Today felt like we were on a totally different vacation because we spent a lot of it off property seeing the harsh, gritty reality that is living on the mean streets of “O-town,” as I’m sure the locals call it….
But first, let’s spend a little more time in La-La-Fantasy Land, shall we?
We awoke to the glorious sounds of birds twittering and delivery vans backing up under our window at the Wilderness Lodge. I told Patrick to go to Whitewater Snacks to get us some breakfast, and fortunately he knew I meant Roaring Forks, not the counter-service place at Disneyland’s Grand Californian. Meanwhile, I dumped everything in suitcases so we could check out.
And then it was off to the Beach Club Villas!
The first thing we noticed about the Beach Club was that the lobby had a different scent – and not in a good way. Whatever they were pumping through there smelled like an industrial-strength nursing home scent-masker to me – blech! Otherwise, everything else was just as we remembered it from our honeymoon.
I was surprised to learn they had a room ready for us at 10:30am; with Disney Vacation Club they always warn you about the 4pm check-in time. Unfortunately it was not our honeymoon room, which I’d requested weeks ago and which our DVC contact had followed up on the week before. The desk agent kindly offered us a choice of the room directly below our honeymoon room (no balcony, directly across from the laundry room & elevators) or a different room on the same floor but facing the back of Epcot (huge extended balcony, maintenance closet instead of another guest room on one side). She told us we could go check out the second room (but not the one under our desired room) and then come back if we didn’t like it.
I feel so silly – I just agonized over this! The rooms were identical, but the views were not. I had this idea that it would be a magical enhancement to the anniversary trip to be in the same room we’d had for our honeymoon. But the location of the almost-our-honeymoon room was just too crummy, so I picked the new room.
OK, it looks kinda crummy, but you could actually see the top of the American Adventure, and we later learned you could see some of IllumiNations!
Otherwise, the rooms were identical.
Eventually I decided that I liked our new room because it was better to have a new and different experience for our anniversary. Plus it was nice not having other guests directly on both sides of us.
One really cool thing about this stay at BCV – the secret pathway to Epcot was open! It had been walled off for some reason during our honeymoon, so we’d had to go through the main lobby all the time. So it was very exciting to shave 3.7 minutes off the trip to Epcot by sneaking along the back side of the hotel!
We were drawn back to Morocco like moths to a flame or hungry people to a reservation at Restaurant Marrakesh.
I was excited to see they’d finally completed renovations on the small museum, so we poked our head in briefly and decided to come back after lunch.
I can’t believe in all our trips and with all our love for the Morocco Pavilion, we’d never eaten at Restaurant Marrakesh. I blame the mixed reviews on the DIS Boards!
We’d peeked inside once before, but I remember thinking it was rather plain. Well once you sit down and look up, you see this amazingly intricate pattern on the ceiling. (Of course, I can’t actually show it to you cuz the light was too low for good pix).
There’s a dance floor in the middle that was empty for most of our meal.
The staff was super-friendly, and I was sad that the place was so empty. However, it did start to fill up by the time we left.
I did the ordering, and what I picked ended up being an accidental of Festival of Bastilla…. But, really, can you ever have too much flaky pastry?
That appetizer turned out to be our favorite dish, and next time I’d order two of them and call it lunch!
We got this so we could try several different things – the beef skewer was just OK, the chicken bastilla was decent, and the beef brewat roll was really tasty. It made me want to try all these things at a Moroccan restaurant that’s not cooking to theme park standards.
This was not my cup of tea – the flaky pastry was drowned in bland cream that tasted like thinned Jello pudding. Again, I’ll bet it’s really good when done right.
About halfway through our meal, two musicians came out and started playing at the end of the dance floor. Then, just before the check came, the bellydancer came out! I was really interested in seeing this, and since they weren’t exactly hurting for tables, I made us stick around a little longer.
She was a lot of fun to watch, and when I discovered there was to be audience participation, I secretly wished she’d pick on me. Instead she brought up a painfully shy pre-teen girl whose mother eventually rescued her by joining in. It was probably for the best that she didn’t pull me up there, in terms of restaurant patrons retaining their lunches…
On our way out of Restaurant Marrakesh we read the info posted in the lobby describing the building of the Morocco Pavilion. We had some time to kill before Nathan & Jensey would be ready for our visit (I hear it’s kind of like preparing for a hurricane), so we looked at all the exhibits in the museum and took some more pictures.
I really liked the museum – for one thing, it was a place I’d never been before! And I love the interior decor.
After Morocco, we ambled through Japan. I love how you can go to the countries in Epcot a bazillion times and notice different things each time.
For some reason we ended up in China, which makes no sense if we were s’posed to be heading out the International Gateway to BCV and our car, but whatever… must’ve been the bastilla-induced haze….
Patrick tried his hand at the, uh, tossing sticks they sell at the cart in front of China – and his hand was very good! Must be all the coordination he has as a puppeteer. There were about three kids lined up off to the side watching him intently.
Finally, we got the word: The hatches were battened down, and it was time to go visit the Roots!
Holdin’ It Down on the Streets of O-town
The rest of Day 4 turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. When they came out to Disneyland for their honeymoon, our wedding photographers-turned-pals the Roots spent a day with us in Los Angeles, which Jensey chronicled here. (Yes, I made Patrick’s Kermit apron, no our house is never that messy – the Roots must’ve added that stuff in Photoshop).
We dragged them all over LA on a whirlwind tour that included such sights as the ocean, the front gate of the (closed that day) Getty Center, the original Farmer’s Market/The Grove, the La Brea Tar Pits, Patrick’s sweet private tour of the Jim Henson Company lot, Hollywood and the Walk of Fame, the Griffith Observatory, Crossroads of the World, Amoeba Records (OK, some of these were drive-bys – we only had 7 hours!), the Arclight Theater, Hollywood & Highland/Kodak Theater, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Disney’s El Capitan Theater, and the Disney Soda Fountain & Studio Store. As you can imagine, after they recovered, they swore never to spend 7 hours with us ever again.
Fortunately for us, we know where they live! And we seem to be in town a lot! So on Saturday afternoon we hopped in the car, rolled up all the windows and locked all the doors (which, as you can guess, took about 35 minutes), and timidly ventured forth into The Real Orlando. Well, OK, first we went to Celebration.
And the very first thing we did when we saw Nathan & Jensey was shove past them and accost their cute lil’ doggie, Huck!
OK, I have to confess, I love all animals (even bugs!), but I am definitely more of a cat person than a dog person. And I am more of a big dog person than a small dog person. I think dogs are a lot of fun for about five minutes, and then I just want them to go be slobbery somewhere else.
But Huck is different! [Cue “Romeo & Juliet” theme, shot of Lurkyloo and Huck running toward each other in the field Nathan & Jensey like to use for engagement shoots]
He is so friggin’ CUTE! For one thing, he’s fat and wiggly like a fuzzy little pig. And for another, he’s really clean and totally not stinky. And also he makes you feel like you are possibly THE most exciting person he has ever met or ever will meet.
Let’s see that again, only this time good!
After introductions had been made, we got to go on a tour of Nathan & Jensey’s place and see some weddings they were working on (gorrrrgeous!) and then sit down in the living room and have a conversation. We never get to do that on vacation! Patrick also got to play some hip new videogame that all the kids are playing and that I don’t know what it’s called because I was under the couch trying to get Huck to play with me again….
And then we met Jensey’s freaky puppet half-brother, whose personality – even his name! – had been undiscovered all these years… until Patrick came along.
Turns out he’s kinda like a cross between Gollum and Chucky! There’s the frenzied, guttural cackling; a murderous streak directed mainly at Nathan; some hissing and cowering when threatened; and a single-minded devotion to attempting to ride the dog…
Eventually we were able to subdue him and return him to his cell. Oh yeah – and although Nathan says Patrick was able to find out more about the puppet in 10 minutes than Jensey was in 12 years, we still didn’t figure out his name! I’m voting for something creepy sounding like “Damien” or “Azriel, Overlord of the Underworld” … Either that or “Steve”!
And then it was time for our Orlando tour!
Whenever we go to a new place, we always want to see the old/historic/original part of town. We have been told this doesn’t really exist in Orlando – I guess the entire city was delivered in a giant ACME Co. box in 1971…? So we asked to see Winter Park, the hip, college-town part of town.
Along the way, Nathan & Jensey showed us some of their favorite places for photo shoots, along with a few of the 17,348 wedding sites they considered before deciding to elope (about the only place they didn’t consider was the alley behind Gooding’s Market, and that’s only cuz it was already booked).
First Stop: Maitland Art Center
This place is very cool. It was the site of an art colony founded in 1938 and has a Frank Lloyd Wright kind of feel.
And here’s how Nathan & Jensey see the Maitland Art Center….
Our next stop was the Kraft Azalea Garden, a five-acre park on the shore of Lake Maitland that doubles as a rest stop for incontinent birds. The parking lot is under a row of trees filled with birds who use cars and people for target practice. Apparently it is nearly impossible to visit without getting pooped on.
Well that day, folks, we did the impossible. WE DIDN’T GET POOPED ON!!!
This place was gorgeous, and we were fortunate enough to be there when the azaleas were blooming. There’s even a, uh, colonnade where they hold small weddings.
Patrick seemed to discover his inner hobby photographer here – he was fascinated by the almost prehistoric-looking edge of the lake. Which is why you’re about to see 85 bazillion photos of it:
Unfortunately, I completely forgot to holler “Hey, get a shot of those pretty flowers!” so we have no pictures of the azaleas at Kraft Azalea Gardens!
And, from the Nathan & Jensey Cam:
At this point, the birds were beginning to circle ominously, so we dashed to the car, dodging a hail of doots, and burned rubber outta there.
Next on our tour was Casa Feliz, a 1932 Spanish-style farmhouse that was saved from demolition in 2000, moved across the street to a lot overlooking a golf course, and completely restored. I love to hear stories like that – I wish they would happen more often where we live. Now Casa Feliz is a popular spot for weddings and private events (demolition-happy leaders of L.A., take note).
Unfortunately, there was a wedding going on when we got there, and I was the only one who wanted to crash it, so we didn’t get a look inside. Fortunately, Nathan & Jensey have already been inside:
On the way to Casa Feliz we spotted these old gates and, hoping that the overgrown driveway lead to a spooky old haunted mansion, we asked our hosts if we could run back and explore.
It turned out to be an empty lot, but it also turned out to be my favorite part of our day! Nathan and Patrick lagged behind, playing with the camera, while Jensey and I walked down the dirt path toward the lake talking about just stuff. Patrick and I are not used to getting the chance to really connect with other people on our Disney trips – usually we’re all about go-go-going and do-do-doing (with an emphasis on the do-do… Ba-da-bump!), but on this trip we had a lot of great opportunities like this to meet friends new and not-so-new.
Nathan let Patrick use his camera and showed him some tricks. Here are some of the cool pictures Patrick took (which Jensey kindly prepared for us in Photoshop). Forgive me if I post multiple versions of the same shot – I’m just so proud of him!
The next place we saw was [snicker] Hooker Hall [giggle, titter] at Rollins College, home of the Chi Psi fraternity, which, according to the website, is a “distinguishable group of men that strive for a common goal of excellence.” I wonder what makes them “distinguishable”…. Maybe the guys all wear T-shirts that say “Hooker”?
We took a pass by Knowles Chapel, also on the Rollins College campus and site of numerous gorgeously shot Root weddings.
There was actually a wedding party out front that day, but none of us were quick enough on the draw with our cameras to capture it. However, I think I can safely say that this photo captures how the bride and groom were feeling:
It was getting on to be dinner time, so Nathan & Jensey took us to Urban Flats for Orlando’s Official Civic Dish, flatbread.
This place had also been recommended to us by a Wilderness Lodge lifeguard on the College Program, so now you know it’s hip! At first we had trouble adjusting to eating in the real world: no free anniversary dessert, no Disney Dining Experience discount… but hey — no sticker shock when the bill comes either.
However, we couldn’t resist making fools of ourselves by taking pictures of our food as hipster college kids, including, I am sure, every single resident of Hooker Hall, paused from texting each other to watch in disgust….
After dinner we went to the cute downtown area of Winter Park to get ice cream. Patrick had the Roots’ camera again.
While we were strolling, I learned that Jensey’s wedding dress is the very first wedding dress I ever fell in love with – and that she hasn’t had a chance to wear it yet! I smell a vow renewal!
When we got to the ice cream place, it was closed – booohoohoohoooo!
Fortunately, somebody remembered that Nathan & Jensey live right around the corner from Kilwin’s Ice Cream & Fudge…ery in Celebration. Hooray!!!
On the way, I asked if we could stop at Publix and get some cake (NO, not because I couldn’t make it to Kilwin’s without a sugar fix!). I’d heard so much on the DIS Cake Porn thread about how great Publix cakes are, that I wanted to get some to try later. (The Verdict: Well, they’re better than Ralph’s/Kroger cakes and prolly more my speed than Disney’s cakes just because Publix puts actual frosting between the layers, not bland mousse. But it wasn’t, like, the BEST cake I’d ever had….).
They were inexplicably out of mini cakes, but it’s probably for the best (considering all the cake that was headed our way 3 days later). I decided to try a slice of vanilla with chocolate frosting and vanilla with vanilla frosting.
Cake in hand, we were off to ice cream! Even better, we decided to park at the Roots’ and take Huck out for a walk. I think that must be one of the nicest parts of living in downtown Celebration, being able to walk everywhere. Of course you have to watch your step, cuz thar’s gators at every turn.
The town is also really pretty at night!
Kilwin’s featured prominently in our honeymoon, so it was fun to go back. They sell homemade ice cream and fudge – what could be bad? We walked in, and there were our pals Lacey & Eric sittin’ on the floor!
OK, not really – I just wanted to show you what Kilwin’s looks like! But we did end up running into them so many times on our trip that it’s highly probable they were there moments before we arrived.
I’m sorry, I don’t remember what anybody had except me….
We took our treats back to the Roots’ house and ate them (the treats, not the Roots — although you know Damien/Azriel “Overlord of the Underworld”/Steve was thinking about it…) in front of the Pixar shorts DVD on their ginormous new TV, which beats ours by 2 inches, dagnabbit!!! And then we got to see their amazing photos of Disneyland Paris, and then Patrick got to participate in an exciting new photographic art form!
The photographer sets the camera to manual mode and sets the flash to high-speed sync, overexposed by a stop and bounced off the white ceiling (yes, I’m cribbing from Nathan; no I have no idea what I just typed). Then the subject moves REALLY fast and the resulting photos freeze tiny slices of the action into highly unflattering portraits, which is why I abstained from this exciting new photographic art form.
Eventually, after wearing a hole in our welcome big enough to drive a Mack truck through, we piled into Clementine and puttered back to Walt Disney World and the Beach Club to fall asleep in a pile of pixie dust.