We flew out on a non-stop red-eye flight out of LAX and arrived in Orlando about 5:30am on the 14th. We like this flight option because it is less expensive than many other flights and it means fewer crowds in the morning at Disney's Magical Express and at hotel check-in. As always, the Magical Express system worked perfectly. We did not have to collect our checked bags from baggage claim and were on a motorcoach to Disney's Pop Century Hotel within 20 minutes of landing. A room was not immediately available when we arrived at the hotel, so we left our carry-on luggage with bell services (free service they provide at all Disney resorts) and collected our rental car from Enterprise. The service at the Enterprise office at the B Resort near Disney Springs is top-notch. I recommend them to anyone using a rental car on their Disney World vacation.
After meeting up with our son (Kyle) and granddaughter (Isabella), we had breakfast at a nearby Cracker Barrel Restaurant. While eating, we got a text from Pop Century telling us our room was ready and giving us the room #. After breakfast, and after stocking up on bottled water and some easy carry snacks at a nearby Target, we headed back to the hotel. All of our luggage was already in the room and ready to be unpacked. After unpacking and freshening up a bit, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon/evening enjoying the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.
We only had to wait about 10 minutes at the bus stop for a bus for Epcot to arrive. Upon entering Epcot, we started right in on the different food booths. This year there are 35 booths at the festival, and I think we managed to hit about 20 of them on that first day! The highlights were: Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans, Tomato and Onions from the Brazil booth, “Le Cellier” Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle-Butter Sauce from Canada, Smoked Corned Beef with Warm Crispy Potatoes Pickled Onions and Blonde Ale Beer Fondue featuring BelGioioso Romano and America Grana Cheeses from the Flavors from Fire booth, and the New England Lobster Roll from the Hops and Barley booth. Those are just a few of the many AMAZING dishes at this years festival. I can't even begin to describe the many, many wine and beer selections available as well. By the time we got back to Pop Century that night, we were all stuffed to the gills!
After breakfast, it was off to explore Pandora! I found the land as a whole rather impressive. The effects of the floating islands was well done along with the waterfalls and strange looking plants. The area was a little smaller than I expected. There are 2 attractions along with a gift shop, counter service restaurant, restrooms, and a small outside counter selling a couple of themed drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). We had fastpasses for the Na'vi River Journey attraction. It was basically a short boat ride through the land of the Na'vi. While some of the visual effects were impressive and the one animatronic figure was well done, I would not feel a need to repeat this attraction. I also would only do this with a fastpass as it is definitely not worth the 1 hour+ wait time otherwise. We were unable to secure fastpasses for the other attraction, Flight of Passage, for today but did get them for Thursday, so we will be back!
We then headed over to Disney's Hollywood Studios for a little while. Because of all the construction (for Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge), this park is only good for about a half day visit right now. After going on one of all of our favorite attractions, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, we walked through the Walt Disney Presents attraction. This is a walkthrough museum displaying many photos and other displays of Walt Disney's life and career. There are also models of early versions of the different theme parks as well as scale models of the upcoming Toy Story Land and Star Wars area. This is a must do for any Disney history buffs! We then walked around the construction walls, peeking in for any glimpses we could get, and did a meet and greet with Woody and Buzz Lightyear. It was then time to head back to Pop Century to get ready for dinner.
Dinner was at Shula's Steakhouse at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel. We left Isabella and Kyle, who were going to spend the evening at the pool, and drove over to the Dolphin. We arrived early for our reservation so we explored the hotel for a while. We got a Grasshopper from The Fountain, an ice cream shop/diner just off the main lobby. It was made with Minty Chip Ice Cream, Bailey's, Crème de Cocoa, Milk, topped with Whipped Cream, Crème de Menthe & Grasshopper Cookies and was delicious! We also explored the various shops in hotel until we were ready to be seated. The meal was fantastic. Their steak selection is top notch as is the impeccable service. It is pricey, but very much worth a splurge if you are so inclined. Since the next day was the MNSSHP, we called it a night and headed back to Pop.
Stay tuned for my next post finishing the rest of our trip!