Sunday Reflection: Disney Decorations of Christmas Past

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La Befana Epcot Italy Holiday

La Befana, the Christmas witch

Animal Kingdom Lodge Christmas Tree

Animal Kingdom Lodge Christmas Tree

Holidays in Mearn in German Pavilion Epcot

Sledding in Mearn

Twinings holiday display

Shopping at Twinings

 

Mary Blair Gingerbread at Contemporary Resort

Mary Blair Gingerbread at Contemporary Resort

Neil Patrick Harris at Candlelight Processional

Neil Patrick Harris at Candlelight Processional

Julenissen at Norway in Epcot

Julenissen at Norway in Epcot

Gingerbread House at Grand Floridian

Gingerbread House at Grand Floridian

Holidays at Epcot Japan - Duruma Doll

Holidays at Epcot Japan – Duruma Doll

Wilderness Lodge Christmas Tree

Wilderness Lodge Christmas Tree

Father Christmas, UK Epcot

Father Christmas, UK Epcot

Grand Floridian Christmas Tree

Grand Floridian Christmas Tree

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A Solo Introvert at Walt Disney World

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Inspired by episode 51 of the Disney Hipster Podcast, I started thinking back to all of the times I’ve been to Walt Disney World by myself. Over the past 5 years I’ve probably been to Disney alone more than 5 times, and I have to admit, I sort of love it.

I’m a total introvert, and generally enjoy being alone. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and nothing makes me happier than hanging with my family. But there is something fabulously decadent about being alone in my favorite place on Earth, with time to do exactly what I want on my own schedule. So back in January when I found myself traveling to Orlando for a conference, I took the opportunity to travel a day early to visit Disney.

So first question – where to stay? My friend Disney Hipster Andrew posited that maybe it is somewhat bourgeois to stay at a deluxe resort alone. I say, LET ME EAT CAKE! So I booked Disney’s Beach Club Resort for my solo stay. I’d never stayed there, and it’s an easy 5 minute walk to Epcot’s International Gateway. Plus I had a great off-season rate for a room with a view of the parking lot.

A Foggy Beach Club

A Foggy Beach Club

My inexpensive Beach Club room with the lousy view

My discounted Beach Club room with the lousy view

I arrived at the Beach Club at around noon, checked in, dropped my bags, and headed to Magic Kingdom. My agenda? (1) Eat lunch at Be Our Guest, and (2) Experience attractions I’ve never ridden before.

So first thing I did when I entered the park? Walked right up to the Walt Disney World Railroad train station, and hopped a steam train to Fantasyland. (I’d never ridden the train!) Is there anything more charming than riding a steam train around Magic Kingdom? No there is not.

Town Square from the Train Station

Great view of Town Square from the Train Station

Steam Train Magic Kingdom

Riding the rails

My first stop was Be Our Guest for lunch. Now listen up, all of you who won’t eat alone in restaurants. You can do it, really. I’ve dined alone for the tasting menu at Fleur by Hubert Keller – you can sit alone anywhere. Just keep yourself busy if you’re at all self-conscious. I know you have a smartphone. Take pics of your food and look like you’re busy uploading them to Facebook. Tweet your whereabouts so everyone can be jealous. Read email. Eavesdrop on the tables near you. You’ll be fine. (If you need more encouragement, here’s one of my favorite songs – Dine Alone by Quicksand. Listen to it to get pumped before dinner.)

At Be Our Guest, I busied myself by taking tons of pics and checking out the menu while in line.

Line for Be Our Guest

The line for Be Our Guest was about 30 minutes

Gargoyle at Be Our Guest

My friend the Gargoyle

Be Our Guest menu page 1

Front of the menu

Be Our Guest menu page 2

Back of the menu

Cast member

Random cast member that chatted with me at the entrance

Oh, and another great thing about being alone – you can choose to wait in line or not wait in line for as long as you like. When with kids you might be tempted to avoid a half hour line for lunch because they’re hungry, and therefore end up somewhere that you didn’t really want to be. Or you might be stuck with a group who really wants to wait when you would rather do something else. When you’re alone, you can just do what you feel like doing. It’s pretty nice.

OK, so after ordering, I wandered around to each of the dining rooms to check them out, and took more pics. When dining alone, I really enjoy being able to sit on a banquette against a wall that overlooks the rest of the dining room. For some reason I feel less self-conscious and just more comfortable. Plus it makes it easier to people-watch.

Quick pics of the food:

Tuna Nicoise at Be Our Guest

Surprisingly lovely Tuna Nicoise at Be Our Guest.

Onion Soup at Be Our Guest

Very cheesy but sort of bland onion soup.

Passion Fruit Cream Puff at Be Our Guest

Passion fruit cream puff. I liked the mousse.

So after eating, I started hitting all of the attractions I’d never before experienced (mostly around Fantasyland.) I finally went on It’s a Small World (wow, why did I wait so long?? It’s a classic for a reason – loooooved it), Mickey’s Philharmagic (from the lens of someone who doesn’t have any nostalgia around this, it occurs to me that all 3D movie attractions are now passé) and Country Bear Jamboree (a rip-roarin’ good time. Wish I’d seen it pre-update.)

Country Bear Jamboree

I can never get my family to sit through this.

Then I proceeded to ride my favorite attractions that my family doesn’t love, like Tiki Birds, Jungle Cruise, and Tomorrowland Transit Authority peoplemover.

A quick stop back at Beach Club to jump in the pool and change for dinner, and I was off to Epcot!

The only awkwardness I experienced at Epcot was at Rose & Crown. I stopped in at the pub for a pint. The crowd was very raucous and much younger than me, and mostly interested in hooking up with the hotties at the bar than chatting. It was sort of a drag. Their conversations weren’t even interesting to eavesdrop on. I finished my beer and left to walk around World Showcase.

I ate dinner at Katsura Grill in the Japan Pavilion. This is a fantastic spot to stop for a bite alone. I sat on the beautiful patio and slurped my noodles (and sake) in peace. It was some welcome quiet after the crowd at Rose & Crown.

Katsura Grill Japanese Curry Udon

The Japanese curry udon were totally delish

Katsura Grill patio Epcot Japan

One of the prettiest spots to eat in Epcot

After dinner I shopped around World Showcase, spending as much or as little time in each store as I wanted. (I loaded up on gifts for my anime-obsessed kiddo at Mitsukoshi. Trip-guilt hits hard every time I’m in Disney alone.)

I ended my evening at Cantina de San Angel in the Mexico pavilion with chips, guac, Corona, and Illuminations.

Chips and guacamole at Cantina de San Angel

Stale-ish chips and meh guacamole. Great view.

The next morning, I was up early for the Segway tour around Epcot’s World Showcase! (Sadly this tour has been discontinued.) Tours are a fantastic way to spend time at Walt Disney World when you’re alone. The groups are typically very small, and everyone is focused on the tour guide and what they’re doing, especially on the Segway tour where the focus for the first hour was just learning how to ride the thing without falling on our butts. No one will think you’re weird for doing the tour alone, and even a total introvert may end up striking up a conversation with others on the tour. I ended up chatting with an older couple from Minnesota who were there without kids or grandkids just because they love Disney. Their friendliness overrode my standoffishness and it was pretty nice.

Segway Tour of Epcot Selfie

Traveling alone is a great time for selfies!

Segway Tour Epcot

Cast members and tour guides make good photographers, too.

After the tour, I headed back to the Beach Club to check-out and grab my bags. But before saying goodbye to Disney and heading to my conference, I made one last stop. Lunch at the counter at Beaches & Cream.

Burger and Vanilla Coke at Beaches & Cream

Riding around on a Segway makes you hungry and thirsty. Free Vanilla Coke refills!

So really – if you have the chance to go to Disney World alone, don’t let your fear of feeling awkward keep you from having a fantastic time. See it as a chance to do whatever you want on your own timetable. Wander, look at details you’ve missed in the crush to ride every ride, chill. Or as I’ve done on other trips (especially at Universal), take advantage of single-rider lines and ride every thrill ride you can. Take a tour, read a book on a bench and soak in the atmosphere, spend as much time as you want in Innoventions.

No one will even ask you to share your school bread.

School Bread at Kringla Bakerei Og

My precioussss

Have you been to Disney alone? What did you do? Any advice?

MouseChow Ratings:

  • Be Our Guest restaurant – 3 mice
  • Katsura Grill – 4 mice
  • Cantina de San Angel – 2 mice
  • Beaches & Cream – 3 mice

5 Must-Eat Treats at EPCOT World Showcase

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So you’re strolling through the World Showcase in EPCOT, possibly sipping some adult beverages along the way. Which snacks are worth your calories and taste buds as you tour the World? I’ll count down my 5 favorites, though I’m sure I’m forgetting something…

5. French Fries in the American Pavilion

French Fries at American Pavilion - EPCOT

French Fries at American Pavilion - EPCOT

I know, fries may seem a little boring. But I’m very picky about fries, and these are pretty darned good, especially when you’re walking from the direction of Germany with a beer in your hand. They’re hot, crispy, salty, and good dipped in honey mustard. Also good with frozen Coke, which can be had at the American Pavilion. (Like how I got an extra snack in there?)

4. Chocolate/caramel-dipped strawberry from Karamell-Kuche in the German Pavilion

Chocolate Caramel Strawberry Karamell-Kuche Germany EPCOT

Chocolate Caramel Strawberry at Karamell-Kuche Germany - EPCOT

This needs no explanation. Werther’s caramel, milk chocolate, big ripe strawberry.

3. Kaki-Gori with cream, Japan Pavilion

Kaki-Gori, Japan Pavilion, EPCOT

Kaki-Gori, Japan Pavilion, EPCOT

This is one of the most refreshing, delicious things you can eat on a hot Florida day. If you’re from Louisiana or Mississippi, you may recognize this – it’s the closest I’ve had to a snowball outside of Louisiana. The ice is shaved very fine and soft, with delicious, high-quality fruit syrup, with or without cream. Oddly, this is the orange flavor. It’s very red. And very good.

2. School Bread, Kringla Bakeri og Cafe in the Norway Pavilion

School Bread, Kringla Bakeri og Cafe, Norway in EPCOT

School Bread, Kringla Bakeri og Cafe, Norway in EPCOT

Ahhhh….school bread. It has a cult-like following, and with good reason. So what is it? Imagine a raised yeast doughnut with no hole, filled with vanilla pastry cream, and topped with icing and toasted coconut. Perfection in its simplicity.

And MouseChow’s favorite World Showcase snack is…..{drumroll please}…

1. Scotch egg at Rose and Crown Pub, UK Pavilion

Scotch egg, Rose and Crown Pub, UK Pavilion - EPCOT

Scotch egg, Rose and Crown Pub, UK Pavilion - EPCOT

Wow, my arteries are hardening just thinking about this scrumminess. The Scotch egg is a hard-boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, and deep fried. It’s served with fried bread, mustard sauce, and a small green lightly-dressed salad. The sausage is very nicely spiced, and it’s all a bit salty, greasy, and exactly perfect with a pint of Bass ale.

It sure was hard to narrow this list down to 5! I can think of several I left out that could easily have made it, and I’m sure you can too. So what did I miss? Feel free to discuss while I sit here in the corner with my Scotch egg.

Holidays Around WDW part 2 – Epcot Celebrations Around the World

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EPCOT’s World Showcase is magical at any time of the year, but during the holidays it is completely mind-blowing. (Part 1 – Resorts, is here.)

First, there are the storytellers.

In Italy, La Befana flies through the air on her broomstick and visits children on the eve of the Epiphany and leaves children gifts, just in case they are in fact the Gesu Bambino. The storyteller we saw was riveting.

La Befana, Italy Pavilion, EPCOT
In Japan, a traditional New Year’s gift is the Daruma doll.  From what I could gather, it’s basically a way to stick to your New Years resolution. The dolls have no eyes when you first receive them.  When you make your resolution, or set a goal, you paint one eye on the doll. When you achieve your goal, you can paint on the other eye. It’s keeping its eye on you! Creepy…
Daruma doll vendor, Japan Pavilion, EPCOT
Not an official Storyteller, but if she’s there, make sure to see Miyuki, the “Candy Lady”! She is one of only 15 artists in the world who still practice the art of Amezaiku, and the only woman. She makes incredibly detailed animal lollypops out of corn syrup. She is absolutely mesmerizing. And the lollypops get donated to kids at a local hospital.
Miyuki, Japan Pavilion, EPCOT
In Norway, your hosts are Sigrid and the trixter gnome Julenissen. Julenissen watches over the family’s animals, so the kids leave him porridge in the barn. It’s a charming story, and pretty funny.
Sigrid, Norway Pavilion, EPCOT
Julenissen, Norway Pavilion, EPCOT

Yet another jolly rotund fellow with a white beard is Father Christmas in the United Kingdom. Truth be told, he was a little long-winded. Plus, he wouldn’t stand still so that I could get a non-blurry picture. It is entirely possible that even surrounded by magic and wonderment, I started to get a little tired and grumpy toward the end of the night.

Father Christmas, United Kingdom Pavilion, EPCOT
After you visit the Storytellers, (Yes there are more, but man, it really takes a lot of time to get to each of them. So we didn’t.) you must, must, must see the Candlelight Processional. And you must, must, must have advanced reservations so that you don’t have to stand in line for two to three hours. It’s not difficult to get the reservations, it just takes a little planning. The Candlelight Processional package includes a three-course dinner at a restaurant in EPCOT. When you pay for dinner, you are given a badge. At your appointed time, you stick your badge to your shirt and stand in the special “shorter” line. Don’t worry if it looks ridiculously long. Once the gate opens it moves very quickly.
And why is it worth the effort and wait? It’s a spectacular show featuring a large orchestra and chorus, with a celebrity narrator who tells the story of Christmas. And we had the BEST narrator ever. What up, NPH?!
Neil Patrick Harris, Candlelight Processional, EPCOT

OK, honestly, my kid was whiny and bored. It was cold, and she was tired, and listening to an hour of the Christmas story and choral music was a little too much like being forced to go to church while at EPCOT. But I LOVED it.

More NPH

Seriously, this was a great time. I was singing French carols for a week.

Candlelight Processional, EPCOT
But as always, it’s sometimes the smallest touches that make EPCOT and Disney so special.
Winter on the Rhine, German Pavilion, EPCOT
Twinings Tea Shop, United Kingdom Pavilion, EPCOT
And it’s spending time with my two favorite people that makes it fun.
The Stave Church, Norway Pavilion, EPCOT
Happy Holidays. Until next year!
Christmas Tree, EPCOT 2011

Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop 9/21/2011 – Your Favorite Disney Souvenir

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Hosted by The InfoMouse.  All I’m left with are photos and cavities…

Gummy Burger!
Deco/Tongue in Cheek Chocolates from Tower of Terror
A Mouthful of Candy Helps the Wait-time Go Down
Flakie Puffs at the Canada Pavillion!
Wicked Smaaat – United Kingdom
Japanese candy at the Japanese Pavillion, EPCOT
Fits so nicely in the suitcase.
A rainbow of Japanese soda flavors.  The lychee is the best.

Feel free to link below!  Happy Hopping.