We knew that we were going to be heading down to Sanibel sometime on Tuesday: I'd made the reservations on Sunday. But we hadn't really made any firm decisions about the rest of the day, and it seemed a shame to head down too quickly -- Sanibel's very much a daytime kinda place, and even if we were prompt we weren't going to get there any too early. So we decided to spend the afternoon in Orlando. And from there, it was a quick mental leap to wind up at our favorite park: Epcot.
I'll freely admit that Epcot isn't everyone's cup of tea. It's a much calmer and quieter place than most of the amusement parks. It doesn't have a damned thing for small kids -- which is, frankly, part of the attraction. For a vacation whose main purpose was to mellow out, it seemed like a fair cheat.
So after checking out of the resort (and making a reservation for Friday, since we had liked it so much), we drifted over to Mouseland. The line to get into Epcot was slightly insane, a good 45 minutes waiting to get the tickets. I suspect it's always like this, but we've never hit it before, since we usually buy our tickets in advance. Oh, well -- one lesson learned.
The Epcot World Showcase (which has little zones for each of a number of countries) was pretty deserted, underscoring how the bad economy is hammering Orlando. It was actually rather serene, especially in the morning, and that isn't an adjective I normally associate with Disney.
We had lunch at the Tangerine Cafe, the luncherie in Morocco. As we'd hoped, they did have shwarma, always a favorite for msmemory and myself, and one we don't often get. However, this was shwarma dumbed down for the tourists -- they served it on a bulky roll, with fries. Truth to tell, the shwarma itself was still pretty good (and managed to be appropriately messy even with the roll), but it was a tad odd.
While waiting for the Cafe to open, we wandered around the Moroccan Bazaar, and I noodled a bit with their doumbeks. I really do need to learn how to play doumbek properly. I know I have the innate rhythm for it (comes with being a dancer), and I rather like the sound, but I don't know the subtleties of what you can do with the instrument or the variety of riffs commonly performed on it. Maybe someone will have a "doumbek for the incomplete dummy" class at Pennsic.
We wandered back to Futureworld (the front of Epcot), and I noted that it's beginning to look rather dated. It's very much the future a la 1978, the same way that Tomorrowland (in the Magic Kingdom) used to be the future a la 1955. Unfortunately, 1978's a really bad version of the future right now: obsolete enough to look dumb, but not yet quaint. Time for a facelift, I suspect.
That said, the attractions are always fun. Honey, I Shrunk the Audience is a pleasantly silly 3D show -- not quite as brilliant as MuppetVision 4D, but always worth seeing. We wandered into the Journey Into the Imagination ride next to it, and quickly realized our mistake: it's very much an "It's a Small World" ride aimed at the kids, with an annoyingly repetitive theme song and overly simplified ideas. Still, we both have an old soft spot for Figment, the show's purple dragon mascot.
Innoventions didn't have anything that blew my socks off this time, although it was interesting as always. This is a pavilion in which corporate sponsors come show their latest cool toys. The main interest here was a fellow demonstrating a Segway; unfortunately, though, they weren't letting you ride it yourself. My curiosity, I will admit, continues to grow -- I really want to try one of these toys out, just to see what the ride is actually like.
Body Wars is, sadly, aging badly. This is a motion-simulator ride modeled very closely on the ideas in Fantastic Voyage; once upon a time, I thought it was the coolest ride at Disney. Nowadays, though, the style of the science fiction is very 1982 (arguably even dumber-looking than 1979), and the ride itself has been left behind. Still, it's an entertaining little time. On the other hand, Cranium Command (also in the "Life" pavilion) is still fun. This is a silly multimedia movie taking you into the head of a 12-year-old boy, and is every bit as goofy as that sounds.
Test Track is the one real "ride" in Epcot, and is still a good, if brief, moment. We got an express pass for this one, which was the right decision: the ride is eminently worth a 15-minute line, but really isn't worth the hour that the full line takes. The ride itself is a little silly, but the final stretch is a 65MPH coaster that's always a neat little thrill, giving just a touch of the flavor of seriously moving.
For dinner, we made reservations at Les Chefs de France, which is the bistro in the France area. (As opposed to the thing they call the Bistro, which is actually an even fancier restaurant.) Since we really did need to get down to Sanibel, we made a first-seating reservation with the blue-haired set at 5pm. The food was excellent, as always: it's always worth taking one dinner in France if you're at Disney. I had the cassoulette d'escargots (snails: yum!), which wasn't quite as good as those I'd gotten at Le Navigateur in Paris last year but were still very nice. For the main course, I had the rare tuna steak, which came with an intensely sharp tomato/cilantro topping -- tasty, although it somewhat overwhelmed the tuna, I'm afraid. She went the even more traditional route, getting the terrine of pate, and the black pepper filet mignon. All very good, although it drove home the fact that I've gotten rather unused to traditional French food -- when I think "French", I tend to think "nouvelle" nowadays, so eating at a more traditional restaurant is actually a little odd.
We'd intended to get me a new kimono in Japan -- we're both fond of using kimonos as bathrobes when we're traveling, since they pack light, but I have a very bad habit of leaving them hanging on the bathroom door at hotels. However, our timing was off, and we found that the early-evening parade had started. This happens every night at 6ish, and more or less blocks off traffic to about half of the World Showcase. We opted not to fight our way through it -- I'll get a kimono in Chinatown sometime.
However, we were able to swing past Canada, and get the second album by Off Kilter. This is a kickass Celtic folk-rock group that performs in the Canada area regularly -- we got their first album the last time we were at Disney, and I'm quite fond of it. They're pretty much the only uptempo music to be had at Epcot, and they have a subversively odd sense of humor laced under their tunes.
We finally took off from Epcot around 7pm, and headed down toward Sanibel. The drive itself was staggeringly dull, I'm afraid -- Florida highways are arrow-straight, and even less interesting at night than those at home. However, they do have a nice 70mph speed limit to reflect those straight roads. And I am amused to note that Floridians, unlike us up here in the north, actually know how to deal with traffic -- when the road slows down, people keep a reasonably even distance and speed, instead of playing the "zoom-screech" game that happens on Mass. highways. The result is that the jams aren't anywhere near as unpleasant, because they don't get the sort of hour-long pressure-wave traffic jams we see so much of up here.
So we drove along, watching the moon rise. To our surprise, we got an absolutely lovely harvest moon: heavy and orange, hanging very low to the horizon. Once that climbed a bit, it provided a little welcome light, to make the drive just a tiny bit less monotonous.
Sanibel proved to be rather more off the beaten track than I was expecting -- once you leave the highways, there's a good 30 miles of local roads to get there, including a couple of miles over a long and very slow causeway to get to the island itself. Still, that's part of the point -- it's far enough away to be a bit more pleasant.
Sadly, the Sanibel Inn was just the opposite of Star Island -- whereas the latter had delighted me by being an exceptionally good value for the money, the former was pretty cheesy and cost an amazing fortune. This goes to show me to listen to my father, who had warned us that February is the middle of peak season in Sanibel, and everything costs vastly too much. If the hotel had cost, say, $75 a night I would have thought it a fine price; as it was, I paid several times that. So I went to bed that first night there a tad cross, feeling that I'd been ripped off.
Next: Forgiving the Island.