Preamble Flight and first evening at the BoardWalk Monday, 3rd November Despite our full day and very late night yesterday, I’m still awake at 5:40am. I make a trip to the bathroom and tip-toe back to bed so as not to wake Sleeping Beauty. I lie there for 5 minutes before acknowledging that I’m way too excited to go back to sleep. I give Matt a nudge and exclaim, “Wake up! We’re at Disney World!” There’s a muffled sound resembling a very grumpy, “I am awake” which I take as my cue to jump out of bed and leap around like a maniac. We unpack and make the room homely before stepping out onto the balcony with a cup of coffee to watch the sun rise. At around 6.50am, we head down to the BoardWalk Bakery and return with a bacon, egg and cheese croissant for Matt and the tomato, egg and cheese variant for me, together with some orange juice. According to my notes, the damage is $16.99. The plan for today had been to head to Fresh Market at the junction of Dr Phillips and Conroy Road for supplies before making the short drive on to Mall at Millenia. Fresh Market opens at 9am and the Mall at 10am and we’d imagined we’d be raring to go early, but obviously hadn’t factored in yesterday evening's impromptu activities. It’s 9.45am by the time we’re driving away from the BoardWalk, so we decide to go straight to the Mall. This is our favourite shopping venue in the area – a good mix of high-end and regular stores, plus department stores and great places to eat. We park at Macy’s end and do one circuit – along the top and back along the bottom – before returning to the middle and our favourite store, Tommy Bahama. Matt buys a new shirt to add to his ever-growing collection and I treat myself to a set of fabric cocktail napkins (although quite what a tee-totaller like me is going to do with them is anyone’s guess). I’m a tad disappointed with the homewares and accessories on offer this time. The place looks a little bare compared with previous trips. I also pick up a funky body suit for our Grandson in the Lucky Brand Jeans store. The Mall decked out in its Christmas finery. I’ve been keen to try the new Village Tavern which is on the periphery of the mall, but Matt is a creature of habit and looks so forlorn when I mention it (even though I’ve been priming him for months) that we end up at the bar of the Cheesecake Factory. We’re not disappointed to encounter the familiar face of Shannon, our bartender, and we spend an enjoyable hour or so chatting away with him. He sets us, and his fellow bartender, a puzzle. It takes me a while, but I manage to score 100%, whilst his compatriot struggles to even comprehend the question. Which four states have capital cities whose names begin with the same letter as the states themselves? As is our regular MO, we order appetisers to share. We opt for old favourites of the Ahi Tuna Tempura Rolls (these really are delicioius), Chicken Pot Stickers and Buffalo Wings. I’m not at all keen on the wings, but judging by the way Matt polishes them off, he seems to enjoy them. Matt washes his down with a Sam Adams, whilst I get stuck into the Platinum Mohito. In a moment of sheer madness, we share a slice of strawberry cheesecake. After a good sluicing to rid Matt of wing sauce, we head off in search of Fresh Market. It’s a very easy hop down Conroy Windermere Road and as we alight the car, I can’t help but think we’re missing a great day’s weather by being holed up inside. We buy a few staples – granola, milk, juice, coffee, bread, butter, peanut butter, Beer Nuts confused3 ), beer and wine. I’m thrilled to find one of my favourites – ZD Chardonnay – which isn’t available in the UK. As it’s still fairly early, we decide to make the short trip to Prime Outlets, but we don’t buy anything. Matt sees a great pair of trainers in North Face which are an absolute bargain (a discounted price of $70 with an additional 50% off), but they don’t have them in his size. As we expected, this place has developed exponentially since our last visit in January. With temperatures well into the 80s, we’re starting to feel a bit jaded, so it’s back to the BoardWalk at around 4pm for a rest. This is where we get to appreciate not having travelling companions for the first time. Even if you have no set plans, it’s at this point you’d be forced to make arrangements to meet up at a specific time. As it is, we have the luxury of chilling out and not having to do anything until we feel like it. We’re duly rested, showered and changed by around 7.15pm and stroll over to the International Gateway entrance to Epcot. This is really what staying at this location is all about for us. Epcot is our favourite park and the IF&WF our favourite event, so we are two happy bunnies. We stop outside the entrance to buy Annual Passes (with DVC discount) and the Tables in Wonderland dining discount card, and to pick up our pre-ordered MVMCP tickets for the party on 10th November. We pass through the turnstiles at 7.45pm. It’s surprisingly busy and we comment that it’ll be interesting to see how it compares next week when the F&WF is over. Today, dear reader, we shall be mainly walking around World Showcase Lagoon in an anti-clockwise direction, so first up is France. There’s a small twist to this year’s festival in that each country is represented by one of its cities. Lyon is flying the flag for France. [I’ll give a full rundown of all the offerings and prices in a later report, but for now I’ll just report briefly on what we ate this evening. Unless otherwise stated, all food and drink samplers are shared.] Now, I’m not squeamish about much in the food department, but nothing could persuade me to eat snails, especially since learning they’re not even some kind of exotic breed, but the common or garden variety which play havoc with your marigolds. Slimey little beggars. I’m a big fan of goat’s cheese, but the quiche doesn’t particularly appeal to either of us, so we move on to Louisiana which is this year’s feature state. The Crawfish Etouffee, a little pot of crawfish tails in curry sauce topped with a dollop of rice, is really tasty. We both love the Abita Purple Haze which is a wheat beer with raspberry puree added after filtration. (You’ll just have to trust me when I say it’s much nicer than it sounds.) Great start! As it’s our intention to return at least once more before the festival ends, we skip Marrakesh. At Wellington, New Zealand, the Bay Scallops with Baby Greens and Cranberry Vinaigrette sound too good to miss. There are certainly plenty of them, but they’re disappointing. They’re coid (I don’t know why, but I expected them to be hot) and have a strange tang. We should have gone for the Lamb Slider on a Brioche Roll. In a shocking turn of events, we don’t partake of any alcohol here. We give Tokyo a miss and move on to San Francisco and the Seared Beef Medallion with Cheddar Cheese Polenta (de-li-cious!) accompanied by the Beaulieu Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Prior to the trip I’d read that gift cards attached to stretchy wrist bands are available for the festival. Whilst we’re not entirely convinced that it sounds any easier than handing over cash, nonetheless we’re keen to purchase one. We stop by the gift shop at American Adventure only to be informed they’re sold exclusively at F&WF concessions. We’re directed outside to Pearville (I jest not) where the sweet little octogenarian CM has trouble processing the transaction. Following several attempts and a phone call to hail a supervisor from another part of the park, it turns out he thinks we’re trying to top up rather than purchase the thing. I feel sympathy for both the guy and Pearville (which has to be the least patronised “festival experience”), but not sufficiently so to purchase one of the many varieties of pear on offer. As we leave, I look around nervously for the tumbleweed which I’m convinced must be passing through. Matt sporting the fully-loaded gift card which he clearly feels needs an extra level of security in the shape of his Trion:Z. Pearville is set up in the space to the right and front of the American Adventure gift shop and, as luck would have it, Hops and Barley (featuring Sam Adams beers and food offerings of New England) is situated just the other side, facing the walkway. After the ordeal of purchasing it, we feel the gift card should be put straight to use and I opt for the Cherry Wheat (one of my favourites) whilst Matt goes for the Black Lager. We like the sound of the Boxty with Bacon Chips and Kerrygold Garlic & Fresh Herb Butter at Cork, Ireland. It’s a little wheat pancake with fried onions and bacon and it’s okay, but the dollop of butter doesn’t add anything. [I don't appear to have taken a picture of this.] Matt has a Guinness whilst I continue to work on my Cherry Wheat. We’re beginning to feel satiated, so pass up on the offerings of Bologna, Italy and Munich, Germany. We do stop for our first PhotoPass opportunity of the trip, though. Peppery Prawns on the Barbie with a Sweet Potato Hash at Melbourne, Australia grabs our attention. Again, it's just okay – effectively just two prawns on cold lumps of sweet potato. Against my better judgement, I elect to try a glass of the Cooralook Chardonnay. It’s chardonnay at its worst – the kind of cheap offering frequently served up in UK pubs. I’m always hugely disappointed that there are very few higher end wines on offer. [There appears to have been a slight breakdown in my meticulous note-taking here, as there’s clearly a glass of red wine on the table with the shrimp. I know I had the yeuchy chardonnay, so it must be Matt’s. Looking now at the options, I’m guessing it was the Green Point Shiraz.] Now entirely replete, we simply wander on around the lagoon taking a good look at the remaining booths to give us an idea of what we might want to try during our next outing (when we’ll head around in the opposite direction). There's a further PhotoPass opp at China. We arrive at World Showcase Plaza just as Reflections of Earth starts. Tonight is all about the festival and we were always going to catch IllumiNations from wherever we found ourselves - there will be plenty of opportunities next week for staking out a place in one of our favourite spots. As it happens, it works out perfectly. Even though we’re not in a lagoon-side postion, we still manage to get a good view and this is definitely the place from which it was meant to be seen. The re-mastered globe is extremely clear and defined. The mass exodus really is a sight to see – like a swarm of bees. We hang around for the 10 minutes the area takes to clear and then wander on around the lagoon in the direction of the International Gateway, taking a detour around a deserted UK. We’re really on our last legs now, but the Friendship Boat is standing room only, so we make the decision to walk. Even at our sub-dawdle pace, we reach the ESPN Club as the boat docks. We’re both pretty shattered and we’re settled down for the night by around 10:30pm. Postscript: Today has been sunny and hot and this evening was mild.