A Travellerspoint blog

August 2011

The 11 Countries of Epcot - A Bachelor Party in Disney World

STATE 23 - FLORIDA

sunny 100 °F

10 guys are looking for a destination bachelor party. Vegas? Too cliché. New Orleans? Done that. The beach? Did that too. How about a place that appeals to everyone? Disney World!

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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!

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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".

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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?

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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.

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The pastries were delicious, and between our group, I think we sampled one of everything.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The bachelor party was a load of fun, but some members of the group paid for that fun on the car trip back home.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 13:10 Archived in USA Tagged beer brewery bachelor_party Comments (0)

Glacier National Park

STATE 22 - MONTANA

sunny 60 °F

We left behind the beautiful state of Idaho and entered another state just as scenic. Megan and I headed to one of the most awe-inspiring National Parks in the country, Glacier National Park!

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Driving through the Rocky Mountains was just as beautiful crossing from Idaho into Montana as it was driving through the mountains passing from Colorado to Utah. Forested mountains surrounded blue lakes, and it seemed like we were the only people for miles.

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To get to Glacier National Park from Sandpoint, Idaho, we were supposed to follow a state highway north to about 10 miles from the Canadian border, head a couple miles west through a mountain pass, and then come back down south to the entrance of Glacier National Park. It was a long loop, but apparently there are not many passes through the Rocky Mountains in this area. When Megan pulled up the directions to Glacier National Park, the GPS found a direct route through the mountains that would cut 2 hours off our drive. I'm not usually one for blindly following the GPS, but a 2 hour time savings sounded too good to pass up. I left the highway and followed the road heading straight east.

Turning off the highway, the road looked like a standard two lane country road. 15 miles later, it turned into an unmarked paved road.

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In another 15 miles, we were no longer on a paved road.

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At this point, we had been driving for about 40 minutes. We could only drive about 20 MPH since our tiny 2 wheel drive Ford Focus was not quite equipped for off-road travel. I figured that turning around would cost us 40 minutes of time backtracking, plus 2 additional hours of driving time. The road was probably only gravel for a few miles before connecting to another road. Unfortunately, that didn't quite happen.

It turns out that NFSR-401, the name of the road we were on according to the GPS, does not stand for "Neat and Fast Shortcut Route" as I had naively thought, but rather for "National Forestry Service Road". The narrow, unpaved road we were traveling on was used by the National Forestry Service to travel through the Kootenai National Forest. The slow progression down the road was bad, but seeing that we still had another 43 miles until the next turn was even worse. I took a couple deep breaths, and tried to focus on the beautiful scenery around me. That worked until we encountered a log laying across the road.

I slowed the car, and briefly considered turning around. We had been traveling on the detour for over an hour, and it was going to start getting dark soon. I didn't want to be caught driving through a National Forest, on a narrow dirt path, with hundred foot drops at night. I said screw it, and stubbornly decided to continue forward. I punched the accelerator and attempted to "jump" the log. The car slammed into the log, the steering wheel jerked hard to one side, and Megan and I were thrown forward. When we landed, we miraculously ended up on the other side of the the log, and I thanked God when the car still seemed drivable. Expecting that the worst was behind us (there was now only 10 miles until we left the NFSR), we ran into the next obstacle—a river was running over the road.

I always heard you shouldn't drive through standing water, but it's not like we had a choice. I didn't want to try log jumping again, and the water didn't look that deep. Megan, who kept uncharacteristically silent during the log incident, began to openly express her concern with going across the water. I told her that I would try to go through the shallower looking mud and just try to keep moving. Figuring it had worked well before, I punched the accelerator and tried to get as much momentum as possible before reaching the water and mud (while muttering a quick Hail Mary). Water shot off the side of the car as we sliced through the river. We slowed to a crawl, and I fully expected water to start coming in from the door jams. Somehow we made it to the other side without getting stuck.

Thankfully we emerged from the dirt road with our car still intact. Our route through the forest had taken over 3 hours. The previously white, shiny car was now covered in mud and dust. A thousand insects peppered the front grill and windshield, but at least Megan and I had made it through alive. I wish I had more pictures of the off-road ordeal, but honestly I had been too nervous to think about documenting the experience.

Sticking to the main road, we eventually found ourselves on the outskirts of the National Park. We entered an Visitor Center to get more information on which trails through the park were closed. Never did I expect that we would have to worry about trails being closed due to snow at the end of July. It can snow at Glacier National Park at any point during the year, even the middle of summer! The Visitor Center didn't have any information on closed trails because it was actually the Alberta Visitor Center (for traveling into Canada). I took a picture with a mounty, looked around quickly, and then got back into the car to head into the park.

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Glacier National Park is humungous, over a million acres in size. Wildlife is abundant. Mountain goats, black bears, grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, lynx, cougars, wolves, moose, deer, and plenty more can be found throughout the park. Megan was scared to death of encountering a bear while we were out hiking, and I had spent a good portion of the road trip assuring her that we would not see a bear. However, not 30 seconds after paying the entrance fee to enter the park, we came across our first bear.

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It was awesome seeing the bear walk through the forest, although also a little scary. Megan had read up on what to do when encountering a bear (play dead when encountering a grizzly, fight back when encountering a black bear). She had also tried to convince me to get bear bells (bells attached to your backpack that jingle as you hike so you don't sneak up on a bear) and bear spray (heavy duty pepper spray). My fears grew upon stopping at the Visitor Center when we learned that of the top 3 trails we wanted to hike, 1 was closed due to snow, 1 was closed to a bear attack the day before, and the third had both a grizzly and black bear sighting earlier in the morning. To get Megan's mind (and mine) off of bears, we walked outside to take in the view of Lake McDonald and head to a bear-free trail.

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We took the bus to the Avalanche Trail trailhead. There is only one road that winds through the mountains of Glacier National Park, Going To the Sun Road. It is incredibly scenic, as we caught spectacular views of Lake McDonald and the surrounding mountains.

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We did a quick hike through the Trail of the Cedars before heading up Avalanche Trail. The trail was only a couple miles long following an ice-cold, cool-blue stream. The trail was fairly busy, with a large number of people jingling from their bear bells. With all the foot traffic, it seemed unlikely that a bear would be anywhere close to this trail (I was both relieved, but also disappointed). Bears, or no bears, the hike along the stream and through the woods was great.

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At the end of the trail we encountered a glacier lake, Avalanche Lake, that was the source of the stream. The sun was warm, and encouraged us to wade out into the water. The water was like ice! Waterfalls streamed down the mountain ridges in the distance, and the clear, blue water sparkled magnificently.

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We sat on the edge of the water and took in the scenery. It was late in the afternoon, so the crowds had thinned out, and we were almost left alone. Once our feet had thawed from wading the water, we put our boots back on and made our way back down to the bus stop. Tomorrow morning we planned on getting an early start to do a full day hike on the trail with the multiple bear sightings.

We parked our car at the trailhead leading to the Granite Park Chalet. The sun was just starting to rise over the horizon, and everything was eerily quiet. The trail lead straight up one of the mountains to an overnight camping lodge, although we planned to hike back down later in the afternoon. We were the first ones on the trail that morning, and a sign that said "Entering Grizzly Country" reminded me that this trail had bear sightings the day before.

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As we hiked, Megan did her best to engage me in a conversation (one of the tactics to prevent a bear attack is to make noise while hiking, such as talking loudly, to make sure you don't surprise them), but I am not much of a conversationalist on the trail. Plus, I thought, I would be able to spot a bear well before we got close enough for it to be a threat. About that time, the bushes rustled 10 feet in front of me and a large animal jumped onto the trail.

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It was only a deer, but it could have been a mouse and I would have been just as startled. If I didn't see a deer 10 feet away, I was just as likely to miss the bear. On either side of the trail, grasses and flowers rose 4 feet, almost totally obscuring the immediate view. Once my heart started beating at a normal pace, we started back up the trail.

The first part of the trail wound through a section of dead trees. A wildfire had burned 10% of the park in 2003. The dead trees weren't as pretty as the live ones, but they allowed clear views of the surrounding mountains while we hiked.

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Wildflowers were everywhere on the trail, adding vibrant color and contrast to the green fields and trees. Pink and purple, yellow and white, big and small, flowers were in every color and size.

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Eventually the trail wound above the treeline and offered awesome views of the mountains and glaciers off in the distance.

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About 2/3 the way up the trail, snow and ice began to dot the side of the mountain and eventually covering the pathway. The trail also wound back through a heavily forested area. Megan began trying to talk to me loudly again, so I knew she was nervous about entering the forest. After an hour or so of clear visibility, we could no longer see what was waiting around each turn.

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Deciding it was time to take a break, I turned around to give Megan some water. I noticed she was carrying something in each hand. When I asked her what she had, she held up a rock in each hand. She had picked up weapons to use in case a bear attacked. One rock was her "stunning rock", a larger baseball-sized rock, while the other rock was the "cutting rock" due to its sharp edges. In the event of encountering a bear, I was now more likely to be pelted with rocks as to be attacked by a bear.

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We made it safely through the woods and up to the Granite Park Chalet. The view was outstanding.

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We sat down outside the lodge and ate a light lunch. Chipmunks scattered about, anxiously awaiting for us to drop something. From the lodge, the trail forked to go different directions. We watched hikers attempt to cross snow covered passes off in the distance. Only one group made it successfully across, the others turning around to come back to the lodge. The cold bite in the air encouraged us to begin the hike back down the mountain.

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We got back to the car and decided to drive the rest of the Going To the Sun Road through the park. The entire road was over 40 miles long, but it offered magnificent views of roadside waterfalls, valley views, and mountain ridges. The road was uncomfortably tight, and delays due to road construction gave us plenty of time to soak in the views. Upon reaching the far side of the park, we encountered a totally different view of the park. The great plains of the middle of country stretched out as far as we could see, a stark contrast to Rocky Mountains behind us. We circled around the park to begin the long drive back into Washington to catch our flights home.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 10:10 Archived in USA Tagged mountains animals hiking national_park world_heritage_site Comments (0)

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