31 Oct 2009

Florida WDW - Oct 09 - Day 3 - Eve

California Grill

Its been quite a long time since our last visit to the California Grill, we seem to have missed it out on recent trips so it's time to return.

We have rather a late ADR for nine in the evening so after getting showered and changed we set out for the MK bus depot; the "motor coach" driver taking a completely different route than last night's trip obviously. On arriving we change to the Monorail for one stop only and we are soon in the Contemporary. Checking in at the California Grill's reception we are told they are running 20mins behind and that someone will take us up in the private lift. About ten minutes later the lift finally appears to take us up and the CM explains it's rather a busy night.

As no tables are yet ready and the bar and lounge area is packed to capacity we are shown to some spare chairs which have been lined up along the length of one wall and given a bleeper, giving a signature dining room's lounge area the appearance of a rather depressing doctors waiting area. It's a pity that it's so cold outside because both roof top viewing areas are actually open, we take a quick look at the MK before diving back in for warmth.

Eventually though we are seated on the kitchen side with a nice window seat overlooking the lagoon and park. Things are improving but it's already past ten o'clock.

We start with a lovely flat bread Triple Cheese - Pecorino, Asiago, and Provolone with Sun-dried Tomato and Arugula Pesto. The dough recipe has altered somewhat since last time; the texture used to be almost like a cross between a thin Nan and a Pizza Dough but now it has been refined even more and almost has an element of filo to it. Its absolutely delicious. I can highly recommend the Sushi here but as I practically had raw fish for dinner last night I decide to skip the experience and order the Day boat Scallops with House-made Gnocchi, Sustainable Pears, Brown Butter and Bacon Emulsion which are cooked to perfection, admittedly practically raw inside but soft and heavenly with a wonderful caramelised exterior. The sauce has a strong veal base with a smokey kick from a pancetta reduction. It's powerful and does wonderful things in the mouth whilst never overpowering the scallops.

One thing I admire at The California Grill is the ability for the menu to be kept tight and compact. They do a few main dishes extremely well. However I am going to gently complain here; I was slightly disappointed to see that one of the meat choices tonight is an Ostrich dish. As far as I am concerned Ostrich has no place on a signature restaurants menu; it's a gimmick food along with Alligator and Croc that often gets placed on restaurants menus because they don't have the imagination to create a proper dish. Put it on as an extra or a special (if you must) but don't drop a classic dish in its place please. Rant over.

Jackie chooses a pasta dish tonight, a divine Wild Mushroom Ravioli. Intense is not a strong enough word for the explosion of flavour that occurs with each bite, the sauce is simply heaven. However the Pasta itself could have been a rolled, cut and crimped just a little thinner to balance the dish better.

Dessert for myself is Cheese as usual which is basically a slightly larger selection than last night's at Narcoosees. Jackie has Molten chocolate lava cake which has a slight crunch to the outside but a smoothly oozing interior, very nicely done, perfect. A Bottle of NZ Sauvignon and Sonoma Zinfandel take on the wine duties followed by coffees and espresso.

Looking back over my old review my opinion of the California Grill remains about the same. Great, often superb food in a rather chaotic environment with some elements(the unromantic, over bright, ceiling lighting for instance) that are just not quite good enough for a signature restaurant.

It's after midnight when we leave and though the MK is still open for an EE tonight till 1am, tomorrow morning is an Early Entry at Epcot; so we circle the Lagoon on the Monorail and return from MK Bus depot.

30 Oct 2009

Florida WDW - Oct 09 - Day 3

The Alarm rings out at 6.15am to welcome in the glorious new day. It's still dark outside, is this really morning? I flick on the T.V. to see what the weather has in store for us today. I have found another T.V. channel with a weather presenter who's hair does not get in the way of the map and whose teeth don't require the use of sunglasses in order to watch her. And besides, the new presenter I have found seems to present the weather two degrees higher than the other channel so that can only be a good thing -right! Now all I have to do next is work out how to stop the T.V. automatically starting up to perky Miss "Let me show you around Disney" every time I turn it on and it will be totally safe to use.

I go for the full bounty breakfast today, I can always use the biscuit as a lethal weapon or a hammer in case of emergencies. Jackie sticks with the strawberry free Mickey waffle and steals my sausage and potatoes (ouch).

It's early entry this morning in my favourite park AK. A bus eventually turns up after rather a good wait and we begin the drive there via Timbuktu. One advantage of getting the bus from the breakfast stop is it's the final or first bus stop depending on which way you look at it; in other words you get on and you're on your way.

It's another cold morning today and the conversation on the bus is pretty similar to yesterday. Today I know the entire contents of a total strangers suitcase and that she only brought slinky tops and shorts. Of course the driver has the air conditioning turned to just above freezing for reasons best known to himself or perhaps he just spotted all the slinky tops on board.

We love this park. I just love the lushness of it all, though the amount of shade today is hardly a plus point when the early morning temps are being a little stubborn. We are ushered in through the Early Entry turnstiles and grab fast passes for the safari. A couple of rides on Everest, which has no queue, should help the breakfast settle quite nicely so on we go. Then it's back to the safari after first grabbing more FPs for Everest. The other thing I actually like about this park, though I know some people don't, is that you have to do a lot of backtracking. When the park's this lovely I don't mind. It's when the theming is non existent and there's more concrete than greenery that I start to get fed up. By the time we reach the Safari the park has only just opened to the general public so the Safari FP saves us nothing. Animal activity is quite good though, probably because of the cool morning.

A warming coffee is called for next and we head slowly back around the lake,via Everest, to take in the first Nemo show of the day. With two enclosed full scale shows this park really does spoil you with its entertainment.

Nemo is as excellent as ever, it's always fun spotting cast you have seen previously and also seeing who has changed. The park actually seems pretty quiet today, the show only just fills by start time. The good news is by the end of the show the sun is fully up and its starting to heat up rapidly. My new weather girl has done herself proud.

We spend some time doing some of the nature trails and then sitting and enjoying a cold drink as it has now actually got pretty hot, rather quickly. Lunch today is an ADR at Yak and Yeti at one thirty so there's time to squeeze in a ride on Dinosaur before heading over there. I'm always a little bemused by this ride and how it constantly seems to churn out screaming children at the end. I like it, though it's not the most comfortable of experiences.

Yak and Yeti is reasonable fare. I actually end up ordering Ribs because I think it's probably going to be the only chance I will get of having them this holiday. They are excellent but I would probably order something from the wok next time. Jackie's Tempura Shrimp and Noodles looks better. We are seated upstairs in the front room which looks a superior option to downstairs which looks a little more noisy and crowded.

After lunch we go to watch the Lion King show which is excellent as usual and in my opinion the two shows in this park are worth the entrance price alone. We then take a relaxing walk through the trails and go to see the Tigers who are quite keen on Jackie's T Shirt and hat it would appear.

After a trip there and back again on the train (just for a sit down) we use a fast pass we picked up earlier for the river rapids and as is our usual luck on these rides get absolutely soaked. We have a late ADR for California Grill tonight so we decide to head back and spend some time by the pool before getting ready.

Florida WDW - Oct 09 - Day 2 - Eve


Later that same evening, suitably changed and refreshed we are back at the bus stop waiting to head out for a seven thirty ADR at Narcoossees. I love the journey to Narcoossees from a resort, you have a choice of transportation and we are in good fortune; one of the small steamers is in the dock when we arrive at the MK bus depot after what seems like another circular tour of the entire property. It's a lovely way to cross from the MK concourse area over the Seven Seas Lagoon direct to the the Grand Floridian Dock; which just happens to be next door to Narcoossees restaurant.

The restaurant is buzzing and they are running about 15 minutes behind (as usual). Its a MNSSHP night in the MK tonight and sat at a table for six are the best dressed family we have ever seen. It's the entire Adams family with full make up, props and crisp looking costumes. In fact the costumes are so good they don't look that out of place in the restaurant surrounded by the servers, fine wine and food and could be mistaken for a family of adults out in all there finery until you realise somethings not quite right; doesn't that man at the end look dead. A nice touch is that Uncle Fester has a bulb to place in his mouth and light. I know I should have taken pictures but I didn't , so slapped wrists for not papping them mid dinner.

We are seated twice, the first time on an empty table of six with a high chair which comes as a surprise to us and the maitre 'd who quickly runs over and moves us to another table next to the window looking out over the MK and the Lagoon.
Our server is Steve who is all the way from Orlando and seems a little flustered, he's been having a problem with the Adams family bill. The menu looks great as usual, fish, fish and more fish. Jackie orders the Yellowtail Snapper which Steve is keen to point out is a "whole fish", he says this in a way that suggests some people may not realise "fillets of fish actually come from fish you know" which sounds quite unintentionally funny, next he'll be telling us fish may have bones in it.. I go for the Togarashi Spiced Ahi Tuna, rare. Wine is a bottle of New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon, crisp and perfect.

I think the reason for Steve wanting to talk about the whole fish becomes readily apparent upon its arrival. Either a small whale or an extra from the Nemo show seems to have been substituted for the snapper and artistically placed on the plate. It's absolutely divine, there's an Asian fusion to the sauce and just enough heat in the beautiful crisp batter to give it a light kick. The meat is perfect and translucent.
My tuna is cooked to perfection (that's just the outside then - Jackie) and again shows the same Asian fusion themes going on throughout, my only small criticism would be it is described as having a wasabi accompaniment, but if that green line is the wasabi it has little heat or taste. The tuna is superb though, strong and tender and balanced perfectly by the spices on the outside.

For dessert a mix of Seasonal Fruit Desserts and Chocolate Dessert with espresso for me and Russian earl grey for Jackie is taken followed by the Artisan Cheeses with a bottle of Red Zinfandel.

The night is further enhanced by all the usual extras at Narcoosee's. We went out before the main course to watch the good old Electric Water Pageant do it's stuff, then after coffees spent time on the deck watching the Halloween music and fireworks; they dim all the lights in the restaurant and pipe in the music. These are probably the best fireworks the MK puts on and I always remember last time we saw them inside the park how amazing it was to have them explode all around you rather than just beyond the castle, from this viewpoint you really do get a great idea of how vast an area is being used to display these fireworks.

We return pretty late by taking the Monorail from the Grand Floridian to the MK Bus Depot and switching to our resort Bus; so far the Buses have been pretty good.. Early start tomorrow it's early entry at the Animal Kingdom.

29 Oct 2009

Florida WDW - Oct 09 - Day 2

We are up early and ready for the first day, the weather whilst clear is not exactly promising much heat today due to a prevailing wind from the North drawing cold air down, this should improve in the next day or two according to the weather girl who clearly isn't doing her bit for the ozone layer as her mountain of blond hair never moves a millimetre no matter how much she shakes or turns her head. We are having breakfast in the Artist Palette just after 7.00am. I am making an assumption here but I am guessing they expect most guests actually use the kitchens in the rooms for breakfast at the Saratoga Springs.(do these people realise they're on holiday?); not only is the breakfast room pretty deserted compared to other resorts but the choice is not quite as good as say Port Orleans or even the All Star Resorts. In the end I settle for a cheese omlette and Jackie takes the large Mickey Waffle but it comes sadly for her without the strawberry sauce it is usually served with elsewhere.

It's possible to pick a bus up a short walk from the breakfast room so soon we are heading towards the Studios in time for opening. Most of the conversation on the bus turns to the weather or the snow and storms people have left behind from the more northern states. I'm always a junkie on the bus for observing all the different sociology and human nature that goes on around you; it helps pass the time especially as the bus drivers seem to have an amazing ability to find the longest and never the same way twice route to the parks.

We are held up as we go in for the opening ceremony on Hollywood Blvd but soon we are heading straight down Sunset Blvd for Rock n Roller Coaster and FP followed by ToT and more FPs. Its actually rather quiet today so it doesn't take us to long to amass a few FPs as we choose not to use them on ToT as the Q's are not having any effect just yet and the FP windows are staying nice and low. Slowly it starts to warm up a little as the sun finally climbs up and its time to start glancing at the schedule. Just before we left and we planned our days I was disappointed to notice what had happened to Fantasmic; it was actually only showing on two days a week for the time we were here according to Disney's Calender. Looking at the schedule today it looks like common sense has prevailed; not only is it on every day of the week but its showing twice a night on most nights. Next we visit some old favourites including the Little Mermaid which we decide to see again later as we end up too near the front which never seems to be a great place to see it from and then the Great Movie Ride for a little nostalgia.

Lunch is a simple affair today at the ABC Commissary but its tasty enough washed down with some Sutters Zinfandel. I think we mixed between the Fish and Chips/Fries and the Chicken Curry with rice, followed by Strawberry Parfait and Chocolate Mousse. For Counter food it's not too bad and does what it says on the tin. The wine obviously makes it taste just that little bit better . Then it's time to use up more FPs on ToT and RnR again in between seeing Beauty and the Beast. You can probably see a theme here, eat a meal then ride coasters. I can only assume we are either mad or have very solid digestive systems. We also start to watch the High School Musical show but its now HSM3 (Was there a 2 or did I blink?) and as Jackie knows none of these songs and can therefore no longer be an active part of the show whether they want her or not we give it a miss

In the Afternoon we waste a little time on the 'backyard' tour, which is getting a little long in the tooth now apart from it's one climax but at least you get to sit down for a while, then we head over for the last show of Indiana Jones passing some rather tiny Jedi recruits giving Vadar a hard time on the way. Indy never changes but it's always good fun, though I am starting now to slightly regret the decision to cut weight and baggage by only deciding to bring one camera lens and body on this trip. I decided on the 10-20mm to give me some different/unusual options but its at times like this a fast 300mm would be more comfortable.

Then it's time to head back to the room have a quick rest, get changed and head back out to Narcoossees for dinner tonight at seven thirty. Its a Halloween night at MK tonight I notice but hopefully we should not look too much like the walking dead.

28 Oct 2009

Florida WDW - Oct 09 - Day 1

We arrived at Manchester in good time and checked in among the shortest queue I have ever seen for a transatlantic flight, in fact there was no body there. Its our first time with Thomas Cook Airlines and to be honest there is some apprehension as they seem to have a reputation for poor service (pretty much like any other airline then). So far so good though; we risked not paying extra for sitting together but are placed together anyway (though oddly people who payed to sit together are not) and they didn't try to charge extra for the seat belt :) using the bathroom or any other ludicrous optional extra. Hand luggage was not weighed which is probably a relief as it contains more snacks, sandwiches, pies and pastries than a small corner shop. You could pay extra for two bowls of gruel but to be honest I have yet to find any airline food in the world that is worth paying for no matter what class you fly; in fact my award for best airline food still goes to Air China's local domestic flights where they hurled delicious fried chicken noodles at you (well they said it was chicken).

The flight soon takes on an hours delay before we eventually board. I remember the days when 767s were pretty new planes, but this one looks pretty worn out now. I personally don't think in this seating configuration (100% charter which must have come as a shock to those who paid extra for premium seating) it's at all suitable for a 9 hour flight but fortunately we have a centre row to ourselves because when we eventually leave and the seat belt light goes off the entire cabin spends 20 minutes re seating itself so every ones sat with family again.I didn't bother with films as you have to pay extra for the headphones which plug into the broken sockets on the chairs, anyway Jackie finds the ipod's headphones work fine once you find an arm that's working; now all you have to do is work out which ceiling monitor you want to watch it on, the one that's tinted red or blue or green, perhaps they could take all the parts from the monitors to get one that works. I hope the equipment in the captains front office is working a bit better.

Nine hours later we arrive at Sanford (which is another first as we normally always fly to MCO). Its a little basic but who cares, we're through quickly and getting our car, something Alamo don't seem to actually be capable of. Remind me not to use them if we ever come to Sanford again; if they're this short of cars at this time of year how on earth do they manage during high season. Eventually a car arrives and we are on are way down the Greenway to Saratoga Springs and into the welcoming arms of Disney. We are checked in quickly and given a 1 bedroom villa in The Paddock building. It's absolutely lovely consisting of a hallway which leads into a full size kitchen (which will never be used) and sitting room. From here you can exit to the balcony or enter the bedroom which manages to contain a super king size bed yet still have plenty of space leftover. Another door leads off to the Spa Jacuzzi bathroom which also allows access to a walk in wardrobe containing a wall safe. Another door from the bathroom takes you through to the second bathroom and its walk in shower. This bathroom also connects back to the sitting room. Between the hallway and the sitting room is a door containing your own washing machine and dryer. A nice touch is that the main Spa bathroom can also be opened up to the main bedroom via some shutters.

We quickly change then run over to the bus stop(30 yards away) and get on the first bus out to EPCOT. It's just starting to go dark now and the plan is to head straight over to the Food and Wine festival and have a few snacks and drinks for supper. We can't resist a quick Mission Space (Intense thanks)though on the way as there is no queue whatsoever so after pulling some Gs we make our way clockwise around the World Showcase. I think it probably felt like 3am for us so I can't fully remember what we ate though I remember a Chicken and Cumin dish washed down with a Tsing Tao from Shanghai, some lovely Barramundi and Lamb Chops from Australia's Counter, I also remember a lovely Scallop dish and a gorgeous Ghoulash from Vienna. We then ended the night watching Illuminations and I think actually enjoying it more than ever before. Then it was back home to what felt like the most comfortable bed ever..

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