Monday, November 01, 2021

Eating Disney

 Who in their right mind goes to Disney World in a pandemic?

>Sheepishly raises his hand.<

So, here's the story. We made reservations - park, plane, hotel - like, eight months previously, on the assumption that we would be over the worst of it by then. Disney World was running a EPCOT Food and Wine Festival, and this was a good a reason as any. And when it seemed like the worst of it was NOT over, the Lovely Bride was headstrong in her desire to go, as long as we made proper preparations.

So we went to Florida and emerged OK.

Mind you, we were vacced, and there was solid mask discipline throughout, particularly in the park (the Lovely B did call out a couple people indoors w/o their masks, at the cost of harsh looks but higher safety). I brought KN95s, which were surprisingly comfortable.The few maskless I encountered seemed to also have a minimal understanding of sunscreen as well, so they were easily identified. And I was chided on the plane down by a flight attendant to not keeping masked while chewing (OK, I feel that inner Karen rising, but it was a fair cop). We were cautious and generally smart, and afterwards we self-isolated on the chance that we did pick something up (though to be honest, I always welcome the opportunity to not see other people).

And we were helped by perfect weather - warm but not too hot, low humidity, no rain. Some of the natives were commenting that it was the best weather for months.  Crowds were containable, except for the lines, which were long. Drinking at EPCOT is apparently a major draw - I saw a lot of varieties of "Drinking Around the World" T-shirts, but I saw surprisingly few drunks. It was in many ways a magical kingdom. 

OK, fine. You went to EPCOT for the food. How was it?

It was good. Really good. In addition to their regular restaurants scattered among the various national districts, they installed a host of other locations to sample. Belgium. Australia.Hawai'i. Brazil, Germany. Much good food. Many small bites. Many mimosas (we started to keep our dead soldiers, and returned with a host of plastic stemware). There was a booth selling lobster with a bisque sauce that was a highlight. Weirdest booth? A place selling hand-made noodles called "The Noodle Exchange." Wait, what? (OK, it is not as weird as being in the Canada district and hearing "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" on the background music. Is that the new Canadian anthem?).

Of the established restaurants, we had favorites that we went back to, and a new one. The top three were:

Morocco - Spice Road Table - Small plates - hummus, lamb kefta, tiroptakia, served in the open air part of the cafe. A friend had posted pictures of  a recent meal, and I felt challenged to respond in kind. Only meal we did photos for, because we kept forgetting to take pictures unitl after we ate.

Japan - Tokyo - Some of the best sushi I have had, hands down. Incredible service, though we arrived late, then ordered another round after the initial. They were incredibly accommodating. "Yes, we've had sushi, but what about second sushi?" Also, no Sapuro beer (the sole case of the shipping crisis casting its shadow on us). Closed the joint down - we were last ones out the door.

Animal Kingdom - Tiffins - An upscale restaurant in Animal Kingdom that you would normally miss on the way to get on the Pandora/Avatar movie rides. Spices from South Asia and Africa. The LB had scallops and steak, I had a perfect veal. I mean, platonic ideal of veal. Incredibly well-presented, well- seasoned, and generally fantastic. One of those hidden gems. 

The worst meal we had (and it is in my all-time five bottom meals) was at a hotel off the property - Il Mulino at the Swan. Air conditioning full blast, cafeteria-loud venue, snippy front desk, slow service, long waits between courses, inedible saltimbocca. I can groove on a two hour meal, but not a that level of discomfort. So yeah - go for the park for the food.

However, the Swan (and its companion, the Dolphin, where we stayed) were excellent hotels otherwise. Close enough to be in walking distance to parks, plus had boat service to EPCOT and Disney Hollywood. Boats running so often we never had to wait long. And, the gondolas from my youth (and Disneyland) were back, hooking up Hollywood and EPCOT with some of the other resorts, and to be honest, we spent a morning riding those.

The rides were great as well. We abjured the Magic Kingdom, did EPCOT for two days, Animal Kingdom for one, and Hollywood (also known as "Everything else Disney owns") for a day and change. Star Wars Land/Galaxy's edge was good. Rise of the Resistance was worth the two hour wait and an intriguing study in presenting an experience themed around a ride. Smuggler's Run (you get the fly the Millennium Falcon) was great, and we went back a second day to improve our score. The Flight of Passage Pandora ride was worth the wait, the slow boat Na'vi River Ride not so much. The new Ratatouille ride was amusing, but not overwhelming. And I finally got to ride a couple rides that I never had time for before, like the Test Track at Epcot (another nice total experience) and the Tower of Terror (I went alone, the LB waited drinking mango rum slushies from a nearby place of safety, then we had great ice cream to celebrate from Hollywood Scoops - go hunt it down if you're there.

And the people working the park were pretty darn impressive as well. The staff was omnipresent and positive without being creepy. While we were there, they rolled out a new app for line management and reservations, which promptly crashed, so the bulk of the staff I saw (mostly but not exclusively young people) were spending a lot time showing guests (mostly but not exclusively older) how to use their phones. 

And that was it. If you are a person who bridles at $3.75 cokes at a hotel, you don't want to take this type of vacation. But if you can throw caution to the winds (or have a Lovely Spouse who is actually spending the money), it was a delightful break, and the first time out of the house for a real vacation in two years. 

More later,