Thursday, December 11th, 2008

I was up around 8:00am on Thursday morning, with the first item on the agenda being our annual stop at the cast SALSA sale in the Epcot parking lot. I had another bagel and crumb cake donut with juice for breakfast, which I was already beginning to like more and more the more I ate of them. I enjoy breakfast in the food court, but something about it is just so time consuming and's nice to just grab a bagel and eat it while you're getting ready.

By a little after 9:30, we were out the door and on the way to the SALSA. It was raining, and all I had for rain protection was my water resistant Anorak. I had forgotten to pack an umbrella, and remembered it only after I was already in Florida.

Kevin arrives at the SALSA sale, ready for some bargains

The rain was tolerable up to this point, and when we arrived at the SALSA sale, we found Tony, Don and Laurie already waiting. After a little while, Charlotte and John arrived, and Tony took us all inside. We all divided so we could conquer in our own ways, and I went to the clothing first. They had some t-shirts in my size, but nothing really stuck out as something I would wear at home. I found a really nice fluffy black coat, but even the XXL was really small on me, so I am assuming that maybe they were youth sizes.

Moving on, I made my way up and down the aisles, checking out everything I found. The first few things that I liked were Christmas ornaments, each coming in at just a few bucks when you consider in the discount. I also got a Nightmare Before Christmas PVC figurine set, and a Studios picture frame. After a while, I wandered back over to the clothes and hunted through the numerous racks of these dark gray sweaters to see if any were in my size. They weren't, but I decided to try on a large "just in case" and it fit like a glove! It was SOOO comfy and warm that I just had to have it, and it was on sale for about $14! With all of my stuff picked out, I got in line. The line was really long but didn't take all that long due to the 20 or more registers that they have open for the SALSA! I managed to get out for a little over $40...which means that I got $160 worth of stuff...I can handle that!

When I was done, I went outside, and found that everyone except Kevin had already left. He was still inside since he had gotten delayed when he discovered the piles of Webkins in the center of the tent. His niece has a lot of them, so he had to call his sister to see which ones she already had so he wouldn't get her duplicates. He ended up finding 6 of them that she didn't have, each of which only cost $4, compared to the normal $16 each. He also said that he sister said that he would be more popular than Santa this year, since Santa was only bringing her two Webkins! hahaha

When he was done, we hurried out to the car and stashed our stuff in the very tiny trunk of the Yaris, then drove back into the main Epcot parking lot. It was raining a lot harder by this point than it had been when we first left the room, which had even caused the SALSA tent to spring a couple of considerable leaks! When we were directed to our parking spot, don't you know that it was almost as far down at the end of the aisle as you could get! So we walked in the rain up to the tram lane (Kevin, using great foresight, brought his Universal Studios Osaka umbrella on the trip, hence he was staying dry for the most part!). There wasn't even a tram in sight, so we decided to just walk up to the front gate. We were at the little creek that runs through the middle of the parking lot, so needless to say it was a long and drenching walk up to the turnstiles.

Once I got inside, I was soaked all the way through, so I stopped to buy a poncho at the pin cart in hopes that it would at least keep my purse from getting any wetter than it already was. After my quick stop, I threw the poncho on and we made our way over to the Morocco pavilion for our lunch reservation at Marrakesh. There weren't many people out...not surprising considering the downpour. When we arrived at Marrakesh, Kevin checked us in while I tried to get my poncho off as elegantly as possible (which ended up being not very elegantly at all!!). By the time I had my poncho off and resembled some kind of presentable for lunch, he was already inside and seated at the table!

Last year, there is no way that I would have wanted to eat at Marrakesh since I just wasn't adventurous enough with my eating to try it. But since I knew that I had a trip to Japan planned for the fall, all through the first half of the year I made a conscious effort to expand my food horizons. The biggie was sometime in the spring when I ate sushi for the first time. Sushi, as they say, was my Everest. But once I ate the sushi, then ate it again, then ate it again, I realized that I was becoming way less picky about my food. I'm still picky and I will be until the day I die, I'm sure, but comparing this year to last year...there isn't much comparison. I will eat WAY more this year. So since I am now a little more comfortable with food experimentation than in the past, I decided to go ahead and give Marrakesh a go!

The archways inside Restaurant Marrakesh...kinda looks like real Morocco!

The first thing I did when I sat down was to dry myself off as well as I could with the cloth napkins at the table. It was so, so tacky, but I really had no other option than sitting there dripping wet. As soon as I was settled and as dry as I was going to get, I ordered the chicken bastilla appetizer, which is minced chicken wrapped inside puff pastry then covered in cinnamon and powdered sugar. Julie of last year would have though "Chicken with powdered sugar? No way." but Julie of this year decided to try it. It was quite underwhemling, in my opinion, so it wasn't much to be scared to try! The chicken and the puff pastry were both really dry and overcooked, and the entire thing would crumble to pieces when you tried to cut it. Also the cinnamon and powdered sugar were ok, though I didn't really think it made the dish all that much better. Overall, it was edible, but I won't get it again.

For my main dish, I ordered a salmon, tomato, mushroom and hummus dish. It was quite a step up from the appetizer, though I do wish the salmon had had a little flavor of it's own. It was just a piece of cooked salmon with no (apparent) seasoning on it at all. The tomatoes and mushrooms more than made up for it though, since they both tasted delicious. The hummus was nice as well, though I'm not sure what they expected you to eat it with! I had to flag down our waiter and ask for more bread so I would have something to eat the hummus on. Overall, it was pretty good, but I doubt that I will be rushing back to Marrakesh based on this one meal.

Most of the way through the meal, some musicians started to play and the belly dancer came out to perform. It was fun to watch, but since I was facing away from the stage, I had to turn completely around in my seat to see her. Kevin had ordered a meal that included dessert, so he had some baklava. He gave me a taste, and I'd say that it was the least impressive of the baklava I had on the trip since it was cold and kinda hard. When we were done eating, we hung around for a little while since we didn't want to head back out into the rain. There was also some confusion about the check since I had handed the waiter some cash and a room charge card. I thought it would be fairly straight forward that you should take off the $40 in cash then charge everything else, but I had to explain it to him. We were still confused about the tip when we left, but the waiter assured me that the tip was charged to the room as well. Oh well...if he did it correctly, he got a tip. If he didn't, he didn't get a tip haha

When we finally packed up and left, the rain was almost completely stopped. I had put my poncho back on, but quickly took it off since it wasn't needed. Since Japan was right next door, we headed over there for some shopping and reminiscing about our trip. The first thing I went for was at the very back of the store...the snack and drink area. Sadly, they didn't carry any of the drinks that I had tried in Japan :-( Not a single one. I recognized a few of the candies, but didn't really want to buy anything just yet. After that, we worked our way back up to the front of the store. All that I found that I wanted was a matcha tea wisk, which was $8. When we were in Japan, we did a tea ceremony, and since then I had priced the wisks online. Most came in around $50, so I snatched up the $8 wisk! I think it had been marked down, but I'm not sure.

Kevin ended up getting a little ninja cell phone charm for his Florida phone, and when he went to pay for it, I noticed that the girl at the register was from Saitama, Japan, which is a really small city where one of the theme parks that I visited is! So I said "I've been to Saitama!" and she was shocked that I had not only heard of her hometown, but had been there! I'm sure very, very few Westerners are able to say that to her! So I mentioned Tobu Zoo Park, and again she seemed surprised that I knew anything about it. That was really cool, and quite unexpected.

When we were done with shopping, we walked through the tin toy exhibit in the back of the pavilion, which is something I had never done before. I think it was a baseball exhibit the last time I was back there. Afterward, when we headed out into the courtyard, Kevin stopped for some candy, and I ended up getting some rock candy type stuff as well. It was pretty much just sugar, but it tasted good! On the way out, we saw a lady giving a presentation about darumas, so we paused for a little bit to watch her. I assume that this is the Japanese answer to the Santa Clause presentations in the other countries. It was interesting though, and something I had never heard of before. When you get your daruma, you make a wish and paint in one of the eyes. When your wish comes true, you paint in the other eye. Neat.

After the lady was done, Kevin got a photo with her and the darumas, then we moved on.

Nice...but...I prefer the real one :-)

On the way out of the pavilion, we passed the kaki gori stand, and nostalgia got the better of us, and we each got one. Before our trip to Japan, I would have had no idea that snowcones would remind me of Japan, but they do! It was so hot, and we ate so many of them during the trip that as soon as I started to eat my kaki gori, it felt just like I was back in Tokyo (or Toba, or Kyoto...). Strange how something so ethnically neutral as a snowcone can seem so very Japanese after a trip like that.

When we arrived at the American Adventure, we still had full snowcones, so we stopped to watch a Kwanzaa presentation. Kevin stood up close while I sat in the shade so my kaki gori wouldn't melt as quickly. I didn't know much at all about Kwanzaa, so it was a really interesting thing to learn about. When the lady was done with the presentation, we were done with our kaki goris, and went inside the American Adventure. We timed it perfectly since a show was just letting in as we walked in the building. I had missed the American Adventure both of the last two years, which made it three years since I had seen the show! The montage at the end was new since the last time I saw it, and was much longer than before. This is still such a beautiful show, and so moving. It never gets old.

When we left American Adventure, we paused in Italy so I could explore a little bit. Last year, I made mention of the fact that Italy was by far the World Showcase pavilion where I had spent the least amount of time since there is no ride, no fast food and I'd never eaten in their full service restaurant. So this year, I made it a point to wander around inside Italy and take some photos. As we approached, Kevin got a call from Donna saying that she was just arriving at the park and was on her way to meet us. Kevin waited by the statue at the front of the pavilion while I headed back a little farther.

The pavilion is really pretty and well done, but really lacks what the other countries have. The shops are all very small, and a few of them I can't even go in because they sell perfume. There is also no fast food location, which is a real shame since that means there is no place for quick Italian food in the park.

When I was done with my wandering (which took less than 10 minutes, I bet!) I went back up front just in time to see Donna walking up. After exchanging hellos, we walked on to the Germany pavilion. Along the way, I mentioned that I wanted to try a glass of the German reisling since a lady on RADP is always talking about that wine in her trip reports. Donna said the same thing...that her TRs are like crack, and as soon as you read one, you have to continue reading forever! haha When we got to Germany, we all got a glass of the reisling, which turned out to be excellent. After a little bit of browsing in the stores, we moved along.

By the time we made it to the outpost, the drawbridge between the outpost and China was open so the globe for IllumiNations could be brought out into the lagoon. So we sat down at one of the tables and chatted while we finished our wine. It was at this point that Kevin realized that we had spent most of the day in Epcot and had only done one attraction! But who cares when you have good company to pass the time with! Even after the drawbridge was down, we spent a while longer sitting by the lagoon and telling funny stories to each other.

Soon, we moved along and I suggested riding Maelstrom. I saw a sign that said that Sig Hansen (Captain of the Northwestern on Deadliest Catch) was signing autographs in the gift shop, and thought that it might be cool to get an autograph and photo with him since my dad loves that show. But we went for the ride first, and only had about a 10 minute wait. When we were done, I decided against meeting the guy, and we went into Mexico. We rode the boat ride with no wait at all, but didn't linger for very long afterwards.

The sunset over the World Showcase Lagoon

At this point, Kevin and Donna wanted to go over and say hi to Tony since he was working at the World Showcase DVC booth again.

Tony: "Oh, *that* is where you live??"

When we got there, we had a nice long chat, which eventually ended when Tony thought he was being spied on! So we broke up the little party since we certainly didn't want Tony getting in trouble for chatting with us! While we were standing there, we did manage to make some plans for dinner at Tokyo Dining. When Donna called to get an ADR, the person on the phone said that the only restaurant they had open tonight was Tokyo Dining, and the only time they had available was the time we needed! hahaha What luck!

I had halfway been planning on going to see Kenny play bells at the Grand Floridian since I had never seen him, and since there was going to be a large group of people going. Kevin and Donna didn't care to go, so I headed off on my own at about 6:30. I took the monorail to the TTC, then another monorail on to the Grand Floridian, which all told took about 45 minutes! That really is a ridiculously long time. I had called Tracy earlier to see what time the shows were, so I was fully expecting to see her and Jack there. What I found was pretty much every other person on RADP besides Tracy and Jack! The first person I saw was Jack M., then Sean and Pam, Laura, Carol, Deb K. and quite a few others.

The bell choir show was really nice, despite missing about 15 minutes of it at the beginning. It was pretty amazing how each person knows exactly what they are supposed to be doing and when to do it, and that they all do it seemingly effortlessly! They made it look very easy, though I am sure it's quite difficult if you're the one doing it! I went downstairs at one point to get a better photo of Kenny, but just as I got down there, they all stared to file out of the lobby and I was right in their way! haha Oops!

Then as he walked by, I ended up flashing the camera right in his face since I was so close. But the photo came out well, so I think he forgave me hehe

When the show was over, I went to the bathroom, then hung around and chatted with Jack M., Carol, Laura, Sean and Pam for a while before deciding that I needed to head back to Epcot so I wouldn't be late for dinner. I wanted to stay and see the second show, but there was no way that I could have made it back to Epcot in time. So I said goodbye to everyone, then jumped back on the monorail. The ride back took about 45 minutes, which left me only 15 minutes to get to dinner! When I arrived back at Epcot, I took the parking tram out to the car so I could grab the sweater I had purchased at the SALSA sale, then I walked as fast as I could to the Japan pavilion, but still managed to be about ten minutes late. When I arrived, I saw that Tony still wasn't there yet, and Donna and Kevin hadn't been seated, so I didn't feel quite so bad! Tony arrived within probably 2 minutes of me, at which time we were seated immediately.

We were seated in the center of the restaurant, sort of near the bar. They have a large and impressive menu here, including lots of different types of sushi, and lots of other Asian specialties. I spotted the clear fish soup on the menu and remembered how great it was when I got it last year in Teppan Edo. I also saw a tempura sampler on the appetizer menu which had a shrimp, a piece of chicken, a sweet potato and a zucchini slice, which sounded like a great option for tempura without getting a huge tempura entree. With those two decided upon, I started to browse the sushi options. I had a great crunchy tuna roll at a place in Nashville, so I decided to try that too. I really loved how I was able to piece together a great, filling meal with exactly what I wanted, and the price was quite reasonable all things considered. I think the soup was $3, the tempura was $7 and the sushi was $7. Really not bad.

My soup was the first thing to arrive, along with a glass of plum wine. It was so good, and hit the spot like a cup of hot chocolate would. Yummy yummy. Kevin, Donna and Tony ended up with large sushi and tempura sampler platters, all of which looked pretty good as far as I could tell. My tempura came along with my soup and it was really, really yummy. After I was done, it was main course time, so out came all of our sushi. Mine was the spicy crunch tuna roll, and I really think it was probably the best sushi I've ever had (and I've had sushi in Japan!) The crunchy bits were actually tiny bits of tempura batter, so the texture was great. Oh man, it was so yummy. Donna ended up with a piece of shrimp sushi in her dinner, and because of an allergy, she can't eat shrimp. So I traded her one piece of my spicy crunchy tuna roll for her shrimp, and it was pretty tasty as well.

During the meal, it was time for IllumiNations to start, so they dimmed the lights and piped in the music. It was nice, but it was only afterwards that I found out that the LED globe was completely dark that night! We didn't pay much attention anyway, but it must have really sucked for the people who waited around to see the show outside. IllumiNations had been over for a while by the time we settled the bill and headed out for the night. We meandered slowly out of the park, and eventually came to a stop at the International Gateway. At that point, we ended up standing there for more than an hour just chatting, laughing, reminiscing and having a great time. I had a really nice time just standing there chatting, and it was sort of eerie to be inside Epcot that late...almost 2 hours after closing time!

Once it hit 11:30pm, Donna went out the International Gateway to get back to her hotel, and Kevin, Tony and I walked out towards the Fountain of Nations. When we got as far as the fountain, Tony went off toward the cast parking lot, and Kevin and I left via the main exit.

Kevin and Tony under the Lights of Winter

Spaceship Earth with the moon

We made our way out to our car, then back to Pop Century uneventfully. Thinking back, this was a really great night, and one of my favorites of the trip since it was just laid back fun with good food and good company.

Go to RADP 13, Day 4
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