The Perfect Beginning: Dinner, IllumiNations and a No Way Jose Shake!
Let me first apologize: Day 1, the travel day, is always the least eventful. And I’m going to spend three paragraphs talking about the airport before I even get to the Disney part.
I flew from LA to Orlando. Originally I’d been planning to activate the CLEAR pass I bought with a Groupon (CLEAR is one of those services that let you skip the TSA lines by submitting to a background check once), since they require you to do it in person and their only locations are the airports in Orlando, San Francisco, Dallas, and Denver. Fortunately I called ahead and learned that once you activate the pass, you have to wait 10 days to get it in the mail before you can actually use it. ARGH! Since I had no idea when I’d be returning to Orlando or going to any of those other places, I gave up. I don’t know if I’m ever gonna get around to using the dang thing!
Instead, I decided I was going to try to make it to Epcot to register for my two D23 events before the check-in desk closed at 5pm. My flight was scheduled to arrive at 3:45pm. And I’d checked a bag. And I needed to pick up my rental car. Yipe!
We landed 15 minutes early. Hooray! Somehow I had time to fill out the paperwork for the car before my bag hit the carousel; grab the bag; stumble around looking for cut-rate outfit Advantage Rent-a-Car’s tiny, virtually unmarked corner of the rental car lot (click here for a mini review of Advantage); and bomb down I-4 to Epcot, blazing past the gate attendant with my Tables In Wonderland card out the window as a parking pass and careening around the parking CM to the front of the lot to nab a recently vacated spot.
As I breathlessly skidded to a halt at the check-in table at 4:45pm, a D23 staffer peered over his clipboard and drawled, “What’s the rush…?” I regaled him with my tale as he rounded up the badges, lanyards, merchandise order forms, etc. associated with D23’s Epcot 30 event and Sip & Scream event the following Tuesday. He also handed me a retro replica “We Can Do It!” bumper sticker modeled on the ones that Epcot’s opening team got.
Hooray! By that time, I was a sweaty mess, so I went to check in at the Beach Club, shower and get tarted up for my solo dinner at Yachtsman Steakhouse. One time—ONE TIME—we got an awesome room at the Beach Club. And now, every time, I hope that this will happen again. It never does.
This was the first time I’d ever been put on the Yacht Club side of the Beach Club. They tried to make me feel better by pointing out that I’d be facing Stormalong Bay. Looking at the map you think, “How bad could it be? At least I’m close to the lobby.” No, you are NOT close to the lobby. In fact, even though your room is so close to the Yacht Club side you might was well be staying at the Yacht Club, there is NO access to the outside or to anything at the Yacht Club, so you have to retrace your steps to the elevators on the opposite side of the Beach Club lobby, go to the ground floor, and then walk all the way back toward the Yacht Club, passing directly under the room you left 2.5 hours before at the start of your trek.
RFID-swipeable keycard in hand and blissfully unaware of the slog ahead, I set off from the check-in desk with a spring in my step. Up the elevators and around the corner I went…
The RFID key cards are a marginal improvement over the old shove-’em-in-the-lock cards. It’s nice to swipe, but it would be even nicer if the signal went through your wallet so you could just mash your purse against the door when your hands are full. Although I guess then someday when swipe-purchasing is enabled you’d be unconsciously purchasing Duffys every time you walked past a gift shop.
Ever hopeful that the trek would all be worth it for my Stormalong Bay view, I threw back the curtains to reveal…
Here, let me use my zoom lens to see if I can find Stormalong Bay…
Huh… well, you’re never in your room at Disney, right? (Right, because you spend 90% of your time WALKING TO AND FROM IT!)
I tried calling to ask to change rooms, but they always always ALWAYS say they’re full or they can only move you on the last night of your stay or they just laugh out loud, put you on hold for 20 minutes and then “accidentally” hang up on you.
I’d been looking forward to the first night of my trip because it was just about the only one where I wasn’t scheduled up to my eyeballs. The only things on the docket were a nice meal at Yachtsman and meeting up with AJ from the Disney Food Blog after IllumiNations.
I got there about 90 minutes before my reservation and got in right away at a fabulous table by the windows overlooking Stormalong Bay.
You’ll have to forgive the bad shots here. Our beloved Sony HX-1 gave up the ghost, and we replaced it with a Panasonic Lumix FZ150 that I *still* haven’t really gotten the hang of. I didn’t realize til I got home how blurry so many of my shots are. Gulp! This one’s supposed to show the fat moon peeping over the roof of the Beach Club…
I think my favorite thing at Yachtsman Steakhouse are the pull-apart onion rolls with spreadable roasted garlic.
My go-to meal at Yachtsman Steakhouse is the Porterhouse for Two, but I kinda couldn’t justify the expense for just one, so instead I tried the 16-ounce Boneless Ribeye with Sweet Onion Jam, Bone Marrow, Brioche and Red Wine Butter.
The sweet onion jam was on top of the bone marrow, which tasted like… oily! And salty! The ribeye was decent—way better than the tough, fatty piece we got at Le Cellier in January—but closer to $29 decent than $43 decent in real-world prices. Impulsively, I ordered the Truffle Mac & Cheese as a side dish when my server told me it could be done without truffle oil. (If truffle oil actually tasted like truffles, I’d like it…).
It still tasted faintly of truffle oil, which made me wonder if the server knew how un-truffley it really is and just sent out a regular order. I did like the fried onion strings on top, the use of orecchiette, and the fact that the cheese sauce was actually creamy, rather than plasticky or crumbly.
My best idea, which I’d been planning for weeks, was to take the little sourdough rolls that came with the onion rolls and put slices of my leftover rib eye in them to make mini sammiches (sliders, if you will) for breakfast the next day. Genius, sez I!
It took forEVER to get my bill at the end of the meal, but I forgot all about that when the server brought some little madeleines with it. Little lemony madeleines that required all my fortitude not to spit out when I discovered their fatal fruity flaw…
On my way back out to Epcot, I noticed a second-floor balcony ringing my beloved Beach Club lobby—how’d I miss that before? I mean, I even took photos on the stairway to the balcony on my wedding day! I went up to investigate and discovered lovely views I’d never seen before.
Then it was off Epcot to shoot IllumiNations before my meetup with AJ. I thought I was all incognito because it was dark and I didn’t have my signature black hat on, yet who should spot me powering past Italy but AJ! And I finally got to meet the elusive Mr. AJ, who is usually sequestered in the room working whenever she and I get together at a Disney park.
They continued on back to Mr. AJ’s natural habitat, while I decided to investigate the view of IllumiNations from Germany. I’m trying to collect shots from all the possible dessert party locations at Epcot, and though Germany is never really mentioned by Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings, it is an option. I just wish I’d mastered the dang camera first!
Amazingly, there were NO dessert parties going on during the first Saturday of Food and Wine, but I did find a tiny, new-to-me area roped off on the Germany side of Italy Isola. I talked to the event guide standing guard, and he said the area was reserved for Undiscovered Future World tour attendees, VIPs, and “guest recovery,” a.k.a., the customers who complain the loudest.
Germany is interesting because it has a couple different spots jutting out into the lagoon where people can watch from.
It’s also quite attractive to hobos!
Germany turned out to be a nice place to watch IllumiNations from. It’s sorta like France or Morocco, but with no islands in the way. I kind of adore IllumiNations, so you’re going to see a LOT of photos…
After the show I booked it back to the Beach Club, where AJ was holding a table for us at Beaches & Cream. I ordered my patented No Way Jose milkshake and she had a brownie sundae with peanut butter fudge instead of chocolate fudge.
When we get together we chatter like magpies, and we talked for so long that we endured THREE clamorous presentations of Kitchen Sink sundaes and finally shut the place down. From there we moved to the Beach Club lobby and talked til something like 1am, when we encountered a still-perky group of Disney Moms Panelists AJ knew, who were just staggering in after a long day in the parks. When they come home to roost, you know it’s finally time for bed, so off we went in our separate directions—AJ to Practically Epcotville and me to Yacht Club Adjacent.