Epcot, Maelstrom Donezo, Nine Dragons Dinner Review Redux – 8/13/14

by josh on August 15, 2014

We’ll head out to Epcot where little is going on in front of its transformation into the home of the Food and Wine Festival next month. Fast forward exactly four weeks and a topiary scene will greet us.

Here at 6:10pm on Wednesday August 13th, there’s virtually no line for Spaceship Earth. Looking at posted wait times over the last two weeks, it’s the same story:

Larger: http://www.easywdw.com/reports11/ssewaits08.jpg

First, you’ll notice that non-recommended days marked in red have longer average and peak waits than the recommended days around them. Compared to the same two weeks last year, average waits are six minutes longer and peak waits are, on average, over twice as long under FastPass+. Rewind a year and 30 to 50 minute afternoon waits were unheard of, but they are a daily occurrence here under FP+. Most guests will want to visit after 6pm or with FP+ sometime in the afternoon.

As covered in more detail about two months ago, Future World has a new color scheme. Green over here.

Brown over there.

Short waits at 6:15pm helped by an afternoon storm clearing things out.

Walt Disney Company’s historic success continues as the stock hits new all-time highs seemingly daily with price targets now raised over $100. The stock currently trades north of $89, compared to less than $26 five years ago. How much of that success is owed to MyMagic+ and the walls and walls of MagicBands that have popped up inside nearly every store on property is hard to quantify.

Even for the big players on Wall Street, who, like us, have no idea how much MyMagic+ cost or how it’s really affecting guest satisfaction (spending).

Halloween merchandise is out in force with the first Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party scheduled in just over two weeks.

Last year’s shirt is nearly identical.

These two may be exactly the same:



We’ll take a closer look in a separate merchandise update.

Although these tongs might be worth noting now.

Walls remain around the area outside Innoventions West where there was reportedly a problem with the pipes.

The newish mesh wall looks better.

Not much else to see.

Panning left:



More walls up along the walk into World Showcase, but that’s about it.

La Cantina removed the short-lived “Traditional Mexican Sandwiches” from the menu:

A more robust menu update will come at the end of the month.

These sandwiches were more authentic than you might imagine, but were an odd choice for a Mexican quick service outlet that doesn’t even offer burritos.

Frozen coming to Maelstrom looks like it’s 98.5% likely to happen at this point with the attraction likely to go down at the end of September. On the Hollywood Studios front, American Idol Experience is closing at the end of the month with the expectation that the Frozen Singalong will replace it by the end of the year.

Shoehorning Frozen into Maelstrom seems short-sighted. Maelstrom is a tired, relatively low-capacity ride system that sees 25 to 40 minute waits despite being over 25 years old. Even if Disney marketing is successful in bringing in guests because they can “ride Frozen,” it’s hard to imagine a scenario where a few screens and effects would satisfy guests that have made a special trip over or otherwise have expectations of any caliber.

Other major pavilion changes seem unlikely at this point.

Over in Mexico, this color projection is a few months old.

No line for your $14.50 mixed-yesterday margarita at La Cava.

A bottle for the room might be a more prudent investment. Most of the Pavilions will sell you a bottle available for pickup at the exit. Prices are generally reasonable. Norway has Vikingfjord vodka, Canada offers Crown Royal, Italy sells Banfi grappa, etc.

Dave and I recommend Mexico’s San Angel Inn in “The easy Guide” for the unique ambiance and less expensive lunch menu. It also offers access to La Cava’s margarita and tequila menu without the wait or fuss of the cramped seating area. There are not a lot of restaurants where you sit at the base of a temple with a volcano erupting off in the distance.

The restaurant is difficult to review because it’s so dark. On out last visit, I ordered the Tacos de Carne – Grilled New York strip on flour tortillas, topped with chipotle pepper sauce, scallions and avocado – served with rice and beans – $21.00. Three tacos arrive each filled to the brim with grilled steak and topped with a dollop of freshly made guac. Once Food and Wine arrives next month, the Pavilion will be selling far dinkier steak tacos for $5.50 a pop. In comparison, San Angel is a significantly better value.

Alongside rice and beans.

Dave ordered the Huarache de Res – Thin sliced New York strip, served over a corn and bean flat bread, topped with arugula, avocado, roasted chipotle sauce and queso fresco – $18.00. This is sort of a Mexican pizza though the flat bread is far crispier than your usual pizza. It was more like Mexican food on top of a cracker. Still filling and far more interesting than what they serve outside La Cantina for about $6 more.

It’s a lot better than it looks.

Another bonus of lunch – it’s far less crowded. One big detraction is how close the tables are to each other, particularly when it’s busy. You might as well be seated at the same table as your neighbors.

Request a waterside table at check-in to watch the boats float by while you dine.

Back to August 13th at 7:15pm. Feels crowded.

The Jeweled Dragon Acrobats remain popular in China.

Nine Dragons is China’s table service restaurant and one that comes with one of the worst reputations on property. Our last visit went well and I was interested to see if it was a fluke or my expectations were so low that anything short of damp sandpaper would have impressed me.

The restaurant is attractive, but unlike San Angel, I don’t think the atmosphere is unique enough to compel a reservation.

Dinner menu:

The menu is the same as it was last year with just a few exceptions. The General Tso’s Chicken Dumplings (WHICH I WAS GOING TO ORDER!!!) are no longer available as an appetizer. Neither is the Walnut Shrimp Toast. The Vegetable Spring Rolls replace them.

Tsingtao Pure Draft is no longer available on the beer menu.

A separate unadvertised dinner set is available at the table. Considering the dim sum consists of “literally” one pot sticker and one small spring roll, I’m not sure it’s a compelling value compared to what else is available.

The instructions start at step 8.

I started with the Chicken Consomme with Chicken Dumplings – $3.98 after enjoying the Hot and Sour Soup last time. The soup is a good value at four bucks and comes with two dumplings that are the same as the potstickers we’ll see shortly. The Hot and Sour is far more interesting and would be my choice, but wonton soup is always popular with the kids and less adventuresome.

Four potstickers with cilantro-soy dipping sauce arrive for $6.98. They are Costco-freezer-quality. Actually, I think I prefer the Ling Lings that come in the yellow bag. They are certainly a “safe choice,” but bland and forgettable for the rest of us. Try the soup.

Lisa ordered the Sweet and Sour Pork with Lightly Spiced Spinach Noodles – $16.98. It’s a heaping pile of deep fried pork topped with the usual thick, sweet red sauce and a handful of pineapple on the side.

The pork lacked that satisfying crispy crunch that I look for in deep fried Chinese food, likely due to someone spooning the sauce on top far before anyone actually ordered the dish. It’s more food than any one person can probably eat, even those among us that have put on 50 pounds reviewing Disney quick service food over the last three years. You might want to split this and the fried rice.

Spinach noodles seem like an odd accompaniment for the pork. A spoonful of fried rice or lo mein noodles would have been more welcome. Otherwise, the noodles were overcooked and didn’t taste like much other than garlic.

As part of the $23.88 Dinner Set, I ordered the Canton Pepper Beef – Stir Fried Beef with Onions and Bell Peppers in a classic Savory Sauce.

Basically Mongolian Beef, I would have again enjoyed more spice. The steak was typically low quality, chewy stir-fried beef similar to what you’d receive at your local dive.

While decidedly average and “over-priced” for what you get, Nine Dragons is the least expensive table service restaurant at Epcot by average entree price. And considering that, I think it’s fine. It would not be my choice for a single meal at Epcot. There is nothing particularly special about the menu or the atmosphere, but I also would not gloss over it based on poor reviews from years ago.

After enjoying the Strawberry-Red Bean Ice Cream last time, we went with the Caramel-Ginger Ice Cream this time.

Lisa commented that it tasted like her yoga studio smells and while I have never set foot in a yoga studio, the flavor did seem to resemble an air-freshener. The flavor wasn’t as bad as that might sound, but it was extremely ginger-y. We love the strawberry though.

Overall, two appetizers, two entrees, and dessert cost $15 less than a single steak at Le Cellier and we left satisfied with mediocre food and a lower bill than usual. Last time’s Honey-Sesame Chicken and Noodles Sampler were better.

HDR’d out for your enjoyment.

Electric car charging stations are being installed around property.

There are exactly two here near Epcot’s entrance.

That’s about it for Epcot.

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

alex August 15, 2014 at 12:53 pm

thank goodness an update. Its like X-Mas!

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Jill Marie August 15, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Boo and hiss to Maelstrom going away and Frozen arriving! GRRRR! I really enjoy Maelstrom even though it’s dated and cheesy. I am quite sad that I will never get to ride it again.

I am just so sick of Frozen….and I haven’t even seen it yet. I have a strong feeling that when I see it, it just isn’t going to live up to all this hype.

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Tricia August 15, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Glad to have you back!

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Jill Marie August 15, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Okay…just went back to read everything….

So why is FP+ a good thing if it’s making standby lines super long? You get a quicker line for a couple attractions a day (using FP) but then all other rides have ridiculous lines?! I just don’t get it. What am I missing?

I love Lisa’s ice cream/yoga study comparison! Ha!

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CB August 15, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Glad you gave San Angel Inn some love – it’s become one of our favorites. Although virtually impossible to pronounce, the tlacoyos de chilorio appetizer is pretty much the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I’ll have to give Dave’s entree a try next time.

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DQ August 15, 2014 at 1:44 pm

@Jill Marie — FP+ isn’t really for the people who really know the parks. It is for the people who only visit every few years, and don’t necessarily consult Josh on how to fit everything in.

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dani August 15, 2014 at 1:46 pm

I asked a San Angel waitress to get me an avocado margarita, and she refused. Her manager seemed to have no problem getting her to do it for me though…

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dani August 15, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Wow DQ…so wrong

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IndyND August 15, 2014 at 2:13 pm

I’d think a re-skinned Maelstrom to Frozen would be a tragic waste of time and money. If they gut the ride and start over fresh with some interesting ride mechanics, it might have a chance of not sucking.

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JB Meier August 15, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Confucius say: “Steps 1-7 nothing more than instructions on how to read instructions and safety precautions anyway”.

Thanks for the update. Lot of rumors floating around about not only American Idol but Hollywood Studios in general right now; hopefully we’ll get word on what we’ll be waiting for during their next 7 year plan soon.

San Angel rocks.

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Jess O August 15, 2014 at 4:29 pm

I love frozen, however I don’t care for it to be a ride. I actually like Maelstrom and will be angry if it is not open when we go in November.

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Lissy August 15, 2014 at 4:47 pm

my thoughts on frozen-ifying Maelstrom exactly. That and those of us who actually enjoy Maelstrom will be pissed off. We’ll see what happens.

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Tara August 15, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Woot! An update, thank you!!

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Dan J. Young August 15, 2014 at 5:17 pm

The current queue for Malestrom will not hold the lines of guests coming to see Frozen. A big overhaul of the queue will need to be done

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Anonymous August 15, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Yay! Love these random updates. Thanks for another one.

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Dan August 15, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Never mind Maelstrom, bring back El Rio del Tiempo! Argh I miss that ride. The only thing that compensates is that Canada now serves Unibroue.

Always enjoy reading these reviews Josh. Good stuff ;)

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RebeccaMcK August 15, 2014 at 6:44 pm

I read something recently (elsewhere) about how where the Norway movie is located now might become an indoor queue area for the new/revamped ride. Anyway, with Maelstrom closing does anyone think maybe the line for Gran Fiesta Tour inside Mexico will get longer at times? (Being the only other ride in World Showcase besides the boat that takes you across the lake, of course.) Also, I thought American Idol Experience wasn’t closing until January – but, hey, if it closes soon and has the Frozen Sing-Along show replace it I’d kind of love that since I otherwise wouldn’t get to experience the Sing-Along show (which I found highly entertaining via Josh’s video of it a while back). And I’ll be there in Oct and Nov (Sis really wanted to see the AIE show but she’d get a kick out of the Frozen show, too). Great Epcot pics btw. Sorry this was long.

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Jill Marie August 15, 2014 at 7:03 pm

@DQ – I don’t know. I am kind of one of the people you described. I don’t go very much. And I am less of a planner than most. But I think FP+ seems like it sucks for someone like me. Someone who likes to ‘wing it’ more. And likes to go on rides multiple times in 1 day. I don’t like having a ‘cap’ on e-tickets.

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RebeccaMcK August 15, 2014 at 7:08 pm

More news: Capt. Cook’s at the Polynesian just re-opened. And (from wdwmagic) the American Film Institute Showcase will be permanently closing on Sunday at DHS. The exhibit, located at the end of the Studio Backlot Lot, features props, costumes and memorabilia from current and past movies. The collectibles gift shop at the exit will also close. – I never knew that place was there, never having ridden the Backlot Tour (but I might in November).

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Danielle August 15, 2014 at 8:55 pm

I think I speak for many people… Wahoo!!! glad to see another report!! it’s been tooooo long!

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JB Meier August 15, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Rebecca: The walk-through prop warehouse portion of Backlot and the gift shop at the end are actually the only parts of the ride I enjoy. The shop has some pretty cool yet pricey gifts, including mock Oscar awards with various titles such as Best Mom and Favorite Blogger (the second is unverified).

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Pat August 16, 2014 at 12:54 am

At the risk of throwing out more unsubstantiated rumors, has anyone heard that Beauty and the Beast and The Great Movie Ride were going the way of the Dodo? A rumor I saw floating online and doubt the validity, but wanted to check.

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Robyn August 16, 2014 at 4:32 am

Great update josh- thank you!! We’re arriving next sat and I’ve been debating whether or not to keep my San angel ADR . Such a cool interior, but not sure if it’s too dark with one year old twins along! Keep the updates coming!! Love them!!

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Anonymous August 16, 2014 at 7:43 am

Thanks josh happy you are safely back to provide every fix of the parks !

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Tina Q August 16, 2014 at 7:51 am

Yay! A new post! I’ve missed you, Josh. Wait, did that sound stalker-y?

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RebeccaMcK August 16, 2014 at 10:07 am

@Pat, I’ve read that stuff too….it’s always just rumoured until it’s proven true or announced by Disney (really, the second is most important). There was a rumour that Frozen would take over BatBL or that GMR or Backlot Tour (or both, and possibly more) would come out to make way for Star Wars and whatever else is going in eventually. I won’t hold my breath until there are official announcements though.
@JB Meier
I’ve heard that the Backlot Tour is ho-hum, but my sis who’s going with me in Nov. wants to try it along with the shows we never saw before (LMA, Indiana Jones, American Idol – and now THAT one isn’t possible but we’d like the Frozen Sing-Along if it gets extended). She said, “It’ll be worth checking that stuff out once” (while I said, “No it won’t” lol) but it’s her belated 40th birthday gift trip (and my actual 44th b’day) and I’ll find time for them on our short trip. Plus, when and if any of this stuff goes away in the future we’ll at least have done them once if there is time during the half day we’ve planned for DHS.

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Jay August 16, 2014 at 12:39 pm

So, if you purchase a bottle of alcohol at one of the pavilions, you can’t just keep it in your bag? You have to pick it up as you exit the park? Is that correct? I recall getting a small bottle of Sake in Japan and just putting it in my backpack in Jan. 2013 but things could’ve changed since then, I guess.

Bummed to hear the Cava margaritas are pre-mixed as well.

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Pat August 16, 2014 at 1:16 pm

@Jay we bought a couple bottles of moonshine at the American pavilion and we were allowed to carry it around the park. They put it in a box and just stickered both ends saying “do not open until you have left” type of thing. But we were allowed to carry it out of the store.

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Jay August 16, 2014 at 2:32 pm

@Pat Thanks. I guess that makes sense. We love “drinking around the world” but it certainly isn’t cheap. I was thinking about keeping a bottle at our room for a night cap or before dinner instead of having to drop $13 for a single drink at the bar, restaurant, etc.

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Erin Elizabeth August 16, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Lisa ‘ s comment about the ice cream tasting like the yoga studio smells is hilarious!

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Tiffany August 16, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Adding Frozen anything to WS is sacrilege.

Great update, Josh.

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marianna August 16, 2014 at 9:02 pm

I continue to be baffled by what goes on at Nine Dragons. That place could be a gold mine.

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dusty cheatham August 17, 2014 at 3:50 am

while my brother loves san angel inn , I have found the food blah & the service horrible to the point of rude . although those steak tacos look delish .

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Kerrie August 17, 2014 at 10:34 am

There are no words to express how happy I am that you are back. I love Lisa’s comment too! I’m also not sad to see American Idol go at all! Not sure I will see the Sing a long, but its better than American Idol!

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Debbie V. August 17, 2014 at 4:03 pm

The first time I ate at Nine Dragons was very good (evening, Nov 2011). The food tasted fresh and interesting. I had the Whitefish and the potstickers. The place was full (in spite of many so-so reviews I had read before our trip).
My daugther and I ate there for lunch in Jan 2015 around 2:00p the place was empty. Our food was typical Chinese takeout. She had the Shrimp Fried Rice and I had the Orange Chicken. It was okay. The ginger cake was dry.

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Sammy August 17, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Was able to get Maelstrom Fast-pass+ for 9/24, but ride not showing later in the week. I think your correct about the late September closing.

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karin August 17, 2014 at 10:00 pm

I had clients there in January that stayed on property with an electric car. They sent scathing letters because of the lack of car charging stations. Any idea if they are going to expand the charging areas?

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Mike August 18, 2014 at 7:06 am

So waits are even larger with the advent of FP+, why? Presumably the parks themselves are not more crowded than a year back, so what were those people doing? Just walking around twiddling their thumbs and now they can use an app to reserve a spot they’ll ride it because they don’t have to walk by and grab a ticket?

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Sam August 18, 2014 at 10:41 am

@Karin I could be wrong but electric cars still aren’t that popular as they are fairly new and pricey. I would guess they’ll appear at each park but not in a large amount.

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marianna August 18, 2014 at 10:51 am

Ya know, when you go back and read something a second time, sometimes you come away with a gem:

“The instructions start at step 8.”

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Anonymous August 18, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Don’t buy those tongs. I have them and they are not good. Anything you try to grip just slips right out.

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TriSeb August 18, 2014 at 4:50 pm

I picked up the Mickey hand tongs!!
@dani, I believe it, I overheard the waitress hemming and hawing about having to go get a jalapeño marg my last visit earlier this month, “do you really want me to go over there and get it?” To which the guest said, “ah, Yes”… (Duh!)
I personally passed on any drinks because if Josh’s investigative reporting on the marg’s ;)

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Nolarookie August 19, 2014 at 5:21 am

I’m bummed that Maelstrom may be closed on our next trip! Oh, well, I guess we can still get a photo with the troll.

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Kooch August 20, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Newsflash: FP+ sucks

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Christine August 21, 2014 at 8:24 pm

I have always wanted to eat at the San Angel Inn but never have. I can remember as a child going by in the El Rio del Tiempo boats and wishing we could be eating there by the volcano.

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Cheapblackdad August 24, 2014 at 6:54 pm

There’s some shocking confusion on FP+. It’s awesome.

You are not limited to 3 in one day. Once you use 3 up, you can add another, and so forth.

It does require some planning. But just schedule them all for starting at 10 and use 9-10am for the shorter standby queues.

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