Archive | April, 2014

I Want A Feast! Cream Buns And Doughnuts And Fruitcake With No Nuts So Good You Could Go Nuts. No, Now!

22 Apr
I Want It Now!

I Want It Now!

I owe you an apology, dear readers. I’m sorry I haven’t been writing more, for one. I’m feeling less-than-inspired about things to write about. Some people believe in just writing every day, no matter the content, but I feel like that’s a waste of everyone’s time and I really don’t want my blog to become known for being full of fluff. That’s not to say that I haven’t been guilty of writing about inconsequential things, but I’d like to think it’s only happened on occasion.

I also need to apologize for the onslaught of weight-related entries you are going to encounter over the next few months. I have a goal and a course of action to reach that goal and that has become a major focus in my life over the last few weeks. I’m working hard at it and it’s not easy and well, honestly, I need the support. Once I’ve gotten a few more weeks of this under my ever-tightening belt, hopefully it will become more second nature to me rather than an effort and I won’t feel the need to talk about it so much. Right now I’m like a scrapbooker who has just discovered a new paper cutter or an extreme couponer – I eat, sleep and breathe Weight Watchers points and portion control. I remember when I was learning Spanish back in high school. I was so interested and enthralled by it that it took over my life and I actually found myself thinking in Spanish. I would even talk to myself in Spanish. I’m finding that the same thing rings true of this new food language I’m learning – I think in points and servings. It’s not at all a bad thing – in fact, it’s a very good thing – but I know it can be annoying. Sorry ’bout it! Just bear with me. It gets better.

The good news is, the program is working! Thursday was my weigh-in day and I’m pleased to announce that I have lost 18.8 lbs. since that dreadful day that I weighed myself in Tampa. That’s about 4.5 lbs. per week, which is fast, even on Weight Watchers. They claim that men lose weight faster than women – especially in the first 3 weeks of being on the program, so I fully expect my weight loss to slow down over the next few weeks to a healthier rate of 1-2 lbs. per week. Though I’m hesitant to say it, it’s actually been quite easy for me the last few weeks. As I said before, I do very well with boundaries and guidelines, so I’ve been pretty strict with sticking to my “budget” of daily and weekly points. The fruit I’ve been eating has been staving off the cravings for sweets and keeping me satisfied, so I’ve not had any binges or even been tempted to binge.

Sorry...but I have to brag just a little bit.

Sorry…but I have to brag just a little bit.

Today, though, has been a tough one. I don’t know why, but I’ve had a sudden craving for cake and ice cream. The ice cream craving I’ve been able to take care of with Skinny Cow’s Fudge Bars (3 points each). One bar fulfills all of my ice cream desires: it’s cold, it’s chocolatey, it’s creamy and it’s delicious. The cake, however…? That’s another story. I’ve always been a fiend when it comes to baked goods – I absolutely love cakes and cookies and brownies and such, and while I have the extra weekly points to afford a slice of cake or a cupcake, I’m being stingy with my points and not having it. This is both good and bad – it’s good because, well…I don’t need cake, but it’s also bad because the more I deny myself of it, the more I’m going to want it. The more I want it, the more likely I will be to go crazy and buy and entire cake and go nuts. I’ve worked hard to lose these 19 lbs. and I want to keep going, so I’m having to make tough choices about where I want to “spend” my points. Talk about first world problems, right? Look what cake did to Marie Antoinette.

Let Them Eat Cake! - Marie Antoinette

Let Them Eat Cake! – Marie Antoinette

Still, I can see changes happening and I like that. A lot. Of the three pairs of jeans that travel with me, two of them had become my “skinny jeans,” meaning I couldn’t fit into them. I’m proud to say that I’m wearing a pair of them now and feeling fine. My t-shirts are fitting me better and my underwear aren’t digging into my waist anymore. They do still roll down a little from time to time, but at least I don’t have a bright red ring around my waist, dividing me in two like the equator. I’m getting compliments from company members who don’t see me often as they start to notice slight changes in my face and belly. My jackets and sweatshirts aren’t tight around the middle anymore. I went out in just a t-shirt yesterday – no jacket covering me up – and I came this close to going up and introducing myself to someone I saw at the Aquarium that I thought was cute. I chickened out, but the fact that I even considered it is amazing. These are all very good things. I’m quite proud of myself for how far I’ve already come and I’m encouraged to keep going. In the meantime, I’m just going to have to be satisfied with pigging out in my dreams…kind of like that scene in “Young Sherlock Holmes” when Watson is attacked by killer pastries, or the dream sequence in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” when Audrey is brought so much food that she explodes. That sounds like heaven right now…

‘Orange’ You Sorry You Clicked On This Entry?

16 Apr

Hello. My name is Jason and I cannot peel an orange.

Sure, I can get the orange peel off the fruit, so I suppose technically I can peel one, but not without practically squeezing the thing dry before getting it into my mouth. And even then it is coated in a thick white skin that makes me want to gag, so I spend more time attempting to scrape the white stuff off, which inevitably leads to an even bigger mess. Have I mentioned that I have a Masters degree?

As I’ve written previously, I’m back on the Weight Watchers program to lose some weight. As part of the program, I’ve been eating a lot more raw fruits and vegetables than I used to (read: I’m actually eating fruits and vegetables now). I worry about getting bored with my fruit selection, so I try to have a few options on hand – apples, bananas, oranges and grapes…sometimes pineapple – but the oranges are usually the very last thing I eat simply because I can’t be bothered to peel them.

After seeing FoodBeast links about how we’ve been eating bananas and apples incorrectly, I decided to go to the internet to look for tutorial videos on how to properly peel citrus fruit, which eventually led to me buying a citrus peeler. Yes, believe it or not, there is a specific tool for peeling an orange.

The peeler was delivered to my hotel today (thank you, Amazon Prime!) and I tried it out before I headed to work. In my defense, I was in a bit of a rush, but I seemed to make just as much of a mess with the tool as I did without it, and when I’d finished getting the peel off, the fruit was completely covered in that tough white membrane. The creators of the citrus peeler planned for that, though, having built in a scraper of sorts to…well…scrape the white stuff off. The problem with that is 1) it’s entirely too time consuming. I’d pretty much lost interest by that point and was ready for a banana. And 2) an orange is a delicate thing and hacking away at it just made it a pulpy mess in my hand.

So now I’m at a quandary. Am I really so dense that I can’t properly peel a piece of fruit? Is this an issue that everyone has, or is it just me? And short of buying a knife to cut the peel off, how does one skin an orange without leaving that white stuff all over it? Are there certain kinds of oranges that are easier to peel? I enjoy a good clementine from time to time, but I have found that those are kind of hit-and-miss in the flavor department. Some are really sweet and delicious and others just seem to have no flavor at all.

So what’s the skinny on citrus? Do you have any tips or secrets to getting a good, skinless orange?

If You’re Ever Down In Dallas

15 Apr

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Howdy from the Lone Star State, y’all! I’m (almost) back to where this whole blog experience started – I started writing in San Antonio, which is our next tour stop, but we’re in Dallas for the next two weeks at the Music Hall at Fair Park. We’ve played repeat cities, meaning I’ve already sold in certain venues for Flashdance or Peter and the Starcatcher, but I feel like I was just here with Flashdance, though it was actually back in June. I’m in the exact same selling location with the same staff and I’m even in the very same hotel room I was in so many months ago. It’s like Groundhog Day, only not as hot this time. In fact, it was downright cold last night as I stood on the roof of the parking garage next to our hotel to look at the Blood Moon last night – the very same spot I stood to watch the 4th of July fireworks last year. It’s deja vu all over again…

The Blood Moon as seen from the roof of our parking garage in Dallas, Texas.

The Blood Moon as seen from the roof of our parking garage in Dallas, Texas.

Speaking of the Blood Moon…did you guys see it? It was really pretty cool. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before, though I know they have occurred in my lifetime. I think it’s funny that people have gotten all apocalyptic about the Blood Moon, claiming it’s God making a statement about some sort of upcoming “event.” From what I remember in Sunday school class, God doesn’t need to announce himself or warn us of when He’s about to do something. “Like a thief in the night…” seems to ring a bell. Just sayin’…

Anyway…enough about that.

This has absolutely nothing to do with anything else I’ve written about tonight, but in the last couple of weeks I’ve discovered a couple of new albums that I’m listening to on repeat. “What are they,” you ask? A Great Big World’s “Is There Anybody Out There?” and Ingrid Michaelson’s “Lights Out,” which actually features a track with A Great Big World. I’ve been a big, big fan of Ingrid Michaelson since her music was heavily featured on the first couple of seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy.” “Keep Breathing,” which was featured in the Season 3 season finale when Yang was left at the altar (yet another of Sandra Oh’s amazing acting moments), is still one of my favorite songs. I was really excited to hear that she was releasing a new album (today) and it’s just as good as I wanted it to be. Quality stuff, folks.

The cover of Ingrid Michaelson's new album, "Lights Out"

The cover of Ingrid Michaelson’s new album, “Lights Out”

You’ve probably heard the new version of A Great Big World’s song “Say Something” that they re-recorded with Christina Aguilera. If you haven’t, you need to hear it. It’s the first time in forever that I feel like Xtina is actually singing and not just grunting and growing and riffing all over the place, and it is one of the most honest, haunting songs I’ve heard in a long time on the radio. It’s pretty great. The rest of their album, however, is very different – sometimes silly, always fun and very uplifting with a musical theatre-meets-Ben Folds vibe. A great listen for long road trips. I look forward to hearing more out of these guys.

Sorry for the hasty post, but Eva’s almost dead and I’m going to have a bunch of Texans out here in a minute buying magnets. Yeehaw!

Viva Las Vegas!

14 Apr

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102 years ago, Titanic was sinking right about now. Seems appropriate to remember by reposting this entry about the Titanic Exhibit at the Luxor in Las Vegas, NV, and my close encounter with the ship that has always haunted me.

Confessions of a Merch Whore

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Greetings from fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada, where we opened last night at the new Smith Center for the Performing Arts. This is my first time to Vegas and honestly, it has far exceeded my expectations. Yes, it’s tacky and over the top, but it’s actually a lot of fun, even for someone who doesn’t drink or gamble. I always scoffed when people would say that Vegas was a family-friendly town, but the truth is – it really is!

Monday afternoon after we got into town, I met up with my friends Tom and Anthony, who just happened to be in town from San Diego. We met at Treasure Island and walked up and down the Strip, stopping to watch the water fountain show at the Bellagio and the volcano eruption at the Mirage, popping into various hotels and casinos just to look around and take some pictures. We then…

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Bad News. The Fog Is Getting Thicker. And Leon’s Getting Laaaaarger!

12 Apr

I hate summer. I hate the heat, the humidity, the indifference to the use of deodorant by a frighteningly large portion of the country’s population. But mostly I hate the way summer makes me feel about myself.

I know…that sounds weird, but when you’re built like I currently am, any kind of jacket, sweatshirt or cover-up is preferable to having to pull out t-shirts that are just a little too tight around the middle section or shorts that dig into your waist – or where you approximate your waist to be that day. I have always preferred cold weather to hot because I can cover myself up and smooth out the lumpy lines of my love handles and back fat, and to go from 30° weather to the high 80’s sends me into an emotional tailspin of worry, regret and self-shaming.

I have written about how difficult it can be to maintain one’s weight on the road, and if you’ve been following my blog at all and have looked at photos of me throughout the year, you can clearly see that I’ve gained weight. I have no delusions about that fact. I’ve basically eaten whatever I’ve wanted for the last sixteen months and I’ve gained weight. What I didn’t realize, though, was just how much weight I have gained in my time on the road. Three weeks ago, while grocery shopping at a Publix in Tampa, my world was turned upside down when I decided to step on the large scale they inexplicably had in their front entryway. (I still think it’s an odd place for people to weigh themselves). I was crushed to learn that I had gained back every single pound I’d lost several years ago plus some.

I was never aware of my weight until I went to graduate school. Our director of the musical theatre and opera program planted the seed of self-doubt and loathing just three days into my two year sentence at OCU and he made sure to use it against me at every opportunity. Until he brought it up, I’d never thought about my build or what I ate and looking back at photos of myself, I would be thrilled to go back to that size again. I was taking dance classes three days a week, rehearsing for shows five nights a week and trying to have a social life in addition to all my school studies – I was in great shape and yet I thought myself fat because he told me I was, and as the person who made all the major casting decisions, his was the ultimate word. If he said you were too fat to play a role, you were too fat. No one else was going to stand up for you or argue in your defense.

When I got to New York, things just got harder. I didn’t have a kitchen in my first apartment, so I ate out every meal. I quickly learned that this was typical for New Yorkers, but having just moved there and not having the money to eat at good restaurants, I ate at the Burger King and McDonald’s on the corner. I started working a desk job, which meant less exercise and constant snacking on office birthdays or on the pretzels and cookies they kept in the kitchen. Soda flowed through my veins instead of blood. The longer I worked that job, the fatter I got and I started developing health problems because of it.

At 32 I had a sleep study done to confirm that I had sleep apnea – a sleep disorder that means you stop breathing in the night, sometimes waking up gasping for air, but often characterized by very loud snoring and frequent bathroom breaks in the middle of the night. It is often a result of excess weight pushing down on the air passage during sleep, thus cutting off your air supply. The sleep study confirmed that I had moderate sleep apnea – I was waking up an average of 27 times an hour! – which meant that there was no quality of sleep whatsoever. Sleep deprivation can lead to high blood pressure (check!), weight gain (check!), irritability (check!), memory lapses (check!) and a whole host of other undesirable and potentially deadly issues. I was prescribed a CPAP machine with which to sleep – a ghastly looking contraption involving tubes and a Darth Vader-esque mask attached to a machine that basically pumps a steady stream of pressurized air down your air passage as you sleep, making it impossible for the air passage to collapse, thus eliminating the snoring and the apnea episodes. It worked beautifully, though it was uncomfortable to wear sometimes and looked ridiculous. After 10 years, I was finally sleeping through the night. I started dreaming again. I had more energy. Life was peachy. But I was still overweight.

An artist's rendering of a CPAP in use.

An artist’s rendering of a CPAP in use.

In 2006 or 2007, my friend Toni invited me to join her in going to Weight Watchers. I was a little offended when she first suggested that I was fat, but I knew that I needed to make a change and so I decided to try it. I had no idea what it would do for me. I want to say it was hard, but the truth is – the program was easy. I’ve always responded well to having parameters, so when I was told that I had a certain number of points to eat per day, I stuck to it. Within 9 months I had lost 55 pounds basically by eating whatever I wanted…just in smaller portions. I went from a 38 waist to a 28 at one point (that lasted for about a week before I had to go back up to the 30s) and I had never been so proud of myself. At 183 lbs., I was the thinnest I’d ever been in my adult life and I felt great about myself. So good, in fact, that I went back to auditioning and actually booked a tour which got me my Equity card. I had learned about portion control and had even gotten to a point where I could eyeball portion sizes without having to measure anything out. I was confident that I could continue with the program while I was on the road for the 6 weeks of the tour. By the end of the first month on tour, I’d gained 7 lbs.

I tried to stick with the program when I got back from the tour. Toni had lost close to 100 lbs. and I was back to hovering around 190-195 lbs. No matter how I stuck to the program, though, I couldn’t seem to dip back down below 190 lbs., even though I’d reached 183 just a few months before. I was starting to feel hungry and deprived of the things I wanted, which I’d never felt before, and before I knew it I had settled with myself, being ok with hanging around that 195 lb. mark. Within a few months I re-negociated with myself and settled on 200 lbs. And then 205. I still looked good. My clothes were a little tighter, but I could lose 5 lbs. quickly if I needed to. I had the tools. And then the FBI showed up at my front door.

After The Incident, pretty much everything in my life spun out of control: my housing, my finances and, most especially, my eating habits. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I never have. Those things don’t appeal to me. But chocolates, candies and cakes do appeal to me. Greatly. And they’re my go-to drug of choice when I need to feel comforted. Had a bad day? Have a Twinkie…or two. Frustrated with your roommate? Bake some cookies and then eat a dozen of them as they come out of the oven before anyone sees. Bored? Eat a half a bag of Frito’s while you lay in bed watching Netflix. Freezing in Milwaukee? Eat a sleeve of Thin Mint cookies. You get the idea…

Food hasn’t just been an emotional crutch for me when I feel down or need to be comforted. Growing up in Kentucky, our culture practically revolves around food. We are the home of the largest fried chicken restaurant chain in the world – my Dad even worked for the Colonel, so I literally grew up eating fried chicken – and almost any cause for celebration – a birth, a graduation, a marriage and, of course, any holiday – meant that a feast was not far off. The cooking of food is an extension of one’s self – it’s a demonstration of love, taking the time to create something that will bring happiness and comfort to the recipient. That you made it makes it even more special. And let me tell ya, we can cook in the South, y’all. The food is delicious and good for the soul, but unfortunately, it’s not very good for the rest of you.

I’ve been told stories of my Grandpa’s childhood in Illinois during the depression. He had to quit school at a very young age to work the farms. He used to talk about how they cured their food in salt and had to scoop hunks of meat and chicken out of buckets of lard to fry up their breakfast, lunch and dinners. Because nothing went to waste (and because it just tastes so darn good), anything that could be used for seasoning was used – including ham hocks and bacon grease. All of my grandparents grew up with variations of these cooking techniques and have passed their recipes down to my parents and now to me. Unfortunately, they also passed down bad eating habits and a lack of knowledge of good nutrition. Don’t get it twisted – I am so grateful and fortunate for the abundance of food we had growing up, and no one will ever top my family’s cooking (my Dad’s fried chicken is better than anything the Colonel could ever have come up with) – I just wish I’d learned healthier eating habits earlier in my life.

For years, my Popaw kept a drawer full of Hostess snack cakes, which was usually the first place my brother and I would go when we got to their house. I never met Popaw’s parents, but my Mom tells me that my great-grandmother was over 400 lbs. My Granny, who is 92 years old and has a whole myriad of health problems, sits and eats boxes of dry Cap’n Crunch cereal because it tastes good. (I agree with you, Granny!) Ever since I can remember, my Mom has had herself on diet after diet, “failing” time after time, which eventually leads to her gaining more weight than she’d lost. My Dad has a sweet tooth like Granny’s, and I see that in myself, too. And my brother seems to have absolutely no regard for his weight and eats whatever he wants whenever he wants it and doesn’t care how much weight he gains.

The bottom line is, in my family’s culture, we didn’t learn to eat to live…we learned to live to eat. The health value of food was never discussed – just how it tasted and, subconsciously, how it made us feel. We didn’t eat fruit instead of Twinkies – we just ate the Twinkies because that’s what we wanted. If there was a salad, it was iceberg lettuce covered in salad dressing and cheese and crutons, which makes me salivate just to write about, but there’s no real nutritional value to it. It’s no one’s fault, really, that we didn’t know any better, but at some point someone’s got to learn better and make a change.

So I’ve started doing the Weight Watchers Online program again. They’ve changed the program since I did it last – fresh fruits and vegetables used to carry point values and now they don’t – but it’s harder this time around, mostly because in some cities I am completely reliant on eating out for meals. If I’m lucky enough to have a refrigerator and/or microwave in my room, it’s a huge help, but there’s still no substitute for being able to cook your own food and to be able to refrigerate any leftovers. I wasn’t raised to clear my plate – that is rarely ever an issue with the Bratton boys – but as I’ve struggled with money, it has become harder for me to justify throwing food out once I’ve paid for it. What’s worse…wasting food or overeating for the sake of not wasting food? Neither of them are a very great choice. I’m relearning about portion sizes and soon, as I did the first time around, I will be an expert in counting my points and knowing what food has what point value without even having to look it up on the Weight Watchers website or app. It’s the first few weeks that are the toughest, though.

This week I have focused on replacing snacks (read: cakes, cookies, ice cream, etc.) with fruit. I love bananas more than you could possibly understand, so I’ve been relying heavily on them as well as apples, grapes and oranges to satisfy my need for something sweet or just to have something to snack on when I find myself wanting to eat out of boredom. I haven’t weighed in yet, but I do feel a very slight difference in the way my t-shirts and underwear fit me. I still look in the mirror with dismay at my belly and love handles, but I know that if I keep on track, those will diminish with time. I’ll even get my jawline and cheekbones back again. I’ll start to sleep better, which means the bags under my eyes will start to go away, too. And, according to an episode of Oprah that I saw once, for every 35 pounds a man loses, he gains an inch of…well…”manliness.” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’m game for finding out.

This week I’ve also tried to cut myself a little slack and be nicer to myself – to forgive myself for allowing myself to get to this point again and to be proud of myself for making a change. My friend Colleen and I were chatting the other day and I told her I felt like a fat heifer. She promptly reminded me to be careful with my self-talk. It occurred to me that if someone else had called me a fat heifer I’d have been terribly hurt and it made me realize that it is not OK to bully myself, or as Colleen put it, “No need to beat anyone to punches by punching yourself.” She’s a good one and I love her for it. So I’m putting it out here for the world to read – I’m taking control of my weight and I’m going to be kinder to myself about it. By all means, hold me accountable to that, please.

 

Y’See…It’s Just Like I Told You…Wishes Can Come True If You Believe In Them With All Your Heart

5 Apr

It’s been a long time since my last entry. The last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy and exciting and, if you’ll forgive me, magical.

As I wrote in my last entry, I spent last week at Walt Disney World, visiting the parks for the first time in 30 years. The last time I was there was with my grandparents and it was absolutely the most miserable vacation of my life. I got so sunburnt at the beach that I had huge blisters on both shoulders, making it impossible to raise my arms even to take my shirt off, and the ensuing sun poisoning had me puking my way across Orlando. I didn’t really get to enjoy my time at Disney World which, at that time, consisted only of the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. Because Evita was playing Orlando for a week, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to go back and have the experience I had wished for as a kid.

A photo of me looking at a photo of me standing in roughly the same spot 30 years earlier. Very meta and just a little bit magical.

A photo of me looking at a photo of me standing in roughly the same spot 30 years earlier. Very meta and just a little bit magical.

The show’s head electrician, Stephen, and I decided to stay in one of the value resorts on Disney property, sharing a room at the All-Star Sports Resort near Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The room was only $114/night which, when split between the two of us, ended up being cheaper than what we would have paid at the hotel where the company was staying. Parking was included in the resort stay, both at the hotel and at the parks, and we also had access to free shuttle buses to the parks. As resort guests, we also got to enjoy Extra Magic Hours, meaning one of the parks would open an hour early and one would stay open two hours after closing each day exclusively for resort guests. Because we both had to leave for the theatre at 4:30 or 5:00, depending on Orlando traffic, those Extra Magic Hours were crucial in our getting to fully enjoy the parks.

As resort guests, we were also able to test the new MagicBands, which are basically plastic wrist bands with RFID chips in them. These chips connect your MagicBand to your vacation account – you can charge your meals and merchandise to your room with the band, it serves as your room key and park ticket and is connected to your three FastPass+ choices each day, as well. FastPass+ allows you to choose 3 attractions per day (all within the same park) for which you are assigned a time and during that timeframe you are basically able to skip the majority of the line. For instance, you could book FastPass+ for Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean for your day at Magic Kingdom. You are given three or four options for time slots for these reservations, so you can shape your day as you’d like it based on availability. Your FastPass+ time for Haunted Mansion might be 10:30-11:30, Space Mountain from 12:15-1:15 and Pirates from 2:30-3:30. You can show up during that hour-long window of time and get in the FastPass+ line and essentially skip the lines. It’s a great way to basically ensure you get to ride your top 3 attraction picks, but the drawback is that you can only reserve times within the same park and you cannot get FastPass+ for the same ride twice in one day. This past Monday, FastPass+ and MagicBands became available to the general public. I’m curious to see how that works out considering resort guests can make their FastPass+ reservations months in advance – I’m not sure if non-resort guests will have that option.

My MagicBand!

My MagicBand!

Speaking of reservations…I was quite disappointed with the reservation system they have in place for their sit down dining – particularly at Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Disney World offers many food options throughout the 4 parks, including sit down full-service dining, quick-service cafeteria-style dining and food kiosks. In addition to being known for world-class attractions and entertainment, Disney parks are known for their fantastic food – especially in the World Showcase at Epcot – and I was really looking forward to some great meals. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the full-service sit down restaurants were booked months in advance and had no seating available. Stephen and I were able to grab one of the last available tables at the Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom, but it was 11:30 in the morning and even that early, they could barely fit us in. This past Monday, my friend Jonathan and I were able to walk into the Biergarten Buffet in the German section of the World Showcase at Epcot. It was around 4:30 and by the time we left at around 6:00 the place was filling up quickly. (No, we didn’t eat the whole time – there was a great show during our dinner that we took a break to watch).

One of my goals at Magic Kingdom was to eat at the new Be Our Guest restaurant in New Fantasyland. I really wanted to try the Grey Stuff. I hear it’s delicious. That restaurant is booked up 6 months in advance. While that’s no skin off Disney’s back – they’re making their money and there are butts in the seats – there’s little opportunity for park goers without reservations to eat there. Ever. Because it’s so difficult to eat at a sit down restaurant in the parks, the quick service options are constantly packed with lines spilling out the doors and into the specially tinted streets of Frontierland and Fantasyland. Stephen and I waited a good 30 minutes in line at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe only to end up eating our BBQ pork sandwiches sitting on the edge of a flowerbed because all the tables were taken. We were both so hungry at that point that we didn’t care where we sat, as long as we weren’t on our feet any longer and had food in our bellies.

So where did we eat? At Magic Kingdom, we had a great meal at the Liberty Tree Tavern. I had the Pilgrim’s Feast, which is basically Thanksgiving dinner, and it was delicious. Stephen had the same thing, but he also ordered a bowl of clam chowder, which he said was very good. At Pecos Bill’s we had the BBQ pulled pork sandwich and fries. It was very good, but like I said – we were so hungry, I think we would have thought a cardboard box tasted good. We also had gigantic cinnamon rolls at Gaston’s Tavern in New Fantasyland. Here’s a tip: SHARE ONE. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, he and I had a so-so cheeseburger lunch at the ABC Commissary. The original plan was to eat at the 50’s Prime Time Café, but they were booked up with reservations. At Animal Kingdom we had a pretty decent breakfast at Pizzafari – one of the few places we found that actually served breakfast. Here’s a little money- (and calorie-) saving tip: You can order child sized portions and they won’t question you.

 

The Pilgrim's Feast at Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom.

The Pilgrim’s Feast at Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom.

Epcot was where I did some serious eating. My first day there I was nursing a queasy stomach after riding Mission: Space, so I waited too long to get anything in a sit-down restaurant, so I hopped from country to country in the World Showcase and sampled foods from the quick-service restaurants. I had a delicious cinnamon sugar croissant donut in Canada, some fish and chips in the UK and an amazing caramel bar from Germany. We pigged out at the Biergarten Buffet on my second trip to Epcot, where we enjoyed sausages, potato salads, pot roast, roast pork, pork schnitzel, spätzel, German cheesecake, berry compotes and more. The price is a little steep at $40, but it was worth it. I left full, but not sick and didn’t need to eat again until I got back to the hotel at the end of the night.

The Cinnamon Sugar Croissant Donut from the Canadian Pavilion at the World Showcase at Epcot.

The Cinnamon Sugar Croissant Donut from the Canadian Pavilion at the World Showcase at Epcot.

The dinner show at the Biergarten Buffet in the German Pavilion at World Showcase in Epcot.

The dinner show at the Biergarten Buffet in the German Pavilion at World Showcase in Epcot.

My biggest food indulgence on this trip was the incredible Dole Whip and Citrus Swirl floats at the Aloha Isle kiosk in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom. Dole Whip is essentially pineapple soft serve that is only available in a handful of places at Disney World, whereas Citrus Swirl is an orange/vanilla soft serve twist that tastes like an orangesicle. What makes it a float, you ask? The cup of ice cold pineapple juice that the soft serve is floating in. It is the most refreshing thing maybe on the planet and, unfortunately, the floats are only available at the Aloha Isle kiosk in Magic Kingdom, which means lines. There are four windows, but only two lines, so be prepared to wait at least 10 minutes – maybe longer – for your delicious float. It’s totally worth the wait. I promise.

The Citrus Swirl Float from Aloha Isle in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom. Definitely worth the wait.

The Citrus Swirl Float from Aloha Isle in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom. Definitely worth the wait.

If you’re planning a trip to Disney World, be prepared to hurry up and wait. As the busiest theme park in the world, you should expect the lines to be pretty long. It’s quite common to wait an hour or more to get onto any attraction and the wait to meet characters could be just as long, if not longer. It’s no secret that I love to meet the characters – even as a 37 year old man, they’re magical to me. I remember when I was there 30 years ago, the characters would wander around the parks in their appropriate “Land” and we, the guests, could approach them for pictures. No more. With the crowds swelling to 100,000 on capacity days at the Magic Kingdom, poor Mickey Mouse would be absolutely trampled if he were seen just meandering about the park, so characters now have designated areas where guests can wait in line to meet them. Depending on the character, the line could be 5 people deep, which equates to a 5-minute wait, or it could be 50-100 people deep, which means more than an hour. The most popular characters – the Princesses – often have waits of 2 hours or more, though you get more bang for your buck with them as you typically get to meet 2 Princesses in one room. This may sound like a very long time to wait to meet Snow White and Rapunzel – and it is – but it’s nothing compared to the 5-6 hour wait to meet Anna and Elsa at the Norway Pavilion at Epcot. Yes…5-6 hours for a 1-minute meet and greet.

While I really wanted to meet as many characters as I could, I felt it was more prudent to spend my time enjoying the attractions and soaking in the atmosphere, which is as much a part of the experience as anything else. I spent hours with my camera walking around snapping shots of iconic rides and buildings and, yes, characters, trying to capture the spirit of it all in a few thousand photographs. But really, this trip was about reclaiming the experience that I wanted to have when I was a kid, and I really feel I succeeded. Whether it was watching the fireworks at Magic Kingdom or Epcot or seeing the parades or meeting Mickey Mouse (who now talks to you!), I never stopped being amazed and slightly baffled by Disney World. What a strange thing to be a grown man waiting in line to meet a talking mouse or waving at a Princess as she passes by on a giant float or to catch yourself singing along at full voice as you float through Splash Mountain or to catch yourself crying during the fireworks show. Stephen kept pointing out that the parks are basically nothing but a marketing tool to promote Disney’s films – a never-ending opportunity to sell merchandise and make money – and even though the grown-up in me was aware of that, part of me didn’t care. Seeing a Make-A-Wish kid hugging Minnie Mouse – and seeing that Minnie clearly did not want to let go – reminded me of what Disney means to me. Hope. Love. Magic. Dreams coming true. There is something magical about it and I can’t wait to go back and maybe even work there someday.

Minnie Mouse and me on Main Street U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom.

Minnie Mouse and me on Main Street U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom.

This entry has become quite long and there’s still so much I could say about my week with the Mouse. Maybe I’ll write more later, or maybe I’ll just hold on to the rest of my memories as a personal souvenir. But I will share with you some of the photos that I took during the week after the jump. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did when I took them!

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