Friday, October 10, 2014

Epic Disney Weekend Day 1

When you wake up to the news that the Aurora Air Traffic Control center is shut down due to a fire you know some travelers are in for a rough day. The center is responsible for air traffic at both Chicago airports. Our flight to Orlando was leaving around 3:15pm so maybe the small fire and early morning disruption would be taken care of by then. As the day went on more and more flights were canceled. We headed to the airport thinking we'd end up on a canceled flight, work our refund with the airline, have a dinner in the Rosemont area, and spend the weekend at home. This was a bonus trip so it wouldn't be as crushing of a disappointment compared to other trips.

We saw something that gave us a little hope of leaving Chicago. One of the airport terminal transport cars was all decked out with signs, balloons, streamers, and pictures of cartoon characters. The signs indicated that three kids were on their way to Florida as part of American's Something Maagic Foundation program. We decided to check out our gate area and we were amazed by the transformation. When we saw what happened we realized there was no way this flight was getting grounded today.

The gate wasn't a utilitarian ORD gate today, it was a party zone. Balloons were everywhere and a red carpets were laid out in several places. Cakes were set on tables, each decorated with the child's favorite characters. We saw backpacks full of goodies hidden behind the desk. We were fortunate enough to be there to watch the families arrive and to help give them a special welcome. As time went on costumed characters and a magician showed up. This was a big day for these families, but also for everyone in the terminal. The Orlando welcome party was equally spectacular.

We landed almost on-time and hurried through the airport to our rental car. After some traffic we made it to our Disney World hotel, Old Key West. This property is an all Disney Vacation Club hotel (time share) built in the early 90's. The buildings are scattered across a large area of property and looks like a cute little town house complex. After check-in, we had a half mile drive to our room. We dropped off our bags and walked to the bus stop near the room. An Epcot bus arrived quickly. Yes! We are not heading anywhere near the exit. Aaargh! We had about ten more minutes of driving around property until we left the gates.

It was around 8:15 by the time we made it to Epcot. We rushed through Future World so we could get to The World Showcase and the Food & Wine Festival booths. Dinner consisted of items from Patagonia, Australia, New Zealand, Craft Beer, and Farm Fresh. After a few booths we figured it was time to visit La Cava del Tequilia for a margarita. To our shock, they were closed at 9:00. This gave us a chance to take our last ride on Maelstrom tonight vs. Sunday. Maelstrom recently closed down in order to be converted to a ride based on the movie Frozen.

After the ride we picked up a few beers from Farm Fresh, sampling Ba Ba Black and Duke's Brown Ale. A new rule at the festival is no more regular size beers are served at the cart so we had to inconveniently hold two-six ounce cups while we watched that night's performance of Illuminations. The globe was broken so the middle portion of the show was really boring.

After the show we headed over to Italy for tonight's special event. We reserved an Epcot Wind-Down at Tutto Gusto. The event isn't held every night and will only be around for a limited time. We were shown to a table (and most were taken) then handed the special menu. We were required to each pick a set food/wine flight pairing ($35 each) from a choice of four. After that, we could order any other drink or dessert item for its regular menu price. Essentially we each had a cheese, meat, and bread plate with a little variation between the two. It was fun to try a few different wines this way. After the main plate we got some more wine by the glass and some shot glass desserts that were very tasty.

We were one of the last tables to leave Tutto Gusto close to midnight. We expected to see a line of cast members with orange lights leading us towards the gate. Instead, we were allowed to walk unescorted to the front. We stopped to film, take pictures, and enjoy the ambiance of an empty Epcot. This was worth the price of admission. All of the area music was still playing at full volume. Bathrooms were open for our use. If we passed a cast member they just said hello and kept moving along.

We walked over to the bus area, told the cast member our hotel, and our private bus showed up in 5 minutes. Our day went from being an almost cancelled trip to a fantasic evening in Epcot. We were really lucky.

Here's some video from the evening including a little bit of Maelstrom and Illuminations:



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