Jul 21

Hollywood and Vine – lunch with the Little Einsteins

One of the things I always liked at Disney World is the charaters.  I don’t make a big effort to see characters, but I enjoy a sit down meal with them and if I see a short line for one I’ll jump on and get my picture.  That might make me a Disney geek.  Aside from that I always like to see how kids react, and was curious how Alex as a 4 year old would react to them.  I was disappointed…

On our Hollywood Studios day we had lunch at Hollywood and Vine with charcters for Little Einsteins, a good meal and experience for those in the 2-5 year old range.  However, Alex didn’t seem impressed.  If he was younger I would have thought that he didn’t get it.  Matty at 9 months seemed baffled by these funny looking people with the big heads.  Alex didn’t want to dance with them or get pictures with them or talk to them.  He actually refused to go into some of the pictures.  Meanwhile other kids in the restaurant around the same age were running up the characters excited to see them.

Later on we went to Block Party Bash and had the same experience.  He watched the parade, didn’t seem to dislike it, but just kinda stared as Mr. Potato Head danced in front of him.  And when he got pulled up to dance, he just stood there.  I have seen the kid dance at parties, so I know it wasn’t that.

After that day we didn’t bother with any other character meals.  I have a couple theories on why he wasn’t into them.  First, he doesn’t like his picture taken and when characters show up, cameras come out.  The other thing is that he has a very vivid imagination (don’t all kids) and sees a lot of real and fake animals and dinosaurs and the like.  I wonder if he knew they weren’t real and wasn’t sure why they were there or what to do with them.

Jun 30

The Disney adventure begins

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Mom and I flew down to Disney on Jetblue on a Wednesday from T5 at JFK. I’ve been through T5 previously, and it’s a pretty good terminal as far as terminals go. I do find the fast food area a little crammed and offered a strange selection. While there is a Dunkin Donuts, it only serves donuts and muffins – no breakfast sandwiches. The whole set-up is a little uncomfortable. You go to different counters or to the tables/refrigerated boxes and pick out your food, then go to a seperate area to pay. It’s just overwhelming if you have luggage with you that you’re dragging around.

The other thing I don’t like is that there is no Hudson News. I like the extremely large selection of magazines they offer. T5 only has a Borders books (no magazines) and a CNBC with a moderate selection of magazines.

Our flight to Orlando was on one of Jetblue’s Embraer 190’s. My sister has a thing about these smaller planes, but I liked that I was sitting with just my Mom and not in a middle seat with a stranger next to me. The flight was uneventful – I got my chips, drink and watched TV.

Upon landing things got a little more interesting. After getting our luggage in Terminal A we had to find the Magical Express counter; however, it was in Terminal B which I didn’t know until wandering around Terminal A for 10 minutes. My luggage didn’t weigh too much, until I had to drag it all around the airport. We finally found Magical Express and since we weren’t booked on the hotel room we had to pay $20 each to ride. Fortunately, we only waited about 10 minutes for the bus and the kids on the bus weren’t annoying.
My sister met us with the baby, Matty, at the bus drop off and took us up to the room. The Boardwalk Villa’s was very nice at first glance, and I got to see lots of since our room was at the end of a hallway. The balcony overlooked the back of the slide. That night we had reservations for dinner at Wolf Gang Puck at Downtown Disney. I got a BBQ Chicken pizza, it was good, but not great. I think everyone else liked there dinner, but no one found the place great. I wouldn’t

add it to my list of places I would like to go to on the next trip, I would rather try a different restaurant.

After dinner we went to a place where my nephew Alex got to make his very own car. It’s similar to a Build a Bear, but with cars. So you pick a basic car, and you can get away with just that for $15-$30. But of course you’ll want the special tires, and stickers and the remote control – you get the idea. Then they put your car together for you, with your assistance if you want.

So far things were going ok, although the sleeping arrangements of my mom, nephew and I on a fold out couch kept me from being well rested.

Jun 23

Traveling with family

On my trip to Disney there were several signs before the trip that this trip was not going to be my best. My sister and her husband have some issues, and her kids are very demanding. But much more then that was the accommodations…

In the past with my other sister we have always stayed in 2 and 3 bedroom timeshare apartments, which even the 2 bedrooms can be a bit tight at times, but leaves enough space. Well for this trip my sister booked a 1 bedroom villa at Boardwalk, which is listed to accommodate 4 people. The villa consists of a living room, small kitchen, bedroom, bathroom (one part is a shower, toilet and sink, the other area is a tub and sink). There was 1 king size (I think) and a fold out couch.

My sister didn’t put my mother and I on the reservation, because it cost too much. When I said we wouldn’t be able to take Magical Express she said we could just take a taxi that it would be cheaper. This set the tone for the trip. My mother and I never really felt like guests on this trip or at this resort and that feeling started with not being added to the reservation because of the cost.

When we arrived at the hotel I asked where to put our stuff, she said anywhere. It was more of a I don’t care then a make yourself at home type of comment. I put my suitcase in a corner and it never moved. When I put my clothing in a dresser drawer she made a comment about me “moving in.” I often do this when I’m staying somewhere for more then a few days. Again, another little thing to make me feel less welcome.

Sleeping arrangements were my mother, my nephew and I on the fold out couch. At 3:30 in the morning my sister would go into the kitchen to make bottle for the baby and wake me up (I usually get up around 4am so this wasn’t convenient). My nephew flipped and flopped all night long, it was an adventure.

So here is my list of things to do to keep your family from feeling welcome on a family trip:
1. Bring up costs and how expensive things are, often
2. Don’t add the family to the hotel reservation (see #1)
3. Don’t pay for transportation costs, but tell them how much money they saved
4. Say you’re going to help out with transportation, but don’t actually do it
5. Book accommodations without enough beds
6. Have family share a bed with 2 other people
7. Have a fight in front of the family, blame them for the almost non-existent involvement
8. Don’t have a plan for anything (in particular for Disney World)
9. Tell them how wonderful the accommodations are, often, to the people who can’t sleep at night.

Jun 14

Photo of the Week: Disney with the family

Anyone who follows me on Twitter, travelingiraffe knows that at the end of May I went to Disney World. I went with my mom, sister and my sister’s family. I actually have 2 sisters, one of which I vacation with fairly regularly – Disney and Vegas. The sister that I went on this recent trip with I don’t spend nearly as much time with, but she has 2 young boys – an infant and a 4 year old.

This was actually my worst trip to Disney and has me rethinking going on family trips. Don’t get me wrong, I had some good times, but I wouldn’t do this trip over again if you paid me. Over the next few weeks I’ll write some posts about this trip, I’ll cover things like:
The Boardwalk Villas, making your family feel welcome on a trip, rides, touring the parks, dining, screaming children and how not to travel with children, getting on the wrong plane and lots of other stuff.

But just to give you an idea of how great this trip was, I came home and immediately had a cold, what fun!!!!

Mar 31

Disney makes flying easy

I have two older sisters with children and both are going to Walt Disney World in May, separately. On one hand I secretly hoped one would invite me, on the other I was there a year and a half ago, I don’t feel like I need to go back. There’s still a lot of world out there to see. But who can resist a giant friendly mouse? Well the invite came last week, and I actually had to think about it. I am supposed to go to Las Vegas in August and then to Scotland in September after all. But in the end I decided to go because my Mom is going and she might need support. Watch out giant friendly mouse!

But the good news is that finding a flight there was MUCH easier to do then finding a flight to London and returning from Scotland. My choices for non-stop flights were Jetblue, Southwest and Delta. Jetblue won! Delta and Jetblue prices were the same, but the cheaper flights with the times we wanted were all on Jetblue, not Delta. Plus we can each check a suitcase without paying. Southwests flights were a bit more expensive and didn’t have as good of a selection.

Nov 06

Locked Out

For my 2002 trip to Disney with my family we stayed in a time share resort.
The time share was a large building with key access to the building to
get to the doors to the units. One night I decided to go for a walk and
didn’t take a key, when I got back to the building I couldn’t get
inside. I waited a few minutes, but no one came around. I thought I would try
going to the windows since we were staying on the first floor. The
patio and windows were protected by a row of bushes making me hard to
see and impossible to knock on a window. What’s a girl to do? I
started throwing wood chips at the windows, which wasn’t the best plan –
wood chips are light and don’t make much noise so it took a while.
After a good 10 minutes my sister finally saw me and let me in. To this
day I laugh whenever I think of how I got locked out of the building and
how ridiculous I would have looked if anyone saw me throwing wood chips
at the building.

Jul 17

Walt Disney World Today Podcast

Another of my favorite Podcasts is the Walt Disney World Today (WDW Today). It’s a podcast about Walt Disney World…

The podcast is done on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The Monday and Friday episodes are usually about 20-30 minutes about all sorts of topics – Dining, park touring, resorts, etc. Wednesdays podcasts are for answering listener questions and are usually around 30 minutes.

The are 5 regular hosts of the show. Matt Hochberg is the main host to moderates the show, he’s a Hollywood Studios fanatic. Mike Newell is the tech guy, he’s usually pretty quite on the show but when he does speak it’s either insightful or funny. Mike Scopa is the “old guy” on the show who REALLY gets the magic of Disney, he offers insight into the Disney experience as well as is vast knowledge of the Pop Century Resort AKA Scopa Towers. Len Testa is the co-author of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and is the guru on touring plans and anything else statistical. But don’t be deceived, he’s the funniest guy on the show. Anette Owens is a new addition to hosting the show and brings the female touch. As a travel agent who works mostly with Disney products she offers insight on planning a trip.

What I like about the show:
The length of the episodes, they fit in well with my drives around town or to work and aren’t overwhelming.
The interaction of the 4 or 5 hosts. They have a great chemistry and you often feel like you’re hanging out with them having a conversation about Disney, including goofy jokes about stuff.
After listening to episodes since the double digits I feel like I understand the parks, touring ideology, resorts and all other things about Disney. Yet, I’ve only been there twice since I started listening to the podcast. I can now talk about Disney with confidence, yet rarely go there.

Here are a couple of my favorite episodes:
Sip, Snack and sick – episode 414

Episodes with Sam Gennawey – you can learn how the parks were designed to make a story and suck you in. episodes 583, 108 and 153

Mike Scopa’s Main Ballroom Speech at DisMeets (now known as Magic Meets) in 2006, I was nearly in tears it was so touching.

May 06

Taking a trip with friends

I’ve traveled several times with different friends and it can be stressful. Figuring out how each person likes to travel and each persons interests and blending them is a challenge. I think all my trips have gone well, no had has said they wont travel with me again… I’m sure I’m not a perfect travel partner, and to be fair my friends aren’t always either. Just because your friends doesn’t mean that your good travel partners. A big part of making a good trip for all parties is reasonable expectations and planning together.

Last year I went to Disney World with Terye, before the trip I probably tortured her with emails about planning. First, I was figuring out a list of restaurants that we wanted to eat at, I was sending a little synopsis of pretty much every restaurant with review information. We were able to narrow that down to a reasonable list and I went ahead and made a variety of different reservations for us for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then we worked on a list of attractions we did and didn’t want to do, but the most important was a list of our MUST DO attractions. This was the list that would allow us to leave Disney knowing that we didn’t miss anything that we really wanted to do. This allowed us to make sure that while we might not get to do everything we wanted, we wouldn’t leave with any real regrets. Terye and I did have one issue, it’s called mornings. Terye is not a morning person, she did ok the first couple days, but towards the end… Lets just say that I had to inform her that she wasn’t allowed to put the TV on in bed when I had already taken my shower. I’m sure she had some issues with me – like me nagging her to get out of bed. In the future we decided that we should go somewhere where getting out of bed in the morning is not necessary for your enjoyment – I’m thinking Las Vegas or New Orleans.

Planning my trip with Tara to Hawaii has also required a lot of planning. I started with the list of what must have been 1,000 excursions and started to break them down a bit and learn what Tara was interested in that I was also interested in. I couldn’t convince her that zip-lineing would be fun, but she’s agreed to take the helicopter tour. As the more experienced traveler I’ve tried to send her information about what to expect when flying and on the cruise. It’s good for things to be a surprise, but not all surprises are good. We still need to discuss the dining options on the ship as I hear it can sometimes be hard to get into some of the restaurants.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing travel companions and planning a trip. What are the eating habits of the person you want to travel with? If someone is the make every meal at home type and you like to eat out a lot, then you’ll want to discuss that. My sister’s friend traveled with a family who wanted to make dinner every night, but they wanted to go out every night – not a good combination. If the other person is a beach person and you hate the sand – another thing to discuss. Also, what types of activities do you want to do, art musuem, history museuems, major landmarks, photography. All these things are reasons people travel, and just because someone has different interests then you doesn’t mean that you can’t travel together, but it means that you need to discuss these things and find out if you can each compromise so that each person can get what they want out of the trip. If you want to travel together and have some different interests then consider setting aside time to split uop. Waiting until your on your vacation to have these conversations may lead to the end of your friendship. A friend of mine traveled with a friend once and their friendship barely survived, later on he traveled with a girlfriend of his and that was how he knew they could live together.

Feb 15

Disney World Tours

On my last trip to Disney World in October of 2008 Terye and I did two tours. The first was the Keys to the Kingdom tour, the second was a Segway Tour of World Showcase at EPCOT.

The Keys to the Kingdom tour is a 4 and a half hour tour where you learn some of the secrets of Walt Disney World (primarily the Magic Kingdom) and get to see some backstage stuff at the park. The tour starts on Main Street and our guide, Johnnie, showed us some of the names in the windows and told us the origins of those names. We learned about the 4 “keys” – Safety, Show, Courtesy, and Efficiency. Here are some examples of these: Safety – when they do bag checks at the park entrance they are looking for glass (among other things) – glass cuts people when it breaks. Courtesy – You’ll notice that cast members use a 2 fingered point, it’s apparently friendlier then the one fingered point. Show – cast members use the Utiladoors to move from land to land at the Magic Kingdom, you’ll never see a cast member from Fronteir Land in Tomorrow Land. Efficiency – you’ll notice that menues have limited choices at the parks and resorts, it makes it easier and faster for you to choose your meal. We went backstage in the area between Adventure Land and Fronteir Land. This is the area where they keep and service parade floats – we got to see many of the parade floats being tested. We got to ride Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, and had a nice lunch at Harbor House. At the end of the tour we finally got to see the Utilador, which was very exciting. There is a whole network of underground tunnels under the Magic Kingdom which allows cast members and stuff to move around the park without being seen. They’re similar to something you would go through if you worked at a major sporting arena (that’s the best example I have since I worked in one,) but with just a little bit of a Disney flare to it. An interesting fact for all you recyclers out there. Although Disney does not have recycling bins in the parks, they do sort all garbage by hand, so rest assured that your cans will be recycled.

It was a great tour, Terye and I really did enjoy it. It was a little over 4 and a half hours. It does involve a fair amount of walking, but we did have many breaks from the walking, sometimes with the chance to sit down. If anyone is interested in the tour though I suggest doing it after you have spent a day or two in the Magic Kingdom so that you can better enjoy the tour.

The following day we did the Around the World on a Segway tour at EPCOT’S World Showcase. This is a 2 hour tour. The first hour is spent learning to ride a Segway, which is a lot of fun. The next hour you get a guided tour of World Showcase with one break in the middle. We rode through most of the “countries” and got some tidbits of infomation about them. It was nice to get to see World Showcase without people in it, you could appreciate things a little more, too bad we weren’t able to take pictures while riding the Segways. The Segways were sooooo much fun to ride. I wanted one after the tour, though I don’t think one would be very useful in my regular life. I will warn that they really do kill the feet and legs. You can’t really move your feet around when you’re on the segway since you use your legs and feet to control it. Although I wanted to go longer on it, I don’t think my feet could do much more. Next time I’ll have to try the Segway tour at Fort Wilderness.

Feb 08

Walt Disney World – All Star Sports

In October of 2008 I went to Disney World for a week with my friend Terye. Since we didn’t anticipate spending much time in the hotel room we decided to stay at a value resort. After researching them I knew that the All Star Sports resorts had recently been refurbished, so we decided to stayed there. We stayed in a Surf building near the pool, this is a “preferred building” at the resort.

I wasn’t overly impressed with the resort, though most of that has to do with what Terye and I anticipated we would be doing. The room size was on the small side, which we knew and wasn’t a big deal. It was just fine for 2 adult girls – not sure how 2 adults with 2 kids deal though. I liked the layout of the bathroom though, with the tub and toilet in the room and the sink separate. But the lighting was HORRIBLE. I’m lucky I didn’t look like a clown when I went out. Terye hated the programming on the TV, though it’s really not surprising what they had. Every ABC, Disney and ESPN channel that ever existed, and that was about it. Ok, they did also have the other basic channels – NBC, CBS, Fox.

The dining wasn’t anything to write home about. There is just the end-zone food court, which I didn’t think would bother me so much. But the pizza sucked (which meant I wasn’t into any of the Italian foods). The grilled food was just ok, the one breakfast I had wasn’t that fresh. Terye and I had at least 1 sit down meal a day and this just didn’t really fit in with our dining habits. After a long day at the parks we liked sitting down and having a nice meal at a restaurant, instead we were stuck with a mediocre quick meal. Fortunately we had dinner reservations somewhere else most nights.

The biggest disappointment was the lack of hot tub. I’m not a huge hot tub person, but after a long day in the parks it would have been wonderful to dip into one, but they didn’t have one. I don’t know how I missed this, but if I had realized it we might have chosen a different resort. Also, the pool was large, but was often packed with hordes of kids, especially at night. I was shocked by how late parents were keeping their kids up at night. There would be kids running around the pool area at 11pm.

In short, I would recommend the All Star Sports resort for people on a budget and only if there are 2 or 3 people in the room. Or for people just going down for a couple days and will be using it as a place to sleep, not for people who are looking for a resort experience.