On Monday I took a half day off to go to Epcot with my daughter. She made the very hard to get reservations months ago, for dinner at the Spice Road Table restaurant, and then the Candlelight Processional with Neil Patrick Harris as narrator. Epcot rotates a series of celebrity narrators through this event, and NPH and Whoopi Goldberg are definitely the biggest names. The rest were bona fide celebrities like Meredith Viera, but when I think "stage performance before a live orchestra and choir," I really don't think Cal Ripken, Jr. No kidding, he's one of the readers this year. Like the rest of the huge crowd, we wanted the guy with the Tony Award or Whoopi, so it was a very full theater.
We got there mid-afternoon, which was plenty of time to ride on Soarin' (still fabulous) and wander the shops before our 4 p.m. dinner reservation at Spice Road Table. We were starved. Neither of us had eaten lunch, so we were ravenous when we arrived. We weren't sure how the Candlelight Processional Dinner Package worked, and thought there would be a fixed menu for the event, as we'd paid a fixed price. Nope, we got to choose an appetizer, entree, and dessert off the regular dinner menu! Happiness!
We ate ourselves sick: We had the calamari and a precious mini baked brie topped with apricot and rosemary (the rosemary was a fantastic touch) for appetizers. She had the skewers of beef and chicken, I went with the tuna. I considered the vegetarian platter, which sounded really good, but I still have fond thoughts of the vegetarian platter across the way at the Tangerine Cafe, and didn't want to get something so similar for twice the price. It was a case of eating myself sick to get my money's worth, but I've been good ever since, I swear! The tuna was incredible - be warned, it is a bit on the spicy side, full of flavor but with a kick. I happen to love that kind of heat, and I became one of those people who takes pictures of their food.
On a heat-related note, I was reintroduced to the joy of iced mint tea! I used to make this regularly years ago, but stopped for no good reason at all. It was the perfect balance to the spicy calamari sauce and the even spicier grilled tuna, and now I want it all the time again.
It was a great experience and highly recommended. The wait staff is from Morocco and most have excellent English, but our waiter made up for his relatively thick accent with a lot of smiling charm and gesturing. Overall, the food was wonderful and the service excellent, and we will have to do it again sometime. My recommendation: unless you really want to stuff yourself, you could have a very enjoyable meal doing nothing but the appetizer small plates and then dessert, or split one entree, they are generous. That slab of tuna was ginormous, and my daughter's skewers of beef and chicken were not skimpy. We were stuffed to the point of pain by the time we scooped up the last of the amazing pistachio, orange water, and saffron custard dessert. It looked like creme brûlée, but had a totally unique flavor and an incredibly light texture. I'd love to learn to make it, but suspect it would take a week of full time training in their kitchen just to get close to the texture. It made the best creme brûlée I've ever had seem like Jello pudding from a box. We could taste the distinct flavors of pistachio and orange water! The texture and delicate flavors were absolutely amazing.
When were were stuffed to the point of waddling in pain, we wandered a few more shops before it was time for the Candlelight Processional.
Needless to say NPH was a HUGE draw, and even the people with reserved seating like us were lined up long before the show. We became concerned that we'd have to stand around in line even with reserved seating, but were reassured that we could show up 10 minutes before the show and we'd be fine. The reserved seating line grew and grew, and we went from concerned to mildly freaked out because holy shit the line snaked around an insane distance and doubled back twice, and that theater doesn't look that big! They started seating about a half hour before the show, and we saw the line snaking forward and joined the end of it. Despite not standing in line forever, we had excellent seats halfway back in the middle of the theater. Trust Mickey's people, they know what they're doing seating these things.
The performance was wonderful, NPH was delightful, it was all worth it. I didn't take any pictures because I found the other people taking pictures and recording stuff damn distracting, so my phone remained in my bag. We agreed that Delaney wasn't quite ready for it, but would be by next year, when she'll know all the hymns instead of just a couple. YMMV, but I'd say six or seven is the right age to actually sit still and watch this. It's not an active show. It's the reader, the orchestra, the huge choir. Nobody dances and there are no princess appearances. It's a lovely big kid/grownup event, but unless you're raising a tiny choir kid already, it may get a bit boring. And here's a tip - don't sit on the sides up close. There are trumpeters on the wings of the stage. Just saying.
We did learn something we hadn't known, because I don't think we visited at Christmas before. (I know it sounds like I live there, but I really don't.) Epcot does a delightful Christmas around the world thing in the countries that celebrate, and it is an introduction to the many faces of Santa. We noticed a pretty display in the back courtyard of Great Britain and wondered what it was for, then went shopping nearby. While we were wandering the shops and my daughter was deciding whether to invest in anything Yardley, I heard a booming voice and stepped outside. It was Father Christmas! We later figured out that Father Christmas, Pere Noel, La Befana and I forget who else appear in their countries around the World Showcase, to talk about Christmas in their countries, and it's very small and personal, not a big stage show. We had to stop and listen to the end of La Befana's scheduled performance, and it was very charming and interesting. Holidays Around the World. Now we're trying to figure out how to fit it into the scant three weeks before Christmas, which is an even smaller window due to our passholder block out dates. Our passes don't work for the two weeks right around Christmas. We'd already planned to do the Magic Kingdom this weekend, and then Delaney has a dance performance and the Apopka Christmas Parade and other things going on, so we may have to postpone Epcot's Christmas until next year. But, knowing my daughter as I do, I suspect it will be squeezed into the schedule somehow.