Jurassic World as a Theme Park

WARNING: It is impossible to discuss this topic without giving away key plot points and developments in the movie. Do not proceed if you’re concerned about spoilers.

Following our viewing of Jurassic World, DH and I both desperately wanted to hear our favorite theme park logistics/planning enthusiasts’ take on it. I tweeted to @lentesta and @jimhillmedia posthaste to request a podcast. But, while they’re considering that request, I wanted to give my own thoughts about Jurassic World as a theme park, as depicted in Jurassic World the movie. Also, I should note that I’m writing largely based on what I saw in the movie, but I did reference the spectacular website for Jurassic World for some details and data points. I also want to note that I use a lot of promo photos from the movie (ones that were part of the press park made freely available on their website) in this review. Those are all owned/created by the movie, not by me, and I’m using them here for criticism purposes only.

Who Would Go?

Jurassic World is located on an island, the fictional Isla Nublar, west of Costa Rica (how far west varies by movie, and Jurassic World does make clear that this is supposed to be the same island as the ones from previous Jurassic Park movies). Travel to that destination is going to require a passport and a fairly expensive flight for most of the world population. (It always bothered me how the prior JP movies, when panicking about escape, would talk about dinosaurs wandering around San Diego, when the closest region would be Costa Rica. Do we only care if they make it to the US? Seems like just about any of the flying species could end up at Costa Rica with little trouble, much less the many nearby islands in that region. But, I digress…) Additionally, there’s a ferry and/or separate flight to get to Isla Nublar (depending on the movie). In Jurassic World, it’s a park-sponsored ferry from Costa Rica.

I don’t think they explicitly mention a park admission ticket price in the movie (though I could be wrong), but I think it’s reasonable to guess that a park that offers a ferry ride to its off-coast site and is the only park in the world to have live dinosaurs would garner an admission ticket in the $2-300 range for adults. Add in what is probably a $800 flight, plus staying at what seems to be the only on-site hotel ($600+ a night I’m sure), and this a trip out of the range of most families. Thus, we can make some assumptions that the guests at JW are well-off world travelers.

Park Size

Jurassic World explicitly mentions 20,000 guests being present on the day the movie takes place. We’re also told that this is a time when kids are out of school, and it seems to be summer. That means Jurassic World should be seeing peak or near peak attendance, though the implication is that this is a Thursday, so maybe low peak. So, let’s figure that 20K is perhaps 60% of capacity, making the actual capacity around 35K.

Disneyland (not all of DLR, just Disneyland) hits capacity at 40K, roughly. Disneyland Resort has an 85K capacity. Magic Kingdom caps at roughly 100K. But, if we look at more zoo-like parks, SeaWorld Orlando is around 40K. Animal Kingdom is around 50K (though it can be argued that the attractions can’t support its functional capacity). So, this is in the ballpark, but it seems like Jurassic World is under-sized, particularly since it was built in the present with the movie taking place in the comparable “near future”. (There are plenty of technologies having nothing to do with dinosaurs shown in the movie that are not currently achievable as shown, but they’re likely achievable in the near future.) Then again, it may be that with the prohibitive cost they need to charge to meet their needs and the cost of travel, they anticipate a smaller available audience.

But…putting that aside, we see crowds shown in the movie that seem to indicate a) that Jurassic World is actually operating at or near peak on this day and b) that the attendance is higher than 20K. The one that stands out the most is the arena that we see for the water dinosaur demonstration (with the awesome stands that descend below the water level for a different view during the show):

Jurassic World: Mosasaur Arena

That arena in and of itself is shown holding nearly 20K of people. To give a proportion, 20K is less than half a Sounders game’s average attendance. Unless the entire park empties and that’s a once a day show, the number of people we see in the movie is far past the number quoted as attendance. So, it’s also possible that Jurassic World is much larger, and the 20K number is bogus.

(The interesting part is that it almost seems like 20K was a reasonable number to give, but the set/CGI designers then showed us stuff that didn’t fit that model, which is perhaps not surprising.)

Note: After doing all of this ballparking, I found the website for Jurassic World which has a handy park capacity graph right on it that let me back into the actual park capacity, which is approximately 31K. So…ha. 🙂 They were at 64% capacity, so my guess of a 60%ish capacity is spot on. Go me!

The Guests

The guests we see are mostly American, and communication throughout the park seems to be in English. While you can make a case that I can’t judge that easily, there’s one scene where a line of attendees gets ticked off that an attraction is closed where their American-ness is very apparent. Given the park’s location, their primary attendance will be from Brazil, which has plenty of affluent park enthusiasts. There should be signage in a few languages. Even EuroDisney has signage in both English and French.

That we didn’t see a single Brazilian tour group (nor any tour groups) is patently unrealistic, as any WDW frequent attendee will confirm. It, like the San Diego references I mentioned earlier, is a reflection of how US-centric this movie is rather than any reality of what you’d see in a true Jurassic World theme park. (The website actually further reinforces this observation.)

Some realism though was in the guests’ reactions when a ride went down (ready to mob the worker there) and the guests watching the Mosasaurus feeding who insisted on standing up for no good goddamn reason and blocking everyone’s view.

What they did not include that they should have: kids crying out of exhaustion and frustration (rather than because a pterodactyl ate their mom), selfie sticks (maybe they’re banned?), people holding up their phones/iPads/whatever during every single freaking attraction/show to video it for later perusal.

Sponsorships/Brands

They nailed this one. Every theme park these days is flooded with sponsored attractions and brand name shops. The ones I noticed on the “main street” of Jurassic World were Brookstone, Pandora, and Margaritaville. (There’s also a fake restaurant called Winston’s Steakhouse. You can view the fake restaurant menu on the website.) The research hall being sponsored by Samsung felt familiar as well, and we hear that Verizon Wireless might be sponsoring the Indominus Rex (ha! Figures!). What’s fun here is that it serves two purposes: realism and actual paid placement in the movie. I also wonder how much of the store presence was influenced by shops that have deals with Universal Studios theme parks.

Attractions

Per the website, there are 20 attractions. (Oddly, a “water park” is a single attraction, and the golf course is counted as an attraction. The monorail is relegated to a utility, like restrooms.) In the movie, we see a few, but most notably, we see the Gyrosphere:

Jurassic World: Gyrosphere

I have a major nitpick with the Gyrosphere. A key plot point of the movie is that the Gyrosphere is closed because of the escaping Indominus Rex while the 2 kids are out exploring. The kids get a notice that the ride is closed and that they should return. And then they proceed to keep exploring in the gyrosphere anyways, even rolling right outside the walls of the attraction. No. Just no. This makes no sense at all. For this Gyrosphere ride to have any sort of realistic throughput, it must have a time limit on exploration. There is no such thing as a “stay as long as you like” attraction in a major theme park that isn’t walk-through. Thus, by design, the Gyrosphere must have some kind of “bring vehicle home” control/command, or else that ride would be screwed. Not to mention that, according to the website, the Gyrosphere notices when you’re close to dinosaurs and moves you back to a safe distance, but in the movie, we see it clearly not doing that. That feature also implies that the kids would not have been able to drive it out of the fenced area. Most likely, the vehicle would be set to either auto-home if driven outside the area or turn off entirely within some short distance of the ride area. This one thing totally bothered me while watching. Thankfully, while it’s a key plot point, it also doesn’t last very long. They seriously could have fixed it just by having the ride person or even the Jimmy Fallon ride video note their “VIP bracelets” when they got on and say, “Oh, you’re VIPs. I’ve set your gyro for unlimited exploration. Stay as long as you like.”

Speaking of the Fallon ride video, while it was a bit over the top, it did hit home in terms of the inevitably corny videos telling you the safety information for a ride or touting the ride’s features.

I also wanted to call out the Mosasaurus feeding arena feature of the stands moving up and down. That is very cool, and I hope it’s in a concept list for some park somewhere, though I’m not sure of the right attraction in a post-Blackfish world.

On-Site Hotel/Day Visiting

The movie showed only one hotel, but the website says there’s two on-site hotels at different tiers. What isn’t clear from the movie or the website is how often the ferry runs. If the ferry is running with enough frequency (and enough boats for “rope drop” capacity) for day trippers from the mainland, evacuating the island shouldn’t have been nearly the problem it was shown to be. OTOH, if the expectation (and perhaps the ticket price) assumes you’ll stay at an on-site hotel for 1+ nights, the ferry may only run a few times a day. The ferry we saw looked like a 1500 capacity ferry. Just based on that, I’m guessing they have a fleet of perhaps 10 ferries and they typically operate 3 or so (1 loading at each port, one or two in transit), with the full 10 being used for the most common transportation times in one direction only.

Competition

The implication is that this is the only dinosaur park…still…even though it’s been running long enough that people are bored by dinosaurs (that they can only see at this one park in the whole damn world). For the record, I don’t buy for a second that people are bored by dinosaurs and thus attendance is dropping. People aren’t bored by freaking Space Mountain yet, and it’s been around for many decades and isn’t a giant-ass dinosaur. Jurassic World needs to learn about making tiny changes from Disney. They could just add a new track to the monorail and bump attendance rather than creating a whole new dinosaur.

Anyways, back to the topic…competition. I further don’t buy that not a single competitor park has opened somewhere else in the world. Wouldn’t it have been more believable that Jurassic World was creating Indominus Rex because “Dinosaur Land” was going to open off the coast of Taipei that fall with more space and more dinos and they needed to give a reason for people to keep coming to their smaller park?

Evacuation/Emergency Handling

This theme park has been operating for years. You cannot tell me that they have not needed to evacuate before now. It’s an island off the coast of Costa Rica. Have they never had a major storm coming in? No earthquakes? Heck, a super-cell thunderstorm would be enough to shut down their ferry service and thus a reason that they’d want to get guests off the island in advance of its occurrence. Among the many things I don’t buy, I don’t buy that they would have had so much trouble evacuating or handling a shutdown. As mentioned up above, they probably need a 10-ferry fleet to handle park open and close traffic. 10 ferries could have gotten most of that 20K of people off the island in a matter of hours. We’re fed that the COO (or director of Ops or whatever she was) doesn’t want to evacuate because of a fear that people won’t come back. Bullshit. Cruise ships have people going in droves, despite all the problems they’ve had. Disneyland had a measles outbreak. The big thing that COO would have to worry about is someone dying, not people being forced to leave due to a temporary and unexplained closure. Besides, as mentioned, given their location and mostly outdoors attractions, they would have to shut down due to weather periodically. They could have just messaged the park guests that a storm was coming in and they were advising everyone to a) return to their hotel room or b) get on the ferry. Then, start shutting down attractions, and believe me, people will leave. Guests do not hang around a park when everything is shut down. They do not sit down all over main street (as was shown). They queue up for the transportation (ferries) or go to their on-site hotel. Some of them might have flooded the restaurants.

It bums me out that the COO, who was shown as incredibly competent throughout, ended up seeming incompetent in service to the plot in two ways, this being one of them. That’s a separate post for another time, though, should I get around to it.

In Closing…

Well, this has been quite an essay. I look forward to Touring Plans‘ Jurassic World edition. In the meantime, if you have any other theme park nitpicks I missed, feel free to post them in the comments. 🙂

Volunteering for the WDW Marathon

DH did the Goofy at WDW Marathon Weekend for the first time this year. He had decided to do his half marathon at his usual pace but to take his time on the marathon course. (We had a good friend, too, who was doing her first Goofy–and her first marathon! Because of various issues, she was going to be at a pace just ahead of the sweepers. DH decided to stay with her on the course, which made it an “easy” finish for him but also ensured that she had someone helping her along.) Anyways, because he was going to be out on the marathon course for so long and because I’d be awake anyways, I decided to offer myself up as a volunteer. Before volunteering, I admit that I found very little in the way of first person accounts from other volunteers, so I wanted to describe my experience, end to end, to help out anyone who might be thinking of volunteering with runDisney.

BEFORE MARATHON WEEKEND:

The volunteer sign-up opens later than the race sign-up, and it isn’t as heavily publicized (except to prior volunteers). runDisney gives any volunteer who does at least 8 hours a 1-day 1-park ticket for WDW, so it’s somewhat popular as a volunteering option. I also learned later that, because of Florida’s lottery scholarship service requirements, lots of high school groups jump at that as a volunteer opportunity. So, volunteering actually does tend to fill up, particularly for the “more desirable” positions like expo volunteers. Fortunately for me, I was volunteering for one of the less desirable options, the marathon, so sign-ups were still available in October. The sign-up form is the exact same active.com form that racers fill out, except with volunteer events listed instead of races.

After that, I didn’t hear anything for awhile. In mid-December, I got an envelope in the mail with my volunteer assignment. The letter showed that I had been assigned the “17.2 water stop” on the marathon course. It stated I would need to be at the volunteer check-in by 4:15am and would be working until 12:30pm. It also included a temporary badge, with the note that the temporary badge was good for volunteers for the 5K or Expo, but that everyone else would exchange it for a real credential at the Expo.

The letter was also the first notice that I saw which stated clearly that I was responsible for my own transportation. This was news to me. Buses and monorails for runners start at 3am on marathon day, so I had thought that volunteers would get on those shuttles as well. I didn’t worry about it though; a cab isn’t that expensive, and I was excited to be a volunteer. I also (perhaps foolishly) figured that there might be something on-site that I’d learn about to make transportation easier, like a cab pooling arrangement or somewhere I’d be able to get to using the shuttles that I could then walk to. So, I set that aside as a potential concern and prepared to get excited about volunteering.

I posted in the Facebook group for marathon weekend that I would be volunteering and where. This was pretty awesome, because a lot of those folks chimed in that they were thankful for volunteers and quite a few said they’d make sure to look for me at that stop. I also crafted myself some jingle bell bracelets out of Stretch Magic and bells that I could use for cheering in case my voice went out.

AT THE EXPO:

When we arrived at the Expo, we had a lot of errands to do. DH had to pick up his Goofy stuff. We both needed to pick up 5K stuff. I had a Dooney pre-order to pick up. And, of course, I needed to pick up my volunteer credentials and instructions for Sunday. The letter I’d received said the volunteer credential pick-up would be at the Expo, but it wasn’t specific as to where. (The Expo is in multiple buildings and floors.) Fortunately, for obvious reasons, every volunteer on the floor knows where it is, so I asked around until I found it. It was basically a conference room. For people checking in to volunteer at the Expo or 5K, they had t-shirts there to pick up. For Half-Marathon and Marathon volunteers, you just picked up a packet.

I asked some of the folks there if there was anything I should plan for or any advice they would give to a first-timer, and this is what they said:

  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Wear sunblock.
  • You will get wet, so plan accordingly.
  • Don’t carry or bring too much with you. You won’t have time to do very much anyways.

I also asked more about transportation, and they confirmed that a taxi was my best bet to get there, but that the Disney transportation buses would be running when I left. The check-in location was at Downtown Disney, which was a $20 cab ride from the Polynesian.

The packet I received at the event included my volunteer badge, which had my bus number, assigned station, name, and a barcode printed on it. It also had another sheet of instructions, which detailed how to get to the check-in location (entrance 5 to Downtown Disney, which is the end near Cirque du Soleil, and then parking lots O, P, and Q). It also noted to bring a photo ID with you but to otherwise keep belongings to a minimum. (I’ll talk a bit more about what to bring and not bring in the next section.) If you have a car to drive to the check-in point, you can park there. Your volunteer badge will allow you admittance into parking.

The other thing that the on-site materials said was that they wanted you to check in 30-45 minutes before your assigned shift time. Ouch! That meant I needed to be there between 3:30 and 3:45, meaning I’d need to leave my hotel between 3 and 3:15am! I will say that I decided to ignore this a bit, largely based on prior experience with runDisney running events wherein they are really bad about erring on the side of extreme caution when it comes to what time they tell you to arrive. I decided to have my taxi pick me up at 3:30am, which meant I arrived at about 3:50am, but we’ll talk more about that in a bit.

SATURDAY NIGHT (VOLUNTEERING ON SUNDAY):

Because we were doing (and/or spectating) all the races during the weekend, we were, thankfully, already on a sleep schedule oriented for those early mornings. We were tucked into bed by 9pm on Saturday night. Before going to bed, I decided to wear a quick drying tee (one of my running shirts), and a pair of running shorts (also quick drying). I would be wearing my running shoes and quick dry socks. I also packed a mini-backpack with other gear I planned to take along. I want to provide here a recommended “what to bring” list. Some of these things I brought and some I didn’t. Keep in mind that my experience is based on working a water/powerade/sponge stop, so if you’re doing something else, your list might vary.

WHAT TO BRING:

  • A mini-backpack or a mesh/nylon cinch sak – You WILL want this to carry your snack and any other random items, so make sure it’s large enough to hold the stuff you’re bringing PLUS a water bottle and snack box. Also, make sure it’s a backpack, because the safest place for it will be on your back. It needs to be one that you don’t care about very much, because it may get dirty and wet.
  • A cap with a brim to help shade you from the sun
  • Sunscreen – granted, you may be too busy to apply it, but cover yourself liberally when you can
  • A baggie big enough to hold your cellphone (or a waterproof case if you have one), if you intend to bring your cellphone
  • Another baggie or waterproof pouch with your photo ID and any purchasing stuff you need. I took my room key, my photo ID, a credit card, and $40 to cover the taxi and anything else I ran into.
  • Spare socks and/or shoes that you can change into after your shift, ideally something lightweight like flip flops or just spare socks. If you bring spare socks, you’ll want to baggie those, too.
  • Caffeine for in the morning, if you’re so inclined. runDisney gives you a bottle of water, but they don’t have anything caffinated provided to you.
  • OPTIONAL: A sharpie, for marking your windbreaker as yours and also maybe making signs or notes on-site.
  • OPTIONAL: Your refillable resort soda mug, if you have room in your sack. It’s a handy way to drink water from a fountain or other source, plus you can use it for soda before you leave and when you get back.

WHAT NOT TO BRING:

  • A camera, unless it’s waterproof and very small. You’ll barely have time to take pictures anyways. If you’re bringing a cellphone with a good camera, just use that.
  • If the starting temperature is at least fifty degrees, don’t worry about bringing a jacket or sweatshirt. The sun rises fast, and your bus is heated. runDisney will provide a windbreaker that is a good source of light warmth and is also a little waterproof.
  • Any clothing or items that you will be upset about getting dirt-stained or soaked with water. You will get dirty and wet.
  • Food or snacks. runDisney gives you a snack box and there’s usually extra snacks afterward, too.
  • A purse (beyond the backpack I mentioned above). Keep your “wallet” to the few items I mention above and just baggie them. Then, when you get your runDisney windbreaker, put your baggie wallet (and baggie phone, if applicable) in the zippered pouch of that and guard your windbreaker with your life! Everyone’s windbreaker looks the same! (See earlier comment about bringing a sharpie.)
  • Unless you can wear it, don’t bother bringing stuff for cheering, like signs or cowbells. You won’t have time to use it, and if you can’t wear it on you, it won’t do any good. I had my wrist bells, and those worked great, but a sign or anything I had to hold would have been useless.

Finally, if you’re staying at a WDW resort, call the concierge desk the night before and arrange for your cab. That will ensure you get a yellow cab (Mears) and thus get a fair rate. Independent cabs on Disney property overcharge regularly. For example, last year, when I took a cab to the relay point during Chip and Dale, my “found right then” cab charged me almost $20 just to take me from Wilderness Lodge to the TTC parking lot! (It’s less than 2 miles. I could have walked it, except that I was about to do a half marathon and didn’t want to walk more than I had to. Also, it was dark on non-pedestrian roads. But, I digress…)

SUNDAY (VOLUNTEERING DAY!):

I got out of bed at 3am. Getting ready was fast, so I was out of the room by 3:15. I stopped by Captain Cook’s (the quick service at the Poly) for a refill of my soda mug. My taxi was there five minutes early, so we got an earlier start than expected. My taxi driver had already dropped off two other volunteers that morning, so at least I wasn’t alone in being a taxi-mode volunteer!

At the time I arrived, around 3:50am, it was an easy drop-off. Later, when our bus headed out at around 5am, the road into that parking lot was jam packed and not moving very fast at all. So, if your arrival time is 4:30 or 5, planning to arrive early is a good idea. If your arrival time is 4:15am, though, you really don’t need to get there much earlier than that, especially if you’re working a stop that is toward the end of the course.

Volunteer HQ was a tent. Your first stop was a station where they scanned your tag to check you in. Then, you went through a couple of queues to pick up your snack box, your water, and your windbreaker. After exiting the tent, volunteers pointed you toward the bus line. There were around 60-70 buses queued up, at least, maybe even eighty. Each line had ten or twelve buses in it, and there were five or six lines. The toughest part of check-in was finding your bus. My bus was number 34, but the buses weren’t in numerical order. It went bus 12, then bus 56, then bus 25, etc. So, you had to walk up and down the line until you found one with your number on it. When I got on my bus, there were two other volunteers on board, and we started chatting and taking pictures of each other.

WDW Marathon Weekend 2013

While we were chatting, we started wondering when the bus would leave, given that it felt pretty empty. (A few more people had come onboard, but we still had less than ten on the bus.) The bus driver said we were supposed to have 30 people on board, and that the bus wasn’t leaving until 5am. All of us were agape at that point, because we had been told to get there so much earlier than needed. It was almost like they padded our arrival time twice, once for 4:15 and then again by telling us to arrive in advance of 4:15. So, we had some time to kill. Some people went to the back of the bus to nap or got off the bus to go use the restroom. Most of us stayed onboard and chatted. But, our bus never got any fuller. Eventually a team leader (designated by a white windbreaker with TEAM LEADER on it) got onboard. He did a quick count and said, “well, we’re missing a lot of people here,” and then got off again. We eventually learned that a group of 20 that was supposed to be at our station had bailed (or were running very late). So, we got a few more volunteers from the contingency pool and before long, we were off! Our water station was being covered by two buses, ours and the one behind us, with a total of 50 people (was supposed to be 60ish).

Our bus got to drive on the closed Disney roads, even going the wrong way up roads for awhile. We saw the start line at EPCOT being prepped as we drove by. Then, we arrived at the drop-off point, which was at the corner of a field at WWoS between miles 19 and 20 on the marathon course. From there, we walked across the course and the intervening areas to get to our water stop. Though it was marked on our badges as mile 17.2, it was closer to mile 17.5, just before the course entered the WWoS complex.

Image courtesy of runDisney. All rights belong to runDisney.
Image courtesy of runDisney. All rights belong to runDisney.

When we got to our location, there were 8-9 palettes of stuff, wrapped in plastic, waiting to be unpacked. Our first order of business was tearing the plastic wrap off and sorting out what was what. Most of our water stop was being worked by two school groups, each with its own set of group leaders, with some random adults (like me) also present. The team leader had some additional instructions (though not much, it would turn out) and was generally directing things. After stuff was unpacked, we set up tables (a hand truck was provided to help wheel the tables and the water bottles and crates into place). We had disinfectant wipes to wipe down the tables. (Strangely, no work gloves were provided. It was really easy to get splinters while wiping down the tables.) Then, the team leader assigned one school group (the smaller one) to start mixing up Powerade. The Powerade came in a powdered form and had to be hand mixed (using stainless steel stirrers) with water in some provided jugs. The second school group was designated to finish dragging stuff into place and set up tables. Eventually, they were also designated to start setting up stacks of water cups along with the powerade crew.

Our stop included materials for a sponge stop, and we were the only sponge stop on the course. Our team leader had no idea what a sponge stop was or how to set it up. Apparently, he hadn’t gotten any instruction on that. I at least knew the basics of how to set it up from when I’d seen stops on races, so I kind of took over the setup and management of the sponge stop. (Manager in the hizzouse, y’all!) So, most of what I can talk about is the sponge stop. While I saw the water and powerade being set up, I had almost nothing to do with that. Instead, I worked on getting the sponges set up. The materials included wading pools, so we started getting those onto tables and filling them with the jugs of water. However, we quickly found that 4-5 of the pools were leaking. We were later told that runDisney typically doubles up the pools to help stymie the leaks, so, as the leaky pools emptied, we doubled them up. We also put as many sponges into the leaky pools as we could, to use what water we had while we had it.

WDW Marathon Weekend 2013

There were WDW maintenance staff on hand to help manage the mess as it happened. At first, they were just gathering up the empty bottles and trash we generated. Later, they’d be sweeping and collecting behind and around us during the race. Without them, we’d have been buried in trash pretty fast.

It’s worth noting that the instructions for the team leader had to have been pretty vague. He didn’t seem to know things like that the tables needed to be at least a few feet off of the road surface (because the runners need the whole road). I ended up passing that advice along. About a half hour before the first wheelchair, a rep from runDisney did a walkthrough of our stop with the team leader and made comments on things we needed to tweak or change. By then, we were really on final setup. That was when I found out about doubling up the leaky pools, and that’s when a lot of sad people that didn’t listen to me earlier had to move tables loaded with water cups back 1-2 feet off of the road. 😉

About the only “dead time” we had was 15 minutes before the first wheelchair racer, and maybe about a half hour after the wheelchairs before the first runners came through. From that point forward, it was go-go-go. Below is a picture of us craning to see the first non-wheelchair runner coming around the bend.

WDW Marathon Weekend 2013

And, I quite literally didn’t take a break or sit down from the point I got off the bus until we started shutting down our stop at 11am. While they provided a snack and water, I never had time to use it. Part of that was because our stop was understaffed. Part of it was because I was a lone adult (vs. being with a group that could trade off tasks). A good bit of it was because I was actively managing the sponge station, checking on it, trying to gauge when we’d need more or less staffing (we started with just one of us on each side but eventually went to 3 on each side, plus re-fillers behind the tables), etc. Mostly, I didn’t even notice the time until we started getting direction to shut things down.

So, what do you do all day? Most of the time, you spend yelling, “Sponges! Sponges! Sponges! We have sponges! Nice cold sponges! Stay cool, runners! Sponges here! Need a sponge? Sponges!” Every now and then, you get to yell, “Go WDW Radio! Go Marathon Maniac! Ohayoo gozaimasu, Tobiyashi! Yay WISH runner! Go Team!” Sometimes, you’d say, “You’re doing great, Ken! Way to go, Jeannie! Keep it up, Tina! Love those wings, Tinkerbell!” You grab sponges out of the water and hold them with the tips of your fingers so runners can easily grab them from you. You hand them out as fast as you can to anyone that wants them. Sometimes, you start hurriedly filling the pools up with water again or tossing in more sponges. (The sponges start out about the size of a wet nap and grow out to kitchen-size sponges.) You check on the people at the other stop and regret that you chose to be on the sunny side of the road instead of the shady side of the road. 😉 Stuff like that. And then, at some point, you realize that the runners are becoming less and less, and slower and slower.

Really, there’s three phases to the race. The front group are people who are trying to get a competitive time. They’re focused. They may not even stop for water or a sponge. All they’re doing is running as hard and fast as they can. The back group are people who are struggling. They’re injured, they’re tired, they’re sore, or some combination thereof. All they’re focused on is putting one foot in front of the other and staying on pace. In the middle, though, you get the people having fun. They know they’re going to finish. They’re there to enjoy the experience. They’re not exhausted. They’re just happy. And that’s when you get things like marriage proposals (even a guy going down on one knee) because you are handing a person a sponge. You get people joking about being spongeworthy, apologizing for their stink (which you don’t notice anyways), or offering to give you a sweaty hug.

Despite my best efforts to tell our team members to conserve sponges and avoid waste, we ran out of sponges well before the end of the runners, which made me feel terrible. After all, the folks toward the end, in some ways, need those sponges the most. They’re in the hottest weather, and they’re likely people who are overheating or otherwise having trouble. I’m sure runDisney monitors and will order more sponges in the future when the weather is hot, but it is the most horrible feeling to not have a sponge to give to a runner that clearly needs one. 🙁 Heck, most of the reason I never felt my sore feet or aching arms until later was that all I could think about was those runners and how they needed us to be on top of our game. So, if you’re volunteering, let me tell you that is the best and the worst part. It is incredibly inspiring to be there helping runners through a whole race. It is also heartbreaking, especially when the sweeper pacers come through (the dreaded ladies with smiley balloons), followed by a group of limping stragglers that know they’re about be swept…or when you see a husband who has a foot of height and at least fifty pounds on his wife being supported and practically dragged by his wife along the course while he pants and struggles. Meanwhile, she darts over to bring him water and sponges while getting none for herself. I don’t think I’ve ever screamed louder or yelled harder with encouragement than I did that day. My voice held out right up until I was on the bus, at which point, I had no voice left to say much at all.

WHEN YOUR STOP CLOSES:

After the runners are done, you have clean-up duties. What the runners leave behind is a kind of wartorn zone.

WDW Marathon Weekend 2013

So, you dump out any water that was poured but not used. You gather anything recyclable and put it into the specially designated bags (things like water bottles, for example). Cups get raked to the center of the road where a (literal) sweeper truck will suck them up later. Bottle lids go in the bags. Tables get broken down and hauled back to a central pile. A moving van pulls up eventually and you start loading things into the van. Pretty soon after that, a runDisney employee gives your team leader the “all clear” that you can head back to your bus, which is waiting right where you got dropped off.

WDW Marathon Weekend 2013

For us, our bus had to wait a bit before we could leave. I don’t know exactly why, but we had to wait around a half hour before leaving. I’m guessing that part of our route back wasn’t cleared yet. During that half hour, I cheered for more runners. Our bus was on the right side of the road just before the last turn before mile 20, so we got to see some last-ish people coming in. I cheered as hard as I could. 🙂

When the bus was ready, I climbed aboard, and we were shuttled back to Downtown Disney. After getting off, we went in and had our badges scanned again to “check out”. They gave us some of the leftover snack stuff, and the park pass we had earned. Then, we were free to go. I started the walk back to Downtown Disney to catch a bus back to the Poly. (Yes, I could have headed to the finish line to see DH and our friend finish, but there was no guarantee I’d get there fast enough, plus I was thirsty and dead tired. My socks were soaked, and I had not brought spare shoes or socks with me.) It wasn’t until I was on the bus to the Poly that my feet started hurting and aching, and I realized how much I’d been on my feet without thinking about it.

OTHER NOTES AND FUN STUFF:

  • I got to hand a sponge to Joey Fatone. He was the only celebrity I saw. He was very nice and said, “thank you.”
  • As noted earlier, I got quite a few marriage proposals and even more expressions of love. It’s nice to be the sponge stop.
  • I did use my wrist bells, but moreso for cheering after the stop than for cheering during.
  • DH and I were limping at about the same pace the next day, so there’s that. I had quite a few blisters because my feet had been so wet throughout the day.
  • Lots of people from the Facebook group said hello to me, so that was cool. Thanks, Facebookers!
  • I really liked the snack box, even though I didn’t eat it until later. We got cookies, a granola bar, dried fruit, and peanut butter crackers.
  • Neither DH nor I knew exactly what the sweepers looked like. I thought they were vans or bikes. It turns out that they’re two walkers with happy face balloons tied to their wrists. They move at the 16 minute pace. If you get to a mile marker and they’re ahead of you, you get swept at that mile marker. Because I didn’t know this, there was a point where I was cheering people on at the water stop after those balloons had passed. That is, I was cheering for people who knew they were about to get swept. 🙁 I hope they know or knew that I wasn’t trying to be mean. I had no idea or else I would have been more like, “You are awesome no matter what!” and less like “You’ve got this! Keep it up!”

Holiday Video Gaming Round-up

I did quite a bit of gaming in the time between returning from our pre-Christmas cruise and now. I’d received several games from my wish list for the holidays. I figured I’d share my thoughts on the titles I’ve been playing lately.

  • Fallout: New Vegas – It’s really an expansion of FO3 more than its own game, by all reports, and that’s fine, because FO3 was a really good game. However, I started getting through the main questline way too quickly, so I double-checked a walkthrough. Sure enough, just like FO3 started out, you can’t continue in New Vegas after completing the main quest. So, I’m now doing side quests. It feels like it happened too fast, though. I’m not sure how much of that is because I know the system now and how much is that it’s just a much smaller game. Also, I found New Vegas itself to be disappointing. FO3 was filled with real landmarks done in post-apocalyptic fashion. Just from going through the game, I know DC geography better. I suppose I recognize that they couldn’t do that with Vegas for obvious reasons, but it’s not even close. I suppose I wish that they had just picked a different location if they couldn’t do Vegas properly. All of this is really a nitpick though. It’s still an addictive game where you are enveloped in the story from the beginning. And btw, fuck the legion. (Hilarious bugs persist, too. My favorite was after I respawned in Nipton and the scene was setting up, the villagers were walking up to their crosses and hopping on, essentially self-crucifying.)
  • Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two – It pains me to say this, but it’s horrible. Okay, the first Epic Mickey had some control issues with the third person camera. Not only are those issues still present, the game is practically unplayable in single player form. Instead of letting you switch back and forth between Mickey and Oswald, the tried and true method for handling single player in a co-op game, they make you cope with AI Oswald, and the AI is horrible. Also, Oswald is lame compared to Mickey, which I suppose he had to be, since you can’t make the challenges very dependent on him because the AI is so bad. I’m still very early in the game, but it feels like it’s lacking the playful nostalgia from the original. Also, the EM1 storyline was really good. It really captured your attention. They made you care about the characters. EM2…it’s just kind of blah. It’s like any one of the issues would be forgivable but poor story + bad single player + bad controls = bad game. I’ll probably still play it through, because I’m dedicated, but it’ll be on the backburner.
  • Kinect Disneyland Adventures – Okay, this is surprisingly awesome. It really does feel like you’re in Disneyland. As far as storyline, it’s kind of Fallout-esque in the sense that it’s quest-based, with side quests and a main questline. Mostly, you’re just visiting Disneyland and doing stuff there. You can explore freely, or you can follow the quest path. The controls are all Kinect-based, which has pros and cons. To run around, you put an arm out and basically point toward where you want to go, or bend your arm toward you to turn around. It’s intuitive, but after a few minutes of running around (which can feel painfully slow…did they really need the realism of a crowded park?), my arm was getting tired. When you encounter characters or rides, you wave to interact, and then you have gestures that apply once you’re in that interaction. For example, to get an autograph, you hold out both hands, palms up, and say, “Autograph.” The rides are all mini-games based on the ride, rather than a ride-through. But, this game has what I would expect from a Disney title: attention to detail. As you walk around, you overhear other park guests talking about what they’re doing that day. Yes, some of it is PR (“Wow, this popcorn is amazing!”, “Dad, can we come back tomorrow?”), but it’s also a nice touch that some games would have skipped. The tutorial is fairly complete without being tiresome, and the game has lots of ways to help you out gently if you seem to have forgotten how to do something. Most of all though, it feels like you’re having a day in the park. I can see it as being a great way to tide you over between visits or to help a younger child understand what the park is like before their first visit. Also, if you’re a WDW person who can’t go to Disneyland, this lets you tour a virtual version of the iconic original cheaply and easily.
  • Just Dance 4 for Kinect – There’s not a ton of gameplay difference here in this one versus Just Dance 3. It’s got the same kooky animations and the same overly forgiving scoring system. Just like previous versions, you have to play to unlock features that really should be present out of the box, like playlists. However, the Kinect experience has been thoroughly improved. The tracking seems to be much better, and we were able to play with four people in a less-than-ideal space without too much issue. Also, they added video capture which has lots of potential hilarity. But, overall, you’re basically just buying a new playlist of dance songs.

WDW Wine & Dine Group Trip Recap

DH and I rounded up a group of our friends to join us for a mega WDW Wine & Dine group trip. DH and T* ran the Wine & Dine half-marathon, while Moo, B*, BAD, and I enjoyed the Wine & Dine festival race party. We also toured WDW in general, including a stop by New Fantasyland before it opened to the public! I had lots of fun playing tour guide, despite having a nasty cold that I eventually passed to B*.

This was our first experience staying in an All Star Vacation Home. ASVH advertises on a few of our favorite Disney podcasts, so we were happy to give them some business. We were even able to book them using our MEI & Mouse Fan travel agent! As for the home and experience, in a nutshell, we loved it. You do, of course, have to have a rental car to make it work (we rented two cars), but it was great to have a full kitchen for cooking breakfasts and storing sodas as well as our own pool and hot tub in the back yard. We stayed in this house, which had a perfect amount of space for our group. It took us several hours on the first day (and a visit from one of the ASVH employees) to learn how everything worked and also get some burnt out light bulbs replaced, but after that, it was smooth sailing. The locks are PIN coded, so you don’t even have to worry about carrying keys. Everyone in the group loved the house and space, and I highly recommend it for anyone traveling with a large group. It would have been great for a family with kids, too, since everyone gets their own bedroom.

I have lots of trip photos posted in the photo gallery/album for this trip, but I wanted to highlight some of my favorites.

This was our whole group doing the one PhotoPass group shot we managed, at Animal Kingdom:
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

I got a really great castle shot on the morning we visited Magic Kingdom:
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

Moo and BAD show off their New Fantasyland Preview bracelets. (Because DH and I have annual passes, we were able to get our group in for a preview, including lunch at Be Our Guest!)
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

DH posed with a gargoyle outside the Be Our Guest restaurant:
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

Speaking of New Fantasyland, I do want to spend a few lines on the Be Our Guest restaurant. Lots of WDW reviewers echo the sentiment that this restaurant is the best lunch in the Magic Kingdom and possibly the best counter service lunch in all of WDW. The food was spectacular. Everyone in our party enjoyed the meal (though we did have some special order issues due to the computerized ordering system). Even the most basic entreés were more flavorful than you’d expect. The space is amazing. It’s just fabulous. If you’re going to WDW, it’s worth a visit, but expect it to be super-busy as the word of mouth is spreading fast about what a great dining experience it is!

Beyond that, New Fantasyland is pretty awesome, though generally aimed at (as one would expect) a younger set. We had fun with Belle’s Enchanted Storytime (and, without spoiling anything, the mirror is amazing), and the guy who is playing Gaston (outside the eponymous tavern) is perfectly cast. It also blends perfectly into “old” Fantasyland. You really can’t tell where the seam is in the concrete. Once the construction walls come down, it will seem like it’s always been there.

On to a new topic (and a different park), the baby rhino in the far right of this picture was born when I was doing the Expedition Everest 5K in Animal Kingdom, so he’s kind of special to me.
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

We had lots of fun sampling items during the Wine & Dine party before our racers finished. B* and BAD even had an impromptu dance party!

WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

DH had dressed up as Uncle Sam for this race. He got lots of compliments on his costume.
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

We visited the Osborne lights. WDW has done a great job improving the flow of that event. Oh, and the hot chocolate was delicious!
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

Duffy was even in the lights this year!
WDW Wine & Dine Half Trip - 2012

All in all, it was a very fun trip. The only bad part, aside from the roving illnesses in our group, was that we were all having so much fun hanging out together at the house that we had to really push ourselves to go to WDW. I guess that’s not so much of a bad thing. 🙂

Less Pictures, More Angst

Note: This post was written at the airport and on the plane on 9/4.

I’d normally be blasting pictures up to the site right now, but unfortunately, I’m returning home picture-less. On our third day of touring the Disneyland Resort (DLR), in late afternoon, we went to Grizzly River Run in Disney California Adventure (DCA). As this was our second time riding, we were aware of the existence of free two hour lockers just to the left of the ride queue entrance. The first time we went, we fortunately had DH’s plastic race cinch bag to protect our stuff. Unlike Kali River Rapids (the equivalent WDW ride), there’s no dry pouch in the center of the raft boats on this ride.

So, feeling particularly educated and smart, we trotted over to the lockers and put our stuff inside, including DH’s socks, wallet, phone, and medal; and my camera (with my brand new 14-150mm lens on it), wristlet, phone, spare battery, postcards, and animation academy drawings. The bag with my postcards was carabinered to my wristlet, and the wristlet was wrapped in my camera strap. We locked the locker at 5:35pm, and I even tugged on it to make sure it was closed properly before leaving. We had a fastpass, so our ride on Grizzly was done quickly. We were back at the locker at 6pm, and as I was pulling stuff out, we noticed that the bag containing my postcards was ripped open…and the wristlet attached to it, along with DH’s wallet and my camera, was gone. My wristlet had just a small amount of cash, one credit card, my ID, and my phone and spare battery in it. DH’s wallet had far more stuff in it. The camera was the most valuable thing and sadly, it’s probably what drew the thieves to our locker. Per the logs, our locker was re-opened using the PIN at 5:41pm, just six minutes after we left.

Whoever did it seems relatively amateur to me. They only managed one charge on one of DH’s credit cards before we cut it off at least 30-45 minutes after they had it in hand. The one purchase was at a kiosk in Downtown Disney, so they wasted that much time and didn’t even go very far. They took the time to detach the wristlet from the Disney bag by ripping it apart, which is an unnecessary risk. (Were they trying to be nice by leaving our souvenirs?) They left behind one loose credit card and DH’s phone, both relatively apparent.

According to the detective from the police department that works at Disney, this has happened a few times recently. They suspect the thieves are watching over people’s shoulders as they enter their PIN into the system or using a zoom lens on a camera to photograph the screen while someone enters their PIN. (This locker system confirms your PIN on the screen.) Given how amateur the effort was though, we’re suspicious that it was a crime of circumstance. That is, they saw the PIN and decided in that moment to commit the act vs. someone who is doing this regularly and stalking the machines. I don’t have that much of a criminal mind, but if I were doing such a thing, I’d have a totebag in hand and sweep the entire contents into the bag, lock it up, and walk away like I’m meeting up with my party. After all, the biggest risk is the person coming back in the moment that you’re there, so you want to minimize the time you’re in the act.

After realizing we’d been robbed, DH ran to get help while I stayed at the locker in case they wanted to see the scene. DH reported it to a cast member who called it into guest relations and told us to head to that area (near the front of the park) to proceed. We raced up to the front thinking that time was of the essence, but there wasn’t much effort to try to catch the people or anything. It was more a matter of documenting what happened, reporting to the police, and (for guest relations) doing what they could to remedy the situation. The guest relations staff were very nice and patient with us. We were both rattled and thus frantic. We were also sopping wet, having just gotten off the water ride. Guest relations took down our information and gave us new park passes and some vouchers for food for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. They gave us access to a guest lounge to collect ourselves and call some credit card companies to cancel our cards. Then, we went with park security to the security office to finish up a report for them and meet with the detective from the actual police to file the official report.

The detective let me get on his computer to see if I could track my phone, but I had no luck there. What I could find wasn’t accurate enough, and sadly, the thieves were not dumb enough to take pictures using the phone. They did launch my Facebook at 7pm, but the IPv6 address just told me Anaheim area…nothing specific. The detective tried calling the phone, but they let it go to voicemail. Having failed at tracking, I changed my passwords (disconnecting the accounts from the phone effectively) and called VZW to mark the SIM and phone as stolen. After the report was complete, a security guard escorted us out so we could head to the hotel and finish closing down accounts.

We ended up skipping dinner mostly. Later that evening, we returned to the park to see Fantasmic with some friends that were also in town for the race, and we got a Mickey pretzel and some sodas then. This morning, we had a character breakfast at the Grand Californian (Storytellers’ Cafe), so I got to hug Chip and Dale and a bunch of others. We ended up with a bit of vouchers leftover, so we bought snacks for the trip home (Mickey cookies and krispie treats). I just finished up a Mickey krispie while writing this.

All in all, it could have been much worse. Having one of our phones made life easier. Most of our stuff was in the hotel room. The thing I’m saddest about, of course, is losing the pictures that were on the camera. The camera itself is a serious loss monetarily, but the pictures are not replaceable.

Aside from the theft, we had a terrific visit to Disneyland. It’s a much more comfortable to tour than WDW simply because it’s not so vast. Cars Land (Radiator Springs Racers in particular) was amazing. World of Color kicks the ass of any show we have at WDW. I liked Disneyland’s Fantasmic better. Generally, I like the rides better. Their animation academy posts a schedule of characters, which allowed me to draw lots of characters I hadn’t done yet vs. having yet another Mickey drawing. Yes, the castle is much smaller, as is everything. However, despite this, it felt like Disneyland in particular didn’t have enough restrooms. Quite often, it was a significant walk to get to one, whereas at WDW, it always feels like one is right nearby. The other odd thing was seeing cast members out and about; because DLR doesn’t have Utilidors, you see more cast members on break, leaving for the day, or otherwise out of place with the surroundings.

Added on 9/6 while posting this: We did end up with some photos, from PhotoPass. There’s only a few, and they’re not necessarily terrific. But, it’s worth noting that Disney found our PhotoPass ID number so we could see our pictures, even though the PhotoPass card was among the stolen items. It also reminded me of some of the shots that got lost, which makes me sad and mad all over again. Behind and around the partners statue in Disneyland (that DH and I are photographed in front of), there’s mini-statues of many Disney characters, including Chip and Dale. I had a picture of me with that statue. I had a terrific picture of Ariel’s Grotto reflecting on the water. I had amazing night shots of Paradise Pier. Oh well…

Expedition Everest Challenge 5K

Note: I’m going to start with the long and winding story of my experience on the Expedition Everest Challenge and then finish with some tips for folks planning to do this race in the future. So, feel free to jump to the bottom if you’re mainly interested in tips and less interested in my rambling. 🙂 Also, here’s some abbreviations I’ll use freely in this post:
EEC = Expedition Everest Challenge
CM = Cast Member (WDW employee)
AK = Animal Kingdom
5K = 3.1 miles 🙂

Today is the last day of this trip to WDW. I’m sitting in the Animal Kingdom Lodge lounge area, which overlooks one of the savannas. Zebras are grazing, ducks are swimming, and giraffes are being evil.

This trip was for the Expedition Everest Challenge. It’s half race, half puzzle hunt. (They call it a scavenger hunt, but it’s really a puzzle hunt. They also call it a 5K, but it’s actually a bit more than that.) Here’s a photo of the course map from the “base camp” (the meet-up to pick up your bib, t-shirt, etc.):
img_20120504_145811_977
The EEC is a night race. It starts at 9:30pm in the Animal Kingdom parking lot. As I was staying right nearby in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, it was a very short bus ride. While on the bus, I met up with another racer who told me about a Facebook page for the event that was coordinating a meet-up. I ended up hanging out with that group before the race.

As you can imagine, it’s pretty hot in Florida. When I got off the bus, the temperature was reading at 87 degrees (with a “feels like” of 89). I dropped off my bag at bag check (which had sandals, a warm sweatshirt, and a few other odds and ends in it) and headed straight away to the water station. They smartly had a big table with cold water set up in the parking lot. I drank 4-5 cups of water down while waiting at the start. Sitting on the parking lot pavement was like sitting on a hot pizza stone, but it also felt kind of good to my legs. I snapped some photos, sent some tweets, and generally prepped myself for the race. My plan was to time myself on the Garmin, but stop it just before (and restart just after) the obstacles on the race, so that I’d end up with my “real” 5K time at the end, without the impact of obstacles.
img_20120505_211855_776
I was in the first wave to start, which is an experience I was not used to. This race puts you in waves based on when you register, not how fast you are. That was a wonderful thing, because I got to experience being in that first group at the start line and seeing the fireworks go off and all of that. Then, of course, most of wave 1 ran past me as I did my toddling pace over to the first obstacle, just before the end of mile 1. The first obstacle was a set of haybales that made little hurdles for long-legged runners. For the kids and short folks like me, it was step up, step down, step up, step down. There were only around 6-8 of them so it wasn’t too bad.

Then, we headed into the park. Animal Kingdom is a bit more hilly and bumpy than the typical course for me, and that combined with the heat took an expected toll. Fortunately, they had tons of fans set up along the course to help keep us all cool. I have no idea if any animals were out; I don’t remember at all. I remember that the moon was pretty and bright.

The second obstacle, just past the halfway point at the far end of the park, was tires. That was super-slow for me, as I didn’t want to trip, and again, short legs don’t help you out here. There was a water table just before and just after the tires, which I happily took advantage of, both to douse myself and to drink. Then, I was on the final mile, so I kicked up my speed a bit. (I’d slowed down in the park.) I remembered where we were running from doing my half back in January, and that was kind of fun. We were running by the electric fence on the service road toward the parking lot. I saw the 3 mile timer, and I realized I was definitely going to beat an hour for my 5K time, even with the obstacles, which was very exciting. I was afraid the heat would slow me down too much to hit my goal. I started a sprint so I could really get a good time, at which point I saw the third obstacle. I had forgotten about that!

The third obstacle was a net that you had to crawl under, in a sandy area with that super-soft dirt sand. Some people call it sugar sand, but it’s even softer than sugar…more like flour. Anyways, I got sand all over me and all in my shoes. When I stood up, it felt like there wasn’t room for my toes in my shoes anymore, but I knew I was so close to beating my goal time by the official clock, so I dashed to the mat and across. I started looking around, because I’d heard there would be water bottles and bananas, but there weren’t. They had more cups of water, but no food or powerade. That was a bit worrisome for me. I hadn’t brought a goo or anything (because I’d read that they would have things after the 5K part), and I also hadn’t eaten since noon. So, I determined to not rush myself through the hunt and to carefully monitor myself for dizziness, headache, etc.

Instead of foodstuff handouts, they handed us a mini-sharpie, an LED light, and a clue card. The clue was very simple to solve. I had it before I even got past the clue-givers. Unfortunately, I managed to Britta it in a different way. Here’s a picture of the clue, and I’ve blurred the answer so you can have fun solving it:
eec_clues_1
Now, keep in mind that I’m reading this in the dark while sweaty, tired, and covered in sand. Thus, I blew past most of the text at the top (which was tiny and hard to read while in motion, at dark, using a tiny red LED light). There had been a sign along the 5K course indicating “Scavenger Hunt”, which was inside the park near Camp Minnie-Mickey. But, before I even got into the park, there were all these CMs holding signs with words on them. So, I figured I needed to look for a CM with the answer word on it…yet I couldn’t find one in the group outside the park.

I went up to a CM holding a sign marked “Desert” and asked for help as to where to turn in my clue. He said, “You have the right answer, but the place to turn it in is over that way, farther down.” I re-read the clue and realized that my clue said “Oasis – Springs”…so, in my head, I was like, “Oh, okay! I need to go to the Oasis (which AK fans know is actually inside the park, just before the big tree) and look for the Springs (which I figured was probably the fountains and waterfalls near the flamingoes). These signs must be for a later part of the course.” So, I happily trotted off into the park and into the Oasis area of Animal Kingdom. At that point, I realized there were no signs anywhere. There were some 5K people still on the course, too, so I was dodging some of them while trying to criss-cross the Oasis.

So, I asked another CM where to go, showing him my clue. He said, “Oh, keep going. It’s up farther, in Camp Minnie Mickey.” I thought to myself, “Oh, yeah…duh! I remember seeing that while I was on the 5K. Of course the hunt starts at Camp Minnie Mickey!” So, off I ran! I dashed into Camp Minnie Mickey, and sure enough, there were more CMs with signs. Except…their signs also did not match my clue answer. Now, I’m getting worried, because I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing. I ask another CM for help, and they’re like, “Oh, you’re on Clue 1. That’s back outside the park. You need to go back to the beginning.” DESPAIR! I was so sweaty and tired, and now I realized I had wasted time because I missed a sign somewhere. Augh!

What could I do? I dashed back to the beginning and hunted for my sign, but again, I had no luck finding it. At this point, there was a CM standing in that area shouting, “DO NOT LEAVE THIS AREA UNTIL YOU HAVE CLUE 2!” So, clearly, I was not the only confused person dashing about mindlessly. Since I couldn’t find a sign with the answer on it, I went to a CM again and asked more specifically, “Which sign am I looking for? I know I have the right answer, but I can’t find a sign with this written on it.”

This time, the CM said, “Oh, sweetie! You’re looking for this word [points at the word SPRINGS], not the answer.” D’oh! That was my problem the whole time. Took me no time at all to locate the SPRINGS sign once I was looking for it. By my Garmin’s reckoning, I lost around 22 minutes in my confusion.

After showing my correct clue at SPRINGS, I got my next clue:
eec_clues_2
This one only puzzled me for a few seconds, as I was thinking I might need to skip letters or something. But, I finished it while speed walking before being back in the park again. Now, I knew exactly where to go and ran/walked to Camp Minnie Mickey, to the PLUTO sign. At this point, things moved pretty fast, so here are the rest of the clues:
eec_clues_3
eec_clues_4
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At the end, they had two chutes. There was the “you got all the clues right” chute and the chute of sadness (for people who had missed a clue or otherwise hadn’t really done the hunt correctly). I was in the good chute (yay) and trotted in to the end. Finally, there was Powerade and bananas and bottled water. But, the lines to grab these things were huge and disorganized. I’m not sure why that was the case here when it never has been on any race I’ve done before at Disney or anywhere else. I mean, keep in mind that I’m a pretty late finisher. Was there more demand or less availability? Did they not have it out in time and so people were coming back for it? I don’t know. The line to get a medal was actually more of a mob scene, too. They didn’t have people standing around handing them out like normal, so this mob had formed by the rack of medals. I could have easily grabbed more medals, but, of course, I didn’t. I hope other people didn’t either.

Advice for people planning to do Expedition Everest Challenge in the future:

  • Train for more than a 5K. Ideally, train for 5 miles, or even an 8K or 10K distance. Those of us who had trained for long distances had no trouble, but the folks who trained for just a 5K were clearly hurting during the extra 1-2 miles of the hunt portion.
  • If your running gear pack allows and if you have one, bring a headlamp. While they supply a little light during the hunt, a headlamp would have been a godsend. I have several at home and totally kicked myself for not bringing one.
  • There’s far fewer character greetings on this course than most races, so having a camera with you is less necessary.
  • Bring a goo or other snack for post-5K recovery. If you have a way of carrying water with you, save your water for post-5K, as there are no water stops or aid stations during the hunt.
  • If you can leave your bag in a car or locker, or even get by without needing to check a bag, that’s the best bet to avoid a long line. (Knowing RunDisney, though, they’ll have solved that issue for next year.)
  • Bring glowy stuff (glow sticks, necklaces, blinky lights) to decorate yourself, since it’s a night race. (Note: This will also apply to the Wine & Dine Half and Tower of Terror Ten Miler.)
  • My racer friend from the bus noted: If you need reading glasses, make sure to bring them with you during the 5K so you’ll have them for reading the clues afterward!

You can view all my photos from this trip in the Photo Gallery, or by clicking this link: Expedition Everest Challenge WDW Trip, May 2012

Drawings from the Animation Academy

As many of you know, my favorite thing to do at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS) in WDW is the Animation Academy. It’s a 15 minute class where an animator shows you how to draw a character. I had a “duh” moment as I was deciding what to do with my latest art…I could scan it! Now, I’m sad for the ones I’ve tossed in the recycling bin!

First, here’s a drawing I did of Pascal, the chameleon from Tangled:

WDW DHS - Pascal

This is the second Mickey that I’ve drawn at the academy, and I’ve also drawn Minnie. Point being, I’m getting pretty good at this one, I think.
WDW DHS - Mickey

My First (official) Half-Marathon!

History: So, as long-time readers know, I signed up with DH for the Chip n Dale Marathon Relay back in April 2011, held at Walt Disney World for the first time on January 8, 2012. I love Chip and Dale, so I couldn’t pass up their first race. As even longer-time readers know, my very first 5K was the UP 5K at WDW in January 2010, which was also when DH did *his* very first half-marathon (the Donald). After that first 5K, I did perhaps one 5K a quarter up until I signed up for the relay. At that point, I began training in earnest, following Galloway’s run-walk-run system and half-marathon training plan. DH and I had signed up for the relay because he goes fast enough that it balanced out my relative slowness in a way that would allow me to do it without fear of being swept. (Disney’s races have relatively strict sweeping compared to many other distance races, because Disney needs to be able to open the parks fully.) Anyways, I’ve now “bookended” my set of races by going from 5K and 13.1 miles at WDW.

After 8 months of training, I completed my first official half-marathon on 1/8/2012 at WDW, as planned. 🙂 This was the first marathon relay during marathon weekend that Disney had done, and I’d say that for an inaugural event, they managed it quite well. (I’ll summarize some areas for improvement for RunDisney and tips for future relayers a bit later on.) For now, I’m going to talk about my own experience.

I was incredibly nervous for the event. Even though I had done a half-marathon (unofficially) in December as part of my training, I had managed to catch a nasty cold in the last week of December and basically spent several days in bed resting and recovering. Even a week and a half later, I was still sniffly and not 100%. I’d managed to do my 3 mile final run, but I’d been skipping weekly runs in favor of resting. Plus, because my unofficial half had happened earlier than the training plan suggests, I’d modified the plan, and I wasn’t entirely sure how well it would work. My nervousness was compounded by all of the usual pre-event jitters about getting to the right place at the right time, being hydrated enough, wearing the right gear, etc. etc. And, then add to that that we were going to be touring the parks (admittedly, just DHS, which is a low-walking park) the day before, meaning I’d be putting in a few miles of walking instead of resting my legs and feet. To be safe, we cut off our DHS touring early, and admittedly, DH babied me a bit by picking me up at the expo entrance and such to help minimize my walking the day before.

The expo was a bit disappointing compared to previous years. Some of that may have been because we were there on Saturday (when 2/3 of the events were already done). I was also very disappointed in the lack of relay-themed merch. I loved the “We Did It!” shirt, but on Saturday, they were out of every size except XL and XXL, which meant there wasn’t one for DH. (There was one for me, thankfully!) There were no tech shirts with the Chip and Dale theme (there’s 2-3 variants for the Mickey, Donald, and Goofy races), nor were there pins, mugs, or other gear. Basically, as a relayer, your merch options were the “We Did It!” shirt or the generic Marathon Weekend gear that mostly features Mickey. I had come prepared to spend gobs of money, and they just didn’t let me. I hate it when companies don’t let me spend my money!

I love the shirt that came with the race entry, though. You’ll see it several times in the pictures from this WDW trip. It’s a really nice long sleeved tech shirt that was perfect for the weather during our trip, and it has Chip and Dale prominently featured. The other item that came with our race entry was an insulated pad. This was a great idea for a giveaway for the relayers, as it gave us something to sit on while waiting for the relay partner at the switch point. I know lots of relayers tweeted that they didn’t know what it was, but our person told us what it was for, and I, for one, was happy to have it while sitting on the cold concrete!

One of the things that contributed to my pre-race jitters was getting to the relay point. It is notoriously difficult to get around Disney during the mornings of marathon weekend, because several roads shut down entirely for the events. Disney bus transportation has alternate routes, but the traffic can be a nightmare. Getting around in a car is often easier if you know the alternate routes, but it can be stressful because of the traffic and closures. RunDisney’s instructions were for Relayer #2 (me) to go to the start of the marathon with Relayer #1 (DH) and then catch a bus from there to the relay point. But, that meant waking up at 3am-ish even though I wouldn’t be running until 7:20 at the earliest, and it would mean sitting out in the weather (whatever it would be) for 3-4 hours while waiting. DH and I decided we could find a better way than the recommendation, a way where I could “sleep in” until 5am or so and be in shelter.

Editor’s Note: You can view the Marathon Relay course map by clicking this link: 2012-WDWMarathonRelayMap. From here on out, I talk about the course and layout of WDW with the assumption that you are either familiar or are looking at this course map, so definitely reference it as needed.

Because DH and I had been at WDW for marathon weekend before, we knew which resorts would have transportation access despite the road closures. DH and I also consulted the course map before booking. We decided we should be at the Poly, Contemporary, or Wilderness Lodge to have easy access to the relay point. The Poly’s prices made us cringe, and Contemporary was booked up, so we grabbed the Wilderness Lodge. I had been wanting to stay there anyways, as I love the National Park theming and woodsy interiors. It ended up being even more perfect than we thought. We knew it was one of the few resorts that has unimpeded road access to the Magic Kingdom parking lots on marathon day. What we didn’t know is that RunDisney would have a bus shuttle going from there directly to the relay point! We didn’t know because no one seemed to know. We had asked about options at the expo and had only come up with the recommended plan. But, sure enough, when I walked out of the resort at 6am (I had allowed lots of time in case it took awhile to hail a taxi), a vested person (RunDisney or Disney, I don’t know) told me that the bus waiting right there would take me to the relay point. If I had known that the night before, I would have been far less worried! It ended up being easy peasy. I boarded the bus and sat in warm (and complimentary) comfort for around 15 minutes. A few more folks (spectators) boarded, and then, we were off! At the relay point, the bus was guided in, and I was dropped off literally at the entrance to the runner area. I stopped by Chip and Dale to take a picture first thing:
Phone Photo: Chip and Dale at the relay point
Then, I settled in for an hour’s wait. After about a half hour, I used the port-a-potty and stripped down to race gear, checking the rest under DH’s bib number at bag check. The first few relayer #1’s were coming in. The very first one was a guy dressed as a Chippendale! He had on black running shorts and a bow tie with collar. His relay partner was dressed identically. I also met up with a guy while waiting that was dressed as Stitch; his partner was dressed as Lilo. 🙂

Shortly thereafter, I made my way to the relay chute and started watching for DH in earnest. I spotted his signature floppy head (he tends to rock his head back and forth when he runs, especially when he’s tired at the end of a race) coming down the track and scooted my way up to the front of the chute to greet him. He had set a new personal record! Yay DH! He quickly told me he had seen Mike Scopa and wished me luck as I headed out.

And I was off! It was around 3/4 of a mile of swap area before I officially was on the course. (The time in the swap area counted toward our total time, but not toward our individual times.) This means that relayer #2 actually does a bit more distance than relayer #1, especially if #1 is in an early corral. Just sayin’. 🙂 The first part of my course was relatively boring. One nice thing is that, since relayer #2 is doing the second half of the marathon course, the water/powerade stops are frequent. As always, RunDisney did a great job keeping the water stations stocked and staffed, too. The sun was just coming out as I started, and it was around 55 degrees. (By the time I finished, it was 78 degrees and full sunlight.) I had decided to maintain a brisk walk until I got through Animal Kingdom (notoriously hard on knees) and then see how I was feeling and whether I was up to doing run intervals. (On my practice half, I started doing run intervals at mile 3 and kept it up through mile 7-8.) I wanted to play things safe given the heat and given that I was still a little rundown from my cold. RunDisney, of course, had fun character-themed stops along the course. I saw the Disney villains early on and lots of others along the way.

I encountered what must be the stinkiest section of WDW, near the intersection of Western Way with our course. It must be the sewage treatment plant and compost for the whole park. It smelled like poo and death for about a half mile. Ugh. But, not long after that, I was going through the castmember entrance into Animal Kingdom! And, right past that entrance, they had brought out some animals to greet us! There were owls and hawks as well as some adorable pigs on leashes, particularly this guy:
WDW AK - Rafiki's Planet Watch
A llama was also out on a leash. All the animals seemed super-excited, which made me happy and joy-filled as I continued on the path and into the park. Animal Kingdom wasn’t open for business yet, so we had it to ourselves with the castmembers. Unfortunately, shortly after coming into Animal Kingdom, I slipped on a discarded granola bar (still in wrapper) while on a downhill section. I didn’t fall; I caught myself with my left knee. But, it twisted my knee nastily. Fortunately, the body handles this sort of thing marvelously well. I didn’t even realize the severity of the sprain until after the race. I knew something was not good, especially when on the many banked roads that came after that point, but it was a bearable ache that didn’t seem to warrant special attention. I did some running, but the knee just wasn’t up for it, and given that I still had 9 miles to go, I didn’t want to push it.

I ended up maintaining a brisk walk throughout the race. Most of it isn’t that notable. I mean, it was awesome…but it’s nothing I need to write a ton about. The race organization was excellent. The runners were polite. I got LOTS of pats on the back and thumbs up from other runners (almost all of whom were much faster than me, since I entered the course in groups at DH’s pace) as well as shout-outs from spectators. When I left DHS, I was getting a bit overheated. I started dumping water on myself at water stops to cool off. At that point, the sun was out full force. It wasn’t terribly warm to most people, but to a Northern-trained person exerting themselves as I was, it felt pervasively hot. I started drinking a bit more water at each stop, too, which helped. Still, most of the time from the mile 24 marker through around 25 and a quarter was a blur. I know I got through it, but I don’t remember it very well. I remember forcing myself to slow down in pace, and I remember seeing Lou Mongello but accidentally calling him Scopa. (D’oh!) Then, I got to a point in EPCOT where I knew that Duffy would be soon, and I pulled out my phone to prep it for a picture with my favorite Disney greeting character.
Phone Photo:  Duffy during half-marathonPhone Photo:  Duffy during half-marathon
After meeting up with Duffy, I knew I was home free! And, sure enough, the Reflections of Earth theme from Illuminations was playing in my earbuds. The swelling climax came in the music as I was going by Test Track, and I started bawling. Now, keep in mind that my entire body was salty from sweat. Seriously, deer could have lived off of my skin. They would have loved me. So, when I started crying, I had no good way to wipe my eyes without making them sting! Fortunately, I had tucked some tissues in a baggie in my sportsbra, figuring I might bawl at the finish line, so I retrieved those (which slowed me down further…I can actually spot where this happened on my Garmin tracking because I slow down considerably while fishing them out). I’m sure the folks loved seeing me digging in my sportsbra as I trotted by. 🙂 Anyways, I got myself cleaned up just as I came to the gospel choir at the 26 mile mark (.2 miles to go!). Yay! I started walking briskly again, and the tough part was that I knew DH and his parents would be at the finish line, but I didn’t know where…and lots of people’s names sound like my name when shouted, so I kept thinking I was hearing them when I wasn’t. I eventually gave up on spotting them in the crowds and focused on finishing strong. At .1 to go, I broke into a sprint and made it past the near-last timing bumper while sprinting (about 15 feet from the actual finish line). I raised my arms triumphantly at the finish line, but I smacked some other guy accidentally while doing so, and so my finish line photo is actually kind of crappy. 🙂 Fortunately, DH and his parents were in the stands and got lots of good photos of me finishing. Here’s one of my favorites, showing my ZOOMY determination:
WDW Chip n Dale Relay - My big finish!
After that, I cried a bit more (not much, as I was out of tears from the first bawling session!) and grabbed water and powerade and started chugging it as I walked down the chute to the photo stop. My knee was screaming at this point, so after the photo, I tried to spot the post-race care tent, but I somehow managed to miss it and ended up in the bag check/exit instead. DH had checked a bag for me with sandals in it (I always like to change out of my shoes first thing after a race), and I was so hot and tired that all I wanted to do was get somewhere that I could sit down and rest for a bit. So, just outside of the exit, I plopped down in some shade and powered up my phone to call DH. He and his parents were nearby so he brought them over to me. DH’s Dad fetched me some ice for my knee while DH’s Mom took pictures of me and us.
WDW Chip n Dale Relay - Team Hare & Tortoise!
After I’d had some time to collect myself and change into my sandals, I started texting and tweeting and calling and whatnot. I also ate an orange, which was the most delicious orange I’d ever eaten. (It was so delicious that I’ve been craving oranges ever since and now have a few pounds of clementines here at the house that I’m eating!) My in-laws were super-supportive and awesomely patient as I gathered myself. As soon as I tried standing on my knee, I realized I had hurt it worse than I realized, as I could barely put weight on it. I eventually managed to hobble along with my icebag and stuff. They had parked very close to where I was, which was awesome, and as we were in my in-laws’ car, they just dropped us off at the door of Wilderness Lodge.

After heading to the room, DH and I promptly switched into swimsuits and headed for the pool. I showered off at the pool shower before going in, as I was still gritty with sweat-salt. Then, we went in the lovely cool pool and paddled around while sharing our adventures of the day. We finished with a good long soak in the hot tub, where we chatted with other marathon folks that had the same idea!

That evening, we headed to a family dinner in the suburbs, me hobbling along on my bum knee. On the way back to the hotel, we got an ace bandage for me to wrap it with, and we made plans to rent an ECV to tour EPCOT the next day. So yeah, I was that person wearing a marathon medal toodling around in an ECV! That’s fine, though…that had been part of the “plan B” for the weekend. I deserved spoiling! Oh, and the ECV was quite nice. I mean, I could have walked on my knee, but I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have been able to walk as well in the days after if I had, especially since EPCOT is one of the larger parks for walking. (A lap around world showcase is just over a mile, for reference.) DH’s Dad joined us in EPCOT, too, but he ended up not feeling well and leaving early.

So…that was my experience. 🙂 I’ll do a separate post with photos and other notes about the trip in general, but that’s the part about the race. Yay! My next goal is to improve my 5K time considerably. I’m doing the Expedition Everest 5K at Disney in May, and I’m using that as my target for improvement.

Edited to add: Here’s a scan of my completed training chart. Awww… 🙂
My Zoomy Training Plan (part 2)

Ways RunDisney could improve the Chip and Dale Marathon Relay in 2013+:

  • Have more merch for the relayers! I’m willing to place orders onsite and have it shipped to me, if you’re worried about over-printing. I’m also willing to buy in advance, but I want the merch!
  • Provide options to relayer #2 beyond going to the start point with relayer #1. It turned out that you (RunDisney) had a bus/shuttle going to the relay point from Wilderness Lodge, but you didn’t tell anyone about it! I’m sure other relayers would have used it had they known. I was lucky to stumble on it.
  • Have a big screen that uses the runner tracking to show a list of runner numbers that are about to come into the relay point. Queueing up to meet the relayer was a bit of a mess, as you had to find somewhere you could see them come in, watch for them, and then squeeze your way through people in the chutes. Also, the number ranges on the chutes seemed pointless. Just let people pick the emptiest chute to go into. It ended up okay this year, but if you have more people, the current system will not be workable.
  • This might not be feasible, but it’d be really cool if we had some official thingie to hand-off to each other (like a giant plastic acorn or nut!) for a photo op at the relay point. It could be optional so that the competitive folks could skip it, but the non-competitive folks could do a quick photo of handing off something between the partners. Just a thought. 🙂
  • Have some snacks/breakfasts on sale at the relay point. I was shocked that I couldn’t buy or get water or a banana while waiting.
  • Have a planned way for the relayers to meet up at the finish line and do a picture together with a relay background. We really wanted a picture of both of us with our medals that looked official, and there didn’t seem to be a prescribed way to do that (though we figured out later that we could have managed it).

Tips for Runners Doing the Relay in 2013+*:

  • Stay at the Polynesian or at Wilderness Lodge. If you can’t do either of those, stay at one of the monorail resorts. From the Poly, relayer #2 can easily walk to the relay point. From Wilderness Lodge, there’s a bus to the relay point (or it’s around 1mi to walk). From any monorail resort, you can ride to the TTC and walk from there to the relay point (but keep in mind that monorails are less reliable on race day because of the spectator traffic, so allow extra time). Basically, from any other resort, you’re going to have to go to the start point with relayer #1, which means waking up at the same time they do, and then catch a bus from there to the relay point, which means sitting outside for however many hours it takes for relayer #1 to get there. We had good weather this year, but it can be sub-freezing at that time in the morning. Believe me, you’d rather be in one of the hotels until you absolutely need to get to the relay point…and that means Wilderness Lodge or Poly.
  • Plan for your runner #1 to come into the finish line area and meet up with you there post-race, if possible. Then, you can do a picture together with your medals. Runner #1 can get into the blocked off area by going back in through bag check, but they don’t make it really clear that they can.
  • Bring snacks, water, and entertainment for waiting at the relay point. Bring a blanket to wrap up in. There’s a bag check there where you can check it all in either runner’s name (ideally put it under runner #2 and have him/her return it to you later). You can also just hand off items to runner #1, but keep in mind that they’ll be sweaty and tired and potentially in no mood to grab your stuff from you. 🙂

* These tips assume that RunDisney doesn’t change much from how it was set up in 2012.

My first WDW solo trip (long post)

About three weeks before graduation, I was stressing. I had family coming from all over the place. I’d had to change the menu for my graduation picnic twice. The weather alternated between predictions of thunderstorms all weekend to predictions of blistering heat. Work was frantic, and some of the people I really enjoyed working with were leaving the company. Then, to add to my troubles, DH discovered he’d have to work over the Independence Day weekend and the week following, so I’d be stuck at home alone with a pile of housework to do. In the midst of all of this, I was listening to Len Testa on WDW Today do a review of the bars of WDW, and I just decided…fuck it, I’m going to Disney World. By myself. Because I can.

Planning my post-grad celebration, despite being additional work, actually made the rest of my tasks seem easier. (Don’t get me wrong…I was so thrilled to have everyone come to visit me up at the Milwaukee Zoo, and the food and weather turned out to be faboo. It really just felt like that celebration was a happy blur with the WDW trip, but the weeks beforehand would have turned me into a frazzled mess had I not had this WDW trip in the back of my mind.) Touring Plans was predicting 9’s and 10’s for that whole weekend, but the best part about touring plans is that, when executed well, a touring plan makes you immune to crowds. I decided to run my trip the way I’d always wanted to do WDW: early morning in the park, afternoon disco nap and pool time, and then back to the park in the evening. That way, I avoided the heat and the worst of the crowds, mostly. I also got to enjoy my resort more.

Speaking of, I decided to stay at the Caribbean Beach Resort. Since the renovations, I’d wanted to stay in one of the Nemo rooms at CBR. DH had little interest, being the sort of person who goes by what The Unofficial Guide says as if it is gospel. 🙂 I managed to get a really great rate on the room thanks to my annual pass (and the help of my agent, Leslie, at Mouse Fan Travel!).

The flight to WDW was largely uneventful. I did find and nab some Chick-Fil-A at the Atlanta airport. I even bought up some spare sandwiches to use as breakfasts in my room! Mostly, I napped on the plane to podcasts as I had a late evening planned. From the point that I got off the plane, it took around 2 hours to get to the resort, which is not too bad. I had done the online check-in, so my check-in process was quite fast. I ended up in building 46 of Jamaica. I had heard that CBR was a less desirable resort because of the size and consequently slow bus service. I have to say that I had no problems with the bus service or the size of the resort. It felt smaller than Port Orleans Riverside in terms of walking distance. I will allow that my building was nicely placed for proximity to all of the things you’d want to do, but, looking around, I had a hard time picking out a building that would have been truly bad. Honestly, the only ones I’d have been sad about would have been Martinique and Trinidad, and, as it happens, those are mostly premium rooms because (ironically) their location is considered better. Martinique and Trinidad sit right next to the feature pool and restaurant building, but they’re also smack in the middle of the bus routes. Jamaica, OTOH, was always in a desirable position on the bus routes. At the end of the evening, it’s often the first stop. In the morning, it’s usually the last stop before heading to the park. This can vary widely, but my experience was that Jamaica and Barbados are probably the best buildings to be in for bus time optimization.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. During check-in, I was gifted my “I’m celebrating a personal triumph!” pins as well as a Pirates of the Caribbean temporary tattoo. CBR has an internal shuttle, so I hopped on that to go to my room. As my cellphone was nearly dead (my own stupidity in not bringing a spare battery and not taking advantage of places to charge at ATL), I took as much time as I could in the room before heading out to Magic Kingdom. I brewed myself some coffee and munched on one of my CFA sandwiches. As some of y’all know from my tweets, I trotted over to the bus stop, and a Magic Kingdom bus was there. The bus driver was in the process of loading a wheelchair-bound passenger, so, after making eye contact with him (I thought), I waited for him to finish by the front door of the bus. I could have been all loud and annoying while he was busy, but I opted for being quiet and respectful. In the interim, a bus returning from DHS came by and dropped a bunch of people off, and I ended up almost spraining my ankle and spilling my remaining (hot!) coffee all over myself trying to get out of the way of a stroller herd in motion. The Magic Kingdom bus pulled away just as I walked back up to the door. D’oh!

But, less than five minutes later, another MK bus pulled up, and this one was practically empty. I got a private ride to the Kingdom, and my driver kept me company along the way with his suggestions of things to do. (It was all stuff I knew about already, but I let him tell me things anyways.) Magic Kingdom was open until 2am that night, and I arrived at the entrance just before the beginning of Wishes. One lovely thing about being a solo/single person: you can salmon your way through crowds easier! I worked my way up Main Street, around the hub, and then back in to watch Wishes from the side of the castle. I got to my spot just before Tink flew. Then, as the crowd dissipated, I worked my way up to just in front of the castle to sit and watch the Magic, Memories, and You show. (If you’re not likely to get to see it in person, go watch this video, cry, and get back to me. If you think you might see it in person, just wait…stay spoiler free, because it’s breathtaking in person.) I did all of the rides I wanted to do that evening, including my first-ever ride on Space Mountain! I have to say that I don’t know that I want to ride SM again. I might try it one more time just in case it was adrenaline at play, but I found SM to be jerky-feeling. Because I couldn’t see where the track was turning, I couldn’t anticipate with my body how to lean. That plus the normal fear-tension led me to feel sore and stiff afterward. As for *how* I did Space Mountain, it was a matter of timing. SM had a 15 minute wait, and Thunder Mountain had a 45 minute wait. (Thank you, Lines app!) So, I decided to at least go through SM’s queue, and by the time I got to the front, the cast members urging me along convinced me to hop in.

I was back at the hotel and in bed by 3am, only to wake up and head out to DHS 3.5 hours later. I was at the front of the rope drop crowd and raced along to the back of the park for a Toy Story fastpass. After a first ride of Toy Story, I headed to Star Tours. I was worried that Star Tours’ line would build up, too, but it was practically walk-on all morning. After my second Star Tours ride, I met up with a DIS-er, and we rode a few more times together. Then, we went to Great Movie Ride and Animation Academy before having lunch at Mama Melrose. It was great fun meeting up with her and having a bit of company. After lunch, we went over to Toy Story, but the wait had (predictably) skyrocketed to 90+ minutes, and she had not gotten a fastpass. Thus, I ended up doing the Star Trek ride dick move of hugging her bye as I happily trotted onto the ride with my fastpass. I did manage to get my best score ever on the ride, though:

After that, I headed back to the hotel for a nap and swim. I wasn’t hungry when I woke up (Mama Melrose is quite filling), so I had a soda in the room and headed over to Downtown Disney. There, I found permanent straws with a mickey pattern! Bonus! It’s like they made it just for me! I also picked up a Mickey plaid mini-backpack to use as a park bag, as my park purse turned out to have a magnet closure that was screwing up my annual pass. They were doing a dance party by the lake, so I joined in that for awhile to work up an appetite. I decided to head over to the Wilderness Lodge and visit the Territory bar for dinner. Len had recommended it for the food and atmosphere, and I definitely enjoyed it. The bar offers a selection of wines from the Northwest US (Washington and Oregon, mainly) as well as some standard bar fare. I had the honey ginger wings, which were delectable. I also sampled a few different wines and found a Cabernet that, despite being kind of dry, really agreed with me. It tasted like smoked hickory. I’d mention the wine by name, but I didn’t note it and none of my Disney info sites seem to have the full bar menu for Territory Lounge posted (possibly because they change out the wines fairly often?). I also took this opportunity to write thank you postcards to all of the people that had come out for graduation and/or sent things. Unfortunately, that meant I was a bit toasted while writing…so some of my cards were a bit, hmm, unusually happy and affectionate. 🙂

I got a good night’s sleep before my EPCOT day.
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I actually ended up with three fastpasses for Soarin by the time I left after lunch. I also did the Behind the Seeds tour. One of the coolest parts of the Behind the Seeds tour was interacting with a hypersensitive plant.
This is what it looks like before it’s touched or shaken:
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And this is what it looks like after it’s been touched or shaken:
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And here’s a video of me touching the leaves so you can see them retract:

We also got to feed the tilapia and release some beneficial ladybugs on the plants of our choice. I chose to release mine on some pumpkin plants being grown hydroponically.
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After the tour, I rode Soarin’ one more time and had lunch at Sunshine Seasons before heading back to the resort. At the resort, there were cranes, just kinda hanging out, right next to the path. It was a bit scary!
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I went back to EPCOT in the evening for Illuminations and dinner, as well as a stop by the pavilions for shopping. I had dinner at Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco. The dinner was good and unique, but it’s not something I feel a need to do again. I liked the belly dancers, though! For Illuminations, I staked out a good spot a little over an hour in advance. Duffy kept me company while waiting. He also got 2 new outfits on this trip, including the Canada outfit he’s sporting here!
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Fireworks shows were really the only time I felt the crowds during my trip. I thought I was going to have to cut a bitch to defend my spot at one point. And one woman, about twenty minutes before the show, specifically directed her daughter to go stand in front of me (without asking or anything) and then *yelled* at the girl when she felt understandably uncomfortable with the idea and headed back to her mom. I mean, if someone asks me, I’m totally polite, but if you shove your way in front of me, or try to squeeze me out of the way, I’m going to do a great impression of a stone column. After all, I specifically got there very early and picked the spot out, sat down, and didn’t leave. Coming a half hour in advance and trying to shove your way in front of me is not cool, no matter how old you are. But, regardless, I got some great pictures of the show.
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Monday was my last day at WDW for this trip. There were early magic hours at Animal Kingdom, but I also needed to get out of my hotel room before I left, as checkout was at 11am but I didn’t have to be back at the hotel for Magical Express until 2:30pm. I was kind of panicking on what the process would be. I knew the resort would hold my bags, but how would I get my bags over to the Customs House? Did I need to figure on a bus ride each way (and potentially waiting 15-20 minutes for the bus)? I called bell services, and the castmember there explained it all to me.

So, what ended up happening made Caribbean Beach get lots of bonus points in my book. It turns out that, if you’re checking out of Caribbean Beach Resort and are using Disney’s (free!) airport checkin service with your bags, all you have to do is call and make an appointment with the bell desk the night before your checkout, for any time (though the earlier you call, the less chance that you’ll have to take a different appointment time than you prefer). My appointment was at 6:40am. At that time, the bellhop knocked on my door, handed over a packet with my room charge receipt and bag check fee receipt, and collected me and my luggage. He took my bags and walked with me out to the pull-around area in front of Jamaica, where an air conditioned van was waiting. He loaded my bags into the van (tagging any that I wanted to check with bell services versus checking into the airline) and drove me over to the Customs House (where bell services and checkin/checkout is). There, the BAGS services folks checked my ID and checked my bag for the airlines, as well as printing out my boarding passes (on awesome Mickey boarding pass paper!). The whole process took less than ten minutes, door to door. It’s possible other moderates have this, but, Caribbean Beach Resort is the first one I’ve found. I really loved that they provided a van to haul you and your stuff so that you a) don’t have to wait on the buses and b) don’t have to drag your luggage all over the place.

After that, I hopped on the internal resort shuttle. I let the driver know that I was transferring to catch a bus to Animal Kingdom, and he radio’d to find where to take me so that I could catch one right then. Between that and the bag check process being so fast, I was at Animal Kingdom well in advance of rope drop, such that I was front of line at a turnstile. I had brought some cans of soda with me, still cold from the fridge in my room, and I dosed up while reading Ender’s Shadow on my Kindle. Being front of line allowed me to dash back for the first Kilimanjaro Safari of the morning. As I’d heard, the animals were much more active, and the “guides” were more willing to stop, on the first safari of the day.
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We had an oryx stop our safari at one point because he stood in front of the truck and then licked it for awhile.
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After the safari, I walked the trails. Then, I headed over to Camp Minnie-Mickey to see the Lion King show. While I was waiting on a park bench (and getting my camera changed with indoor lenses instead of my telephoto), someone fuzzy reached around behind me! It was Chip! He had snuck up on me and hugged me from behind. 🙂 I was so happy! So, of course, I had to take that chance to get photos with some of the characters before the show.
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I ended up with a perfect spot for Lion King, elevated but with no one in front of me to block my view.
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After that, I did a little bit of shopping around and walked the trails around the Tree of Life before calling it a day. My cellphone was low on power, so I decided to go ahead back to the resort so I’d have time to charge my phone before heading to the airport. (Of course, at the time, I thought I wouldn’t have a ton of time at the airport!)

If you follow my Twitter feed, you know that my flight got delayed out of MCO and then my flight from ATL to home got cancelled after many delays. So, my trip home wasn’t that great, but I’m still so happy I decided to go on this solo trip. It was really fun, and I enjoyed the efficiency of just doing what I wanted to do. 🙂

Wild Africa Trek Review (Disney’s Animal Kingdom)

This past Thursday, 24 Feb 2011, we went on the Wild Africa Trek tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We’ve never done any of the Disney tours, but we had heard really good things about the Wild Africa Trek on AllEars.net and on our podcasts. As soon as I heard about this tour, I was desperate to go. As much as I love zoos and getting “up close” to the wildlife, this was a no-brainer. DH, Moo, and I went, and we got to go at the introductory price of $129 per person. The price is now $189 per person, and it may go even higher during peak season. Included in the price, in addition to the 3-hour tour, is a water canteen (stainless steel, very nice) and a code for a free Photopass CD ($150 value) of all of the pictures from your trip, NOT just the ones from the tour. You also get a light meal during the tour. To go on the tour, you must be at least age 9, able to walk on groomed trails and climb 1-2 flights of stairs, and between 50 and 310 pounds. Park admission is required and is not included in the tour price.

This tour embodies what you expect from Disney, a real example of “the Disney difference”. They take care of everything that you can think of during the trip. It is an amazing experience, not to be missed,. Our tour was at 1pm, and, as instructed, we arrived at 12:45pm. The check-in host was also our tour guide, Jeff. Jeff signed us, had us sign the waiver for the tour, and explained that this was our last chance to use the restroom for the next two hours. Then, we waited for a few minutes for the rest of the tour group to arrive. The tour maxes at 12 people; we had 11 on our tour. Jeff led us “backstage” through a gate and down a short path to an open air hut that is hidden behind a copse of trees from the park. (I should note, too, that Jeff is a stone cold hottie, at least in part because of his wicked sense of humor.) At the hut, our other tour guide, whose name I unfortunately don’t recall (I never saw her nametag, but she did introduce herself at the beginning), was waiting for us. Here, they reminded us that we couldn’t bring any loose items with us on the tour. Any bags we were carrying and anything in our pockets needed to be put into a locker. We were allowed to bring a hat, glasses/sunglasses (they provided a neckstrap), and a camera so long as it could be attached to our gear via a carabiner and/or neckstrap. The back half of the hut had a bank of lockers for our use, and the lockers were amply sized and individually coded. (On a similar tour at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, guests used a shared locker.)

Next, we were each weighed. The scale’s display was located hidden behind the counter, so only the tour guide was able to see. Based on our weight (presumably), we were assigned gear vests. The first gear vest they gave me was going to be a tight fit, so I asked for a larger one. The next size up, whatever it was, was comparatively huge on me, and they had 2 sizes larger than that available. So, the vest they put you in doubles as a safety harness. There are leg straps that go around your legs, kind of similar to a zipline harness. You also have a giant and heavy cable that goes from the middle of the back around you and clips to a spot in the upper left of your vest. The tour guides were very helpful in getting us all into our gear. One piece of advice: wear shorts that are at least knee length! Otherwise, it’s easy for the shorts to get caught in the legstraps and start wedgie-ing up on you. While you’re never hanging from the straps (as you would in a zipline), you really want a layer of fabric between the straps and your skin for walking. The guides showed us how to carabiner our cameras to the vest. I was able to bring my dSLR on its neckstrap. I tethered it to the vest just as an extra safety, but that wasn’t required. I could not bring any extra lenses, so I used my 40-150mm (80-300mm equiv.) as it’s a good all-around zoom lens. Moo didn’t have a strap on her digital camera, but they had little rings and straps for anyone who needed one in order to attach their gear.

Along with the gear, we were issued an earpiece and radio unit (tethered to the vest). Using the earpieces (which made us look like Secret Service!), we could hear our guide talking in our ear, even when we were separated. This also allowed our guide to talk in a lower speaking voice to avoid disturbing other guests when we were walking through the public areas. (I’m told that these earpieces are standard for Disney tours, and I think they’re terrific!) We were also issued a water canteen that we could keep after the tour. The canteen was plain and unlabelled, aside from our names written in marker on the lid. I do wish it had some kind of logo of Animal Kingdom or the Wild Africa Trek logo on it.

Our next step was a practice bridge. Since this tour requires crossing rope bridges with widely spaced planks, we were sent across a mini-bridge to start. The mini-bridge was about 7 feet off of the ground and maybe 10-15 feet long. It simulated the distance you have to step between planks as well as the “swinginess” of the longer bridges on the tour. Once you’ve crossed the mini-bridge successfully, the tour guide removes a blue tag from your vest, indicating that you’re cleared for the tour.

There was a water and juice station set up to enjoy while you were waiting on the other guests to get through the mini-bridge. The juice that they provide for the tour is really delicious. The only thing that could make it better is rum. 🙂 Jeff told us it was a pineapple-orange-guava juice blend. Then, we were off! Jeff did most of the talking, while the other tour guide took pictures that would be included in our PhotoPass. We were initially guided out of the backstage area and into the public space. Jeff did some “in character” talk about the part of Africa we were in, the fort and its purpose, and the wildlife preserve. (One common complaint about this tour is that the guides generally stay in character, meaning they act like you’re a tourist visiting an African wildlife preserve. But, our guides also answered questions that were somewhat out of character, like how often the animals are fed. If you’re wanting to hear about how the park was created, though, like Keys to the Kingdom, this is not the tour for you. They “preserve the magic”, to use Disney lingo.) Our first stop was at a tree along the way, where we learned about its potato-like fruit and its uses. Then, we were taken down the Pangani trail through the Gorilla area. The gorillas weren’t out when we went by. We also went over to the platform near the okapi and meerkats, but it was very crowded. As a result, our walk through Pangani was quick…which was fine by me since I can see the Pangani trail anytime.

Just before we went backstage again, our guide took a quick photo of our entire group, noting (in character) that he could compare it at the end to make sure we all made it back. Then, we started along a groomed (but unpaved) trail through the back area. We crossed one suspension bridge (not the rope bridges, just a regular bridge) overlooking the hippo pond that is visible from the Pangani trail. Then, after a brief walk through the woods, we got to hook up to a metal track and go out on an outcropping over the hippo pond that is visible when you’re on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. A cast member was there feeding the hippos lettuce so that they’d be nearby for us.


The metal track attached to our vest’s cable, and it basically kept us from being able to accidentally or intentionally jump into the hippo pond. I had heard some early reviews about being able to lean out horizontally over the hippos, but that was not the case. Our tour guides told us to stay behind the wooden edge of the outcropping.

After we were untethered, there was another brief walk to our first bridge. Along the way, we were able to look over the savanna to see some okapi and other hoofed animals. Then, we got into line to go up to the bridge. The order you get into line at this point will be the order that you go across the first bridge, as you’re all tethered to the safety bar in order. They send three people over the bridge at a time (one toward the end, one toward the middle, and one starting out).

The bridges are around 170-180 feet long, and they are roughly 70 feet above the ground. There are slats missing such that you have to do a long step or mini-jump in a few sections. Also, the bridges are definitely wobbly! The first bridge just goes across the Kilimanjaro safari tour’s road. The second bridge goes over a pit of crocodiles!

In retrospect, I really wish I’d taken more time in the middle of the bridges to take photos. I tried to take video, but it was way too shaky to post or use.

After crossing the crocodile bridge, we got harnessed to another metal track to get a closer look at the crocs.

Then, we got to go out onto another overlook to see the crocs up close. They were surprisingly active, slipping in and out of the water and sunning with their mouths gaping.

After the track and another short walk, we got to take off our vests and board a truck to go on the Kilimanjaro Safari. But, unlike the regular safari, we got to stop frequently to take photos and get questions answered about what we were seeing. Finally, we visited a “boma” house that overlooked the entire savanna for our meal and a bathroom break. We got more of the delicious juice as well as two tins of delicious food. We spent around thirty minutes at the boma before heading back out for the rest of the safari and the walk back to our original hut.

All in all, it was an absolute blast. I highly recommend the tour for anyone that enjoys seeing wild animals up close or anyone looking for a little something extra at the Animal Kingdom. It’s not really a thrill-seeker thing…thrill-seekers will find it tame, I think. Between the safety gear and the safety nets, you never feel like you’re going to fall during the bridges.Once I get the photopass photos, I’ll post those and add a link to them from here. I’ve seen the photos, and they’re awesome…around 170 of them in total, including lots of super-zoomed shots of the wildlife that we saw on the trek and the safari. I think the tour is well worth the money, especially with the free photopass. We paid nearly as much for a similar tour in San Diego and didn’t get any photos of ourselves (though they provided a pre-printed photobook with stock photos of what we theoretically saw) nor any refreshments, and there wasn’t the thrill of crossing the rope bridges.

Edited to add – Disney photopass photos: [zenphotopress album=42 sort=random number=5]

(You can also access all the photos from our trip at The Gallery of the Org* > Disney-2011-02)

Going home ID-free

Amazing, but true: it is faster to get through the Orlando airport security without an ID than it is to get through with one.

I had three security guards checking my stuff, but I got my own private line, while DH joined the masses. I was done, re-assembled, with shoes on by the time he came out and plopped onto a bench to re-lace.

But, I’m ahead of myself. The morning started with us sleeping in and enjoying the hotel’s internet. The shower was a lavish experience, and I felt like I was betraying Disney by enjoying it FAR more than my Port Orleans shower. I washed away my face paint. It washed away easily, with minimal scrubbing, and there was no bleed onto my pillow from last night. Awesome!

We packed and then had lunch at BW3. We had access to the hotel’s pool all day, so we went for a swim after lunch. The hotel’s pool had a shaded area! And, the jacuzzi was in the shade! Woohoo! Granted, it was cooler in the shade, but I loved that I could swim with less fear of the sun. Then, we relaxed poolside for a bit while we dried off, before we changed back into street clothes.

Because our joint credit card had been stolen, DH had to talk to the rental car main desk when we returned the car. It was going to be auto-billed to our card, so he had to switch the billing. While he stood in line, I re-arranged and re-packed stuff to be more compact.

I finished up my Accounting homework once we got closer to the gate, and we changed into warmer clothes just before boarding. Mr. and Mrs. Moo picked us up from the airport (they are awesome for this, btw) in the snow. Pancake was thrilled to see us. He nom-ed a Nutrigrain bar while we were gone…all over our bed. But, it was a minor mess that was easily fixable and the poor kitteh had probably gone a little more than 24 hours without wet food. Our flight was on time, and our luggage came out fast.

All in all, it was a good trip home. I’m glossing over a few hiccups and stress moments, but as I said, flying home without ID was really no big deal. I showed the gate guard what identification I had (school ID, a couple of credit cards, the police report info), and I went on through. I think they re-packed my stuff better than I had. 🙂

Editor’s note: And that ends the backposting Disney saga. Hope you enjoyed the show! If you ever want to read the full saga or link to the Disney trip and nothing else, the link is http://www.tsukata.org/tag/disney09/. Just remember that you have to click on the post title to see the whole post. 🙂

Exploring the World

(It is waiting, after all.)

DH’s cousin, who was really the catalyst for this entire trip plan, came into town on Friday evening along with her son. (For the rest of this post, C* refers to the cousin, and S* refers to her son.) C* was going on a cruise, and as C*’s parents live in FL and much of C*’s family (same as the family we were visiting) lives in Orlando, she decided to make it a stop before her cruise. C* had a hell of a time with the airport and a million other things, but that is her story, not mine. 🙂 My point is that she was frazzled. And then, her hotel’s Disney shuttle turned out to be shared with 6 other hotels, so on Saturday morning, her intent was to meet DH at DHS early so they could all do the thrill rides together. But, she ended up not making it to DHS until like 11am or so. Because, on top of being shared, the shuttle just dropped them off at Epcot (or something like that), so they ended up doing the Epcot heavy traffic rides first thing and then taking Disney transport over to DHS to meet up with DH.

In the meantime, it was DHS’s extra magic hours (resort guests get an extra hour in the park in the morning), and DH had gone super early to ride Toy Story a few more times. As for me, I wanted to not be rushed, and I wanted to go back to Downtown Disney. I also wanted extra time in the World Showcase at Epcot (which opens at 11am). And, my parents were leaving that morning, so I wanted to get to say goodbye to them. Thus, while DH was at DHS, I took care of the remainder of packing our room and got us checked out. All the while, I kept our connecting room door open to my parents room. I kept listening at the door, and it was quiet. At one point, I peeked at the window, but the blinds were shut. I figured either they had gone for early breakfast or they were sleeping still. (This was at 8:30am, DH having woken up and been out of the room by 7am.) I took my time about packing, and then started hauling stuff out to the car.

Then, the texts started coming in. First, DH told me about C*’s troubles with the shuttle. Then, my parents had all texted me goodbye. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this already, but our cellphones didn’t get coverage in our hotel room. I never got any calls or texts or messages until I left the room. I peeked again at my parents room as I was walking back, and sure enough, it was cleaned out. (There was a crack in the curtains that I eventually got a view through.) I called them, and they offered to wait for me to join them at breakfast (they were done and about to get on the road), but it seemed silly at that point. I still had a bunch of bags to pack into our car, and they needed to get going.

So, I ended up having breakfast at Chick-Fil-A. It was my last shot at it, since they’re closed on Sundays, and it was the third time I’d had it while we were in FL. It was delicious. Then, I went to Downtown Disney to make one last shopping trip. I ended up buying a Mickey purse that I really liked (but that has a short strap that I don’t like…but it was on sale for a low enough price that I forgave it), and I returned a camera bag that I’d bought but decided I didn’t like.

Actually, I don’t think I mentioned that. But, on Thursday evening, I was convinced that I needed a park purse. So, I cajoled my parents and DH into letting me make a last minute dash through the Disney store for a good bag/purse. (Requirements: must have cross-body shoulder strap or backpack straps, must be big enough to hold camera, IDs, and either DS or Kindle, but not so big that it inspires me to carry a bunch of crap I don’t need) I’d seen this Mickey bag, but the shoulder strap was too short to do cross-body for me. And, I’d seen a camera bag that was a really nice camera bag, intended for giant cameras (SLRs), with a nice strap on it. So, I decided to buy the camera bag. But then, when I got back to my hotel room, I spotted my Haiku bag and realized that it would make a perfect park purse, especially for Epcot and Magic Kingdom which both promised to have long lines (and thus having room for both DS and Kindle and a sweatshirt would be nice) and cooler weather.

During my mad dash, I also grabbed a replacement Tigger pen for the one that was stolen. And, it turned out, at the same time, DH had run over to Pooh Corner to buy me a replacement Tigger pen as a surprise. 🙂 I thought I would just end up with two Tigger pens (not a bad thing!) but then it turned out that, as I was madly dashing, I’d grabbed a Pooh pen instead of a Tigger pen. It all worked out! And if DH hadn’t been so thoughtful, I’d be Tigger pen-less. Instead, I had Pooh and Tigger.

Back to the main story…

So, I did some more shopping. I got some souvenirs for friends. I took pictures of the Lego creations (that were on the memory card of the stolen camera). Oh, and by the way, they totally do a song and everything to open the Disney store at Downtown Disney, too. They select a family and do a mini-version of the Magic Kingdom opening. 🙂 Disney magic rocks.

Then, I was going to check us into our Saturday night hotel (The Buena Vista Palace, which was hosting the bridge regional and thus we got a REALLY good rate on it), but I decided I was running too close to World Showcase opening, especially considering that I was still walking slowly. I’d doubled up on bandaids for the toes, which help keep the little toe from getting smushed, but I was still just going slow so that I didn’t kill my feet again.

I got super-awesome parking at Epcot. I don’t know if the marathon helped with parking or if I just timed it right, but I ended up in the first row past the handicapped parking. Sweet!

As I walked up, I saw marathon-ers falling over, which was HILARIOUS. I mean, I try not to laugh, because these are people who overexerted themselves and thus are really in danger. But, I mean, they’re coming off of having badly planned and run a half-marathon, and then they are DETERMINED to walk through Epcot. Ha! So, like, they’d be walking, and their legs would just, like, stop. Like on How I Met Your Mother when Ted dared Barney to run the NY marathon and then Barney’s legs just stopped working and he fell over on the train? Yeah, just like that. I’d been considering renting a scooter to avoid foot-ouch, but after seeing that, I just couldn’t do it.

I stopped off at the photopass center to get our free 5×7 that was included in the buy-4-get-3 promotion. I ended up picking out a picture of us in front of the Animal Kingdom Lodge holiday tree. It was a really pretty picture of us. The group pictures we had done all had at least one person looking odd. And, I suspected I could snag the digital versions off of the Disney site (and I did — they’re in the gallery).

After that, I slowly made my way to the Coca Cola exhibit, which has 7 different countries’ sodas that you can try. That was really fun. I liked Morocco’s soda the best. I texted DH that they would have to try the sodas. Then, I started the hike to the World Showcase. It was nearly 11am, and the first water taxi was about to go across the lake.

Disney *really* needs to do something with the walk between Future World and World Showcase. It is a long hike with almost no interest. You can see it on this map.There’s one play fountain for kids. There are some bushes and gardens but nothing interesting. From the big fountains, under the monorail, and all the way to the showcase plaza, you walk with nothing to really look at or do along the way. It felt very un-Disney in how stark and boring it was, and it’s no wonder that World Showcase (which is awesome) gets so little attention given how hard it is to get there.

I ended up taking the water-taxi over to Morocco and then went straight to Japan. I decided I would do the showcase in two semi-circle segments, skipping the US. I shopped in the Japan store, which was nowhere near as cool as I remembered it. I mean, they did have a few things of interest, but the last time I was there, they had tons of kakemono and art, and they had Asian-themed Mickey stuff. Now, they have sneakers and t-shirts. Blech. Basically, I could get everything there at Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights. Maybe I’m just jaded now that I know where to get my Japan fix? I ended up spending less than $20, and I felt dumb because I couldn’t remember how to say “thank you” in Japanese. I ended up saying the equivalent of “have a nice day” instead. (How I remembered that, but not doomo arigatoo? I don’t know.) Nonetheless, the salesgirl (who was from Osaka) was impressed and we chattered a bit, about as far as my out-of-practice Japanese could take me. I think I told her that I was still at Tulane instead of saying that I learned at Tulane, but oh well. 🙂 I asked her about maneki neko, and she apologized because they don’t carry many of them anymore. They had a few stuffed flying nekos that you could hang from the ceiling. They were cute, but I couldn’t imagine putting them in our house.

I walked through the Japanese gardens. I enjoyed the zen fountain, and I copped a squat near the waterfall to Kindle for a bit. I resisted the urge to get tempura because we were eating at Teppan Edo that night. Then, I walked through Morocco and over to France. I ended up getting an orangina and a chocolate mousse in France. Then, I found a quiet niche and read for awhile. I felt like Belle from Beauty and the Beast, tucked in a corner with a book. I watched the water ferries coming in from the Epcot resorts. Then, I proceeded to the UK and Canada. The UK had a bunch of football jerseys. Blech.

But Canada, O Canada! I had so much fun there, and I’ve *been* to Canada. But I loved all the funny t-shirts, and I fought the urge to buy and chug maple syrup (DH will know why I had that urge, but I’ll leave it to him to explain in comments…I’m writing a novel here already). I liked the stuffed bears. I kept telling myself that I don’t cook enough to need a Canada-themed apron. Then, I watched a wood-chopping demonstration. I realized that in my past world showcase wanderings, I had skipped Canada unintentionally. It’s kind of tucked away.

Next I walked over to the *other* water taxi and took it over to Germany. I briefly wandered through Italy and Germany (more football gear). The Outpost turned out to be an African themed area, I think. Or maybe Australian outback? They don’t really say. But, they had a face painting booth. I watched the painters doing each other’s faces and decided that they were quite talented. They were having a private competition amongst themselves for who could do their make-up up so that they looked so old that someone commented on it (they were all college age or younger). So, I arranged to have my face done with cherry blossoms. OMG, I should get my face painted every day. It was so pretty, and it made me look gorgeous. (See the gallery for a picture, and it looked even better with my glasses on, believe it or not. She just did an amazing job of placing everything and choosing the colors.) They wouldn’t accept a tip. But yeah, do that if you get a chance. Oh, and it didn’t itch, didn’t flake or peel off…it looked as good at 11pm as it did at 2pm when I got it done.

Next, I wandered over to China and again had to resist the urge to eat delicious food. I actually liked China’s shopping area better, but I didn’t see anything worth buying. Mexico was cute, and it was indoors. I bet it’s a boon to visit when it’s hot outside, but on a cool January day, it just made me feel chilly. I spent the next hour stretched out on a bench near the lake, reading in the sunshine. That was nice. Eventually, I heard from DH that C*, S*, and he would be arriving at Epcot soon, so I hiked back over to Future World and waited for them to arrive. Eventually, we met up. DH insisted on all of us doing the game over at Mission to Mars, and C* filled me in on their adventures while we walked. I was meeting S* for the first time, and he seemed really cool. (He’s 17, I think?) He reminded me of the guys I hung out with in high school and thus instantly won my adoration with his pleasant and intelligent sarcasm. Also, he and his mom seemed to have a good relationship, and that made me happy, too.

Anyways, they were cool. We played Mars as a group, and then we hiked out to World Showcase (by way of the Coca-Cola exhibit for a tasty beverage or two). We walked around, sampling a few things as we went. They did a couple of the rides. We watched Chinese acrobats. After making it over to Japan, we looked at a Tin Toy art exhibit. We separated briefly but met up at the Taiko drumming demonstration. Even though we had a late reservation, they were strapped to be done looking around by dinner. But, dinner came, and we were seated.

Teppan Edo was not the best Japanese hibachi I’ve ever had, but it was good. It was the first time I’ve had hibachi that I still felt hungry at the end, too…and I had ordered an appetizer! And plum wine! Granted, I’d skipped lunch, but hibachi normally is enough for two meals.

Anyways, after that, we watched Illuminations from the Teppan Edo balcony (decent viewing spot, I might add). Then, we joined the masses walking out of the park. My prime parking spot came in handy, as my feet were back to feeling like one giant blister. We dropped them off at their hotel and checked into our hotel.

In an attempt to drain the blisters that had formed, I poked myself rather severely in the heel. (I had a blister under a thick, calloused area of my foot, so it was taking some pressure to get a needle in…and when it did go through, I accidentally stabbed myself too deep instead of just opening it up.)

And that’s pretty much Saturday. Our hotel room is pretty darned awesome. It’s huge and beautiful, and it puts our room at Port Orleans to shame…but the atmosphere isn’t as good, of course. And, my bedcovers don’t have Mickeys on them. Plus, we have a King bed (Disney resorts tend to only have doubles), so we are finally going to get to sleep in the same bed. 🙂 (We will cuddle for a bit in a double, but we can’t share one of those. DH has the jimmy legs every now and then, and I’m easily startled.) Our original plan was to play bridge tomorrow, but I think we’re going to blow that off, as I’ll need to get to the airport super-early since I have no ID.

Relevant Photo Albums: Downtown Disney, EPCOT World Showcase

The Magic

We got up early this morning to visit the Magic Kingdom. We wanted to be there right at opening, to take advantage of the The Unofficial Guide‘s touring plan. Getting up early was tough, but I have to say, it is worth it to be at the opening of Magic Kingdom.

We stood outside with a small crowd of people. We had gathered near one of the entry gates. A mother and son that we had met on the bus (they had on Detroit Tigers gear) were standing near us, and we chatted with them briefly. Guests who had early breakfast reservations at Crystal Palace or Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique reservations were let into the park through a special walkway.

Then, just before opening, the show began, above us on the train area. I was not expecting it at all. A group of cast members who introduced themselves as residents of Main Street U.S.A. began singing “Good Morning!” (from Singing in the Rain). They told us that Mickey and all his friends would be coming soon on the train to help open the park. They sang more, and the train whistled in the distance. Then, we saw Mickey, Pooh, princesses, and other characters coming around the bend in the train. It was so very cool. I nearly cried.

A family had been selected (as is tradition) to help Mickey open the park by sprinkling pixie dust on the crowd. They, and Mickey, threw sparkly glitter (with mousehead bits, of course) over all of us, and the cast members that were staffing the rope line tossed some, too.

DH and I had agreed that he would run/jog ahead to Tomorrowland with the rope line. I would take a slower pace (I was still a little hobbled by my blisters and sore feet.) to Tomorrowland. DH would go immediately onto Space Mountain, while I got us fastpasses for Buzz Lightyear (and potentially went on it myself while waiting on him). The plan worked without a hitch. DH was able to get onto Space Mountain in the second car (the mother and son that we stood near were in the first car). I zipped through Buzz Lightyear fast enough to do it three times before he returned. Our fastpasses were for the same time as our brunch reservations, so we saved them for later. The line was short, so we went through Buzz together once. Strangely, I was very successful on Buzz the first and second time, but the third and fourth time, I either got a faulty gun or was just off my game. Oh, and I had made friends with the cast member standing by the photos. He liked my Tanuki Mario sweatshirt.

Then, we went to Fantasyland. We rode the teacups together once (the Teacups were on my must-do list), and I rode it alone a second time, as my DH gets dizzy easily. I spun very fast. Zoom! We got through Winnie the Pooh, Small World, and Peter Pan’s Flight with minimal wait times. We ended up finishing just in time to rush over to Crystal Palace for brunch.

Crystal Palace was another item on my must-do list. It’s a buffet brunch that has character visits from the Winnie the Pooh gang. The food was plentiful and delicious. I particularly liked the Mickey waffles and Pooh’s Puffed Toast with honey. They also had really good sausage and bacon, as well as chocolate croissants that had a great balance of dark chocolate and buttery croissant. Our server kept the soda and coffee coming, and she even gave us to-go cups of soda as we finished. The characters all stopped by gradually. (It takes around 90 minutes for all of them to make it to your table.) There was a mini-parade, where all the kids waved their green napkins in the air and marched around behind the characters. It was very fun and totally worth the price. We took lots of pictures of all of us with the characters. Tigger gave me a kiss. Also, we learned that I am the same height as Piglet (who is much shorter than the other characters). That made me love Piglet a little.

I’ve been a Tigger gal since college, but after the breakfast, I loved all of them. It was like my stuffed animals had come to life. I’m telling you, I was reduced to the age of six, and it was wonderful. I nearly cried again, and I was so excited that I had trouble eating. I hugged Eeyore and told him, “Maybe it’ll be better tomorrow…but probably not.” 🙂 Then, we had to go. My Mom decided to head back to the room. Tom stayed with us to go to Adventureland. My Dad wanted to go back to Epcot and DHS. So, we divided up after brunch. We took Tom to Pirates of the Caribbean, which I had not seen since they Depp-ed it up. We also went to the Tiki room (at DH’s insistence). I think the Tiki room was probably better before Iago took over. We went to the Haunted Mansion, which was a little bit of a walk away. And, we did our fast-passed time for Buzz Lightyear, and DH did Space Mountain one more time.

We did the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Factory, which was a hoot. While you’re standing in line, you can text jokes to the show, along with your name and where you’re from. My texted joke made it into the show! The neat part of the show is that the show is with animated characters, but they interact with the audience (thanks to two behind-the-scenes cast members providing the voice and keying the characters’ actions).

Then, Tom wanted to do the Jungle Cruise, but I wasn’t interested in it. I wanted to do some shopping on Main Street. DH wanted to go on a few more rides (of a sort that didn’t interest me). So, we split up. But, DH and I decided that we wanted to try a Dole Whip, having heard so much about it in the podcasts. It is, in fact, delicious and refreshing. They do not do an orange-and-pineapple swirl (our request), but they swirled them together just for us. 🙂 We agreed to meet back in front of the castle, near the One Man’s Dream statue, at 4pm. DH and I were going to ride the boat ferry over to Ohana (at the Polynesian) for dinner.

In my alone time, I walked through the main street shops. I particularly wanted to try on the Mickey crocs. I hate how crocs look, but I bet they’re comfy, and my feet were aching. Sure enough, they felt great on my feet, but the sizing was all wrong. The smallest adult size was huge. The largest kid size was a bit cramped. This is a common problem for me in “one size” type shoes. I decided they weren’t worth it, but I did enjoy the opportunity to air my feet out. My socks were soaked from foot-sweat (another reason I’m returning those sneakers!), so I took them off and went barefoot in my sneakers. That helped a good bit, although I was still slow-moving. The problem is that, if my toes are cramped, my little toe’s fatty part tends to go under the other toes, such that I’m stepping on part of my toe as I walk. That’s no big deal for a short walk or one day of walking, but for the mileage I’d been doing this week, the whole toe had practically become one giant blister.

I ended up stuck watching the parade; I got trapped in the shops. After the parade, I took up a comfy spot near our meeting place and Kindled. I had finished Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell), and I was rapidly becoming enthralled by Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (Mary Roach). It was so nice to sit in the sun, with my feet propped up on a bench, and read while occasionally people watching. I only had two people stop me while reading to ask about the Kindle, which is a lower-than-normal number for public reading, but it made the experience more pleasant.

Soon enough, DH joined me. We walked through some of the stores that I’d had to skip before (due to the parade), and DH wanted to try the crocs, too. (He didn’t like them.)

Then, we caught the ferry across to Polynesian. Our reservations were for 5pm, hence going with a brunch and snack during the day. Ohana is a Polynesian buffet, somewhat akin to the churrascaria concept. People come by with skewers of meat, and you get as much as you like, along with a host of sides. They start you off with Hawaiian bread and drinks. Then, they bring a salad with lime-ginger dressing (really good, but don’t stuff yourself!). Appetizers are wings and spring rolls. And then finally, the main course comes, along with sides of noodles. The steak is particularly tasty, but all of the items are good. The best part is that they have chimichurri sauce. I, in my typical fashion, doused EVERYTHING in chimichurri. We also got drinks. DH had a mai-tai and I had a drink called a backscratcher, which came with an actual backscratcher. It was fun, and I got some great pictures of the castle at night from across the lake. We sort of wanted to hang around for fireworks, but, if we did that, we wouldn’t get to see Yeeha Bob at Port Orleans (which was on DH’s must-do list). So, we left after dinner.

DH had to make a pit stop, and I, in a drunken haze, thought that, since we’d have to go downstairs to leave anyways, I’d just go downstairs and browse the shops while I waited for him. As I was slow-moving, I figured a head start would be a good thing. One problem: my cellphone coverage in the hotel was spotty, and DH had no way to know where I was. But, we found each other eventually.

But then, it turns out that to get to our hotel, our best option was the monorail…back up the stairs. My feet were killing me, so I suggested we just hop a bus to the first park that came up. DH protested, but I just couldn’t stand the idea of backtracking at this point. So, we waited on a bus. And, DH was right…it took forever. We caught a bus to DHS, and there, we had to walk all the way across the parking lot to catch the Port Orleans bus…so it bought us almost nothing in terms of saving walk time.

At the hotel, I put on flip flops and a sundress to head over to the show. Our plan was to stop and dip our feet in the jacuzzi for a bit, but it was over-crowded with folks who had the same idea.

Yehaa Bob was awesome. It was a great singalong evening. The place was very crowded, and we briefly shared a table with a woman who was there alone. Her friend had gotten sick before the trip. We tried to chat, but Yehaa Bob’s show is not really chat-friendly. It is loud and boisterous and interactive. My Mom and Tom joined us after a bit, and they seemed to have fun with it, too.

We have to pack up the room tonight. We’re moving out tomorrow morning. More tomorrow!

Relevant photo albums: Magic Kingdom


*This* is the face of consumerism?

Today, we had to do an emergency shopping trip on two counts. First, I needed some kind of “park purse” as my (super-awesome and carefully selected) park purse got stolen. Second, I needed a digital camera, preferably this Panasonic 9.1MP with 10x digital zoom and Leica lens. (I’d had my eye on that model when I did a rush buy in Taipei, but the electronics store in Taipei was out of that one.)

In Taipei, I’d paid ~$330 for my camera. This was a markup of $30-50 over what the US model was going for on Amazon at the time, but I was desperate and in a foreign country, with no time to comparison shop. So, I bought it. This time, even though I was again desperate, I was in my homeland, with the stores I know and love just a GPS click away. I figured it would be a much quicker and easier shopping experience.

We started at Best Buy. I like their rewards program, and for this kind of thing, where I know what I want, I find them to be a good retail option. After much looking around, I find my preferred camera on sale for $279. But (and I had this hesitation in Taipei, too), I was worried about pocketability. I didn’t mind a larger camera than my previous two, but it still needed to easily fit in my purse and pocket. Problem was, Best Buy had the camera on an anti-theft post. I could kind of shove it into my pocket to test, but it felt awkward. And, I couldn’t tell if I was feeling awkward because of the giant anti-theft mechanism or the camera. We call over a salesguy, who doesn’t seem to be occupied with other things. Speaking of, I shit you not, there was a LINE to get into Best Buy at opening, either because they opened later than they used to…new 2009 hours were posted at the door…or because Floridians are just that excited about electronics…but the place was relatively busy.

Me (with DH standing nearby): Hey, I’m thinking of getting this camera, but I really need to know if it will fit into my pocket or purse, and the anti-theft thingie is making it hard to tell. Could you unlock it just long enough for me to check it out?
Salesguy: No, I can’t do that. We have smaller models over there. (points and starts to walk away)
Me: Yeah, but I like *this* one…I just need to be sure that it will fit okay. Do you have a display model or something, maybe an already-open box?
Salesguy: No, we don’t do that. (very terse)
DH: Is there a manager or someone who *does* have a key and can unlock it for us?
Salesguy: I’ll get a manager for you in a minute. I have to help another customer. (walks away and begins talking to a customer who is looking at a sub-$150 camera)

Okay, benefit of the doubt: maybe the guy was in the middle of helping them and we didn’t realize it. But either way, doesn’t basic customer service dictate that you simply apologize, say you’re helping someone else and either offer to be back shortly (right at the beginning of the conversation) or get one of your salesguy-friends to come help? I guess, even giving this guy the benefit of the doubt, I was left with a crappy customer service vibe. DH and I came to this conclusion while standing there and decided that there are other stores nearby that we can go to…and even if the guy does get a manager to help us, we don’t want him getting a commission, so we walk out with the intention of coming back if this turns out to be the best price.

Our next stop was Target. My Target-branded Visa was my primary credit card now (as my usual ones got stolen), so I would get decent rewards by shopping with them, too. And, since I have a price point and model in mind, I figure it’s a reasonable alternative. But, Target’s selection was clearly geared at “cheap and compact” so my camera-of-choice wasn’t there. We scanned their purse selection for an alternative park purse and bombed on that count, too. (Of all places, why doesn’t the Target that is the closest Target to Disney (albeit still about 8-10 miles away) have a good park purse selection instead of silly fashion purses with short straps? :: sigh ::)

On the way to Target, DH had spotted a Ritz Camera, and he suggested that as an option. I initially pooh-poohed it. I, like any consumer, have perceptions about stores, and my perception of smaller camera shops like Ritz and Wolf is that they jack up the prices on cameras to near retail. DH pointed out, though, that we know how much it should cost, and so we can either try to get them to price match Best Buy or just go back to Best Buy if they’re a bust.

We walk in. It’s quiet. We go straight to the digital camera section, and they’re behind a glass case. Up toward the top, we see two Panasonics. One seems to be the new year’s model of the one that was stolen (priced at $360), with some minor updates, and the other is my camera-of-choice priced at $279. Well, I’ll be damned. And, even better yet, a salesguy comes over to us, asks if we need help…I tell him my situation and that I want to know if that Panasonic (innnn the window, woof woof!) will fit okay in my pocket. He unlocks the case and hands it over. I look it over, test it in pocket and purse, click a few shots, check the UI (Best Buy’s model had a dead battery), and basically fall in love. I tell the salesguy that I’ll take this one. DH thoughtfully asks if they have one with a charged battery (by now, I’ve explained the precise situation, theft, Taipei, and all, to the salesguy). Salesguy thinks for a minute and then checks his two floor models, but both have a low battery. He apologizes for not having a charged one handy…says they charge them throughout the day.

I bought a high-speed SD (class 6) card from him, too. Now, I’d planned to buy an “any ol’ memory card” for now, with intent to raid my collection of cards for a high-speed one once I got home…but I wanted to reward the customer service. So, I paid a really huge mark-up on the SD card ($39 for what should cost under $15).

Then, we went back to the room and plugged in the camera to charge. Meanwhile, we went to the pool for a quick swim before our bridge session. We ended up playing only the first half of the match (on a six-person team in KOs, each pair only has to play at least half of the session), so then we got to rent bikes and tour Port Orleans for awhile in the afternoon. We ate beignets at the French Quarter and took lots of pictures. I enjoyed riding a “cruiser” bike. We considered renting a Surrey bike or a kayak, but it turns out that you can’t take the kayaks to downtown disney’s lake (which was our interest in a kayak) and you can’t take the Surrey bikes to French Quarter (which was part of what we wanted to do on a bike). I took lots of pictures with my new camera. I love it. I’m really glad that I got it.

We had dinner with my parents at the Sizzler. We parked the truck where it was visible from a restaurant window. 😉 The Sizzler was a pretty good dinner deal, and it was good to reconcile the day’s activities with my parents.

We played both halves of the evening session (our picked-up pair wanted to cut out early to see the college football game), and we won…and not by a small amount, either. Yay for us! So, we made our teammates both life masters, which was a cool accomplishment. As for me, I’m less than a point away from being a “fake life master”…I’m missing 25+ black (club/local game) points, but I have the necessary red (sectional), silver (regional), and gold (top prize at regional and point-limited national events) points. I’ve decided that if the ACBL wants to withhold life master over black points, they can keep it. Fake Life Master is good enough for me.

Relevant photo albums: Port Orleans Riverside

Silver Linings

We got robbed today. 🙁 My parents’ car was broken into. The good news is that no one was hurt, and my parents’ truck was undamaged. (Edited to add on 1/16: As of the time that I’m editing and actually posting this, we now know that the thieves drilled out the lock on the driver’s side door of their truck, so it was actually damaged. We just didn’t notice it at the time.)

It was mostly my stuff that got taken. They took my daypack backpack, which was this bag from Sherpani, and unfortunately, since we were eating at a buffet, I had tucked my “park purse” inside. My park purse was a $10 “Sunwashed Canvas Pouch” from LL Bean (now discontinued, which SUCKS because it was a PERFECT park purse…I could fit either my Kindle or my DS in it, along with camera, and ID…and not much else. It fit very nicely in cross-strap form, and the straps could be reconfigured as a backpack. Perfect! Damn your discontinuing, LL Bean!). Inside the bags:

  • 3 cans of soda (DH had taken them for bridge)
  • Our bridge convention cards and holders (Oh noes! The thieves can steal our system!)
  • My digital camera. Yes, the one I had just bought in Taiwan. Enjoy learning Chinese, thieves! Thankfully, I’d just downloaded the pictures from it last night, and I didn’t do that much picture-taking today.
  • My iPod and (nice, noise-cancelling) earbuds
  • 2 credit cards (our joint MC and my personal Discover)…and they had managed to put the following purchases on them when we called to alert the companies: $327 at the Nike Factory store up the way from where we were, $150 at a Walgreen’s (DH thinks they bought burner phones. He’s been watching The Wire. 🙂 ), some amount at a Disney outlet store, and around $300 in other stuff that we didn’t get the specifics.
  • My driver’s license…so getting through the airport on Sunday should be fun. 😛
  • My park pass/room key. Already cancelled with Disney, and they don’t print your resort name or room number on it, so no chance of the burglars getting to our room.
  • A Tigger pen I’d bought at the Pooh store at Downtown Disney today
  • Miscellaneous park survival kit items: tylenol, ibuprofen, Celebrex, Dramamine, band-aids, ponytail holders…and the pill case that it was all in
  • $10 in cash (I don’t tend to carry much cash, thank goodness!)

So, how did this happen? Well, we went into the Golden Corral near Disney for dinner, and while we were inside, they got into the truck and grabbed my bag, and my mom’s bag. When we came back out to the truck, we didn’t even notice anything was wrong until I started poking around and didn’t see my bag where I’d left it. Then, my mom noticed that one of her bags (fortunately, just a little totebag that had a notepad and not much else in it) was also missing and realized that we got robbed. We called the cops (my cellphone was in my pocket) at that point. My dad did a circle check of the nearby trashcans, in case the thieves ditched the bags somewhere.

There are many silver linings, though. The first and most important is that DH almost went back out to the truck while we were in the restaurant to get my bag so he could have some tylenol. It would have sucked mightily if he’d interrupted the robbery in progress and gotten shot or stabbed or who knows what. I’ll keep my DH and let them have my stuff, thank you very much. The second is that my parents’ truck is still driveable and so they can get home okay. The third is that DH and I were in a knockout and had survived to the evening session, and the bridge directors were kind enough to let us add a pair to our team at the second round (making it a 6-person team) so that we could keep playing. And, the pair we added seems to be really good, so we lucked out there. (We made one of our teammates a life master tonight, but I digress.) Fourth, most of my credit cards, as well as a host of other ID-type thingies, are back in the hotel room. Fifth, my parents almost brought their laptop with them, to access the internet from BW3 while we were out, but they forgot it. And the sixth is that…well, it sucks to lose my stuff, but this means that I get to go shopping for new techie goodies. The digital camera that I had wanted to get wasn’t at the store in Taipei, so I can get the one I actually wanted…and the iPod loss sucks mightily, but I’d been kind of wanting to upgrade to a 120GB Zune anyways, so I could watch my Amazon Video purchases on it…and I don’t wear it around my neck very much anymore, so the nano’s size advantage doesn’t do anything for me.

The police officer who took the report was very nice and upbeat. He took a fingerprint from the door, and he re-assured me that I would be able to fly home. He asked me if I want to press charges, if they catch the people who did it, and I was like, why wouldn’t I? All I could think about was that this wasn’t like I’d been raped or something where I wouldn’t want to face the court. But, I guess, lots of people don’t want to press charges because you have to come back to Orlando for the court date. If you don’t show up for court, the charges are automatically dropped. But I was like, hell yeah I’ll come back. We have family in the area that we can stay with, and I have an assload of frequent flier miles. I told him that if he can catch them, I’ll come down, point at them, and do whatever he needs me to do. 🙂 He said he would go over to the Nike factory store right after he finished with us and see if they can get a camera footage of the purchase and also check the trashcans and stuff nearby to see if the thieves ditched the bags there. Honestly, I was very impressed with the officer’s professionalism and courtesy. I wrote him an e-mail saying as much. I’ve been in situations that were similar before in New Orleans, and I mean…you’d think in a tourist town that the cops would be jaded and not interested in anything except getting back to “real work”…but this guy seemed to take a true interest in helping us, making sure I was okay and generally making me feel better about the situation, pointing out that I’m the victim, that I shouldn’t feel stupid, things like that.

In other news, we played in a knockout yesterday, and we got knocked out in the first match. (We had a bad draw, and we held our own…it wasn’t a blowout.) We went to Downtown Disney this morning, via the ferry from Port Orleans. On the ferry ride, we saw a new resort being built. It’s for the Vacation Club, but it’s a bunch of treehouses! It’s really cool looking.

I’d been to Downtown Disney’s West Side before, and I wasn’t impressed. But, I’d never been to the Marketplace side, which is filled with Disney stores! I loved the Pooh store, and I’m looking forward to coming back to explore some of the other stores. As I’ve said more than a few times on this trip, there’s a person who is a Disney-phile, who collects and trades pins, who decorates their house in mouse, and so forth…and I could so easily become one.

My fandom of Disney is unusual. I like the music from the movies, but even more than that, I like Disney’s ruthless efficiency. I like WDW’s level of detail, the glossy experience. I know it means that they have horribly evil rules and such for the employees, but I respect that the result is something uniquely successful and appealing. I love the engineering that goes into their rides and attractions. I like that, despite being a “family destination”, Disney has generally welcomed alternative lifestyles and been friendly to their business. Generally, I really respect Disney. And, I love the parks. I really do. I love the silly little theming, even. So yeah, it’s a battle I fight to keep myself from buying Disney cups, bowls, aprons, dishcloths, antenna decorations, camera bags, purses, shoes, jewelry…because I love all of it.

Anyways, we decided to keep the same team and play in a knockout today, and we won our first match by a relatively large amount, due in no small part to DH and I’s successful bidding of a grand slam in clubs. We also nailed our second match, and so we’re playing again tomorrow afternoon.

Oh, and we had breakfast this morning at Boatwright’s at Port Orleans. AWESOME French Toast…it was so good. 🙂 Tomorrow morning, we’ll probably do quick breakfast and go shopping for a new digital camera for me, and then maybe try to squeeze in a kayak or bike rental to explore the resort.

Beasties and Beaches (and Creams)

Oh my goodness, I love Disney so much! 🙂 We swapped hotels early on Sunday morning. The hotel-swapping was a bit traumatic. My poor (and awesome) DH got up super-early on Sunday morning and drove over to Port Orleans to get us checked in. They only had one person working the desk, and there were a ton of people there because the Buy-4-Get-3-Free deal started on Sunday, so a bunch of people were checking in for the second time, to initiate their deal-based tickets and room. Then, when DH finally got to the front of the line, they had assigned us a room that met none of our requests. That is, we were not in the requested buildings, we were on a second floor (we’d requested first floor for my parents’ benefit), and we were a long walk from pretty much everything. Okay, in fairness, we were in the same building as my parents, so that’s one request that they met. (Alligator Bayou Building 26 was the one they originally assigned, if you want to check the map at the previously mentioned Port Orleans.org fansite.) DH called me to ask if my parents would rather be on the second floor or near a bus stop, and I suggested that he look into Magnolia Bend instead of Alligator Bayou. Magnolia Bend is a little less themey inside the rooms, and the buildings are huge by comparison to Alligator Bayou. But, the Magnolia Bend buildings have elevators, so being on a 2nd floor there is better than being on a 2nd floor at Alligator Bayou, if stairs are an issue. So, DH went back to the desk and asked about switching to Magnolia Bend. We ended up in the Acadian House of Magnolia Bend, rooms 8009 and 8010 on the first floor…which was actually way better than our building #26 assignments and probably even better in some ways than what we would have had in building 14 (our “top of list” requested building). We have a view of the fountain, and the room is very quiet and peaceful.

Ironically, about a month ago, DH and I had been debating switching our request to Magnolia Bend, but we let the Disney sites talk us into Alligator Bayou. However, in retrospect, I think I like Magnolia Bend much better. If you’re going to go to the food court alot, then maybe the Bayou buildings are better for you, but if you’re not, Magnolia Bend seems much quieter and prettier. I don’t know. I guess I’d take either, really. Port Orleans Riverside is a gorgeous resort with a brilliant design. They put the feature pool on an island at the center, so no room is subjected to the noise, but most buildings are an easy walk to it. Brilliant. I love the mouse.

Anyways, DH suffered through all of that on minimal caffeine. Meanwhile, I got up, snapped some photos of the sunrise and animals, and got ready for our day in Animal Kingdom.

I have to say that, if you’re staying at the Animal Kingdom lodge, the Kilimanjaro safari at Animal Kingdom seems like a letdown. You get much closer to the animals by staying at the lodge, and the nature of the safari ride is that you are hard-pressed to get pictures. I did really enjoy the Conservation Hut. I wish we’d managed to catch a surgery or check-up on an animal, but just looking around and talking to the staff was really fun for me.

Around 11am on Sunday, my parents called that they were nearing town. We had a fastpass to use still, so we had them check in to the resort on their own, and then we arranged to meet them there. They, too, were pleased with our room. The only downside to our room is that it was a dead zone for all of the GSM users in the family. DH, as a CDMA person, was still able to get and make calls from the room, but the rest of us had to walk out into the courtyard to use our phones. (Go CDMA! Feminist cellphone tech, baby, yeah!)

Once we’d all met up and had lunch at a nearby Fuddrucker’s, we carpooled back to Animal Kingdom to see the Lion King show and the Bug’s Life 4D show. The Lion King show was AWESOME. I highly recommend it. It was like a mini cirque show, with great music and giant parade-style floats. Granted, Disney movie music rarely fails to make me weep, so I’m biased in favor of any show that features Disney movie music.

Next, we headed over to Disney Hollywood Studios (formerly known as Disney MGM) to see the Osborne Family Lights, as this was the last night that they’d be running. They were spectacular. And, as I’d intentionally avoided any spoilers or pictures of the lights before I got there, I didn’t know that there would be snow! They make fake snow (probably soap flakes) that falls as you walk through the lights. It was awesome. It was crowded and crazy, but it was totally worth it.

After that, DH and I decided to get into the line for Toy Story Midway Mania, which is the newest, coolest, and thus most busy, ride at Disney. It’s a little car that follows a track while you’re wearing 3D glasses. You shoot things with a cannon that appear on screens in front of you, and it’s set up such that you see the projectile coming out of your cannon. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a really neat ride. The only problem with it (as DH succinctly put it) is that it is a) a ride that anyone can enjoy, including the typically ride-averse and b) a ride that has a score component and thus motivates you to want to ride it multiple times…and so, despite a very fast loading process, it has 60 minute waits at any time of day and 90 minute or more waits at peak times. The fast passes tend to run out within the first hour of park open. We ended up waiting in line for a little more than an hour, and my feet were killing me from a long day of walking in brand new tennis shoes. (If you recall, most of my shoes got ruined in the laundry room flood, so I was forced to break in shoes on this trip.) I was cranky, and the line people were smelly and annoying. One guy was letting encouraging his kids to climb all over the decorations, the ride queue barriers, and be generally destructive and annoying. So, I took off my shoes and walked through the line in my sock feet until we got toward the end.

Also, the Toy Story queue has a really neat Mr. Potato Head thingie at the far end. He’s meant to be entertainment while you’re in line. They got the voice of Mr. Potato Head to record a ton of phrases, and there’s a person who views the crowd from his eyes and chooses phrases to go with the crowd’s actions and words. So, he might call out to a girl in a white shirt and then keep calling out to her until she responds, and then he responds to her in a way that at least somewhat seems like he heard her. It’s pretty cool stuff, but the crowd didn’t get it, so they just thought it was a giant moving decoration…and as a result, they kept holding the line up to take pictures with it instead of letting the queue build in front of it and interacting with it. I suppose Disney will figure this out eventually and either dim the lights in that area to discourage pictures or adjust the queue to make it clear that it’s an entertainment area. Or maybe they’ll just record him shouting, “NO PICTURES! Keep it movin’!” 🙂

Anyways, we left DHS after closing. My parents had opted against waiting in the forever-line and had gone ahead back to the hotel. Since we’d rode in my mom’s truck to get there, we hopped a Disney bus back to the resort. My parents had gone to dinner at Perkins, but by the time we got done, they were well into dinner, and there was a place we wanted to try but weren’t necessarily going to subject my parents to in case it wasn’t good. The Trail’s End buffet at Fort Wilderness was supposed to be one of the best bargains onsite. So, we went from Port Orleans to Fort Wildnerness, which is the campground area of Disney. The first thing we learned is that you can’t park near the lodge, which is where the restaurants are. You park and take a bus to get to the lodge (or to a depot near your campsite, if you’re camping). I hobbled to a bus with DH, and we rode through the darkest darkness I’ve ever seen at Disney to get to the lodge. The campgrounds seem crowded, but they do keep them dark at least. The lodge area was bustling with people. Also, you can apparently rent golf carts to go to and from your campsite, and there were a bunch of them parked at the lodge. We were some of the last people to get seated at the buffet before closing, but once inside, there were no signs of it. That is, it wasn’t like they were rushing us or taking things off of the buffet line. The food was fried chicken, baked chicken, BBQ ribs, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, pizza, rice krispie treats, make-your-own sundaes, and cookies. I think they also had a carver station with ham and turkey. Oh, and there was a small salad bar. All the food was hot and delicious, but they’d raised the price of the buffet by $4 which still probably makes it the cheapest buffet on property but probably not so much of a value meal now. They did serve drinks in mason jars though, which pleased me. 🙂

Once we got into the room, I inspected my feet and found 4 blisters. Ouch! I followed Major Blisterbuster’s recommendations from The Unofficial Guide (ding!): drain the fluid with a needle but leave the skin layer otherwise intact, cover with a blister bandage. By the next morning, my feet were feeling nearly A-OK for EPCOT. I wore a different pair of shoes (my old Lands’ End river runners), and I made it through most of the EPCOT day. I decided to bail on DH around 2:30pm. My parents bailed and/or split up to do separate touring at 1pm. DH finished up a couple of things he wanted to do at EPCOT and then took a boat over to the Beach Club for dinner. We’d read about a place called Beaches and Creams in The Unofficial Guide (ding!), which was supposed to have the best burgers at Disney. Around that time, I was well-rested, having taken a dip in the hotel’s “quiet pool” (a quiet pool being any of several non-feature pools scattered in the resort). My parents were napping, and I was hungry, so I drove over to Beach Club to meet up with DH for dinner. I had a Florida Sunshine (orange sorbet, vanilla ice cream, soda, blended and topped with whipped cream and candied orange slices) and a burger, and DH had a milkshake and a burger. It was very good, but Fuddrucker’s has better burgers, IMO. But, the ice cream was a welcome treat.

We rode the boat from Beach Club to DHS. We wanted to see Fantasmic, and it’s generally recommended to arrive an hour early. We were going to the second showing, and it was an Extra Magic Hours night (meaning resort guests get an extra 3 hours in the park), so we didn’t know how bad the crowd would be. Meanwhile, we texted with the parental units to sync up with them. Tom ended up being the only one who joined us, and I think he enjoyed the show, too. This was his first trip to Disney World since 1971, so, as you can imagine, he was practically doing Disney for the first time.

Fantasmic was amazing. Standing in line for it sucked, and it was a long wait, but we got great seats, and it was jaw-dropping in scale and technology. I won’t say much more about it to avoid spoilers. You will get a little wet if it’s a windy day; we did, and it made us shiver a bit in the night air. Also, Disney villains do not feature as much as we might have hoped, but we really didn’t care that much by the end because it was such a good show. It made me love Mickey, and it felt like a bit of Fantasia in a live version, which is pretty amazing. (Pocahontas was strangely a major figure…not sure why.) Actually, let me just say that I have yet to be disappointed by a theatrical-type show at Disney. (I am generally not entertained by animal shows or stunt shows, so I exclude those intentionally.) They are all enjoyable and worth seeing, plus it’s often a welcome break from walking. But, Fantasmic is the show to see if you’re only going to see one show. There’s good reason for the lines and crowds.

After that, we split up for a bit. I did some shopping. Tom did Star Tours and a few other rides. I did Voyage of the Little Mermaid. DH did Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster again. Then, we did Toy Story one more time, this time with Tom. The queue claimed it was a 60 minute wait, but having just done the queue the night before, DH and I could eyeball that it was less than that. It ended up being just under 25 minutes. Tom beat my original score, but I got a new high score. 🙂

And then finally, we came home. 🙂 We took the boat back to Beach Club and then walked to the car to drive back to Port Orleans. Once again, I have blisters, but the ones that I took care of yesterday have healed up mostly…it’s just a couple of new places now.

Relevant photo albums: Animal Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studios, EPCOT Future World, Beach Club and more DHS

Death by Delicious

We just got back from dinner at Victoria & Albert’s at the Grand Floridian resort. It was an amazing meal. (I will come back in and insert the menu later.) While we ate, because it was all hoity-toity and there wasn’t much to do but eat and chat, we decided to play “What’s their story?”. We looked at all the other tables and tried to decide why they were there, what their relationship was, etc. It was pretty fun, and given that DH and I had spent the past 4 days together, we didn’t have very much to talk about, aside from the deliciousness and oddity of our food.

Earlier today, we checked into the AK Lodge. It took only an hour or so for our room to be ready (checking in at 1pm, 2 hours before official check-in time). We got upgraded to a savanna view room for free, which was sweet (but also expected based on what my DH had learned from Disney podcasts). We have a terrific view of a little watering hole and copse of trees. There are some very smart bunnies that stay on the proper side of the “invisible” fencing (actually wire rake shapes that are colored to match the landscape and are just high enough to discourage wildlife without being intrusive).

Just after we checked in, we went to the pool. I was texting with dreadpirateains, who was at the Animal Kingdom with a friend, as to when we’d meet up. The pool was huge and very refreshing. DH had fun going down the water slide as a means of quickly introducing himself to the cool water (the pool was in the shade and it was only around 70 degrees out…but all Disney feature pools are heated, so it was still comfortable…just an adjustment). We water danced in the pool and played around before retiring to the nearby hot tub. You could see flamingoes from the pool, in their own enclosure, and just on the other side of a set of trees near the hot tub was an enclosure with water buffaloes and other beasties. So, as you soak, you hear grunts and stuff. It was so cool. (We can also hear grunts from outside while we’re in the room, now that it’s nighttime and quiet.)

We had a drink from the poolside bar while we dried. dreadpirateains and I agreed to meet up at the lodge when they finished dinner. (DH and I had reservations at Victoria & Albert’s for 9pm, so we were abstaining to save our appetite.) So, DH and I took some time to look around the resort and take pictures. Dusk is one of the best times for beastie-watching, and sure enough, there was a fun scene at a watering hole. First, imagine the theme from the Star Wars cantina. Now, the pelican is snapping at the beastie, but he snaps at him from like 2 feet away, like warning snaps. And all we could think about is that the pelican is like, “Heee doesn’t liike you. (pause) Iiii don’t liiike you eeeeither.” The pelicans also fought amongst themselves. (picture of the Cantina fight)

We also sat in on story hour, where a very kind and soft-spoken African woman told us the story of Spider and all his tricks. Then, we changed into our fancy clothes before we met up with dreadpirateains and cohort. (BTW, ains – didn’t you or B. take pictures of all of us? Could you send them when you get a sec?) We showed them around the resort and then rushed off to the Grand Floridian to watch fireworks before our dinner reservations. The fireworks were cool, and it was good to see ains. 🙂

The Grand Floridian is daunting, although it’s a stark contrast with its sweaty and park-weary guests. There’s a mini-orchestra playing music that sits on the 2nd floor. It’s very ornate.

We really enjoyed V&A, although it felt like it might have been better with another couple to share the experience. It’s really something that it seems like, the more people you have with you, the more fun it would be…but at $125 a head, you can’t go nuts with it. 🙂 They gave me a rose, and we got souvenir menus of what we had. We found the mens’ costumes to be much more interesting than the womens’, but then, I’m a sucker for tuxtails. Also, the hostess showed us to a separate anteroom where we took some pictures…she was really sweet and kind. They called ahead to the valet, so our car was waiting for us by the time we got downstairs. I mean, really, I could get used to that level of service…but I won’t! 🙂 The food, I enjoyed, but really, it was the service that I enjoyed more. You could feed me ordinary food with extraordinary service, and I’d be happy.

We saw Christmas being disassembled at Animal Kingdom when we got back. We got a cool picture of half of the tree. 🙂 Tomorrow, we’re going to Animal Kingdom in the morning until my parents get into town. I’m looking forward to a fun day with animals!

Relevant photo albums: Animal Kingdom Lodge, Victoria & Albert’s.

Vacationing – yay!

We left for FL on the 1st, after spending the night at the Moos’ house. They were nice enough to offer to not only let us stay with them for NYE but also to drive us to the airport. We played games, and I was happy to see that Mr. Moo is enjoying his XBox 360. 🙂

As many of you know, we’re in FL to go to Disney. Well, actually, it started as that we were going to go visit DH’s family, specifically a cousin who lives in Montana but would be in Orlando en route to a cruise. We found out that there was a bridge regional that same weekend, so we figured we’d see the cousin, stay at the bridge hotel, and maybe go to Disney for a day or two while there. Well, then we found out about Disney’s buy-4-get-3-free promotion, so we decided to stay for a week at Disney. And, my parents agreed with us that it’d be a great idea for them to come down and spend the week with us at Disney. Long story short, after booking flights and hotels and negotiating schedules and whatnot, the trip plan was:

Jan 1 – fly to FL
Jan 1-3: Stay with DH’s family and visit with them
Jan 3-4: Stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom lodge
Jan 4-10: Stay at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside resort (click the link for more information about the resort than you could ever need to know but might want to know 🙂 ) and spend week doing Disney with my family and/or bridge
Jan 10-11: Stay at the bridge hotel (Buena Vista Palace)
Jan 11 (late) – fly home

Now, there was much consternation between DH and I about how much of the Jan 3-11 would be bridge and how much would be Disney, but we eventually arranged a schedule that made us both happy. I won’t bore you with the scheduling details, but they existed…just trust that the day-to-day plans that you will hear about are as per our agreements and will make us mutually happy. 🙂

Anyways, we’ve spent the past two days with DH’s family. I got a manicure this morning early, which I’ve realized I got horribly overcharged for…and it was a crappy manicure to boot…lots of messiness on the edges. But, it will survive until this evening, which is all I need. (More on that later. )

I got to spend time with a (relatively) new little cousin, who is a baby and who is super-adorable. She is social. She hams it up for anyone nearby. She hates to sleep. She loves to eat. Our cousins that are hosting us have been great, and they have a beautiful home with two giant floppy dogs. 🙂 But, today we are checking into the Animal Kingdom lodge, and it’s going to be AWESOME. I can’t wait. In fact, I’m gnawing at the bit for DH to get out of bed so we can pack and get going. Even though our hosts are great, I just can’t wait to get Disney-fied. I’m working on homework so that I won’t have to worry about that. Oh, and it turns out that dreadpirateains is in town, too, so I’m working on meeting up with him while I’m here, probably sometime this afternoon. 🙂 Yay!

Last night, we went to Universal Citywalk for an evening of drinking and carousing. I had a “mojito sandwich” beforehand: mojito, then pomegranate mojito, then mojito. (all from Bonefish, where we had dinner with DH’s aunt and grandma) We went to the Rising Star lounge for karaoke with a live band; DH did his unparalleled rendition of Love Shack to great applause. We also went to a couple of dance clubs. It was cool, but nothing compares to the now-defunct Pleasure Island.

So, I need to get back to homework. I should note that my plan is to blog periodically but save them in a hidden status until we’re back. I don’t like posting blog entries that make it clear that we’re not at home, just on the off chance that some person with bad intent manages to link this blog with our home address. You might see some very generic twitters from me when I’m out of town, but it’s likely that the blog will go into radio silence…and since my posting is sporadic anyways, it’d be darn hard to guess if I’m not posting because I’m not home or because I’m just not posting. Anyways, once I’m back, I’ll unlock all of these posts and you’ll be able to see them with the proper timestamp. 🙂