Saturday, May 12, 2012

Expedition Everest Challenge 2012 - Day 1 & Packet Pickup

I had such a fantastic vacation at Walt Disney World that I almost don't even know where to begin with this trip report. One of my goals for the trip was to go with the flow more and not worry about trying to fit everything in.  With that in mind, I didn't set a morning alarm at all during the trip. I think the first morning (Friday), I stayed in bed until around 10-10:30am. I thought about starting my day with packet pickup, but I was hungry so I went to Hollywood Studios to seek out some food instead.

I'd heard about something called a banana split from Starring Rolls Cafe that I never had a chance to try last year, so this time I made it my first "meal" of the trip. It's basically a creamy banana pudding on a chocolate graham cracker-like base with whipped cream on top. The textures and the rich banana flavor were incredible.

I picked up a fastpass for Toy Story Mania (for later that night), then figured I should get at least one attraction in while I was at the park so I waited in line and rode Tower of Terror. Then I stopped at Starring Rolls again and picked up a gigantic Butterfinger cupcake to take back to my hotel room for later.

From Hollywood Studios, I took the boat over to Epcot to look for more food. Actually, what I like to do is take the boat from Hollywood Studios to the Yacht & Beach Club stop, then walk from there to Epcot. That way I stay off my feet for the majority of the journey, but make it to Epcot slightly faster than the boat (because it makes another stop at the Boardwalk before finally reaching Epcot).

Friendship Boat at the Yacht & Beach Club dock

Epcot has so many great dining options that it's always hard to decide where to go. I swung by the bakery at the France Pavilion, but nothing appealed to me so I continued on to Japan where I tried the okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) from Katsura Grill.

I've had a Korean pancake with a firm, almost crispy texture that I really liked and I was expecting the okonomiyaki to be similar. Instead I was a bit disappointed that the inside was very soft, to the point where I was slightly worried that it might not be thoroughly cooked. (I didn't suffer any stomach problems afterwards so I guess that's how the okonomiyaki is supposed to be served.) What saved it from being a mushy disaster was the crunchiness of the cabbage filling and the tangy sauce on top. I liked it enough that I polished it off, but it's not something I'll probably order again.

I wandered around the rest of the World Showcase and caught a glimpse of some topiaries on my way out of the park.

I took the bus back to All Star Sports to drop off my cupcake, then another bus over to the ESPN Wide World of Sports for the Expedition Everest Challenge packet pickup. I was getting nervous waiting for the bus to arrive, but I made it just in time for the course talk at 4pm.

Ultimately there wasn't anything major discussed at the course talk that I really needed to know. But I did ask for clarification on whether we needed to look for scavenger hunt hints/clues during the 5k run, and the answer (thank goodness) was no. In the past, the 5k and scavenger hunt have always been separate components, but there was a change in the race description on the website this year that made it sound like we'd need to keep our eyes open for information during the run. While it would have been an interesting twist to the event, I'm glad that it was separate because usually when I'm running hard I don't pay that much attention to my surroundings.

After the talk, I went over to another area to pick up my race bib, shirt, etc. Unfortunately Disney race shirts are always unisex except for the female-focused events (Princess, Tinkerbell) so I've never been able to wear them. Since it's the 5th anniversary of the race, Disney threw in a dinky pin and temporary tattoo. The race packet also included a commemorative pin that I purchased, and a bracelet for the after party at Animal Kingdom. On the race bib there's a weird graphic that looks almost like a QR code except it doesn't scan. I didn't notice it until after I left packet pickup and I never did figure out what it was for.

Every year Disney has this giant graffiti mural for people to sign. I'm not really sure what the relevance is, other than it looks cool and gives people something to do. Next year I'll have to try and remember to ask what they do with it after the event.

I took a photo of myself with the sign listing all the people who have done the Expedition Everest Challenge every year. There's not that many of us! 

I also stopped by the solutions booth to get my special gift for being a 5-time participant. I had no idea what the gift would be, and I was happily surprised to get this little guy...

In case you can't tell, it's a stuffed yeti with Mickey ears. On the back of the ears, it says "2012 - Perfect 5th Adventure".

And that's pretty much it for packet pickup. Then it was back on the bus to my hotel where I spent some time in my room just hanging out for awhile and enjoying the butterfinger cupcake I picked up earlier. Eventually I headed back out to Hollywood Studios.

I used my fastpass for Toy Story Mania... so much fun! When I finished the wait time was only 40 minutes, which is pretty low for the attraction. I considered waiting for another go at it, but decided to watch the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show instead. Ariel's pitch was a little off that night, but overall it's a good show.

By then it was about 8:30pm. I'd been planning to go to Epcot for dinner and Extra Magic Hours anyway, and I realized if I left right away I'd probably be able to catch IllumiNations too. So I took another boat ride/walk over to Epcot. IllumiNations isn't my favorite nighttime show, but I'm glad I got a chance to see it. For dinner I had a lamb wrap with a side of couscous from the Tangierine Cafe in Morocco.

Then I headed to The Land Pavilion. The line for Soarin' was long enough that I decided to skip it, but I did ride Living with the Land and watched the Circle of Life movie for the first time. The movie was interesting enough, but probably not something I'll do again for several years. I always enjoy the Living with the Land boat ride though. It's fascinating to see the different types of fruits and vegetables being grown and the innovative techniques that are used.

It was around midnight by the time I got back to my hotel. I love nighttime Disney races and not having to worry about going to bed super early. I pretty much stayed on Pacific time throughout the whole trip.

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