Saturday, October 4, 2014

Food & Wine Festival

If you are looking for a great adult vacation at Disney, check out Epcot's Food & Wine Festival.  This festival runs from September through November.  It has everything you might like, great food, excellent music, and beverages a plenty.  My sister and I came down here for a girls weekend and to celebrate my birthday.
We walked into Epcot and headed straight to the World Showcase.  The most obvious direction that everyone takes is to start at Mexico and go around the lagoon clockwise.  I tend to not follow the obvious so, we trekked it over to Canada.  

One thing about the Food & Wine Festival is to be prepared to eat lots of good food!   
Map of the International Marketplaces

Don't forget to pick up you Discovery Passport at the entrance.  This has a list of each food & wine per country.  When you go up to order and pay make sure to get a stamp for your passport.  If you collect all stamps you can get stamp of completion for your passport.  I was only able to get through 12 stamps out of the 36 offered.  We were full after 5 or 6 choices so, it took us 2 days to finish what we did.  Since there were two of us, we were able to try a couple of choices at each stop and share with each other.  Plus, it was super helpful that my sister is going to culinary school and was able to answer all my stupid questions...What is in this?  What is that?  Is that going to be spicy?  She probably was sick of me by the end but, I really appreciated all her knowledge!

Kalua Pork Slider

Roast Bratwurst in a Pretzel Roll

Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote
Cheddar Cheese Soup
Kielbasa and Potato Pierogi
Boeuf Bourguignon

These are some of the pictures of what we sampled.  What was hard to do was to figure we eat all the main foods first then deserts or do we just eat what was at the next booth? Most of all the food & wine items cost anywhere between $3 and $10.  You can get a festival-themed gift card that hangs around your wrist to pay for all your samples chosen.

My absolute favorite was the Pavlova from the Australian booth.  A Crispy Meringue Shell with Fresh Berries and Vanilla Custard, I could have eaten this all night or at least until my sweet tooth was satisfied!

One of the neatest things to see is that each booth is designed with the country in mind.  You could spend lots of camera photos on all the interesting displays all around Epcot during this festival.

Beside all the food choices there are even more beverage choices.  When my sister's family comes my brother-in-law loves to try all the different wines.  My personal favorite this year is Aulani Sunset from the Hawaii booth.  This is a definite must try and is great to walk around the lagoon and sip it while people watching.

And in case you do have kids with you, there are activities at each major country, Kid Cot stations and even Perry the Platypus missions for the older kids. 
Kid Cot Station

To top off all the good food, there is music to listen to at the Eat to the Beat Concert Series.  When I was there Hanson was playing that weekend.  I was surprised at all the girls waiting hours in line to get seats when you can stroll right by and hear the music without waiting in lines.

Plus, don't forget to stick around to see IllumiNations, Epcot's fireworks display in the evening.

This is definitely one of the Disney events I plan to come to year after year.  Check it out and you might become a frequent visitor like me!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Happy Halloween from Walt Disney World!

 Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party is one of my favorite times in Walt Disney World! 
There are many reasons to go ahead and splurge on the extra ticket for this party:
- weather is usually very nice this time of year
- less crowds since kids are in school
- beautiful fall decorations
- villains a plenty
- Trick-or-Treat
- perfect time for an adult to be a kid!

 Make sure to look around and you might see some of the little touches that Disney does to make your experience a bit nicer.

Dressed and ready for Halloween

The hardest picture to get ever!
There are many people that dress up into costumes, some more elaborate than others. But, you don't have to worry if you choose not to wear one. One year I took my niece and nephew and we all had appointments for the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. This year my sister and I (on a girls only weekend) just wore our Minnie ears. Another enjoyable event is eating dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern on the night of the party.  Everyone including the characters & servers are dressed up.  If you don't plan on eating dinner there are plenty of other choices of specially themed Halloween treats throughout the whole park.  

The parade is a must do.  They have two parades before and after the fireworks.  I would recommend skipping the first one.  During this time you can get your trick-or-treating done plus, get on all your favorite rides without big wait times.  Most of the people head out after the fireworks so, to avoid the crowds I would stay in the back of the park.  One of the neatest places to watch the fireworks is a very surprising spot my sister and I found recently.  If you are on the path between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, you will experience an incredible array of fireworks exploding all around you.  It is an unbelievable sight!  Make sure to get a spot early for the second parade.  If the weather is good you might catch a glimpse of the headless horseman riding past you.

Did this by accident but, loved it!  They actually look like ghosts!

The parade has all the characters from my favorite rides: Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.  The grave diggers are exceptionable with the shovels and the sparks on the pavement.  The ghosts dancing are beautiful.  Then all the villains show up to party.  I was standing next to a lady that was messing with her camera and the evil queen came right up to her and stared at her.  She was completely startled when she looked up.  Of course all of us around her were laughing so hard.  Don't get caught not paying attention to these guys!  You never know what they might do.
My haul!
Treat Locations throughout the Park
My sister and I had a blast getting our candy bags filled up.  She filled up two bags (one for each of her kids).  We went from one treat station to another all around the park.  Even with all the fun we were having Mother Nature had other plans and opened up the flood gates.  It rained so hard and fast that Disney's drainage system was a little slow in getting rid of the water. My sister and I were running through Fantasyland to get to shelter and we both ended up stomping in puddles that were over our ankles.  We had our ponchos on but, having squishy sneakers did not feel good.  Surprisingly it was a funny way to end the evening.  We were laughing all the way out of the park to the monorail.  

My advice is to always be prepared for the unexpected when visiting Disney and when it happens try to remember why you are there in the first place to have fun!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Discovering Old Town Alexandria

One of my excursions I took when visiting Washington D.C. was to explore Alexandria, Virginia.  It was a quick hop on the Metro to get there.  My niece and I got there quite early on a Saturday morning so, the visitor's center wasn't open yet.  The good thing was that the Farmer's Market was up and running.  I didn't realize that this Farmer's Market is open year round which is nice I'm sure for people who actually live here.  In the Midwest our Farmer's markets are only open in the summer time.  The other neat fact is that this is the same Farmer's Market that George Washington sold his fresh vegetables and fruit at.  It has been running for over 250 years.  We managed to find some yummy breakfast snacks before we headed over the Ramsay House (Visitor's Center).
Ramsey House
King Street View

Previous warehouse of John Fitzgerald (mayor and friend of G.W.), now a Starbucks
We opted to do our own walking tour of the town.  Picked up a map and started trekking through the streets admiring the restored 18th & 19th century buildings. Since most stores weren't open yet, we headed down to the Waterfront Park to take some pictures.  Down by the waterfront there are some historical signs explaining the significance of King street but, they are not that easy to find.
My niece being funny!
Photo spots
While we were waiting for the Torpedo Factory to open at 10am, we hung out on the waterfront doing a little people watching.  Also waiting with us were a huge group of bicyclists that were also deaf.  It was a very impressive sight watching them all communicate with sign language.  It made my niece and I want to learn how to sign.  Once everything started opening up we went in to explore the Torpedo Factory.  This is where they made the torpedo's during World War II.  Now it has been converted to house artists' studios and the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.  If you love art, you will love exploring these buildings around the waterfront.  Lots of history here! 

Torpedo Factory Art Center

Inside the Torpedo Factory
Inside the Torpedo Factory
Alexandria waterfront
Potomac River
Our next stop on our walking tour was a trip down Captain's Row.  This is one of the oldest blocks in Alexandria.  Sea captains built their homes and lived here while Alexandria was a thriving shipping port.  This is by far one of the most picturesque streets in Old Town Alexandria.  The architecture of the houses are impressive and that a good majority of the homes have the oval plaques on the front designating them as part of the Historic Alexandria Foundation certifying that they are at least 100 years old.  I think my niece took at least 2 rolls of film (she's learning photography on a film camera) on this street alone.
authentic cobblestone street

Captain's Row

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum

Homes that have historical plaques on the outside

Carlyle House

Alexandria City Hall

Walking through the town you will see one famous building after another but, there is one that I found more impressive than most and that is Alexandria's City Hall. This was the site of the Assembly Hall and on March 22, 1785 the first conference between representatives from Virginia and Maryland that resulted in the framing of the Constitution of the United States. 
Right down the road from the City Hall is George Washington's Townhouse.  George built this house for his own use when in Alexandria on business.  This was also the only home he left in his will to Martha outright. It is a quaint little home although it looks out of place between the two larger homes next to it. 
George Washington's Townhouse

Christ Church
We spent some time going through the cemetery for Christ Church.  The tombstones were stunning in the amount of details that were put on them beside the dates.   The mound by the gate is for the Confederate Soldiers that were not originally from Alexandria.
"How sleep the brave who sink to rest
By all their country's wishes blest"

Inside Christ Church - George Washington's pew #60 
Actual Sundial

Beautiful store display (great watercolor painting pic)
Only in America!
You literally can't miss the George Washington Masonic Memorial because you can see it for miles.  Getting to the memorial takes a bit of stamina since it is a bit of a up hill climb.  If you want to see the impressive view of Alexandria from the 9th floor observation deck you will have to buy guided tour tickets. Otherwise you can roam through the first two floors without tickets.
View of Alexandria from atop the steps of the G.W. Memorial
George Washington Masonic Memorial

This is a great side trip and you can see almost everything in half a day. Definitely recommend a visit if you are a history buff!