Rich’s Birthday Celebration Part 1: Na-vi River Journey and Nomad Lounge

One of the fun things about living here is checking for FastPass+ for some of the more popular rides in the 30-day window – you never know what you might find. We’d heard about the craziness of Pandora’s opening day (just entering the park had to be scheduled), and thought we might not be able to ride either of the two new rides until after the summer crowds were over.

But I happened to notice an opportunity for the night before Rich’s birthday and thought what a fun birthday kickoff that would be. Besides, he was taking his birthday off so it would be okay if we were out late on a work night. This was also the first time we’d experience Animal Kingdom at night since they started extending the hours. For most of its history, it would close around 7 pm or so, and we had only experienced it during the morning hours.

We arrived at the park at around 6 pm or so (I think our FP was for about 7 pm), parked, and trammed to the entrance. We noticed right away that there was a lot of shade at this time of day, which was a relief because AK can be very hot. It was busy but not unpleasantly so. We stopped off at Guest Relations so Rich could get his birthday button. He got a lot of happy birthday wishes. We even stopped at PhotoPass, the first we’d done that since we got our APs.

We explored Pandora and were very impressed with it. Animal Kingdom used to be somewhere we’d go about every 5 years – lol! But now it may be our second favorite park, although it’s certainly giving Epcot a run for its money.

We enjoyed the ride so much, we’ve made another FP and can’t wait to return. (Besides, we need to see the rest of the park because we really didn’t see much other than Pandora).

Afterwards we stopped in at Nomad Lounge and peeked into Tiffins. We were quite impressed with both. But with birthday dinner the next day, we were there for appetizers and drinks. It was a bit warm outside so we found a nice air-conditioned table and chairs inside and ordered our drinks.

Rich got the Lamu Libation, a Rum Runner type drink, and I got the Hightower Rocks, a watermelon Margarita – so refreshing! Then we ordered the Florida LionFish Tacos and Pork Ribs. The tacos were refreshing, although the shell was too dainty and broke, making eating it a bit difficult. But the ribs, oh my goodness, absolutely delicious!

Afterwards, we walked around outside the lounge, making plans to return next time after dark when it’s a bit cooler out there. The tables for two are a bit small so that might be best saved for drinks only, although there are couches and tables for larger parties.

We headed back to Pandora to take another look around in the dark – the atmosphere is so amazing. We’d skipped dessert at Nomad Lounge (Churros was the only choice), so we picked up some dessert at a walk-up – some kind of cream cheese pineapple eggroll, I think. It was tasty, although the filling squirted out and got a bit messy.

Anyway, we then headed back to our “resort,” which is about 45-minutes to an hour away, depending on where we are in the park and traffic. But, having lived 2 miles from WDW for a year, we know the back roads pretty well.

It was really a wonderful way to kick off Rich’s birthday. Unlike my birthday when we did a morning activity, back to the resort, and then back to Disney for dinner, we split it up – evening activity the night before, back to the resort for a restful morning, and then back to Disney for birthday dinner.

The lush Pandora grounds

The ceiling in the Nomad Lounge (while there we chatted with a couple who lived in Windermere, where we used to live). They were staying onsite for the wife’s birthday.

Lamu Libation

Hightower Rocks

LionFish Tacos

Pork Ribs


Looking back at Nomad Lounge

Rich’s Birthday Celebration Part 2: Citricos

By Rich

The Grand Floridian is a beautiful place to celebrate, and Citricos was the perfect restaurant for my birthday dinner.

We were seated in an excellent location at a table for two near the exhibition kitchen and the private wine room/dining room. Our server, Naow, was very good. He was attentive and helpful, with some humor too.

The bread basket was first. It included some warm, delicious kalamata olive bread. A very tasty start.

Menu

Amuse-bouche
Rich & Kathy
Watermelon and Goat Cheese<

Entree

Kathy

Bell & Evans Chicken
Fregula Pasta, Mushrooms, Spinach, Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, Chicken Jus

Rich

Wild-caught Halibut
Saffron Jasmine Rice, Clams, Calico Scallops, Chorizo Vinaigrette

Dessert

Birthday Dessert
Custard in a Cone with cream and chocolate

Rich & Kathy

Florida Key Lime Pie
Baked in a Graham Cracker Tart Shell served with fresh Strawberries and a Quenelle of Sweet Mandarin Sorbet

Wine

Kathy: Lafond Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County, CA

Rich: Kurt Russel’s GoGi “Goldy” Chardonnay

The amuse-bouche was a fresh start, well balanced between the sweetness of the watermelon and the tanginess of the goat cheese.

Kathy had the chicken. Who knew chicken could be so good? I had a taste with all the accompaniments, and it was amazing. Full-flavored, juicy, and smoky. The sun-dried tomato pesto was a perfect match.

I had the halibut. I love well-prepared fish, and this was no exception. It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The rice was creamy with the lovely semi-sweet taste of the saffron. Of course, I also love clams and scallops, and they paired splendidly with the fish. The chorizo vinaigrette tied it all together.

We both selected the suggested wine pairings for our entrees, although we were actually thinking of getting the opposite. In the end, the suggested pairings were perfect. Kathy’s California Pinot Noir stood up nicely to the rich chicken, and my Chardonnay added a brightness to the fish without overpowering it.

For dessert, we ordered the key lime pie (one of our favorite desserts) to share. Before we could eat that though, Naow brought out a birthday dessert for me — custard in a cone with rich cream and a chocolate that said “Happy Birthday” on it. Kathy and Naow serenaded me with a much-appreciated rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

The key lime pie was fantastic — just the right touch for ending a fabulous meal.

It was a fantastic birthday meal. The food, the service, the atmosphere, and the company of my beautiful wife made for a memorable evening. We will definitely be back to enjoy Citricos again.

Thoughts from Kathy:

After dinner, we sat down in Mizner’s but it was crowded and noisy and didn’t have the vibe we wanted that night. So we got up and walked over to the Poly, for old times’ sake. It was a very romantic stroll and, as usual, we enjoyed the grounds. However, the inside “renovation” – oh dear, it was pretty bad, in our opinions. We doubt we’ll be back there. It just looks so tired and why don’t they add a nice adult, upscale restaurant? It’s even more family friendly (family exclusive?) than before.

Even Trader Sam’s was in an odd location. We peeked into that, too, but the one at Disneyland is far better. So we headed back to the GF, picked up our car parked halfway between the two (or at least, it seemed) and drove home remembering every bite of the amazing food and awesome service. We’d put Citricos on the same level as Napa Rose at the GC.

Mizner’s Orchestra on the Mezzanine

Kurt Russell Chardonnay

Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir

Watermelon with Goat Cheese Amuse Bouche

Bell and Evans Chicken

Halibut with clams and scallops

Complimentary Birthday Custard

Key Lime Pie

The Grand Floridian

The Polynesian Village

A Magical Disney Birthday at Narcoossee’s

Surprisingly enough, we’d never eaten at a Grand Floridian restaurant but had noticed Narcoossee’s one evening when we landed at the GF dock after cruising around Bay Lake a few years back. So I chose to have my birthday dinner there. Rich made a 7:10 reservation.

After our lunch outing at Hangar Bar, we returned to our “resort” home for naps and then headed back to WDW at around 5 pm. We took a toll road but the city streets leading to I-4 were so packed, we were thinking we’d barely make it in time. Orlando is undergoing such growing pains – I-4 is almost always jammed and under construction almost everywhere. That’s why we do our best to avoid it but, like I said, the roads that cross over I-4 can get pretty backed up.

We finally moved beyond I-4 and once we were on the toll road, we were doing great. We pulled up to the GF gate for the first time and told the guard we had ressies for Narcoossee’s. Unfortunately, we didn’t know exactly where self-park was and we drove in a circle – lol! We stopped the second time around and asked the CM valet where self-park was and he directed us to self-park over by the villas.

We parked and wandered over to the Spa to take our first look of the area since the Villas arrived. We strolled back through the Villas, and then on into the GF. We noticed Cinderella and Prince Charming posing with some kids so we stopped to take a few pics and then on out to Narcoossee’s because by then it was getting close to our reservation. The CM first attempted to seat us in sort of an upstairs area and we asked for a window table. So we were led back to the front desk and he checked to see if we could, indeed, be seated by the window. We were.

Our server introduced himself and when Rich told him it was my birthday, he made the obvious crack about how, at his age, he stopped celebrating as if I might want to too, since I was probably near his age. I only started celebrating my birthday 21 years ago when Rich and I got together (forbidden in my family’s religious background) so I celebrate with gusto every chance I get. Rich is so good at making this happen for me.

On the other hand, I’ve turned off notifications and try to avoid Facebook on birthdays and holidays because FB has enabled some weird interactions in the past, and I don’t need that on my birthday.

Rich was reviewing the wine list and I reminded him of a Disney friend’s recommendation for the Sequoia Grove red from Napa – I have a special tradition with Napa, Redwoods, and Sequoia National Park and drinking a wine with that name would be so special. I looked at the menu but I was still a bit full from lunch at the Hangar Bar and was tempted to just order an appetizer, but then thought, oh it’s my birthday – I need the full experience of a main course. So, here’s what we ordered:

Rich:

Seared Line Caught Swordfish
Toy Box Tomatoes, Marble Potatoes, and Basil Aïoli

Kathy:

Wild Caught Shrimp and Garganelli Pasta
Spinach, Oven-roasted Tomatoes, Basil Pistou, Cheese, and Chardonnay-Garlic Cream

Our server put in our order and brought two glasses of the wine, and some bread. I had planned to ignore the bread but the longer we sat there, the hungrier I got and we soon realized nobody was getting served. So we started sipping the wine. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this wine is a food wine – not a sipping wine – and it was a bit powerful for me without any food. If I’d known we were going to be sipping for so long, I might have ordered something lighter to begin with. But I didn’t know so I started in on the bread and the wine went down a lot more smoothly – lol!

Fellow guests were getting cranky the longer the wait was. The table behind us had been seated at 6:30 and by now it was 8 p.m. with no food in sight. The couple across from us downed more and more champagne. We started seeing food pass us by, plate after plate, dish after dish. Finally, the table behind us got their food but the steaks were overcooked. By this time I was worried the food wouldn’t be any good – what a birthday, huh?

Eventually, our entrees were served at 8:25 p.m. By this time we really were hungry! The good news is, the food was really, really good!! The server then redeemed the situation with a birthday dessert: the (recommended by a Disney friend) Almond Cheesecake, which was amazing and two glasses of champagne. Apparently, the kitchen thought it was also our anniversary (actually, next month). The server joked that we’d sat there so long, it practically was our anniversary – lol!

The other good news was that by the time we finished this amazing dinner, the new Happily Ever After fireworks were starting and so we got to see those, too. And then after that, the Electric Water Pageant had begun so we sat out on the balcony and enjoyed those. Disney had certainly saved the birthday with some pretty awesome Disney magic!

We ended the night with a stroll through the GF and some music at Mizner’s. It was, indeed, a very magical birthday!