Let's just preface this by saying that I (obviously) have no problems with having a vacation in Disneyfied surroundings. I know many do, and I can enjoy a real-world trip to the same sorts of locations, or some of them, along with the best of them. But Disney has it own charms. If you can take it, or just add observations on the Disney machine to your vacation activities. People who hate Disney should probably just skip the next week of blogging 'round here.
I cut my airport timing a little close, having forgotten the extra time it takes to park a car--usually the folks next door and I can work out cooperative airport transport, but my return conflicts with my brother's office holiday party, so no go on this trip. But I managed a close-in long-term spot in my old favorite West lot, and only suffered by missing the early boarding my first-class ticket (all that was available for frequent-flyer miles) entitled me to.
When the plane was taxiing in Orlando, my cell rang and it was Krissi, reporting that she was almost to the head of the Magical Express line and how many bags had I checked? By the time I got to Baggage Claim she was waiting with our paperwork and we headed straight to a bus for our resort, Caribbean Beach. Got checked in, took the internal bus to the right "island". Tthis is Disney's biggest resort and it sprawls, though we're pretty close to the registration area "Customs House" and to the restaurant cluster in the Market. After a first round of "we could do this" and "I'd like to do that", we started off with a walk to the food court area and a late lunch of sandwiches. We're on the food plan, which gives us a snack, a counter-service meal, and a sit-down meal for each night of our stay--generally I expect this to be more food than my general diet, though probably about right for Krissi's. I brought back half my sandwich, the chips, and a milk (for use with coffee from the room coffee maker) from lunch, and for diet purposes should have skipped the cheesecake cup dessert. Nothing exceptional on the food, but it was very well prepared and fresh.
Back at the room, two sleep-deprived travelers started to try to do some planning. We listed the evening stuff we want to do, assigned them to possible days, then worked on "what to do next". Oh, I guess we had done a little of this before lunch, because we stopped at the concierge desk at the Market area and tried for dinner reservations in Epcot. Options were slim unless we wanted dinner at 4:30 (it was already about 2) or 8:30. Vague thought about wanting to go to Le Cellier, the better steak and seafood restaurant in the Canadian pavilion, provoked sympathetic shakes of the head--it's one you book months ahead. Ended up with 8:15 reservations at Nine Dragons, the Chinese restaurant, and a decision to stay for Epcot's ending fireworks show, IllumiNations.
Anyway, we did a little more planning, Krissi did some unpacking as the baggage service had delivered her suitcase while we were out--mine didn't arrive until after we left for dinner--then walked to Customs House and the other concierge desk to buy tickets for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party for Tuesday night. That's a special ticket event in the Magic Kingdom. Krissi's friend Lauri will join us there and for a couple of other days. We asked about Cirque du Soleil tickets (not on the Disney system, though they're located in Downtown Disney), but she advised that we go to the box office where we could better select the exact seats. Then we headed for the bus stop for the parks, and got the Epcot bus.
It was already almost dark, and the Christmas lights and the regular lights, like the fiber optics embedded in the pavement in places, were spectacular. We checked on the Soarin' line (too long), wandered to the fountain with the jumping water streams that I've always loved and spent some time experimenting with photographs (Krissi has a new camera), then walked to the International Gateway which has a holiday set of arches of lights leading to a huge central Christmas tree. Oh, and the lights 'dance' with some of the Christmas music played in the area. Superior arrangements of the Christmas music, too--like most, I can get very tired of constant carols this time of year, but at least these are higher quality versions. Then we walked toward the China pavilion, still well ahead of our reservation time, wandered in the Chinese temple and looked at the exhibit on the terra cotta warriors (I need to see the exhibit of these that's currently in Atlanta when I get home) and Chinese pottery, then sat to wait for the 3D surround movie--partly to rest our feet. I remember this from some other visit, and also enjoyed picking out little bits that I remember from my one trip to China. And while in there, we missed a short but apparently fairly heavy rain shower that showed a front was moving through.
By then it was 7:45, and we decided to go ahead and check in at Nine Dragons. Surprise! They seated us immediately. Tables for 2 may be easier to get....
I had a version of General Tso's chicken with spicy spinach noodles, quite good though devoid of anything resembling a vegetable. That was not on the menu--I'd asked about trying to have a couple of appetizers in a sort of dim sum arrangement (not permitted on the food plan) and the waiter mentioned this during the discussion. Krissi had a 'noodle sampler'--two bowls of wheat noodles, two small bowls of meats in sauce (one chicken, one pork), and little bowls of 5 or 6 veggies. The sampler part was your own mix-and-match of all those components. We both had a really excellent caramel ginger ice cream for dessert. All this was on the plan--we added a gratuity (18% and 20% amounts pre-calculated for you on the bill for a guide) and were done.
By now it was almost 9, and IllumNations, the fireworks show, starts at 9:30. We found a rail spot at the side of the lagoon near the Mexico pavilion and staked it out--lots of others were already in position, though I think the rain had cut the crowd down a little. There were plenty of people still around, though! The rain had brought a good temperature drop, and I was chilly--I'd left my heavy jacket at the hotel and had a light windbreaker over 3/4 length sleeves, and there was a good breeze coming at us across the lagoon. Krissi, raised in Maine, now living in upstate New York, and pretty heavy, finally started to get to a comfortable temperature. The show was worth the chill, though--I'd never seen it or any Disney fireworks show thanks to all previous visits being day-only or accompanied by smaller children. Spectacular fireworks set too music, the huge globe that moves across the lagoon while pictures are projected on its continents before it opens like a segmented orange and more fireworks are shot from the inside, laser lights shot across the sky into the smoke haze from the fireworks. There was a a small trailer on the end for the season, too--a lower-key, mostly, set of fireworks choreographed to "Let there be peace on Earth". All wonderfully done.
We headed out, with a quick stop to look at a pin-trading kiosk, as Krissi is a pin-trader. Waited in line for a bus and then in the minor traffic jam of busses and cars leaving Epcot, and then got back to the hotel.
General plan for today: stop at concierge and try for dinner reservations, then go to Downtown Disney, eat lunch, and buy Cirque tickets for Thursday night. Next head to Disney Hollywood Studios for the late afternoon and dinner, see the special Osborne lights exhibit, and end with Fantasmic! show.