an embarrassment of parks
One certainly cannot visit Florida without hitting the theme parks, so we drove to Orlando, checked into a hotel for a couple of nights, and made plans while dining in one of the best Chinese restos in the state.
Ming's Garden, located along International Blvd, served near-authentic Chinese food (the problem with me is that Chinese food will always be held up to the culinary standards set by the real thing, during the time we kept a flat in Hong Kong) which was worth the ghastly cost ($160 for 4 plus Sage) - 3-course Peking Duck and the usual fare (let me tell you, this craving for rice in America can only be assuaged by Chinese food).
The Disney trademark alone had 7 properties: 4 theme parks (including Epcot, Magic Kingdom, "Nahtazu" and MGM) plus 2 water parks plus Downtown Disney. Then there's Universal, Wet and Wild, Sea World, Cirque Du Soleil, and many many other attractions. It felt like a mini-Vegas for theme park addicts.
Ultimately, Sage decided she wanted to see Cinderella, so Magic Kingdom it was. The last time Nikki and I visited the Mouse, it was in 1998 with our good friends Rickey and Richard, just after the World Championships for Magic: The Gathering. Well, this place is larger than the Anaheim park and we had a ball, even if we didn't get to see everything or ride everything - it was just too large.
But it was all worth it when Sage, dressed in her Cinderella gown, watched the parade of characters along Main Street with me. The way her eyes just lit up when she saw her faves, how she waved frantically to them shouting with her little heart filled with joy, how she said "Oh, thank you Dad!" - that's what "sense of wonder" is all about.
On a more mundane note, while looking at the map and plotting out our route, Nikki and I made sure we knew where each of the three designated smoking areas were. In a place where the waiting time for lines begins at 40 minutes, it's good to know where to go to let off steam.
It's fitting that we went to see the Mouse. Mickey is emblematic of the entire Filipino longing for America, after all. Disneyland is what America is for those who can only dream of having a better life - huge, colorful and magical, where the impossible is an everyday reality.
We also dropped by one of the few gourmet Bistro McDonald's (hey Vin, you'll love it). Granite counters, pendant lighting and classical music, set the tone, offering a made-to-order menu including freshly made waffles, pesto/shrimp pasta, turkey roll, roast beef, grilled vegetable panini, Bucks County Coffee espresso, Hershey's hand-dipped ice cream, chicken salad and grilled chicken panini, as well as desserts such as brulee cheesecake and carrot cake - along with an expanded "traditional" menu, which includes steak bagels.
I never thought the word "gourmet" would ever be juxtaposed with McDo, but there it is. The reason, of course, is the need to be more competitive and capture more market and dollar shares.
The upscale trend is not unique to McDonald's, the world's largest fast-food company. Jack-in-the-Box and Arby's recently announced decor and menu improvements. And Burger King last year launched a fire-grilled chicken baguette and this year plans to roll out a new salad line.
Back at home, only Wendy's has impressed me with their triple patty offer - which is hardly gourmet.
All this however makes me think, if I really wanted good food, would I go to McDo, gourmet or otherwise?
Ah, no, thank you.