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:
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I got a really great castle shot on the morning we visited Magic Kingdom:
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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!)
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DH posed with a gargoyle outside the Be Our Guest restaurant:
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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.
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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.
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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. 🙂

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 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. 🙂