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Old 01-12-2009, 06:37 PM   #1
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Sans Friends - Hollywood Studios and Tommy Bahama's Tropical Cafe

Preamble
Flight and first evening at the BoardWalk
Mall at Millenia and International Food & Wine Festival
Magic Kingdom, The Wave, Epcot and ESPN Club

Wednesday, 5th November

Once more we’re up before 6am and, modern day Marco Polo that he is, Matt goes off in search of the laundry facilities. The sun rises to reveal another cloudy day and, for the second day on the trot, the forecasters promise it will burn off by midday leaving blue skies in its wake. I offer up a little prayer that today they might get it right.

We’re ready to leave the room at 9:30am, destination: Hollywood Studios. Admittedly, the journey is significantly longer than that to Epcot, but one can take the whole intrepid explorer thing too far and I insist that Matt leaves behind the compass, map and survival kit. Seriously, we always enjoy the stroll from the BoardWalk to the Studios. Other than the occasional jogger or ground staff going about their business, we seldom see another person and today is no exception. We saunter along, waving languidly in the general direction of a Friendship Boat as it passes by, and reach the turnstiles by 9:45am.

We hot-foot it to the new Pixar Studios area for the sole purpose of obtaining FASTPASSes for Toy Story Midway Mania! We soon realise that the mel’ee which greets us is caused by queues for the FASTPASS machines. As we join the back of the line, the return time is between 1:20 and 2:20pm. In the 10 minutes it takes us to reach the front, that time has escalated to 2:10 - 3:10pm. The Standby wait time is 75 minutes.





FPs secured, we stroll down towards the backlot, then up through the Star Tours area, taking photos as we go.



















We browse the wares in Tatooine Traders before stopping to pull the rope!







We’re in uber perambulation mode now and slink on down past the Adventure Outpost to the furthest recess of the park and watch awhile as preparations are made for the first Indiana Jones show of the day.







Continued below.
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Old 01-12-2009, 06:38 PM   #2
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Still in no mood to do anything more than drink in our surroundings, we take a look inside the Backlot Express. Just when you think you know every square inch of WDW property, you’re presented with the realisation that, actually, you don’t. In a place imbued with attention to detail, I really shouldn’t expect anything less than meticulous theming, but this little gem comes as a real surprise.



















We amble on in the direction of the main drag, conscious of the fact that we should probably make an ADR for lunch. We take a half-hearted look at the Brown Derby menu as it’s a while since we last ate here, but neither of us is really in the mood for it and, anyway, we have dinner plans for this evening. We agree that something more modest is in order, so make our way to the booth at the junction of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards where we secure a 12:55 ADR for Mama Melrose.

With almost 2 hours to wait until lunch, we head off up Sunset Blvd.

]

Whilst I go for a bathroom break, Matt takes off to investigate the standby time for Rock ‘n’ Roller. The wait is 50 minutes and we can’t get another FASTPASS until 11:50, so we won’t be riding that today. As it happens, I’m keen to see the Beauty and the Beast show as we haven’t done so in years, and we’re right outside as they open up the seating for the 11:30 show.

Waiting for the show to start, we discuss our dinner plans for this evening. We’re supposed to be dining at one of our current favourites, Tommy Bahama’s Tropical Café at Pointe Orlando. Since arriving in Orlando, though, we’ve discovered they’re hosting a Vintage Shirt Night this coming Friday, so we consider the pros and cons of shifting things around. Friday is the day we’ll be moving to Universal’s Royal Pacific and, on the plus side, it’s a lot closer (and thus cheaper should we decide to get a taxi). We know, though, that Margaritaville will probably be too big a draw to resist that first night and, in any event, we’re pretty sure we won’t want to venture offsite during our two-night stay. After much to-ing and fro-ing, we make the decision to stick with our original plans.



The show is a delight. Due to the proliferation of stellar entertainment options, it’s so easy to take so much for granted, but if this was an West End production (although, needless to say, it would need to be longer), you’d happily pay top dollar to make it the focus of a weekend away.













As we exit the auditorium at noon, it’s still very grey and actually quite chilly, too. So much so, in fact, that I look at the fleeces and the like in Keystone Clothiers. There’s nothing I’m willing to part with $50 for, so I’ll just have to stay cold. That sleeping bag and tent which Matt wanted to bring with us this morning isn’t looking quite so daft now.

We toy with the idea of a pre-lunch cocktail at Tune-in Lounge, but it’s already gone 12:30, so we idle on over to Mama Melrose. We check in at 12:45 and are seated 5 minutes later.



We’re both really hungry, but mindful that we’d like to remain that way for dinner tonight. Matt chooses the Oven Baked Chicken alla Parmigiana over spaghetti and I opt for the Wood-grilled Shrimp over pipette pasta tossed with artichokes, peas, peppers and sweet onions in a basil and four cheese cream sauce. Now I know I said I was keen to retain my appetite, but for $17.99, I expect more than 4 shrimp! Matt swills his down with a glass of the Chianti D.O.C.G Tiziano whilst I’m more than happy to quaff one of my favourites, the Chalk Hill Imagine Chardonnay. Our server, Ronald, is a dour so and so. Or maybe he’s a sour do and do. Either way, it’s not good. In these circumstances I always wish I had the nerve to tip accordingly, but I reckon that rather than making a point, I’d just come across as an ignorant Brit. The food is reasonably tasty, but certainly not great and as we leave, we comment that, even though it’s our cheapest meal of the trip so far ($55 after Tables in Wonderland discount and tip), it’s expensive for what it is.





Continued below.
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Last edited by UKDEB; 01-14-2009 at 01:14 AM. Reason: PhotoPass shot added
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Old 01-12-2009, 06:38 PM   #3
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I’m still cold, so we pop into the Writers Shop for a mochaccino (me) and an espresso (Matt) before heading in the direction of Pixar Studios for our Toy Story Mania FP return time. As we pass in front of The Great Movie Ride, we bump into our buddy from Jellyrolls who now has a young lady in tow.

We arrive 15 minutes ahead of our 2:10pm return time, but are content to stand and watch the comings and goings. The standby wait time is now up to 130 minutes and FASTPASSes are no longer available.



We lose count of the number of times we overhear conversations which are destined to end in bitter disappointment, the best one being:

Gleeful Mom: “Oh, honey! This is the ride I was telling you about!”
Jaded Dad: “Have you seen the wait time?”
Gleeful Mom: “But we can get a FASTPASS and do it at 2!”.

Uh, no you can’t. That’s the time now. I ponder for a while on how many others read FP return signs that way before cottoning on. I quickly tire of such deliberation and decide instead to take a few photos.















Even with our FASTPASSes, we encounter a 15 minute wait before boarding. Matt keeps claiming that his gun doesn’t work. Boy. Wolf. I’ve heard it all before and resolutely ignore him, until we reach the end and I realise that not even his lack of co-ordination could result in such a lame score. It seems that a previous maniac (which, by happy coincidence, must surely be the generic term for all riders, as well as a specific one for Matt) has yanked the cord too enthusiastically and it’s been pulled out of position. He mentions it to the CM as we alight and she insists that we ride again. I notice that both guns are sporting frayed cords this time and I suspect that before too much longer they may encounter frequent problems from what appears to be a significant design fault. Despite the wear and tear, both guns are fully functioning and we enjoy our bonus ride. The sound quality is much improved this time around, too – so much better without that incessant whinging…



We walk back to the BoardWalk and slowly get ready for our evening out. We’ve been to Tommy Bahama’s Tropical Café several times in the past, but only ever for lunch. In planning this trip, a mutual desire to try it for dinner was factored in at an early stage. During each of the many times it was discussed in the build up to the trip, a taxi was always a feature. In the cold light of day, though, knowing it will probably cost in the region of $100 post tip, Matt makes the decision to drive. I hadn’t picked up on a clue earlier in the day, but it was there nonetheless – the single glass of wine with lunch.

We leave the BoardWalk sometime after 5pm, driving via Palm Parkway, Central Florida Parkway and Westwood Blvd. We derive much pleasure from driving around the area, scoping out back routes and just becoming familiar with the place. I know some consider it odd, but I’m sure there are plenty of others like us.

Valet parking is free when eating at the Pointe’s restaurants, so we hop out at the valet station alongside Tommy’s. We’ve often considered eating in the restaurant proper, but we love sitting at the bar here and, sure enough, as we walk through the door, it sucks us in and we take up our favourite spot near the open French doors. From here we can take in all the comings and goings in both the bar and the restaurant, with our backs only to the outside patio. We’ve learnt over the years that where we sit in a restaurant can have a significant impact on our level of enjoyment. I can’t bear to sit facing a wall.

I order Tommy’s Twisted Mohito (hand pressed mint, ginger and limes with Tommy Bahama Golden Sun Rum, vanilla bourbon and ginger beer, shaken, topped with Sprite and served over ice), while Matt goes for some girly pineapple and banana concoction.







For starters, I order a cup of the Cooper Island Crab Bisque (Tommy's own blend of fresh vegetable and shellfish stock, butter, sherry, cream and lump crab meat, served with Tommy’s flatbread) and Matt picks the Tortola Tortilla Soup (A savory blend of ground corn tortillas, vegetables and grilled chicken seasoned with island spices and garnished with lime sour cream.) Both are scrummy, but mine’s scrummier!





We’re both in the mood for a steak and Matt elects for the Long Island New York Strip (New York strip, 14 oz center cut grilled to order, brushed with seasoned butter and served with garlic smashed potatoes, fresh grilled asparagus seasoned with lemon garlic oil and crispy "Tobacco" onions), whilst I go for The Island Cowboy (Tenderloin filet, 8 oz center cut, grilled to order and topped with a port wine demi-glace, roasted garlic cloves and Maytag bleu cheese crumbles and served with fresh grilled asparagus, seasoned with lemon garlic oil). Matt has a pint of the Blonde beer and I sample a martini of some sort.





We chat to a couple of guys from Minneapolis who are in town early for a realtors convention which starts on Friday. They offer to buy us a drink, and Matt begins to wish he’d gone for the taxi option. I’ll have a Coconut Cloud Martini, please (TommyBahama White Sand Rum, Stoli Vanil vodka, Cruzan Coconut rum, cream of coconut, shaken, strained and sprinkled with toasted coconut). We like the buzz of an evening crowd and that was one of the reasons we were keen to eat here for dinner. It would be nice to stay longer, but I take pity on Matt who has been nursing the last dregs of his beer for half an hour, and we head back to the BoardWalk and the Belle Vue Lounge.

It’s dead when we arrive, but it’s still early. Allen, the longtime bartender, reckons it could get busy later as there’s something going on in the Atlantic Dance Hall. This is “New Jersey” week and we’re the first non New Jersians (New Jerseyans?) he’s spoken with in days. Allen’s worked for Disney for 26 years and at the Belle Vue Lounge for 9. Until Sunday (when we were served by John whose regular gig is at the Tune-In Lounge at the Studios), he’s certainly been here every time we have.



Matt makes up for lost time, starting with a Budweiser American Ale (a new one on us) and working his way through a Skip-Jack which is one of the draft offerings here and a couple of Maker's Marks. I have a Sidecar and an Old Fashioned.







It does pick up as the evening wears on, but never gets really busy. We chat with a young couple from New Jersey, also DVC owners, who visit around four times a year. This trip is for 5 days, which is fairly typical. She’s a nurse, training to be a midwife and their younger son is autistic, so she’s very interested in our health service. Their boys are with a babysitter, so they don’t hang around long, but insist on buying us a drink. Shortly after they leave, we also decide to call it a day and ask Allen to cup us up to go. We finish our drinks in the room and fall into bed at 11pm.

Postscript: At one point today we thought the sun was about to break through the cloud, but it never did.
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Old 01-12-2009, 07:27 PM   #4
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Looks like you and Matt are having a wonderful time "sans friends".

I'm so glad we're getting to hear all about it.

Thanks, Nora
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Old 01-13-2009, 01:00 AM   #5
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I think we will have to visit Tommy's on our next trip, that food looks Delicous.
I think they get through an awful lot of pull cord on the toy story ride, I'm sure the harder you pull it the higher your score.
I hope the weather improves for you, no concellation for you, it was a lot nicer the year before. It's our favourite time of year to visit
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Old 01-13-2009, 01:14 AM   #6
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Great report today, some fab photos...i can see some photo comp entries there
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Old 01-13-2009, 03:05 AM   #7
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Great day and another great report. You 2 sound like so much fun!

Those steaks at Tommy Bahama's both look amazing

I still can't believe the Toy Story Mania que reached 130 minutes - crazy
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Old 01-13-2009, 03:57 AM   #8
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So many mentionables in today's report Deb....

The Beauty and the Beast show remains my favourite show at Disney World and never fails to bring a tear to my eye.

I love the way in which you're touring the parks - maybe one day, when the Commando in me gets old and tired, I may be able to persuade myself to go the same route. I will be the first to admit that I probably miss an awful lot while racing from ride to ride - still, with 40+ years of DVC ownership ahead of me, there is time for that

I totally understand your comment about driving and discovering/familiarising yourself with routes. I know it can't compare but, as we've only driven in Orlando a couple of times now, I could hardly contain my excitement last April when we managed to reach our destination without the aid of a map I am hoping that, in time, the place will feel as familiar to us as home.

I am thoroughly enjoying your reports and hoping that there is more coming soon - hint, hint. Oh, and I can't wait to get home and see if it's really true - did Matt actually allow you to take pictures of food
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Old 01-13-2009, 04:15 AM   #9
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What a great day Deb,fantastic photo's.We can't wait to try TSM,i will be sending Hubby on ahead of us to secure those sacred Fast Passes.
Them steaks looked perfect.x.
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Old 01-13-2009, 07:23 AM   #10
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Another great day Deb I had the same problem on Toy Story Mania, Paul got about 12,000 and I was only on about 1000, so I probably whined all the way round too

I'm shocked that Matt hadn't got a taxi organised for your evening out, or that he hadn't tried the usual gentlemanly suggestion of sharing the driving, he drive there and you drive back

I look forward to your next installment
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Old 01-13-2009, 09:22 AM   #11
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Great pics
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Old 01-13-2009, 12:58 PM   #12
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Oh my! The reports just keep getting better and better, brilliant day, brilliant photos, and The Writers Stop, I just love that place, the best cookies ever, cant wait to read more please
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Old 01-13-2009, 02:23 PM   #13
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Another great day
My ''gun thingy'' wouldnt work on toy story mania too!! & we got a free ride
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Old 01-13-2009, 03:05 PM   #14
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Thanks for posting Debs, I felt like I had been there with you.
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Old 01-13-2009, 03:41 PM   #15
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Like Joh I've got so many things I want to mention about this installment. Just hope I can remember them all as I read part of this one while eating my breakfast, another bit during lunch, and just finished it after school.

First, do you realize what a good writer you are? Well, you are.

Second, while some talented people can accesorize well, the Churchills take it a step further. I refer to the photo of Matt by the Coke bottle and the one of you under the Streets of America sign. Make me believe you didn't purposefully dress for just those two photos. Incredible coordination!

Third, about the Coke product placement shots--well spotted. Having paid BIG $$$ for plastering the name throughout the park, the Coke Company will be happy to know that people do pay attention.

Fourth, thank you for the pictures of the Backlot Express, a place that Scott and I often used as a refreshment spot. For some reason in my memory we were always waiting for a parade when we were there--surely not everytime. The photo of the pillar with the Chinese dragons brought an instant flashback of Scott and me, sitting at the table just behind it.

Fifth, though I'm sorry you had such an unsatisfying lunch at Mama Melrose's, I want you to know that it wasn't for naught. Two things good have come from your experience--1) I've been curious about Mama's but will continue to sidestep it on my way to old favorites, Brown Derby and Sci-Fi, thanks to your considered review. I appreciate your explaining what displeased you there rather than just a "We didn't like it." and 2) It's good to be reminded that not every meal can be a peak dining experience. We have to have a not-so-good one every now and then to serve as a relative point.

Sixth, and finally, I'd like to have the Tommy Bahama grillman in my life! Your steaks, particularly yours, Debbie, looked perfect.
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