In which fashions collide
We ventured into EPCOT shortly after the park opened and made our way to Soarin’, as that is the only appropriate way to start a morning in the park since that ride quickly backs up, similar to Toy Story Midway Mania at DHS. We had almost no wait, but the few minutes we did have to wait introduced me to a new fashion trend: Resort Formal Casual. I’m certainly no fashion maven and I got once rejected on What Not to Wear because they said there was no hope, but this was awesome:
The picture quality is awful, but it was a discrete hip shot, so what can you do. There are tennis shoes at the bottom, basketball shorts, t-shirt, old-guy hat, and a navy sportcoat. Not a sports coat, but a sport coat, like you wear to dinner at a nice restaurant. His outfit only enhanced our enjoyment of the excellent Soarin’, and then we trucked our way across to Test Track, which was recently overhauled.
If you’ve ridden Test Track, you already know it was a pretty cool ride, with a queue that was very novel the first few times, but gets to be annoying with the machine-shop sounds clanging and banging. The ride itself has always been great – when it’s working, which is not all the time over the last few years. When GM crashed & burned a few years ago, there was a lot of speculation whether GM could continue to sponsor the ride, but they still sponsor it under the Chevy banner.
If you haven’t ridden the new version yet and don’t want to know what’s coming, skip the next two paragraphs.
Instead of going through a bunch of testing areas and watching a training video before the ride, you now use computer stations to design futuristic custom cars, carrying a car with you that tracks what design and attributes you apply to your car, like power, efficiency, responsiveness, etc. Right before you get on the actual ride, you hold your card up to a reader that aligns with your seat in the car, then hop in and belt up as usual. The ride vehicles have changed little since earlier iterations of the ride, though the audio quality is much better.
Once you being the ride though, things are quite a bit different, though the route remains the same. Instead of a well-lit building that your vehicle moves through with trees alongside the road, you’re in darkness, and the trees are now outlined with futuristic lighting along the sides that feels very Tron-ish. On the screen that used to display the in-ride pictures captured along the way, they now display the ranking of the custom cards made by the people riding in that vehicle. For the handling test, we failed. In the speed sections, we won. Guess which attribute our futuristic purple speedster had? When the ride is complete and you disembark, the post-ride area greets you with completely new experiences that still utilize the custom car designed in the pre-show. You can design a custom TV commercial of your car and email it to yourself, you can race your car on a virtual circuit against other peoples’ designs, and they have ranking boards showing the best car designs of the day weighted against the various attributes. It’s an excellent overhaul of Test Track, and another great example of Disney implementing interactive queues to increase the entertainment experience even when standing in line.
This is our homage to “Webcam 101 for Seniors“:
On our way back to the middle of the park, we stopped off at a family favorite, Club Cool, which has free (!) pops from around the world. There is a notoriously bitter and awful one named Beverly that people try to get their friends to sample, which usually results in bitter beer face.
Canada, my Canada
Okay, well, it’s not my Canada, but I’d like to see you try to get between me and the pretzel bread they serve at LeCellier in the Canada pavilion. Despite Disney’s “Disney Parks” iPhone app showing that they opened at 11:30, the restaurant actually opened at noon. With some time to kill before our 12:15 reservation, we watched the 360-degree Circlevision movie that tries to convince Americans that Canada is more than igloos and polar bears. Despite the beauty of this film, we remain unconvinced.
Shortly before twelve, I went inside the restaurant and checked us in while Rachel remained outside and called home when we remembered that we had kids and should check in on them. At noon, when LeCellier officially opens and the servers are ready to begin seating tables, all the servers gather at the check-in table and ask the customers to rise and remove their hats, followed by a hearty singing of Oh Canada! with no unease whatsoever, which is kind of cool to see.
Speaking of unease, we’re going to digress a moment to address a topic that is very heated among Disneyphiles: the Disney Dining Plan. Versions of the DDP appeared around the time that Rachel and I started coming to WDW, in the late 1990s. At that time, it was possible to walk up to even the nicest table service restaurants and get a table most days, but not always. The nicest restaurants, which Disney now calls “Signature Dining” (including LeCellier, Bistro de Paris, California Grill, Artist Point, Narcooses, Citricos, Victoria & Albert’s, etc), had food that was several levels above the regular table service restaurants, which was several levels above the quick-service/counter restaurants. Service at these eateries also followed similar castes. The dining plan, which allows people to lump their meal costs into their overall Disney package, gives the illusion that people save money because they don’t pay for meals during their trip, instead redeeming DDP credits for meals. Nearly every comparison I’ve ever seen shows that the DDP costs people more than paying out of pocket, especially when you consider other discounts available like Annual Passholder discounts, or the Tables in Wonderland card (formerly Disney Dining Experience). People with the DDP also tend to eat more since each credit comes with certain meal components, like an appetizer and entree, or and entree and dessert. Putting on my flameproof suit, the other downside is that people order more things because the DDP entitles them to those things, and then they don’t eat them! The amount of food left on tables has increased drastically since the DDP gained widespread adoption, and the restaurants took notice. Also, the dining plan has astronomically increased the difficulty of getting a table at even middling sit-down restaurants. At the hostess stand at Mama Melrose’s the other day, I heard the server tell several people that they don’t have any openings this month, despite February being one of the slower months of the year. LeCellier servers were telling people no openings until June.
One other thing that many people agree on is that the DDP has been a rousing success for Disney, keeping their restaurants full and increasing the cash influx – with a package, you pay Disney in full 45 days before you arrive for your entire package. Room only guests pay only a night’s deposit with the balance due at check-in, and pay for their meals as they go. As the restaurants got busier thanks to DDP, the move to centralize food production across Disney properties and share ingredients across restaurants increased. Many people, including me, feel that the overall quality of the dining experience at Disney has dropped significantly, as the upper tier of restaurants reduced the uniqueness and size of their menus, bringing them much close to the quality of the mid-tier options. LeCellier is one example, a restaurant we absolutely adored until about 2007, when we saw drops in both quality of food and service. Once an absolute must-do, we stopped scheduling it and lamented the days when we had magical meals.
With no kids, we decided to give LeCellier a try again this trip, and headed there for lunch. Rachel has always loved the beef barley soup at LeCellier, and was disappointed to learn they no longer offered it. The beer cheddar soup that I’ve always loved is still on the menu, but the recipe has changed and I found it rather disappointing and will not order it on future visits. We also had the poutine fries as an appetizer, and they were decent, but not noteworthy. The pretzel bread, on the other hand, is definitely noteworthy. It’s always been outstanding and the type of food you crave for two weeks before a Disney trip, but somehow it’s been improved and is even more tasty.
Redemption is at hand!
Rachel ordered a winter squash ravioli and I ordered the pepper crusted sirloin steak, and both were outstanding, on par with the exquisite maple glaze filet that they use to serve. We were almost giggly as we ate our entrees – the table of two a few feet away kept eyeing our plates throughout the meal. We’ve never been disappointed with dessert at LeCellier, but the creme brûlée has always been #1 on our list. I asked Rachel if she wanted to get creme brulee or one of the other choices, and she said to get creme brûlée and one of the other choices. I told the waitress exactly that, and her reply was “Do you want to know now, or do you want to be surprised?” and of course I chose surprised. Which turned out to be an excellent decision, as she chose the raspberry white chocolate cheesecake, which is unlike any cheesecake I’ve ever seen and was dynamite (I’m running out of words for excellent or spectacular). LeCellier, you’re back on the list.
Of course we follow that up with duck
After lunch, we walked thought International Gateway on our way back to the Beach Club, where we changed into pool gear and headed out for a lap around the lazy river with a little hot tub time. We had noticed the day before that one small section of the pool was roped off with signs that said “pool closed” but only today discovered why. As we crossed a bridge to find some chairs, we saw a duck pop into the pool from a grassy area, followed by 6 tiny ducklings. Disney was saving part of the pool for the ducklings.
We spent most of our pool time debating whether we should go to our dinner reservation at Kona or just head into the Magic Kingdom, since we weren’t very hungry after our large lunch. We ended up deciding to head over to Polynesian and, after using valet because we could not find a parking spot, were seated quickly at Kona. They brought us some pineapple bread, which was incredibly good, with or without butter, and we enjoyed the meal. After dinner, we hopped on the resort monorail for the Magic Kingdom.
The danger of camera lenses
With no kids on this trip, I brought more camera gear than usual since I’d have more time to stop and take pictures. I carried my camera on a strap, so we usually had an extra lens or two in the small bag we take into the parks. When you enter Disney parks, you have to pass through one of two security options. If you have no bag, purse, or backpack with you, you can head through the quick line under the “Guests Without Bags” sign. If you have any kind of bag, you have to wait in the much-longer lines to have a security guard look through your bag, and they are getting more serious about the bag checks. This trip is the first time they’ve required people to completely remove their bags and set the bags on the table.
In this context, I breezed through the no bags line while Rachel waited in a short line because she had our park bag with two extra camera lenses. I walked about twenty feet past the line where Rachel was waiting, and I turned around to fiddle with the camera settings while I waited for her to make it through. The security guard looked through the bag and acted irritated that the lenses in the bag were in lens bags, but he opened each one and surmised that they were camera lenses. I pointed the camera at Rachel and took a few test shots, while the guard looked up at Rachel and said snarkily, “So where’s the camera?” which caused Rachel to point in my direction. Satisfied that they were actual camera lenses, and not some implement of mass destruction, Rachel was allowed to move forward and we headed into the park.
I mentioned the settings
One of my goals for the trip was to get some nighttime practice with my camera, particularly with the fireworks and parades. I ended up deleting 3/4 of the pictures while still in the camera, and half of what was left once I got them onto the computer, but I ended up with some decent shots.
We rode a few rides, got ourselves some Dole Whips, and made our way over to watch the Main Street Electrical Parade, which is pretty cool, and was followed shortly by Wishes. I personally prefer Spectromagic to MSEP, but theyr’e both fun.
Following the fireworks, we hustled over to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, used our fastpasses and had a great ride in the cooling night air. At that point, we were fairly worn out, so we made our way out to the monorail, collected our car from Polynesian, and headed back to the Beach Club for the night.