But, I don’t FEEL 50?!? Pam’s January 2013 Birthday Bash – Pre-Trip Planning Party

Even when you take into consideration the fact that people are living longer, there is no way to think of 50 as NOT middle age. This fact hit me about 3 months ago when I realized that on January 18, 2013, I would be turning 50 in spite of every stupidly death-defying thing I’ve done in my life to halt that process prematurely.

If you’ll put up with a moderately boring autobiographic sketch for just a minute, I’ll get to the fun part very soon, and I’ll soften the blow with some moderately amusing photos.

Life for me started in 1963 as the adopted kid of two great parents:

I am decently certain that is the only time my mother strapped on skis and actually ventured into the snow. If she looks cold, tired, and frustrated in the photo, she’s really doing a very good job of hiding her true emotions which ran something like “If he ever does anything like this to me again, I’m getting a divorce!”

Fortunately, dad didn’t subject mom to any more ski expeditions, and they stayed together more than 50 years. Dad passed away 7 years ago, but mom is healthy and happy and still making me crazy with relative frequency.

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Epcot World Showcase – Our favorite (free!) things

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I’ve heard people say they enjoy the food in World Showcase, but besides that, they think it’s just a bunch of shops. On first blush, it does seem like the place is packed full of merchandise and not much else, but given some time and a mildly adventurous spirit, you’ll find some incredible hidden gems while exploring the countries.

Add this to the long list of free live entertainment that is available all day long in different locations around World Showcase and you can see how it is easy to spend a few days in this park and still not experience it all.

Here’s a list of our favorite shows and other lesser-known places to explore in each of the countries. Everything listed here is free (except for that expensive park ticket you already bought!):

Mexico

Three Caballeros Ride – Similar to It’s a Small World, but on a much smaller scale. Cute and fun.

Watching the Glass Blower work in the shop just outside Three Caballeros Ride (there is also a glass blower in the German pavilion).

Live Entertainment: Mariachi Cobre – Traditional Mexican Mariachi band.

Viva Mexico – Live traditional music and dance.

Norway

Maelstrom, a short and fun ride similar in tone to Pirates of the Caribbean.

If for some reason you’d like to see a really dated movie about Norway (think 1970’s facial hair on the guys), but you don’t want to ride the ride, ask one of the CM’s if you can go in the exit door and watch the film. It’s just a regular film that you sit down on uncomfortable chairs for. Really, it’s not that bad, it’s sort of funny because of what the people are wearing – very “mod” 1970’s!

The first large building you see as you enter the Norway section is the Stave Church, inside is a small museum with some neat old weapons and information on Vikings. Small and cool enough that even young boys will enjoy it.

Troll photo op. Inside the gift shop as you exit Maelstrom.

China

360-View Movie – even if you aren’t going to see the movie, walk into The Temple of Heaven and look up – the ceiling is awesome!

Xi-An Tomb Warriors – a smaller scale recreation of those incredible clay warriors, each with a different face. The horses are my favorites.

The dancing waters bowl – I’m such a dweeb for this thing. They move this around frequently, but you will find it somewhere in one of the two China gift shops. Rubbing the handles with lightly wetted palms of your hands in a slow and gentle back and forth motion (hands moving in opposite directions) will create a harmonic in the bowl and cause the water inside to dance and the bowl itself to “sing”. Very cool if you can make it happen, very frustrating if you can’t!

Live Entertainment: Jeweled Dragon Acrobats – very well-done show featuring different acrobatic acts.

Germany

Clock in the outdoor central square does its thing at the hour – not super exciting, but there ya go.

The trains. I love seeing the real lizards hang out on the buildings looking like Godzilla taking over a Bavarian Village.

Italy

Nada – well, except the Ducati shirts, which probably don’t excite many people. The shops in here all have an overly heavy perfume smell to me, so I don’t spend too much time wandering. Your results may vary.

Live Entertainment: Sergio – Juggling act with audience participation.

The Ziti Sisters – Live comedy with audience participation.

America

The awesome American Adventure show with animatronics that look nearly real to me, and that Mike has never successfully stayed awake through (very comfy seats here). Of note, the show does cover the Civil War, and has a song that talks about two sons going to war on opposite sides, one dies and one comes home. On the screen there are a few black and white photos shown for a few seconds each of battlefields, not gory, but you see human bodies if you’re paying close attention.

If you choose to not see American Adventure, still be sure to try and catch the Voices of Liberty singing group, they are wonderful, and the acoustics of that room are amazing.

There is a small but very interesting collection of historic artifacts covering everything from some of the first Edison movie cameras to items that went to the moon on the Apollo missions. Enter the building and look for an open archway to the right to access the displays.

Live Entertainment: Voices of Liberty (see above).

Spirit of America Fife and Drum – 15 minute show that will either make you proud to be an American, or a bit embarrassed.

Japan

The store here is a miniature version of Japan’s largest department store chain, and definitely worth a look. Don’t miss all checking out the weird candy and other foods sold here.

Bijutsu-kan – Currently a beautiful and captivating display of artwork that shows how Japan’s ancient fairytale beasts are now used in Anime. Just outside this building are my two very favorite big huge sentinel horses flanking the fake drawbridge.

Live Entertainment: Matsuriza – Japanese Taiko Drummers.

Miyuki – An artist in sweet stuff, Miyuki creates beautiful sculptures from candy.

Morocco

Hidden beauty everywhere here. Directly across from Tangierine cafe (looking across towards the fountain) is a door that you are welcome to open. Inside is a cool display of jewelry and ancient weapons. The building’s craftsmanship alone is worth a look. Next to this room is a tiled and quiet area called the Fes House.

Continue on around the back side of Tangierine Cafe and explore. The shops are well positioned and neatly designed, easily making you feel like you’re visiting a real market place.

Live Entertainment: MoRockin – Arabic rhythms and instruments with a modern flair, also includes some belly dancing and audience participation.

France

Impressions de France. Some people say Disney got the idea for Soarin’ from this movie. I can believe it. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous. All set to a score of classical music. I swear, some sections of this film feel like they have wings.

Live Entertainment: Serveur Amusant –  Incredible acrobatic balancing act involving a waiter and chairs.

United Kingdom

Walk through the back section of the formal garden, it’s really pretty. Also, walk inside and see if Pooh is hanging out in his special place inside Christopher Robin’s room – even if he’s not there, take a look at the room it’s so nicely detailed (including some real antique toys!). Continue into the other sections of the shops and be sure to look up – this area is designed like a castle and has some very neat details which most people don’t notice. Many of the things hanging on the walls or sitting on shelves are actual antiques.

Live Entertainment: British Revolution – Live Music with a focus on Brit-Rock from the 60’s to the 80’s. World Showcase Players – Live improv play with plenty of audience participation.

Canada

360-view movie – O Canada!. Really fun, with Martin Short. If you decide to skip the movie, at least walk to the very back of this country, walk down the stairs and check out the cool rock formations and waterfall in the hidden grotto. Very cool – literally!

Live Entertainment: Off Kilter – Rock with a Canadian flair, bagpipes, and kilts.

This is just a short list of our favorites, but I know you’ll find your own special things while you’re there. Do not be afraid to wander and explore. Go around nooks and crannies, if a door doesn’t say “Cast Members Only” and it’s unlocked, it’s meant to be opened by you. Look up often when you’re inside the stores – most of the cool and original antiques and other neat things are high up out of reach but within easy view.

Live Entertainment Schedules

Entertainment and character greet schedules change depending on the season, how busy it is, and other factors. The best resource for current schedules is http://www.wdwent.com/schedule.htm this is updated weekly (Disney doesn’t release schedules sooner than that).

Florida – Day 9, February 12 (part 1) – Frozen Florida and a little regroup

We woke up this morning about an hour earlier than normal so that we can get everything else packed up and to baggage hold before we head into the park. Our tentative plan is MK, but since everything is green today, I told Mike it’s his choice.

The weather report shows last night’s low of around 30 degrees, and today’s high of in the 50’s. We dress warmly and head to the food court for our final breakfast at DW (waaaaaaaah!!!! sniff, sniff). The walk is absolutely frigid. We are used to cold, but not with high humidity. The wind is blowing and it is brutal.

Not helping is the fact that I’ve got a cold that I’ve been ignoring for most of the week, and today I just feel like crud.

We finish our leisurely breakfast of sanka-evil and bagels, then head back to the room to grab the luggage. The walk back feels even colder. Mike says “I don’t think ANY park will be fun with it this cold.” I say, “we’ve done parks when it’s colder”. See, our “tough people” persona’s are battling with our “just be smart and don’t give yourself pneumonia” adult voices. For once, the adult voices win. Mike asks if we can call the car rental company and get the car earlier, I call and they say “sure, can you be in front of Pop at 8:20? It’s about 7:45 now, so heck yes we can!

We do a final idiot check of the room, grab all our stuff, and we get to do the Walk of Shame – carrying our luggage and heading home. Sigh. I hate the Walk of Shame. Fortunately this time the blow is softened by knowing we’ve still got two days of fun ahead in Tampa.

So, the DW portion of our trip ends, not with a bang but a whimper. I am so very glad we decided to brave the crowds and see Wishes last night!

We pick up our car (Ford Fusion with only 2,000 miles on it), and head down I-4 towards Tampa. But, we now have an entire day to blow, and no plans. What to do? We stop at a Starbucks for some REAL coffee and get out the laptop to see if Tampa offers any interesting INDOOR museums or activities.

One of the baristas tells us about Ybor City, which looks cool (we love old buildings), and they have a museum there too. The second item that catches our fancy is the Henry B. Plant museum (which has nothing to do with plants). So, we have a plan, we are warm and our belies are full of good coffee, we’re ready to roll!

Disney World Day 8, February 11 – Three Park Bonanza! HS, AK, MK

For those of you wondering how we decide what parks to visit on what days, there’s this great site called EasyWDW that has least crowded parks calendars, and gives anyone who’s willing to do a little planning beforehand a real edge on the rest of the touring masses.  I’d never plan a trip to Disney World without them!

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Mike and I had a conversation last night, we’ve got these “good anytime” TSM fastpasses that I can’t figure out when we’ll use. February 12th is our last day at the parks and we’ll be at MK, so today is our only option. It’s morning EMH at HS, and I would normally avoid it like the plague, but I work out a plan where we’ll be there bright and early, and just focus on TSM, then get the heck out of Dodge and hop to AK, hopefully arriving around 9:30.

Of course, it’s always on days like this with tight scheduling that those darned gremlins come in to play. We do everything right, are first at the gate and first into HS, get FP quickly, then walk towards the standby line, only to find out the ride is down. Gah! No problem, it’s just a ride, right? We chat with one of the CM’s for awhile and he gives us a bit more information. They had problems with the ride yesterday afternoon, and the mechanics sort of band-aided the problem. This morning they decided to actually fix it so it wouldn’t break down during the busy middle of the day, and it’s taking them longer than expected to finish.

With this information, we’re decently certain the ride will reopen relatively soon. We wander around the deserted park, even walk through the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playset:

 

It’s pretty cool, and I’m able to fit on one of the slides, which is fun (as long as no one is watching!)

We’ve never spent much time looking at the shops and windows along the streets – this section of the park seems to me such a waste of space. There’s really nothing going on, it’s sort of like the “world between worlds” in the Chronicles of Narnia. Taking time, the details start to become apparent, and it really is beautifully themed. Still not that exciting, but cool.

 

 

Mike checks out the “antique store” and is bummed to find no old motorcycle toys. I tell him he’s actually lucky there aren’t any in there, because then he’d be extra-frustrated because he’d have no way of purchasing them!

We head back to Toy Story Midway Mania which is still down, and decide to spend some time in One Man’s Dream. Mike keeps hopping back outside to check the TSM line and soon he hops in and gives me the thumbs up. We rush over and are about 40 people back from the first in the standby line at about 9am. Wahoo! We get in three rides, two using FP, which is pretty good considering standby is now backed up to 60 minutes out.

If you’re wondering why this ride always has long wait times and the Fast Pass return times are so far in the future, blame it on poor design by the Imagineers. I don’t know if they didn’t anticipate this being as popular as it has become, but the ride does not have a very high capacity, and also has a relatively slow load/unload process which results in only about 850 people per hour getting to experience this attraction. Compare that to Pirates of the Caribbean, which can push more than 3,000 people per hour through, and you can see why Toy Story gets long wait times and Fast Passes are gone before noon on most days, which is sad, because it’s so darned fun!

I revel in my “mad skillz”. Yep, beat Mike every time! We are so competitive, it’s probably not healthy.

Satisfied with our helping of TSM goodness, we leave the park, catch the Animal Kingdom bus just as it pulls up, and are at AK by around 10. Not bad, considering the gremlin factor.

We grab a set of FP for the Safari, then hoof it over to the 11am Finding Nemo show. I LOVE this show. I could watch it over and over and over and over….. Okay, you get my drift. I don’t know why, it makes me happy.

Crush and “Go With the Flow” make me especially happy:

Oh goodness, I love this song.

Next up, we decide to take in Flights of Wonder again. They had two interpreters for the deaf standing to the left of the stage, and signing the entire show for a family. It was simply amazing to watch them, since they didn’t just sign, they acted the roles out pretty much the same as the Cast Members on stage. Made me wonder how this works, if a person needing this service would tell a CM in advance? Anyway, one more example of how freaking awesome Disney World is.

I love the looks on everyone’s faces here – it’s like someone let a huge stinker drop just seconds before. Maybe the guy in the green shirt.

Safari is good, with lots of very active animals, although no roarin’ lions.

Hey! Keep your nose to yourself!

 

One of the reticulated giraffes was in an especially photogenic mood

And it was interesting to see a different mix of animals in the area where normally there’s only the white rhino. How do they know what animals get along with each other?

I would love to pet an okapi, they look soft as sable.

After a few rides on Expedition Everest using the single rider line for me, and a nap for Mike, we head out of the park about 3pm. We’ve got to get back to the room and get some packing done (boo!).

I spend a few hours fussing over what to put in the big suitcase that will stay in the rental car during our two-day Tampa stay, and we eat dinner (pasta for me, mashed potatoes for Mike). Our food stores are going to come out just about perfect, with very little left over except one can of soup and some bottles of water. I finally get as much done as I can packing-wise, and we get to the MK bus stop at a little after 6pm.

I know Magic Kingdom is going to be busy, it’s a non-recommended park, but we’re just going for fireworks so crowds won’t matter. Well, it wouldn’t matter if that bus would show up. By 6:15 there’s still no MK bus, and now there’s about 30 people behind us in line to add to the 10 or so ahead of us. By 6:30 there have been multiple buses for all the other parks, and still no MK bus. Finally, about 6:40, Mike goes over to talk to the driver of the 4th Epcot bus to show up and the driver says he’ll call dispatch. Another 5 minutes and here comes a bus! It’s for Epcot. FIVE Epcot buses have come and gone in the time we’ve been waiting. The line is now long enough to fill at least two buses. Finally, at 5 after 7, an MK bus. We all pile on very quickly, and amazingly are entering the park by 7:20. Main Street is PACKED. It’s all we can do to thread our way through people, and sometimes we are completely stopped. This is one situation where I would NEVER bring kids or a large group – it’s just too easy to get separated. With just the two of us, we make it to the area between the statue and castle and for some reason it is actually not very crowded. We pick a spot front and center of the castle and aren’t foiled by any kids on shoulders or Mickey balloons, and have a magical experience watching Memories and Wishes with a bazillion of our closest friends.

I love the castle overlays they do for the Memories show.

 

 

 

Despite the crazy crowd, and fighting back through it afterwards (of special mention is the Brazilian tour group of at least 100 who decides that the MIDDLE OF MAIN STREET is a good place to group up), seeing those fireworks right over the top of the castle is a magical experience, and a great way to complete our last night in the parks.

We get back to the Pop bus stop just as a bus is loading, but wait…it’s a Disney Cruise Line bus?? What the heck? I guess it was pressed into service for some reason. Well, it made for a very relaxing and comfortable ride back home, that’s for sure!

The weather report for tonight and tomorrow are daunting. Freezing temps overnight and a high Sunday of only 50-ish. Oh well, we’re tough cold-weather climate folks, we laugh at your silly attempt at winter weather, Florida, ha ha!

Disney World Day 7, February 10 – Magic Kingdom and more Epcot (really!)

I hope you’re bored with good photos, because today you get a veritable plethora of almost-but-not-quite-good pics. I don’t know why, but everything I shot today just seemed blah. Maybe because I was feeling off, I’d picked up a minor cold somewhere (imagine that, in a place teeming with virulent children and adults who have no concept of covering their mouth when they cough or sneeze). Anywhoo, we still managed to have a fun day, in spite of my lack of photography skills!

Another early morning rope drop for MK. I swear, the bag check is getting very serious these days, some of the security detail could get jobs with homeland security or the CIA if they wanted to. Today we chose a line with a sweet little old lady manning the station, thinking she’d be the fastest and least thorough. Wrong-o, this gal had us open every single zipper on our backpacks, including the Camelbak pouch section (we had to lift up the bladder so she could feel around behind). The lady next to us was required to open her tiny camera case and remove the camera. A gal ahead of us had cargo pants on, and she made her show what was in the cargo pocket at her side, I’ve never seen anyone be so thorough!

We are first at the rope and enjoy our side angle of the morning show, which I think is completely sappy but I really like for some reason. Mike ignores it. He also refuses to recognize that there is a ride called “It’s a Small World”. His cute only goes so far. However, he does really like Beauty and the Beast at Hollywood Studios, so there’s really no logic to it.

First ride is Peter Pan. If I could get out of bed every morning knowing that I was going to ride this ride, it would make waking up so much nicer. And here you have first proof of my less than stellar photo skills:

Next, its warm enough today, so we head over to Splash Mountain, where we are in line with a family from the UK who’s two little girls keep asking if they will get wet on the ride. The Dad keeps telling them “no”. I’m thinking this isn’t a smart parenting choice, given that every single person that they’ve seen walking away from the ride has wet hair, a wet crotch, or both. But hey, they’re not my kids, so we keep quiet. We end up seated behind them in the log (they’re 3rd and 4th row, we’re back).

After seeing Brer Fox put Brer Bear through many embarrassingly painful situations:

We head towards the light:

And a massive splash at the bottom. The dad and his youngest daughter are SOAKED. I mean, completely dripping wet. She is crying. Mom and older daughter behind them also have completely wet heads. We are dry. Yep, Dad was wrong. Oh well, I’m sure they’re not scarred for life or anything – in fact, by the time we’ve walked to the photo station they’re all laughing at the silly photo of themselves so I guess it’s all good.

Next up is Indy Speedway. When we get to the front, they’ve just opened a new row of cars and they’re actually having people walk on the roadway to the next set of cars to speed up loading. I’m amazed that DW allows this, they’re usually so flippin’ careful about doing everything by the book. It was a little weird.

At least this pic’s in focus, but Mike looks like a dweeb – oh well, we won’t tell him I posted it online, okay?

We also get to see them starting the cars, and take a look under the hood:

Ooooh, nerd shot!!! This is a Subaru Robin engine, putting out a whopping 8.5hp (measured at the crank) from an over-richly-carbureted (that’s why they smell) over-head-valve four-stroke single-cylinder engine. Disney adds an auxiliary electric starter to them. I am sure you’re as thrilled as I am about all of this. Wait, why are you snoring?

Okay, I promise, no more engine nerd info! Here, here’s an ominous shot of the castle:

Better? Good. Sorry about that!

I love the Dorothea Redmond mosaics in the castle breezeway, and wish I could spend more time studying them, but this is always such a busy area, it’s not really conducive to standing around staring at things like it’s an art gallery.

Did you notice Cindy’s wicked stepsisters have different colored faces? One is supposed to be “red with anger”, and the other is “green with envy”. I love, love, love these details!!!

And speaking of details, aren’t these guys cool?

After time with Fantasyland, we head across to Tomorrowland to spend more time with Buzz and another of my personal favorites, People Mover. I can remember riding the Disneyland version of this with my parents when I was little, to me it’s like a smooth moving cushioned-seat trip back to childhood.

By this time, more folks are entering the park, and it’s time to head over to the Contemporary to steal some wi-fi waves and check on our Cat Camera. Yes, we have a Cat Camera, it’s a home security system that records video of our cats whenever they move around. Keeps the hubby sane knowing he can check up on them occasionally while we’re away. To me, it means a never ending search for wifi hotspots because we don’t have a smartphone. So, say ‘bye to Mickey and Minnie for today (note my gradually improving picture quality as the day progresses):

And hello to some Disneyfied opulence:

We settle in to a comfy sofa in an alcove on the 2nd floor and view the cats and take care of some email. Mike finds this cool vintage Ferris-wheel toy:

There are many neat antiques inside the Grand Floridian, including some vintage maps of Florida that we’d never noticed before. When we’re done wandering, we walk back to MK to catch the monorail to TTC.

I love this view of Space Mountain.

I gave Mike the option of HS or Epcot this afternoon, and he’s waffling on his choice. We’re actually halfway to the buses before he changes his mind and decides on Epcot instead of HS. I love being able to switch on the fly like this, I’ve got a small calendar I carry with us that shows green parks every day, so we don’t do something stupid like hop from a first recommended to a red park.

We get to Epcot around 2, and SSE is a walk on. Mike stops to talk to one of the CM’s at the entrance after he notices the guy is from Isle of Man. See, this island in the Irish sea has hosted an extremely popular motorcycle race since 1907 – it’s sort of the holy grail of motorcycle events. So of course we’ve got to stop and talk with him, he happens to be into bikes so we have fun chatting. Oh well, there I go all moto on you guys again, hm, nevermind. Well, here’s a pic:

After our ride on SSE, we are greeted with what will probably be our Christmas Card photo this year:

Yep, I think our parents would be proud. I email it to my brother and office so they can appreciate what idiots they hang around, and we head back towards World Showcase where Mike has a date with some Norwegian sweets. The pastry kind. Okay, I’ll admit, I think half his love for these things has to do with the cute servers.

As we’re leaving Kringla Mike notices the Kim Possible kiosk and says we should try it out. Of course, I feel like a bit of a dork doing this without kids, and of course, the CM makes us feel totally normal about it (yes, I love these people). We get Norway and have a fun time deciphering the clues and getting random things to happen, except Mike’s hogging the phone and won’t turn it over to me when he’s supposed to. Moooooom, make him give it uuuuup!!!

He finally lets me have it for our second mission in China, and we get a kick out of it too.

Wahoo, we saved the world!

We wander around a little more, and find this guy in Germany:

I love how he’s all Scotty’d out from the waist down, and all normal from the belt up.

We decide to call it an early evening so we can catch up on laundry, so we head back to the room.

There is nothing more depressing to me than a laundromat. It must be something about the dispair of having to share with strangers what most “normal” adults do in the privacy of their own home, or maybe I just hate the smell of 35 different detergents mixed with too-hot dryers? I don’t know. Anyway, the laundry room at Pop is small – there’s no chairs so everyone is standing around in each other’s way, and tonight we are treated to the antics of three small Brazilian boys who have apparently inhaled a 6-pack of energy drink then been brought into the laundry room to play while BOTH parents watch their clothes go round-and-round in the dryer. Sigh.

On the plus side, I am able to get in quite a bit of reading during my laundry-watching stint, and we will not need to wear dirty clothes again the entire trip. Yea!

Tomorrow will be our last full day at DW (with Tampa and Busch Gardens still to come), and I promise it’ll be more exciting than today. Really, it’s going to be easy to top a day of fuzzy photos and laundry.

Disney World Day 6, February 9th – Animal Kingdom with a chaser of Epcot

Today is our second rope drop (getting there in time for park opening) at Animal Kingdom, we really love this park in the morning when it’s quiet, but hate it in the afternoon when it gets busy and crowded. I can’t imagine how much “fun” this place is in the summer with the unwashed masses, but right now it is about 65 degrees with no wind, the sun is shining, the pathways are lonely, and it is beautiful.

Our first ride of the morning is the Safari, and we are treated to an awesome driver and some really cool animal encounters. I never remember to get the names of our really good drivers, and I should. I’d love to send DW a note telling them how much these CM’s add to the Safari.

This white rhino looks so darned depressed, he really cracks me up

 Everyone say “awwwww, poor white rhino, such a hard life!”

Next, we’ve got an Eland that’s so close to the truck we could reach out and touch him (no, we don’t, and there’s no stupid people with kids on this trip, thankfully!).

My, what pretty eyes you have.


And horns, too.
Nothing much exciting until we come around the lion rocks. You know how you usually can catch a glimpse of one or two of them laying down, or (if you’re lucky) one will poke their head up. Today as we rounded the curve, the male lion is standing at the edge of the rock facing us, which is pretty cool. Then he starts roaring. Not just one growl, but like he’s discussing a litany of lion complaints a few paragraphs long. It was amazing, and we were front row for the whole thing!

Here’s nine seconds of lion conversation for ya (sorry he’s quieter than us loudmouths in the rig):
After he’s done, he walks a few feet away, does a big huge kitty stretch:

And then lays back down like it never happened!

It was sooooooooo cooooool!That’s why I love this park so much. Nearly all of the other park’s experiences are the same every time, but AK is driven by animals, so the experience is never the same twice.Next we head over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch so my animal-loving hubby can pet a few goats. I live in fear of this man bringing home goats in his car someday with some sob story about how we have to give them a home. I swear, if we didn’t love to travel as much as we do, we’d have a menagerie.

They’ve got some new residents at the Affection Section. Some little piglets with big floppy ears and long wavy hair (can’t remember what breed they are)

And a couple of Nubian goats (I love their ears)
This sheep still needs to see an orthodontist about braces for that underbite

And they have one of the “creepiest” Hidden Mickey’s we’ve found so far
A train ride back, and we’re off to Flights of Wonder.
I’ll bet every single person who’s been to Animal Kingdom has the “perfect photo” of this guy? Here’s mine. I’m sure yours is better, I couldn’t get him looking directly at me for long enough this time, guess I should have worn a dead mouse necklace or something:
I am always amazed at how close to the crowd these birds fly:

And how they never catch anyone’s hair or hat:

Or poop on anyone (that I’ve seen)

This little guy always looks a little confused and a lot concerned. How do his trainers know he’s happy?

Okay, one last bird pic, then it’s on to Everest

And my date with this guy:
…for a few runs on that train that can’t seem to keep traveling in one direction for very long.  Mike walks with me through the standby line since he’s never seen the inside of this ride before, and he’s amazed at all the cool stuff, and how well the rooms tell the story. He’s so amazed that he walks to his “regular bench napping location” and relaxes while I ride in the single line another 3 or 4 times.Oh, and Mike does have one complaint about the EE area of Animal Kingdom. There’s not enough benches. This area is always massively crowded with people, even when the standby lines are short, and there’s never a place to sit down. He does have one spot (on the side of the ride entrance – look to the left as you enter the single rider line), but besides the smoking area nearby, that’s really it.After I’m done with my EE fix for the day, we head back to the room for an early dinner (Progresso Soup for me, mashed potatoes veggies and cottage cheese for Mike) and then hop a bus to Epcot for the evening.

After Mike gets his Lefse fix, I try my hand at the stupid dancing waters again, and am able to only get it to work once for a short time. Totally frustrating!

This is my frustrated/stubborn look, my husband is very familiar with it.I’m such an ornery cuss, I could stand here all night until I got it right, but Mike drags me away after about 15 minutes. Which is a good thing, because we happen to stroll by the Canadian Pavilion 5 minutes before our favorite non-Canadian Canadian (they play at the Canadian pavilion, but none of the members of Off Kilter are from Canada) band hits the stage:

These guys rock!Mike finds a squirrel who is apparently unaffected by loud rock music, or is deaf, and feeds him some treats without losing any fingers. Yes, I know it is stupid to feed wild animals by hand, that’s why I don’t do it. My dearest hubby on the other hand, is either an animal talker without knowing it, or he has the best luck in the world and has never been bitten.

We head back to the bus and are back in the room by about 8, I think. Actually, we could have been abducted by aliens and probed for all I know, for some reason I have no pictures after 6pm, and I can’t remember at all what we did, I just know we didn’t get back to the room until at least 8pm. Strange what excessive quantities of late nights/early mornings can do to a person.

Disney World, Day 5, February 8th – Magic Kingdom, Blizzard Beach, and back to MK

Mike’s starting his morning right with Disney coffee-like substance, amended with a pack of Via and his own girly creamer, served in our old school Pop Century mugs which hold more than a thimbleful of fluid and dont tip over when sneezed at (we pay for new mugs every time we go, but we use the old ones because we like them better).

Please note Mike’s obnoxiously bright 1970’s era moto-shirt. If you see this at your local Goodwill, please buy it for me – I promise to pay you handsomely. This shirt got stolen from Blizzard Beach later in the day :(

Today will be our first day at MK on this trip. It’s about time! Although life without Big Thunder Mtn Railroad will be different, I think we’ll be okay. Sigh. I’m bummed for Mike though, since it’s the only “thrill” ride he’s able to do at all of the parks. I guess this will mean more time for him to beat me at Buzz Lightyear.

Noted!
As many times as we visit this place, I never get tired of the sight of this beautiful castle basking in the warm winter sun.
And a quick pic of the gorgeous jet-black horse with a tiny blaze of white on his forehead that is pulling the trolley this morning. He’s so pretty I could just hug him, but I resist.
We start the day by heading towards Splash Mountain, intending on grabbing a few fastpasses, but the ride is down and they’re not giving out FP’s – well, that and the Cast Members we talk to say there’s really no need, the wait times have been less than 15 minutes all day long the past few days. But…..I’ve got a plan…..must…collect…fastpasses…every…morning…
Coming out of my zombie-like devotion to “the plan”, I break my stride and realize we really have absolutely nothing pressing besides Peter Pan this morning. So we relax and have a fun time talking to the CM’s who are manning the non-functional Splash.
One thing I really love about DW over Disneyland is the age of cast members here really runs the gamut, whereas Disneyland usually is a much younger crowd (with a few cool exceptions). We really like talking to older CM’s to find out what brought them to Florida, and what they did before they moved here. We’ve found retired police officers who just wanted to see people actually happy for a change, bus drivers who used to work frustrating routes on crowded streets in the bad part of big cities, and today we meet a widow who moved here from Minnesota because her arthritis is so much better here and loves being able to treat her grandkids to Disney World every year. Before we wander away, this sweet lady gives us two “anytime” FP’s, good for any attraction at Magic Kingdom! Yes, these people rock!

After a spin on Peter Pan, bouncing around on Pooh, and some scary time with Snow White, we head over to Haunted Mansion to check out the new interactive queue.

The new queue at Pooh (hey, that rhymes!) was really cute, and gives the younger crowd plenty to do, those honey screens were neat too (did you find the hidden characters under all the goo)? But the Haunted Mansion interaction is over the top – there’s no way this will be a flop, with all those interactive props. They really plussed this attraction with these interactions! Okay, I’ll stop.

Look, bubbles!
After Haunted Mansion we headed over to Indy Speedway, and end up standing in line next to a couple from Beaverton. Really. What are the odds! And, before you roll your eyes and say that Indy is boring, let the bear drive and I’ll guarantee you a wild ride better than anything Mr. Toad used to provide.
Apparently, Disney doesn’t allow fur family as drivers on the ride, so we were promptly locked in the stockade for the afternoon. Disney security can be rough! I’m only smiling because I’ve been promised a Dole Whip Float when I’m released, so it’s all good.

We head towards Adventureland, spend some time with Jack Sparrow and the crew on Pirates of the Caribbean, then hike to the top of the Treehouse so I’m nice and hungry for my Dole Whip.

So, I get to the Dole booth just as they are opening and the gal says the swirl isn’t working. Bummer. Oh, I have a radical idea, why not just put half vanilla and half pineapple whip in the float – yes, I’m a flippin’ genius. Mmmmm Dole Whip……. my one treat at DW!

Our snack purchases for the entire week entail: 4 servings of Lefse at about $2.50 each, two Dole Whip Floats at about $4.75 each. That’s it. Some years we snack more, and some years we drink more, but this year we’re happy just to be able to afford the trip, which is treat enough!

I love how bright and beautiful the flowers are. February on the high desert means lots of brown, tan, and dark green, but not much bright yellow. This place is a vacation for the eyes!

We love Buzz Lightyear. Well, actually, Mike loves it, I like it. Why don’t I love it? Because he beats me every time! Why do I love Midway Mania? Because I beat Mike every time!!
Stupid Galactic Hero. He gets that every time. Grrrr.We head out of MK by about noonish, hop back to the room and grab the swimsuits for some fun at Florida’s only ski resort, Blizzard Beach.I love these big, goofy, over the top characters at Pop. Have you ever noticed the rider weight restriction on the Big Wheel? Take a look next time you’re there.

So, back to Blizzard Beach. A waterpark with everything themed like a ski resort. What?? The story behind this Disney waterpark is that after a freak snow storm blanketed Florida in white, a ski resort sprang up with slalom courses, toboggan slides and iceberg walkways. When the weather shifted back to hot, the whole resort started to melt. What to do? Waterpark!

And sorry, no Blizzard Beach photos. I’m certain your eyeballs will thank you for not seeing me in a swimsuit. Unfortunately, Mike somehow left his shirt in the dressing room when we were changing and it’s gone, long gone. What kind of jerk would steal a stupid motorcycle shirt like that? Fortunately, he has his rash guard shirt to wear on the bus back to POP, so he doesn’t look like some freak trying to show off his physique.

Dinner tonight is Pasta for me, and mashed potatoes with vegetarian vegetable soup for Mike. We’ve got this awesome little hot pot that boils water faster than the microwave, and does a good job at basics like soup and pasta. It’s really been a lifesaver for us when a hotel room doesn’t have a microwave.

There are actually a few reasons why we bring our own food, the first is because we’re freakin’ cheapskates! The second is because Mike is the most finicky vegetarian in the world. Finding something at a regular restaurant that he is willing to eat can be impossible. And, if he doesn’t see something that he wants on the menu, he’ll simply skip a meal. Sure, that’s fine for the average person who eats three meals a day, but he only eats a few snacks and then has one main meal, so when he skips that, it means he basically has no “real” food the entire day. I’ve finally figured out that we’re much happier just bringing our own stuff, instead of playing restaurant roulette every evening. I’m really happy we’ve had so many years of travel together so we’re now able to know what works for us.

Anyway, after dinner, and fortified by some adult beverages (White Russian for Mike, Whiskey and Coke for me), we head back to MK for fireworks.

We stand in the rose garden, which we haven’t done before, and get a better view of the actual fireworks than what you see if you’re right in front, but it doesn’t give you that perspective that makes you think the fireworks are going off directly over the castle.
After fireworks, we ride Buzz again a few times (I’m beaten repeatedly), ride some other little stuff, and then right before 9pm decide to do Haunted Mansion as our last ride. We hoof it over there as fast as we can, entering the queue probably a minute before 9.
We mess around with the interactive components, and hear a group of cheerleaders take the direct route to the entrance. The CM who was standing out front joins us and ask us to step towards the entrance. Okay, now we realize we are the ONLY ones here.
The CM hostess is awesome, a tiny little thing that is perfectly goth and deliciously spooky. We enter the stretching room and it’s just us moving to the “dead center”. Yep, a little creepy. The lights go out, the strobe flashes, we see the hanging body, and I look forward to see which door is opening and the hostess is RIGHT THERE. I mean, maybe 6 inches from my face! I’ll admit it, I squealed.

The rest of the ride definitely continues with its spooky air, as the CM who loads us into the car rides a few cars behind us, and we are the only people in the building. It was an excellent way to finish off the day. I highly recommend it, unless you are prone to nightmares!

On our way out, the full moon is wreathed in glowing clouds, making for some awesome photo opportunities.

Especially moody looking with the castle glowing blue
A fun ending to another great day!

Disney World, Day 4, February 7th – Animal Kingdom

Another early morning. I really love walking the pathways at our resort in the early morning mist and listening to the birds sing. It is so un-home-like!

We made it to Animal Kingdom early and are second in line for park opening, making it to the second rope (they stop you a second time about halfway into the park, before the ride sections) with the first wave of people. We have a fun time talking to a cast member from Jersey who’s son also works for Disney as a show consultant. He works with the actors and puppets in the Nemo show, and also with the shows they do on the Disney Cruise lines. It’s amazing how many different jobs there are in the “World”.

Our first stop is Safari, and we’ve got an amazing driver who gives us tons of information about the animals that we’ve never heard before. We’re also treated to a bit of giraffe shenanigans, with some “necking” and a few runners.

One of the white rhinos is almost close enough to touch:

Gotta love those big wrinkly dudes.

After safari we spend some time wandering the discovery trail, and discover this weird little creature:

It’s a swamp rabbit! One of the cast members was able to tell us about it and said they’re also skilled swimmers. Very cool! A little weird trivia for you folks that remember President Carter, had an incident with a swamp rabbit swimming towards a boat he was in, and the press dubbed it the “Killer Rabbit Incident”. Video of it was pretty funny at the time.

We spent a few more minutes hanging out with the birds:

…and then we’re ready to move on to Dinoland and a little trip back in time on Dinosaur:

On our way there, we run in to DeVine, who is eternally awesome (you can see video of her here)

After my jaunt on Dinosaur and Mike’s nap, we wander around Dinoland. We start with the Cretaceous trail and find their awesome ferns and other weird plants:

I started to tell Mike about the back story of the area and so we end up spending quite awhile exploring, including inside Restaurantosaurus. I’m always amazed at how much effort Disney puts into building up a detailed storyline for darned near everything they do, then many times, not having any easy way for the general public to figure out what that story is! How many people visit Dinoland and think to themselves “how tacky that Disney just dumped these rides in the middle of an old parking lot”? If you’re interested in the story, I’ve written it up on a separate page here.

I mean, here you have what looks like an old run-down building full of junk and selling Disney trinkets

And it looks like just a jumbled old mess until you look more closely and realize that some of these things are very rare, original collectibles.

Next time you’re eating at Restaurantosaurus, check out the jukebox, books, and other stuff on the shelves in the back section, they’re a hoot!

Also, if you continue down the “road” to the end, there’s these two huge billboards that I’ve never noticed before, very cool.

This one actually does a decent job of telling the Chester and Hester / Dino Institute story:

And this one cracks me up because it reminds me of Disney’s pricing structure (What, it’s more popular than we anticipated? Raise the price!)

After Dinoland, we wandered the trails a bit, hanging out with lizards, bats, and apes, oh my.

Our second safari netted us a good view of the cheetah and lions

And then it was time for dinner at Tusker House. We usually do one “special” dinner at Boma during our vacation, but I wanted to save more money this time, so we decided to give Tusker House a try. Mike enjoyed it and was happy with their vegetarian options, I thought it was okay, but the food just seemed to be lacking that special something that Boma has, and I was not just missing the Zebra Domes!

Leaving Tusker House around 6pm gave us the chance to see Animal Kingdom in twilight – something new to us. It was a very quiet and beautiful way to end the evening.

I’ve forgotten to mention that today was the day we were celebrating my birthday – it’s actually January 18, but I forgo a regular shindig on my actual birthday and we pick one day to celebrate it at the parks. I wore my Birthday Button all day, and then on the bus ride home, the driver was able to truly embarrass me by having the entire bus-load of about 25 people sing happy birthday to me. I’m blushing just thinking about it!

Disney’s Dinoland Backstory – or A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Gas Station

The story of Dinoland starts in the early 1940’s. Diggs County was little more than ranch and farmland at this point, which can be seen by some of the structures that are still on the property. A rundown gas station with a shabby mechanics pit is owned by two locals, Chester and Hester. They also own a few acres of land along the highway, so with the gas station, a little wrenching on the side, and a parking lot, they’re able to eek out a living. They sold Sinclair gasoline, you know, the one with the dinosaur as its logo?

Original Sinclair oil cans, from inside Chester and Hester's shop

This will become ironic very shortly.

In 1947, some fossil-hunters poking around the area find a few dinosaur bones. Their findings end up being pretty exciting stuff and soon scientists and grad students are swarming the area. They buy up an old fishing lodge which becomes housing for the students, and a cafeteria for all the workers (this is Restaurantosaurus).

Yes, that is a real Airstream, and inside is attached to the restaurant and includes seating and a juke box.

Next, the Dino Institute is founded and time travel is invented. A modern facility is built to facilitate research, and time-travel tours are offered to the public to subsidize costs (Dinosaur, the ride).

Meanwhile, back at the gas station, Chester and Hester are scratching their heads wondering why everyone around them is getting rich and they’re still just grease monkeys. So, they shove a few things around in the gas station office and make room for some souvenirs. Soon, they’re making more money off tacky plastic dinosaurs than they do pumping gas, so they convert the entire station to a shop called “Chester and Hester’s Dinosaur Treasures”.

Chester and Hester's old station, all fancied up as a souvenir store.

Inside Chester and Hester's there's lots going on, an electric train runs around an elevated track, there's old toys hung from the rafters.

The money was really rolling in now, so Chester and Hester decide to add a small amusement park across the street in their old parking lot. Being “frugal” they’re not much into decoration or landscaping, so they plunk a few rides and some games of chance on top of the old tarmac and they’re good to go. Thus, Dino-Rama is born!

That's the old highway those folks are walking on. Think they know it?

If you look closely, you can see the cracked asphalt parking lot still has faded paint stripes.

There are two rides at Dino-Rama, TriceraTop Spin and Primeval Whirl. Let’s start with TriceraTop Spin.

The second “T” in TriceraTop is capitalized, because the ride resembles a giant top. Like those “pump and spin” tops you remember as a kid, the TriceraTop Spin looks like it’s put together from cheap pieces of stamped tin, if you look closely while you’re waiting to ride, you might even spot a few of those metal tabs.

See the little guy on top - give him a virtual push and he'll take you for a spin.

The second ride is Primeval Whirl.

It looks cheap and cheesy for a reason!

Of course, the main draw here in Diggs County is that real time machine over at the Dino Institute, but Chester and Hester have built something sort of like a time machine, in fact, you can see all the high tech geegaws and whatsits on your walk through the queue, just don’t look too close or you’ll realize those “high tech gizmos” are really made from everyday items like discarded hubcaps and large kitchen whisks.

See the hubcaps and wisks?

Looking around this area a bit more, you will keep picking up neat details, like these billboards,

Love how Chester and Hester sort of take over the staid Dino Institute billboard.

road signs,

A little sign takeover too - Nothing Pedestrian about Dino-Rama!

and you’ll realize that the pavement you’re walking on through the entrance is the actual “highway” that goes past Chester and Hester’s place:

The planter boxes are made from old license plates

Disney has done an awesome job of recreating one of those Roadside Attractions from the 1950’s and 60’s with Dinoland. Unfortunately they just didn’t find a way to make the story easy for people to grasp, and most folks simply rush through here quickly on the way to one of the rides, or they chew on hamburgers and fries inside Restaurantosaurus without looking up and realizing how many incredibly detailed props are covering the walls:

Most of these books are puns on real novels, like Beak House.

The loft area is where the college kids sleep - love the laundry!

This is the college kid's rec room and cafeteria, in the far back you can see the jukebox and booths which are housed inside that Airstream.

Be sure to check out the jukebox selections. Some great dino-centric stuff here!

The good thing about it is that you and your family can become Disney Explorers, and spend some time looking at all the cool stuff, reading the funny book titles, and finding all the awesomeness that’s hidden from the average vacationer.

Disney World, Day 3, February 6th – Epcot

We’re up bright and early again, this time arriving at the bus stop about 8:15 after a breakfast of bagels and cream cheese (thanks Wegoshop!) and that stuff Disney likes to pass off as coffee.

Although I miss the interaction with Mickey and pals at the opening ceremony, entering the park and simply strolling through to Soarin’ is really nice.

After grabbing FP’s for Soarin’ we wander around a bit – I know this is very anti-planner, but I have a hubby with Motion Sickness who is able to ride only 2 rides in Future World (Living with the Land and Spaceship Earth) so our mornings are sometimes strange. If I’m really jonesing for some thrills, I’ll do Mission Space Orange, Test Track, or Soarin, but usually I like to spend a few hours with Mike before leaving him to his park bench nap sessions.

So, we head to Captain Eo. Yea. Really. We are the only two people in the theater until another couple sneaks in at the last second. Was it worth bringing back? Snore. Oh well, at least we can now cross it off our list of things we need to see once.

The bear appreciated his own 3-D glasses. We usually make him watch without.

Every year we visit DW, and every year I find myself taking fewer and fewer photos of Epcot. I mean, there’s only so many angles you can shoot from to get a different perspective of a giant golf ball and a monorail, right? So, today I decided to become a duck photographer. That’s right. Ducks.

Even some baby ducks. Oh, come on, you know you’d say awwwwww if you saw them walking down the sidewalk.

This is my “where’s Waldo” duck photo. Find the two ducks. Okay, I admit, not very difficult.

This one is tougher, what the heck is growing from this tree? Pickles?

We head in to World Showcase and the Norway pavilion around noon, since Mike has this Lefse addiction he really should get help for. We check out clothing in Italy (they have some cool Ducati shirts), some of which seems to be poking fun at America’s need to put warning labels and instructions on everything:

We have a fun time wandering around, and I try my hand at the dancing waters bowl in China:

Which I can usually do with no trouble whatsoever, but this time I’m hit and miss – don’t know if it’s the new location or just my hands are more wrinkly that last year or what – anyway, I can only get a nice hum and a few little fountains towards the edges. Later in the week, I can’t even get that much out of it. Grrr.

“Give me some candy, I’ll tell you the secret of the dancing water bowl”

We watch the new (to us) acrobats at the China Pavilion, and agree they’re much better than the kids they had here before. The gal with the table is pretty amazing.

I don’t know why, but their outfits really bother me – the tights fit like “looses” and make the women look like they’ve got elephant ankles.

Heading back to the room about 5pm, we grab some dinner (Progresso soup, cottage cheese, yep we live high on the hog during vacation), then hop a bus back to Epcot for Illuminations which we watch in front of the Canadian Pavilion. I have yet to figure our favorite spot for this show – all of them seem just okay, and I keep thinking there’s some holy grail of viewpoints that I’m missing out on??

Cool totem action at the Canadian Pavilion.

Our return trip included some bad bus karma – two women using scooters had to be loaded first, and one of them just could not grasp the concept of controlling her vehicle, seeming more intent on chatting with the bus driver than with getting in position so the rest of us could load. In the meantime, another bus arrived so we hopped that one – unfortunately the driver must have been in some sort of competition to be the “World’s Slowest Driver”. We were going 25 mph on World Drive (45mph speed limit), and she was slowing down for green lights so she’d miss them. It was insane.Arriving back at Pop, the first bus (with the two scooters) was parked and unloading, and we expected our bus driver to use the extra space that other drivers have used when their regular spot is filled, only to find that, for some reason only known to herself, she would rather pull up behind the first bus and WAIT until they had unloaded before slowly pulling to a stop and letting us OUT. Gah.This actually is just the beginning of our bad bus karma for the week – we also had an evening when 5 Epcot buses arrived at Pop without a single bus for MK. Really. I guess this is what I get for saying I really like the Disney bus service and rarely have problems!

Total purchases today, $2.70 for Lefse.