Trip Report – Syfy Digital Press panels, Mythos Restaurant, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

[This is a trip report from October 2010, being included as a new post as part of the site redesign]

Day 1 – Arrival, Food and Wine, Bice Restaurant, Halloween Horror Nights

This was an unexpected trip. I got invited to the Syfy Digital Press Tour event in Orlando (via one of my other sites, the SF news site Sci-Fi Storm, which was about to have its 10th anniversary) a few weeks before. I’ve been invited to them in the past, but the lead time was often insufficient to make arrangements, and they were often more remote – but Orlando I could do, especially since I can stay on DVC points or get a cheap room down at Disney, so I jumped at the chance.

The event was being held over at Universal Studios Orlando (the Syfy Channel is owned by NBC Universal), and included two big benefits – an exclusive “RIP Tour” of Halloween Horror Nights on the first night, and exclusive after hours access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter on the second night! Plus, the Food and Wine Festival was going on at Epcot!

I was able to get cheap airfare (had some credit with JetBlue) and a cheap room at POP Century – after I booked I found out they had a room reserved already for me at the Portofino Bay Resort – but this one cost me almost 1/3rd the rate with an AP discount, even at Syfy’s discounted rate.

The first event was a dinner reception for attendees, so I decided to get down there early, get settled and run over to Epcot for Food and Wine. Of course, that meant an early start at 3:30am to get to the airport for a 6am flight…the flight itself was uneventful and on time, and once I touched down I just went straight to the Hertz counter, got my car, and zipped down 417 to WDW. Fortunately I brought quarters for tolls as the last toll is a 50 cent unmanned toll – although I later learned that the car had a built-in SunPass transponder and I could have used that (there is an additional daily charge for using it though). Although 417 is relatively boring it feels faster to me than the Beachline – but the Beachline is cheaper in tolls.

It didn’t take long to get to POP Century, and I had already done online check-in, so I got my room fast…in the same building as the last trip! Only the second floor this time, and they were doing rehab on the 4th floor although I never really noticed it.

Once I got settled in, I ran over to Epcot. I had a Give A Day voucher that I was going to convert into an Annual Pass (which would cover our December trip as well), so I went up to the Will Call window – and realized I forgot the voucher. No worries though, an extra 20 seconds was all it took to look me up, and I soon had my Annual Pass and headed straight in.

I met up with Mike (Cheshire Figment on the DISboards), a Cast Member and something of a historian on WDW matters. As we traveled around the World Showcase sampling some of the foods, he filled me in on some history and some rumors.

I had limited time as I needed to get to Universal for dinner, so this was sort of a quick “snack around the world”. Our first stop was at the new “Charcuterie & Cheese” stop in Canada. There we had the “Nueske’s Charcuterie Plate” – slices of applewood-smoked beef, duck and ham. Very tasty and a decent amount for the price. Alas, I was still in travel shock and talking to Mike so didn’t think to take pictures until later.

While passing the UK’s stands, I grabbed a Guinness, and we continued around, chatting. Over in Morocco I picked up a “Beef in a Pita Pocket”, which was more like the kefta pockets they had a couple years ago, but with more meat this time, and very tasty. This was one of DD#1’s favorites from 2008.

Next was a stop at the Hops & Barley kiosk at the American Adventure, where they featured a selection of Sam Adams brews, including this year’s “15th Anniversary Festival Brew”, Coastal Wheat. However, I was saving that for Tuesday so we just got the Boston-style crabcakes with cabbage slaw and remoulade – also very tasty.

The next stop wasn’t at a kiosk but at the new store in Germany, Karamell-Kutche (Caramel Kitchen) – I’m a huge caramel fan, you see, so I just had to check it out. I actually was a bit disappointed at first…I had walked into a giant Werthers store. Werthers Originals everywhere – in bags, in tins, in boxes…and that was pretty much it. I expected to at least see some varieties, but no, other than a few chocolate Riesens and a few bags of caramel popcorn.

However, they did have a counter with a display of freshly made hand-crafted items, like caramel-dipped apples, cupcakes, etc. I chose a caramel and chocolate covered pretzel stick, which I took a bite of before remembering I could take pictures with my phone…

At this point I figured it would be a good idea to wash up and change before the reception after being in the 90 degree heat, so we headed out and I bid goodbye to Mike and went back to POP.

On the way back I stopped at the main hall and the check-in desk. Since I didn’t have my Annual Pass at the time of check-in, I went back to make sure it was validated for the AP rate on the room. For some reason I actually had trouble telling them why I was there. I’ve been told that you generally had to show your AP to validate your room rate or it would be re-billed at the normal rate. But all they kept doing was checking that I was being given the AP rate – not actually having to note anywhere that they validated my AP. They confirmed that I would be billed the AP rate and that was that.

There had been a lot of questions about activity over at the formerly abandoned “Legendary Years” half of the POP Century resort, which is now going to be rebuilt as the Animation Resort. So I was going to go up to the top floor to snap a couple of pictures – and found myself in the midst of an ongoing rehab. Workers were carrying rugs, TVs, etc. in and out. Interestingly no one said anything, and I was able to walk all the way down to the end of the building and snap a quick picture, then down the stairs to my room.

The dinner reception was at the Bice Restaurant at Universal’s Portofino Bay restaurant. I had never been there before, so didn’t know what to expect. From the front, the resort didn’t seem anything special – nice facade, etc. I went inside in to the lobby, and then found the signs directing me outside, down some stairs – into a huge courtyard, style like an Italian waterfront piazza, with the Italian architectural notes to either side. Bice was on the far side, and was up some external stairs – I think lending to the authenticity of the architecture. At least I think…I haven’t been to Italy itself, but it was very stylish.

I was greeted inside very quickly by a waiter asking for my drink order – open bar! Sweet! 🙂 I ordered some Glenfiddich Scotch on the rocks (not to dilute, for the Scotch aficionados, mind you – I just like it cold). And the waiters made sure you weren’t without a drink. I met quite a few people there (this is the first time I was able to attend a Syfy press event, so I had not met anyone before), and got to sit down for dinner with several people that included Syfy’s Executive VP for programming development, Mark Stern. For a recount of a bit of the dinner conversation, check out my Sci-Fi Storm article. Dinner was fun – it is interesting when you start loading executives up with mojitos and ask questions. Although when you also load up one of the the guests at your table, the questions can get a little weird…

Dinner was definitely tasty – we had a choice of a beef filet or chilean sea bass…I wanted to try the bass, but couldn’t pass up the filet, which was decent size and very tasty. Alas, I forget the details of the rest of the meal, but it was very, very good.

We were running a bit late with dinner, and we were heading over the Universal Studios for a special “RIP Tour” of Halloween Horror Nights, so we finished up quickly and and headed over to the boat launch that would take us over. For a recount of HHN and some pics, see this article. Although I hadn’t originally planned on attending, I’m glad I did as it was a fun time. After the tour was over, I could have stayed for more or hit the rides that were kept open, but we were pretty tired, so we all headed back to the resort and I headed back to POP for the night. And tomorrow would be another busy and fun day.

Day 2 – Syfy Digital Press panels, Mythos Restaurant, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The day began with the early drive up to Portofino Bay resort again for breakfast down where the convention rooms are. There was a nice buffet spread and an omelette station – it looked like they had everything for most any type of breakfast you would want. I took a little of a bunch of things. Watch out for the little egg sandwiches – very runny yolks 🙂 Met a few more people from Syfy and other sites and had some good chats.

Then the press panels began. We had a good sized room with plenty of seats – probably twice as many as necessary. Plenty of power as well, given all the laptops, video cameras, etc. The stage was set up nicely, but there was one drawback to videotaping – it was nicely backlit. That unfortunately made the people appear dark, at least with my camera. But I was at least front row. We also had some video monitors to the sides so they could show us clips, although that only really happened for the first panel, with some rough-cut previews of the Warehouse 13 and Eureka holiday episodes.

I got to meet a lot of the celebrities and staff and talk about various things with them. Here are links to my writeups if you are interested in the various panels:

Eureka and Warehouse 13


Being Human (new U.S. version)

Ronald D. Moore and David Eick talk Caprica

Syfy Ventures partners with Her Universe for female-oriented SF gear; talk games – This features Her Universe founder and Disney/Star Wars geek girl Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Syfy reality, Part 1 – Hollywood Treasure, WWE Smackdown

Syfy reality, Part 2 – Destination Truth, Fact or Faked, Quantum Kitchen

Lunch was pretty simple – I actually don’t remember the details but it was a small buffet filled with tasty items.

But the real treat of the day was after all the panels were done, we regrouped for dinner – which was at the Mythos restaurant at the Islands of Adventure, followed by a dessert buffet – in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, with an open bar and no one else as the park was closed. I’ve got a complete write up here including pictures of the experience, but I’ll recap a few things here as well.

For dinner, we had another open bar for cocktails outside, which included an ice sculpture with the Syfy logo which they poured the drinks through to chill. Blue drinks work really well for that – but they had a limited selection of liquors so martinis were primarily the results.

While enjoying the drinks and appetizers, someone thought it would be a good idea to turn on the fog machine under one of the chairs by where we were standing…and very quickly we were totally engulfed in fog – to the point of making it uncomfortable to breath. Another person came and shut it back down, but after we moved.

Dinner was a plated affair. It started with a combination corn chowder and lobster bisque, with a dollop of sour cream. One of my dinner mates at the table was lactose intolerant, so she told the waiter, who checked with the chef, and came back and took away the bowl – and brought back another one, just without the sour cream. Ummm…what about the chowder and bisque?? The waiter then handed out a roll to everyone, and apparently there were different types – and she got a cheese roll…

It was followed by a tasty small salad (not sure what it was specifically), and the entree was a combination of sea bass and beef filet. Of course this filet was much smaller since it wasn’t the only item, but even if you added in the sea bass it still wasn’t as much as the filet from Bice. It was still tasty though.

Was a wonderful time and a good chance to check out the park area after dark and at our own pace. I couldn’t thank Syfy enough for putting on such a shindig.

I also have to give a special shout out to Ashley Eckstein. I spoke with her briefly after her panel and got a picture with her – after which my oldest daughter and major Ahsoka/Ashley fan, rather than being excited, was MAD at me! I met up with Ashley again while checking out Honeydukes, and asked for a favor – she talked to my daughter on the phone for a few minutes – well, Ashley talked, my daughter mostly blubbered, and went to sleep with tears in her eyes. Ashley, thank you so much (again)! Hopefully if we make it down to Star Wars Weekends again we can meet up so the two of you can meet!

Now, having bar and dessert buffet was great, but the problem with a buffet, especially one in the dark, is knowing what you are eating. I’m allergic to strawberries, and I can easily avoid them. But there was a trifle pudding, which I love, so I grabbed a scoop and ate. But then I noticed something I wasn’t expecting in it – sweet fruity pieces of something. And that something was likely strawberries. I stopped eating it after I realized it, but got at least a few pieces swallowed before I realized it. It was going to be a long night…but not for a few hours. Exhausted and time to leave, we took buses back to Portofino Bay, where I said my goodbyes and headed back to POP Century…

Day 3 – Food and Wine

So my last day actually started very early – 2:30am early. My stomach wasn’t feeling well, with a feeling I recognized as the pre-cramps that would get worse before my stomach kicks into reverse. There was some stuff going on at work that I probably should check on anyways so I hopped on the laptop and dealt with that – but that didn’t exactly make me feel better either. Interestingly, it never got worse, perhaps because I didn’t ingest enough, but it kind of came and went which was very concerning because I needed to vacate my room at some point, and eventually get on a plane for several hours, and not knowing if you are going to throw up or not sometime that day makes for a very disconcerting day – especially as I had planned to check out more of the Food and Wine Festival.

So I stayed in the room for a while, walked to the main hall for some pepto and a drink and some souvenirs, and back to the room as long as possible. Then I packed up and left, and drove back to Epcot.

I started to feel better, so I ate a couple more things (pork skewer from Brazil, beef skewer from Argentina), and then remembered to go back to get a Fastpass for Soarin’ (I’d ride on my way out), and then went to Captain EO. My stomach ache kicked in a bit again, but I sat through it. It looked like I went back to the 80s, including the cheap 3D, rotoscoped effects and stop-motion animation all rolled into one.

I then went back to the WS and got the cheese soup in Canada, and the warm chocolate lava cake with Bailey’s ganache from Ireland (AWESOME!!!!!) and creme brulee in France, but eating again affected my stomach. I watched Matsuriza for a bit, then watched American Adventure followed by the Voices of Liberty (they did an awesome version of You’ll Never Walk Alone). I felt good enough to go back to the Australia booth for the lamb chop, but again felt it afterwards. I would have liked to try the festival beer from Sam Adams and several more items, but it just didn’t seem like a good idea. In fact I didn’t eat again for almost 24 hours. I just slowly worked my way and rode a nice slow Ellen’s Energy Adventure and then Soarin’, then headed back to the airport…