STATE 23 - FLORIDA
08/13/2011 100 °F
10 guys piled into one van and hit the road to head south to Florida. The road trip is half the fun, and we definitely made the most of it. The first stop was the Florida visitor center. Florida is so proud of their orange juice (74% of all US oranges are grown in Florida), they give everyone as much as they can drink for free!
Our next step was a quick drive further south in Jacksonville, the Budweiser Brewery (it is a bachelor party, you know it wouldn't take long for alcohol to enter the picture).
Unsurprisingly, the Budweiser brewery wasn't too much different from the Coors Brewery in Golden, CO and the Miller Brewery in Milwaukee. Just like for the Miller tour, we had a person that showed us around the brewery and gave us the details on how Budweiser is made.
Malted grains, hops, lager yeast, cold storage—the same basic process that beer makers have been following for centuries. Budweiser's main innovation is using beechwood in the fermentation process to help the lager yeast better process the sugars. After a quick run through the factory, we entered the tasting room. A couple of cold ones later (and 3 bags of pretzels apiece), we were back on the road to Orlando.
So the plan for the bachelor party was to "drink around the world". Epcot has 11 countries, each recreated as authentic as possible (as authentic as a major resort can be). Each country is staffed only by native residents, has authentic food, traditional entertainment, and most importantly, authentic beverages. We pulled into Epcot, eager to start the bar crawl. First things first, we posed with the iconic "golf ball", Spaceship Earth.
The countries are laid out in a giant loop around a lake. We chose to go counter-clockwise, starting with our neighbor to the north, Canada! It was only 10 in the morning, but our Canadian bartender didn't even flinch when we ordered 10 Moosehead beers.
With beers in hand, we walked through the Canadian Rockies, past Niagara Falls, and through an Inuit village. About the only thing not authentic about our surroundings was the Florida heat. We paused inside the Canadian gold mine to drink our beer in the air conditioning.
On our way out of Canada, we paused to see how many people could fit into a Canadian phone booth. We even had some anti-American talk when a group of foreigners claimed that we could have fit twice as many people in if we hadn't been "super-sized Americans".
The next country was the United Kingdom (UK refers to the union of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, while Great Britain refers to the largest island of the British Isles containing England, Scotland, and Wales). Where else to grab a local brew but in an English Pub?
We convinced the barkeeps to serenade us with the British national anthem, God Save the Queen. Interestingly enough, the words to the anthem change when a king rules the country, to God Save the King. It was tough to leave the comfy surroundings of the pub and head back into the sticky, humid heat.
The next country was France, which was located across a channel. Street artists and performers filled the center square, recreating the artistic backdrop of Paris. An acrobatic display was ensuing as a man balanced himself on a stacked table and chairs. A delightful smell made its way to our group, and we headed into the closest pastry shop.
The pastries were delicious, and between our group, I think we sampled one of everything.
While most of us stuck to a French beer, Erik wandered off into a French store, tried on the local garb, and left with a glass of French champagne (champagne refers to wine produced in the Champagne region of France, versus the more widely produced sparkling wine).
We left the artful country of France behind, and entered the more gritty Morocco. Not passing the opportunity to get some Moroccan food, I grabbed lunch to eat in the open air cafe. The lamb, hummus, tabouli, and couscous were delicious, and the open air cafe was surprisingly cool.
While enjoying the Moroccan beer, we noticed a long line forming along the waterfront. Someone informed us that Aladdin and Princess Jasmine were scheduled to make an appearance, so we jumped in line with the rest of the 9 year-olds to anxiously await their arrival. It might have been the beers, but Aladdin's joke to Ryan that "marriage is a whole new world" had us laughing pretty hard.
After talking to Aladdin, I realized that Disney paid attention to even the most minor details. Aladdin and Jasmine never broke character for a second, responding to questions about Abu without missing a beat. The buildings, food, and entertainment were painstakingly authentic, and even the bathrooms were decorated in Moroccan style.
The next country was Japan, complete with temples and Japanese drummers. Several members of the group grabbed some sushi for lunch. Ryan, Greg, and I skipped the Japanese beer for a drink of hot sake (it didn't go well with the 100 degree heat).
We took a break from the bar crawl to head back to the center of Epcot to ride a few rides. Disney has a "fast pass" system that allows you to grab a ticket for a ride and return at a specified time. This way you don't waste time waiting in line, but rather show up and jump on without any hassle. We rode "Soarin'", a simulated hang gliding experience through California. As you pass over the ocean, you can smell the salt in the air and feel the sea breeze in your face. You pass an orange grove and can smell the citrus. Flying over the forest, you can smell the pine trees. All this while hovering 40 feet above the ground in a mock hang glider. It was entertaining, but I'm glad we didn't wait longer than 10 minutes to ride it. After leaving "Soarin'", we passed my favorite Disney character, Figment.
On our way back to continue the bar crawl, we passed the ride Captain EO. Captain EO is a 4D experience (a 3D movie with special effects that make you feel like you are involved in the scenes). Captain EO is a science fiction film that mixes a Michael Jackson music video with Star Wars-like action sequences. A couple members of the group begged the rest of us to wait for the next showing, so we made our way into the theater. The 1980s 3D effects left you with a headache, and Michael Jackson's acting was atrocious, but the overall movie was about what you'd expect. If anything, it saved us from the heat for another 30 minutes. One member of our group, Dave, decided to play in the fountains for a little extra refreshment.
We walked back to the country loop to pick up where we left off. The halfway point around the loop was home, sweet, home, the United States. In America we watched a Revolutionary-era band perform and then ordered a round of Sam Adams. The effects of the beer flowing full effect, we convinced a cute American beer-maiden to take a picture with us.
Our next stop was Italy, decorated in the more modern Italian style of Venice with only a hint of ancient Rome. Here the group had some gelato and Italian beer, and briefly posed in front of Neptune.
We entered Oktoberfest in Germany next, and after breezing through the previous two countries, we took our time here. Some of us wandered through the German beer caves while others chatted with German bartenders. A German woman showed us giant beer tankards and das boot (as cool as they were, I was afraid to hold it for the $200 price tag). I grabbed a warm, German soft pretzel that went perfect with the Oktoberfest beer.
We left Germany and headed into China. The smell of stir-fry and eggrolls filled the Chinese market. All of the workers at Disney had been overly courteous and accommodating to our large group, but the Chinese went above and beyond. They taught members of our group Chinese phrases and posed in multiple pictures. I'm not sure if they found us entertaining in our slightly intoxicated state, or they were genuinely interested in mingling with us. We grabbed another quick bite to eat, drank another beer, and continued on our way.
Norway was my favorite stop. The bachelor party felt most at home in the Viking decorated Norwegian village. Cute bartenders convinced us to take the "viking test", which was to take a shot of Norse liquor without making a face. Jon opted for another pastry, the "Viking Horn". Our party hung out in the viking hall while we finished the Norwegian beers. Night was beginning to fall, but we only had one more country left, Mexico.
It was ironic that the only country located entirely indoors was the one we visited last. Mexico was located inside an Incan temple. Locals were making trinkets by hand while intimidating temples loomed overhead.
Some of the group went straight to the tequila bar, while the rest of us ordered margaritas. Nothing like ending a bar crawl with a hard liquor drink.
A few of us left the bar and went back outside to get ready for the fireworks show. Epcot, like the rest of the Disney parks, puts on an extravagant fireworks show every night. 30 minutes of fire, rockets, and floating displays mesmerized the crowd. It was impressive, but after the show, we hustled out of the park to catch the bus to go out in downtown Disney.
The bachelor party was a load of fun, but some members of the group paid for that fun on the car trip back home.