Thursday, October 25, 2007

Happy Birthday To Me!

Today was my 48th birthday. Happy Birthday to me!

We started Saturday with a 40 minute run to burn off some of the calories we'd consumed at the South African Wine Adventure. We ran down the sidewalk connecting the Boardwalk-Swan-Dolphin area to Disney's MGM Studios, and around the Crescent Lake (Boardwalk, Yacht Club, Beach Club) walk. What a beautiful area to run in! After a shower, we decided to take advantage of Swan hotel room service for breakfast (ham & cheese omelet and hash browns). After all, we had this nice table in our room and spectacular views out the windows and it was a great choice.

Checking the Food & Wine Festival guide, we noted Pam Smith was having a cooking demonstration at 11 am in the Odyssey. Pam is a familiar face to those who've attended the F&W Festival before as she's typically the hostess for other chef's demonstrations in the Odyssey. Pam showed us how to make a tasty crab and fresh corn risotto and, the best part, we got to taste it....mmmm. Next up was a wine tasting. While Susan headed to the Festival Center in the Wonders of Life pavilion to get in line, I went to the Land pavilion to get Fastpasses for Soarin'.

The winery hosting the tasting was Allen Scott Winery & Estate, located in Marlborough, New Zealand. As I recall it, we tasted an unoaked Chardonnay, a couple of savignon blancs and a pinot noir. All were very good. In a "It's a Small World" moment, the Alan Scott representative, Fred Ordway, was actually from Huntsville, AL - our neck of the woods. Fred's presentation included a nice briefing that described the various New Zealand wine growing areas, with a focus on the Cloudy Bay area where there winery is located. We are definitely going to be looking for Allen Scott wines in our local wine stores.

Next, we went to Guest Services to get me a "It's My Birthday" Disney button. If you're at Disneyworld during your birthday, do it. It's nice to get "Happy Birthday" wishes from the Disney Cast Members and also from other Disneyworld guests. We spent the next several hours sampling the cuisine at the Marketplace food booths (Dominican Republic, Greece and Oklahoma). Of particular note were the Spanakopita in Greece and the seared Buffalo with scalloped wild onions and Three Sisters Soup at the Oklahoma-Three Sister's Cafe. While in the Oklahoma exhibit area we also enjoyed a show by some Native American dancers.

By this time it was getting pretty hot outside so we decided to go to the American pavilion to see the Voices of Liberty and American Adventure. As we walked into the pavilion and were about to take a seat, one of the Disney Cast Members came up to me and said I had a phone call in the lobby. When I picked up the phone it was Goofy singing Happy Birthday to me. Too cute! As we made our way back to our seat yet another Cast Member came up and said she noticed that we'd lost our seat when we came to answer the phone. Since it was my birthday, she said she was going to escort us up to the second floor and make us the "First Family" for this show of the American Adventure. Cool! We got to sit in real chairs and listened to the talented Voices of Liberty below. After the preshow, the Cast Member escorted us into the theatre where we could sit anywhere we wanted. After the rest of the crowd entered, the Cast Member announced us as the "First Family" and asked for a round of applause. We turned around and gave the crowd a wave as they clapped. Our last activity in the park was Soarin'. What a great ride. For those not familiar with it, Soarin' is a simulated hang glider tour of various areas of California. Guests sit in tiered swings that face a huge movie screen that is used to project the scenes. Definitely a "do not miss" attraction.

Afterwards, we hot footed it back to the Swan to freshen up and change clothes in preparation for our reservation at the Party for the Senses. Once again, we were joined by Tony and Cosette O'Neil. What can I say - we had a great time. The food was fabulous - the wines were excellent - the entertainment (acts from La Nouba by Cirque de Soleil) was amazing. This was our 5th Party for the Senses and I'd have to say it was the best we've been to so far.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Honey, Have You Seen My Wallet?

We woke up at 6 am Friday (10/12) morning feeling like we’d have plenty of time to finish packing and run an errand before driving to the Huntsville airport at 9 am for our 10:05 am flight to Orlando. Things were going wonderfully until I started looking for my wallet – and I looked and then looked some more. “Honey, have you seen my wallet?” “No.” Darn! Finally I decided I must have left it in my airplane, which I had flown down to Auburn the day before. OK, that’s a 25 minute drive one way and I’ve still got to run that errand too. I’m getting nervous now. I drive out to my plane, look around…nothing! I Call Susan at home and ask her to look in my flight bag and computer bag now sure that it must be at home. I head out to run that errand while Susan searches. I cross my fingers and hope. Susan calls back on my cell phone and gives me the bad news – no luck. Double Darn! By this time we realize that to make sure we can get our bags to the airport in time to check them, we’ll have to drive separately. Luckily, being a NASA employee, I have a handy government-issued picture ID that I can use as proof of identification for checking in at the airport. Our flight is delayed by about 15 minutes so that gives me a little breathing room to make our flight. Whew! I thought this was going to be a relaxing morning.

Our non-stop Delta flight down to Orlando went smoothly. On the flight with us were friends Tony O’Neil and his wife Cosette. After picking up our bags at Baggage Claim we met our driver (George) from Happy Limo who escorted us out to our stretch limo. We highly recommend Happy Limo by the way. We've used them for 6 years and we've always been very pleased. George dropped Tony and Cosette off at the Boardwalk and then took us to the Swan. We were able to check in and drop our bags off at our room and we were VERY pleased with it. We were on the 7th floor, had wonderful views towards MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom, a nice king bed with widescreen LCD TV…it was great.

Susan and I changed into shorts and headed out to Epcot for lunch. We had the cheddar cheese soup and maple glazed salmon at Canada and the chilaquiles and quesadilla con chorizo at Mexico – all were excellent! While we were at the Mexico pavilion we also did the revamped Gran Tour ride, which now features the Three Caballeros (Donald Duck, Jose Carioca and Panchito Pistoles). Next, we decided to venture over into Future World to check out the Food & Wine Festival Center set up this year in the old Wonders of Life (WoL) pavilion. This is a nice change from previous years as the WoL pavilion is air conditioned and no longer used so its facilities can be 100% geared towards the needs of the F&W Festival. We had a nice surprise…as we were wandering by the location of the complimentary wine tastings, a Disney Castmember waved us in to a tasting (by the Achaval Ferrer winery from Mendoza, Argentina) that was just getting underway. We’d never heard of the winery but found their malbecs to be outstanding. We had one in the $25 range, a second in the $50 range and a third in the $110 range.

We returned to the Swan to change for the South African Wine Adventure and met Tony and Cosette at the World Showplace at 6 pm. We didn’t know quite what to expect at this event as it was the first and only time it was to be held.
We suspected it would be set up similar to the Party for the Senses and we were correct. Color-coded areas were set up in the middle of the floor that corresponded to the various wine regions within South Africa. The “culinary specialty” items (yummy food) were located at tables arrayed together along the north wall. Unlike the Party for the Senses, the chefs didn’t cook the food at the stations; instead, it was precooked and they were simply serving it. It was all delicious; however, they could have set the tables up better. They were so close to one another that the lines for each merged into one long line. Finally, it would have been nice if some type of dessert item had been included - a zebra dome from Boma would have done nicely. These minor comments aside, we all all agreed this event was well worth the expense and we would not hesitate to do it again. In fact, we would suggest that Disney expand this event to not only include South Africa, but also do a similar event each Friday during the Festival focusing on the wines of countries such as Italy, France, Germany, Australia, Spain, Chile, etc.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Getting Prepared

I decided to edit our Mediterranean cruise blog to capture our visit to the Food & Wine Festival this year. Pretty nifty, eh?

This will be the 5th year in a row Susan and I have trekked to Epcot to attend the International Food & Wine Festival and I don't think we'll ever get tired of it. This year, we're excited to be staying at the Swan hotel, which is a short walk from the International Gateway entrance to Epcot. Below is our itinerary. We have the two main events on Friday and Saturday and will be spending most of the rest of the time touring Epcot's World Showcase, sampling the various food and wines. We also will try to catch the new/renovated attractions we've not yet seen, like the Nemo show in the Animal Kingdom, Monster's Inc. Laugh Factory in the Magic Kingdom, and the Gran Fiesta Tour in the Mexico pavilion in Epcot.

Friday Oct. 12th

Direct flight from Huntsville, AL to Orlando International
Happy Limo to the Swan
South African Wine Adventure at 6:30 pm, Epcot World Showplace

"This is a unique occasion to meet the most prominent wine makers in South Africa today and to taste the wines from 30 different vineyards. The evening's wine walk-about will include culinary specialties from Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge and roaring entertainment!"

Saturday Oct. 13th - My Birthday!

Party for the Senses at 6:30 pm, Epcot World Showplace

"Feast on this tribute to the sensory arts! Begin your evening with a reserved seat at the Eat to the Beat Concert Series at the American Gardens Theatre (Starship for us). Following the show, World Showplace becomes the setting for a sensational evening showcasing the talents of more than 25 eminent chefs and the diversity of over 70 wines and beers. Wander among tempting tasting stations in the midst of imaginative decor and awe-inspiring acts from LaNouba by Cirque du Solei."

Sunday Oct. 14th

Culinary demonstrations, seminars and wine tastings

Monday Oct. 15th

Culinary demonstrations, seminars and wine tastings
Return flight from MCO to HSV