920's and 30's. This is a great place to take a family photo. 

It's a good thing there's lots of artwork to admire all around the ship, because hallways can be very, very long - it's a huge ship!  This hallway was a lot longer than it looks in the picture. 

Definitely make a point of riding the Aqua Duck during your trip. The water is cold, and you get pretty wet even sitting in a tube, but it's worth it! 

Of course, on of the best parts of any cruise is dessert - and they are plentiful and delicious on the Disney Fantasy. Here you see a mango cheesecake, a vanilla creme brulee and a peanut butter mousse. Yum!

The internet connection on the ship is not great, so I have to end this here, but a full report will be forthcoming in the days ahead, with lots more pictures. I've already taken 600 and we still have tonight! 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Disney Fantasy, Part I.

I'm cruising on the Disney Fantasy right now and I wanted to give you an update and share some pictures.  The attention to detail on this ship is incredible. There's literally not one corner of the ship that isn't themed beautifully. Even the bathrooms will impress you.

While our stateroom is only about the size of a room at one of Disney's value resorts, the clever use of storage space makes it reasonably comfortable for four adults.  We're in a 5C veranda stateroom that sleeps four.  The queen-sized bed is incredibly comfortable.

There's also a bed that comes out of the ceiling and a fold-out couch. The upper "bunk" is more appropriate for an older child or small adult.  The bathroom is split, so you have a half-bath with a toilet and sink and a separate bath with a shower/tub combo (in our case, it's the rectangular tub) and a sink with a mirror and small area to store items. Storage space in the bathrooms is very minimal, so you will want to pack your toiletries with that in mind.Obviously, with four women in the room, there's a lot of hair products!

There's food everywhere on these ships, 24 hours a day. Cabanas is right next to the pool area.  The food is very good,with items such as roast chicken, steak (a little overcooked), salads, seafood, and desserts.

Animation fans will love that there's art everywhere.

The connection is slow, so I'm going to stop right now but I hope to have more pictures and stories for you later.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fantasyland Expansion Update: Storybook Circus - A First Look

Signs like this one on the construction wall welcome you.
The first part of the Fantasyland expansion, Storybook Circus, has been in soft openings for just over a week now, and I had the opportunity this past weekend to take a look. 

This snack and drink cart is located outside of Storybook Circus, as you make your way in.
It's still very much in the early stages yet; no merchandise is available for sale in the new area, and there are no places to eat or grab a snack within Storybook Circus right now. And while beautifully landscaped, there's still a lot of wide open areas where shade is needed, making it seem much hotter then it is. But of course, these are all things that will be worked out - we'll see shops and lots of (new) merchandise, snack and dining options will be added, and trees will be planted. 

Even in its early stages though, Storybook Circus is truly incredible. Beautifully themed and designed, it was exciting to see even this small section (consisting of The Great Goofini, one side of Dumbo, and the Walt Disney World Railroad Train Station) up close, after months of standing on ledges and finding other unique places to take pictures. It also makes me excited for the months ahead as Storybook Circus grows and new areas open up. 
Who's ready to ride?

The Barnstormer, featuring the "Great Goofini" is up and never looked better. And with a minimum height requirement of only 35", this roller coaster is great for even the smallest thrill seekers in your family.

Take a ride and sneak a peak at the Fantasyland construction going on.

I'd make a point of checking out Storybook Circus early in the day, as by around 11 a.m., lines were already 30 minutes and growing to ride.

After months of seeing this cut-out over construction walls, it was nice to get an up close view. 

The new Dumbo looks great, and the water feature is a nice touch, too.

The lines are still long, but people didn't care, even though there's not a lot of shade available in certain parts still. This should change when the second Dumbo opens up. The interactive queue line should also help pass the time. 

The big top isn't open yet, but I'm betting it will be in the next couple of months, once the second Dumbo is added.

Timothy Mouse hasn't been added to the new Dumbo yet, but Disney has said he will be included as work progresses. He does, however, give guests instructions before the ride begins.

The new train station is open and looking good! 

And it runs frequently and for most of the day, too.

These are the new restrooms in Storybook Circus. The brick work is just great! It doesn't even look like a bathroom. 

Although I was a little confused by this sign above the toilet. I know bottled water is expensive at Disney, but is this a real problem with guests?

There's lots of nice detail work throughout Storybook Circus, like this stone work, which is everywhere. 

Since the circus came to town, it only makes sense that you'd see animal tracks of different shapes and sizes, as well as peanut shells, in the cement pathways. Disney has said as more of the expansion open, you'll see the tracks leading towards those new sections, too. 

The garbage cans are themed too.  Disney did an excellent job incorporating the circus theme without it being too "in your face." 

I even like the new outfits the cast members in this area have to wear. And while this cast member seemed happy, not all of them looked too thrilled with the new threads! 

I hope you enjoyed the photos. You can be sure as the new Fantasyland continues to grow and change, we'll be bringing you updates and more pictures.