Disney Trip Day 6: Magic Kingdom

Thursday, October 21, 2010 | | 0 comments

Day 6 was going to be another very busy day. We had been told that Magic Kingdom was best done over two days, but we were going to do it in one. We're like that.

As we prepared to leave our hotel room, we realized that my daughter had lost her new Minnie Mouse hat. It was likely left behind the day before at DisneyQuest during one of the many virtual reality experiences.

The hotel gave us the number for Disney lost and found and I called as soon as we arrived at Magic Kingdom. I was immediately placed on hold and stayed there for about fifteen minutes. Considering roaming charges on my cell phone, I'm quite certain the cost of the call far outweighed the cost of buying a new hat, but I decided to complete the mission. I'll have to live with the irony. The hat had been found and I would pick it up sometime later.

We were ready for Magic Kingdom.

I don't remember a lot of the details from my previous trip to Disney, as a 12-year-old, but what little that stayed with me is mostly Magic Kingdom. I remember the Country Bear Jamboree. I remember the Pirates of the Caribbean. I remember it's a small world. It was special for me to go back and experience these rides again with my kids. However, I didn't realize that the Jamboree is really lame. When I first went on Pirates, I didn't see Jack Sparrow hiding around every corner. And when I went on it's a small world, it wasn't closed for refurbishment. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that animatronic bears and pirates had lost their ability to wow me. I guess rides need to be updated. The kids yawned and we found other things to do.

Lunch that day was at The Crystal Palace where we would meet Winnie the Pooh and friends. I hadn't had an all-you-can-eat meal yet that day, and was noticeably weak as a result.

After lunch, we rode other "must do" rides such as Dumbo the Flying Elephant and The Magic Carpets of Aladdin. These rides are slightly better than what you'd expect at your local fall fair, but we can say we've done them. The kids really enjoyed The Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. There were no lines for many of the rides, so we went on again and again.

Disney does a fabulous job of putting on live character shows. Dream along with Mickey was excellent and the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular was well worth staying up past my bedtime.

Mickey's PhilharMagic is a 3D theatre show and although it has been around for a long time, it's still excellent. My son somehow missed the grand finale where Donald Duck flies over the audience and crashes into the back wall and shared his disappointment with us for about four days. Maybe someday he'll return with his own kids to see the show and know the true meaning of disappointment.

A very forgettable dinner at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe and we were ready to call it a day. We hadn't been able to do all the rides, but not to worry, we decided we'd come back for a few hours at the end of Day 8.

I guess you really do need more than one day for Magic Kingdom.

Disney Trip Day 5: "An Off Day"

Thursday, October 14, 2010 | | 0 comments

I know I'm going to get in trouble for writing this, but it must be written. My wife always packs too many activities into every "vacation."

So it was all I could do to keep from laughing when she told me that Day 5 would be "an off day." The only plans that we had were to take a shuttle and a monorail to a different hotel, have breakfast with Mickey and friends, come back to the hotel, take a water taxi to Downtown Disney for some shopping, have lunch at a restaurant called T-Rex, maybe spend a few hours in a place called Disney Quest, come back to the hotel to get changed, then go to yet another hotel for the Hoop-De-Doo Musical Revue that evening. Oh, how I had hoped to hear the words "nap" and "hammock," but they were nowhere to be found.

First stop, breakfast. As we were taken to the table, the hostess motioned toward the all-you-can-eat buffet that would be our first diet-busting-free-for-all that day. Several days of stuffing myself were catching up to me and I was concerned that even breakfast had become a gorge fest.

The kids were excited as the characters came by our table. I temporarily put my fork down as Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald and Daisy Duck posed for pictures and signed autographs. Perhaps in a food induced coma, I found it hard to tell Goofy and Pluto apart, but kept that to myself. I noticed a defibrillator on the wall, not far from my table, and silently felt some comfort.

Throughout the trip, my son made it a habit to go to the washroom about 200 times a day, so it was no surprise that he left the table three times during breakfast. I had also come to realize that his longer than normal trips involved flushing the toilet multiple times and washing his hands using soap from every dispenser in the washroom. I don't know where these habits come from, but I guess the Disney experience is going to be different for every child.

Despite loud protests from the kids, we left without enjoying any of the breakfast desserts. Forgive me kids, but the day you need dessert at breakfast is the day you really have a problem.

We arrived at Downtown Disney and my daughter hoped she could use her own money to buy more stuffed Disney characters. My son hoped he could use more of my money to buy yet another pirate gun or sword. As silly as some of these items seemed to me, I couldn't forget that as a 12-year-old, I bought a fake arm cast, a spongy fake rock and a five foot long rubber snake as my Disney souvenirs, so I was in no position to question them.

Lunch at T-Rex was noisy, but fun. The kids loved the animatronic dinosaurs on the walls and I enjoyed a 3,000 calorie cheeseburger with potato chips.

Next up was DisneyQuest, a four level interactive theme park. My son enjoyed some of the video games, but my daughter was drawn to the more active games and I soon found myself playing alongside her as a human pinball. Apparently, I was born to be a pinball as I easily beat all the other players in the game. My clogged arteries made exiting the game somewhat difficult and my daughter seemed alarmed that I was covered in sweat (a condition which lasted about three hours). Lucky for me, I was then able to assume a boxing game already in progress and, while feeling the onset of a stroke, badly outpointed my opponent.

What better way to keep the feeling going than to play some virtual reality games? All of us had helmets strapped to our heads and collectively battled virtual enemies by swinging wildly at them with swords. The total attack on our senses had been too much for my wife, and she spent the next hour or so lying on the floor and various benches, hoping she wouldn't be sick.

So it was just the three of us. We strapped on more helmets and rode virtual magic carpets looking for virtual treasures. The game allowed players to look left and right to see the other players in the game, but as soon as the ride began I couldn't find my kids and assumed one was off washing his virtual hands and one was off buying virtual stuffed toys.

A virtual raft ride and a pirate adventure later I knew I had to call it a day. We took the elevator down to ground level and my son asked, "Is this the tower of terror?" confirming that we have indeed scarred him for life.

My wife was able to nap off her sickness at the hotel and we were ready for Disney's Hoop-De-Doo Musical Review. It's a dinner-show that is both hokey and fun. The actors sing and dance and mingle with the audience. Aside from having to worry about being pulled up on stage, I had a great time and the kids laughed and sang along with the show.

The meal is (you guessed it) another all-you-can-eat affair. Buckets of fried chicken and ribs were delivered to our table. Cornbread, baked beans and a steamed vegetable, that seemed laughably out of place, completed the meal. I ordered a draft beer with my meal and they left a pitcher on the table.

We rolled out of the show and went back to our hotel for a good night's sleep. Unfortunately, at 3:00 a.m. I had a bad case of Hoop-De-Heartburn and stared at the ceiling for about an hour and wondered what I was doing to myself.

Sometimes these off days take more out of you than you might expect.

Disney Trip Day 4: Epcot

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 | | 0 comments

My wife insisted that I only check my BlackBerry a couple of times a day while on vacation. She would have preferred that I throw it away and I would have thought checking it constantly would be acceptable. This was our compromise.

As soon as I was up, I checked messages and saw emails from a potential employer about a job interview and a networking contact about a coffee meeting. Both suggested we meet on the last day I would be in Florida, which obviously wouldn't work. I realized then that I had given both the wrong date for my return and felt pretty stupid. I replied to both with some form of an "I'm an idiot" message and hoped I could put it out of my mind. Not a great way to start your day.

We were off to Epcot. As we were leaving the hotel, the doorman gave the kids a shiny, over-sized coin for the wishing well. I thought that was a nice touch and my son was eager to make his wish. My daughter planned to keep hers and presumably invest it upon our return home. Only when she received coins on subsequent days did she agree to trade them for wishes.

Arriving at the park, I realized it was somehow hotter than the day before. Bag checking was predictably pleasant and there was a noticeably smaller crowd of people.

Epcot is a nice blend of entertainment and learning about different countries and cultures. I worried that the kids would be bored to tears as we spent time in the pavilions which celebrated different parts of our world, but they seemed to enjoy the experiences.

The first ride we did that day would also become our favourite. Soarin simulates flying over California landscapes in a glider and it's simply incredible. My son enjoyed yelling "Hi Grandma!" as we would swoop low over a vineyard or high over a neighbourhood. I have no idea where that came from, but he was clearly amused.

Other attractions that we really enjoyed were Test Track, Mission: Space and Turtle Talk with Crush. Test Track is one of the fastest rides at all of Disney, with your car reaching speeds of 60 miles per hour around a tight curve. Mission: Space makes you feel like you're commanding a ship to Mars and is very well done. It isn't however a good ride for the claustrophobic and I think that one martian round trip is enough for me. Turtle Talk is a must see for its' novelty. Crush, the sea turtle from the movie Finding Nemo, appears on the screen and takes questions from children in the audience. I don't know how they pull this one off, but it's amazing and quite funny at the same time.

Between the rides and shows, the kids lined up to meet some of their favourite Disney characters. We took pictures with and got autographs from Mulan, Aladin, Jasmine, Snow White and Donald Duck. Donald was in the Mexican area of the park and so was wearing a poncho and sombrero. As he turned, he hit my daughter in the head with his sombrero, but no injuries were caused by El Pato Donald and off we went.

Right after lunch, it started to rain. People ran for cover inside of buildings, but I opened my arms to the sky, took off my hat and let as much rain hit me as I could. I will assume that everyone else at Disney enjoys unrelenting heat of 100 degrees plus, but this blogger was thankful for this chance to cool off.

Our dinner was another highlight. We dined in a Norwegian castle with five princesses: Belle, Ariel, Jasmine, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. All of the little girls, including my daughter, had worn their princess dresses and it was adorable. The princesses came to our table for pictures and autographs and we had a nice visit with each. I'd wondered if my daughter might be too old to enjoy a princess dinner, but she loved every second of it. It appears also that my wife still has princess dreams in her system. While I waited for the bill, Sleeping Beauty passed my table and waved, "Goodbye your Majesty." They're good.

After dinner, we watched the fireworks/lights and music show. There was no waiting this time and the show was well done. When the show ended, it took us a very long time to get out from the crowd, my Wal-mart stroller making escape even more difficult.

We rode Soarin one last time before catching the bus back to the hotel.

Wonder if I got any emails today?

Disney Trip Day 3: Hollywood Studios

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 | | 0 comments

We arrived at Disney's Hollywood Studios as soon as they opened, knowing we had a very full day ahead of us.

The first thing I noticed was how friendly the people were who checked your bags as you entered the park. If border guards were trained by Disney, people would volunteer to open their trunks for full inspections.

We chose the end of September for our trip as we were told this was a slow time for Disney and we hoped to avoid lineups and crowds. This didn't seem to be the case and our very first ride, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, came with a 40 minute wait.

What we were thinking to subject my five-year-old son to this ride is beyond me. The ride is a series of 15 story drops in a pitch-black elevator shaft. My son started shaking during the first drop and I wondered if he would ever speak to us again. We survived, but that is the one and only time this blogger will do that ride.

We spent our day hitting as many of the rides and shows as we could. There were more attractions than we had time for in the day and began picking and choosing only those that we most wanted to see. We found ourselves running from one attraction to the next as Disney seems to have many of the shows scheduled to begin seconds after another popular show has ended.

I learned that Disney staff will move your stroller from an unauthorized parking spot to a stroller parking area. I also realized that every third family on earth owns the same inexpensive Wal-mart stroller and finding ours wasn't always an easy task.

On the topic of strollers, twice that day we forgot to collect our stroller after going on a ride and had to come back from a different area of the park. The second time, I came back to find my stroller was the only one left in that area and curious onlookers laughed at me as I slunk away. Stranger still, twice that day I had a minor heart attack when I lost sight of one of the kids, only to realize that I was pushing them in the stroller at the time. I wouldn't have believed that could happen to a reasonably smart person.

They didn't tell us in the brochures that Disney is a lawless kind of Scooterland, but that is the case. Motorized scooters are everywhere and the riders seem sure to run you over if you're not constantly on the lookout for them. I certainly didn't need this additional stress while at the parks, but such is life.

We had our lunch at a restaurant called Hollywood and Vine. I ate far too much and felt sluggish immediately. The kids were entertained by characters from Handy Manny and other shows which were unfamiliar to me. There were live performances where the kids were invited to sing and dance along with the performers. Regrettably, the lyrics to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Hot Dog Song have not left my head since that meal.

We made time for the Block Party which was really well done. The kids were thrilled to see their favourite characters from Toy Story, who are the stars of the show. Just before the party started, I bought ice cream cones for the family, only to learn that ice cream melts instantly in Florida. The options are to eat ice cream as quickly as you've ever done in your life or lick ice cream off your fingers, wrists and forearms. You can probably guess how the kids voted on that one.

Our day unravelled somewhat toward the end. We didn't realize that many of the rides close at 7:00 p.m. so we missed out on several we were hoping to do. We also didn't realize that Fantasmic, a nighttime show involving Mickey and friends, required you to lineup at least an hour in advance. We missed the 8:00 p.m. show and I stood in line from 7:30 until 9:30, mostly by myself while my wife and kids walked around to pass the time.

There are very few 30 minute shows that are worth a two hour wait, especially one where people from all sides stand too close, breathing down your neck, bumping into you constantly. Fantasmic failed to live up to the hype and I was glad when it ended and we were able to take the shuttle back to the hotel.

We had been at the park for over 13 hours, which was just about all I could do. I needed some sleep so we could do it all over again.

Disney Trip Day 2: Arrive in Florida

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 | | 0 comments

The day started early. Really early.

We got up, gathered our things and took our bags down to the lobby. We were on schedule and had enough time to enjoy a hot breakfast at the hotel. Somehow, in one fell swoop I managed to spill coffee, ketchup and hot sauce on the counter before I made it back to the table, but can't remember how I managed to create the mess. The breakfast was good and the taste of hot sauce in my coffee was barely noticeable.

My wife finished her food first and went to the lobby to check on our airport shuttle. My son had tagged along and ran back to give me the frantic report that we had missed our bus. It turns out an earlier bus had mistakenly taken our baggage on the trip, but was returning shortly to the hotel with our bags. Let's assume this was merely another example of the telephone game gone wrong.

The kids were very excited about their trip to Disney. My son told anyone who would listen at the airport and on the plane where we were going and what we were going to do once we got there. His volume grew louder as the trip went on and I found myself laughing as he yelled his updates to the little girl in the seat in front of him.

The flight was great and we made our way to our hotel, Disney's Port Orleans Resort-French Quarter. While my wife unpacked, I took the kids to the pool. They were excited to experience the dragon waterslide they had seen online. My daughter immediately said, "Daddy, the slide doesn't look anything like it does on the computer." You're right honey, it doesn't. Welcome to the real world.

I didn't realize quite how hot Orlando was going to be and no one told me about the crazy black bugs. At first, I thought I was seeing my first ever two-headed bugs, but soon realized they were actually two bugs, working in tandem. They were everywhere and highly annoying. I distrusted them immediately.

We also saw small lizards darting to and fro around the pool. I'm not sure if they were geckos, but it's my blog and I'm going to call them geckos.

Later in the day, we took a water taxi to the Downtown Disney Area. We checked out some of the shopping and eventually made our way to Planet Hollywood for dinner. I'm not a big fan of Planet Hollywood, but we thought the kids would enjoy the atmosphere. The food was terrible (as always) and the bill was laughably high. Our meal plan was included in our package, so the cost didn't really matter, although it made tipping a little awkward. The kids wandered around the restaurant, looking at the movie memorabilia. I don't think they knew half the movies featured and neither did I.

It was a long and tiring day and back at the hotel we had no trouble getting the kids in their beds. The next day was going to be a big one and we would need our sleep.

Disney Trip Day 1: Get to Buffalo

Monday, October 4, 2010 | | 0 comments

I've recently returned from a family trip to Disney World. The trip was fantastic, filled with stories/adventures, and entirely too much to jam into one blog post. So, I'm going to take this day-by-day and hope that my faithful readers will accept their Disney magic in small doses over the next eight days.

The first day of our Disney adventure involved driving ourselves to Buffalo, NY. Flights out of Buffalo are much cheaper than Toronto, so for the family on a budget it just makes sense. We would spend the night in Buffalo and fly from there the next day.

There was no waiting at the border and the usual interrogation was painless. I knew to remove my sunglasses before pulling up to the shack, my wife didn't, but a gentle scolding rather than the unholstering of his gun was all that was required. Won't happen again sir.

We found our hotel with only one fight between the driver and navigator (I can see now that when you said nothing I should have known to turn left) and it was a much nicer spot than I had expected.

We used our time in Buffalo to do what all Canadians do-shop for bargains. In our case it meant some clothes at Kohl's and a stop at a liquor superstore. The clothing prices were good, not great, but the price of liquor was dramatically less than we pay at home. I should buy all of my alcohol in the U.S. and perhaps should increase my drinking in general.

Although we haven't used a stroller for either child in over a year, my wife thought it would be necessary to have one for Disney. So, we checked out the first kmart store we saw, thinking they would have a very basic stroller, for very little money. I hadn't been inside a kmart in many years and was surprised to find that in my absence they have defied the impossible and now offer less quality and service in a less pleasing shopping atmosphere. We left without buying anything and I hope that is my last visit to the big K.

We were able to find the perfect stroller at Wal-mart and were ready for dinner. The kids loved the Olive Garden for their enormous portions and laughed when I told them about the time I bit into a jalapeno pepper that squirted me in the eye, incapacitating me for about 30 minutes.

While in Buffalo, I chuckled whenever I saw signs for Cheektowaga or North Tonawanda. Growing up, we watched Channel 7 News with Irv Weinstein every evening and I came to associate Buffalo with funny sounding suburbs and building fires. I made plans to review the emergency procedures info once back in the hotel room.

It was time to sleep and get ready for another big day of travelling. My son must have missed the memo and insisted on talking long after the lights were out and the rest of us had closed our eyes. There was yelling and arguing and I wondered if I could fall asleep and hear how it ended in the morning.

I was successful.