Monday, January 31, 2011
Saturday, January 22, 2011
The dates: December 18-27, 2010
The people: Kelly Cozy, Scott Cozy, Alex Cozy
The objective (primary): Have fun
The objective (secondary): Operation Candy Cane (see below)
Because the Disney World trip of December 2010 was a spur-of-the-moment decision (inasmuch as any multi-day stay at Disney during the busiest time of the year can be a spur-of-the-moment decision), we didn’t tell Alex until the night before. As far as he knew, his Christmas break was going to be spent at home doing not much of anything. But on Friday the 17th we informed him that we needed to pack up some clothes because the very next morning, we’d be going to Disney World.
And so on December 18 we got up at an unbearably early hour to load our suitcases into the car, rouse Alex, and drive down to our friend John’s house (he lives 5 minutes from LAX and let us park our car at his place so we’d save on transportation and parking). We also implemented Phase Two of Operation Candy Cane – as we drove from the house I “forgot” something, ran back in, and set out Santa presents and filled stockings so they would be waiting for us when we got home. (Phase One had been implemented a week earlier when I mailed some Santa presents to our hotel so they’d be waiting for us.)
Because of some confusion about the flight number (flight was booked with US Airways but run by United) I didn’t want to risk using Magical Express for the luggage and having it not arrive at the hotel. So we checked in our bags ourselves and had a peaceful, noneventful flight. Upon arriving at Orlando airport I made what would turn out to be the worst decision of the trip – getting a quick meal at the Wendy’s there. The food tasted fine at the time but there were consequences. Oh mais oui.
We picked up our bags and hopped aboard our Magical Express bus, which took us to the Polynesian. I’d already checked in online and I was pleased to see that information was ready and waiting for us, and also that we’d gotten a room in the Tahiti building (I’d requested Tahiti, Rapa Nui, or Tokelau for their proximity to the Transportation and Ticket Center as I knew we’d be spending a fair amount of time at Magic Kingdom and Epcot. We got our leis and made our way to the room, Tahiti 3045. Our box of Santa presents was already there and waiting for us on one of the beds (so we had to distract Alex while we hid the box).
The Polynesian is a gorgeous hotel, all tiki torches, tropical foliage (some of which was having a very hard time in the cold weather), and a very mellow, laid-back atmosphere. We were fortunate in that after arriving, it was just warm enough to visit the Volcano Pool and play around. The pool has two awesome things – a zero-entry end that is perfect if you want to sit in the pool (and enjoy the warm water) while keeping your head above the surface, and a slide down the volcano. I rode the slide and then stood in the pool, exclaiming “Vacation has officially begun!”
Then it was into the lobby to have some dinner. We ate at the hotel’s quick-service restaurant, Captain Cook’s. Scott had a stir fry, Alex had the cheese flat bread/pizza, and I had a grilled cheese sandwich. The good news is that Captain Cook’s has Dole Whips (pineapple soft-serve ice cream). The bad news is that you can also get vanilla in addition to pineapple, and we learned that pineapple/vanilla swirl just isn’t that satisfying as an all-pineapple one.
Being jet-lagged and travel-weary, we slept in, then went to the Poly’s central building (aka the Great Ceremonial House) for breakfast (fruit and bagels mostly). The Ceremonial House also boasts a nice coffee bar, so we were able to get espresso drinks that got the morning off to a good start.
Alex’s choice for our first day was, surprisingly, Animal Kingdom. We caught the bus to the park; the bus was supposed to stop at Blizzard Beach but no one was going there so the driver just took us straight to Animal Kingdom. Unfortunately, the weather had taken a precipitous temperature dip (the forecast was for the mid-sixties but I doubt it made it out of the fifties). The biggest downside of the cold weather is that many animals, such as the komodo dragon, were hiding from view, no doubt draped over a heat lamp. Can’t say that I blame them. We still saw plenty, including tigers, bats, a golden pheasant, and siamangs in the Asia section (as well as some insane people riding the Kali River Raft ride). We picked up fast-passes for Expedition Everest for Scott and myself (Alex isn’t into rollercoasters these days), then went to Flame Tree Barbecue for lunch, where I had the ribs, Scott had the pulled pork sandwich, and Alex had drumsticks.
Then it was on to Kilimanjaro Safaris, where we saw gazelles, giraffes (that ran alongside the tram at one point – amazing sight!), wildebeests, ostriches, and a lion. We then walked the trail and saw more animals, including the gorillas and meerkats. Then it was on to the Boneyard, where we took turns hanging out with Alex while the other rode Expedition Everest. I can best describe Expedition Everest as “The Matterhorn on steroids” – it really is astounding in both its thrills and its attention to detail. Unfortunately I wasn’t wearing my glasses (didn’t want them to fly off) and couldn’t see the yeti at the end of the ride.
Dinner was back at the Polynesian. At Kona Café we had the sticky wings appetizer. Scott had the rib-eye, I had the mahi mahi, and Alex had Mickey ravioli. We also consumed several drinks with glowy things in them, and Scott got an “eco-tini” which came with a free acai seed bracelet (more bling for me!). The mahi mahi came with fried plantains and was very good
We slept in and got a late start. After our usual quick-grab breakfast at the Ceremonial House, we went to Magic Kingdom. First we went on Stitch’s Great Escape, which Alex adores. Then we went on Mickey’s PhilHarMagic, which was new since we’d last been. It’s a 3-D show like the MuppetVision one, and is really well done and enjoyable, so we were pleasantly surprised. After that it was Haunted Mansion.
For lunch we went to see if El Pirata Y El Perico was open. The good news, it was open. The bad news, no more beef tacos! I got a vegetarian burrito (rice and black beans) which was quite tasty especially after I’d added some cheese from the topping bar. Alex had the kids’ quesadilla meal and Scott had nachos.
After lunch we went and signed Alex up for the Pirate League. Here you can get your face made up as a pirate, get a pirate name, photos, etc., even an outfit if you’re willing to spend the money. Because it was an impulse decision, we ended up having to wait a while for Alex’s turn, but he was a good sport and waited patiently (I also went on a Dole Whip run for us).
After he was all dolled up in pirate gear (and christened with his pirate name “Bart Stormfury”) we went on the Pirates ride, which is considerably shorter than its Disneyland equivalent and far less awesome. Alex declared: “They fast forwarded it. This is a ripoff!” We went on the Stitch ride again and rode the PeopleMover, then had dinner at Cosmic Ray’s (Scott and I had bacon cheeseburgers, which were surprisingly good, and Alex had chicken nuggets). Then it was back to the hotel. As we were waiting for the monorail, Alex met a girl about his age who, like him, had bought a Stitch doll at the park and the two of them bonded.
Remember what I said on Day 1 about my bad decision with regards to fast food at the airport? Well, the chickens came home to roost Monday night. I’d been feeling a bit “off” Monday afternoon but attributed it to travel and tiredness. However, to be perfectly, blunt all Monday night I was horribly sick.
Tuesday morning the worst was over. Scott had gone to Great Ceremonial House to get me some ginger ale, powerade, bananas, and applesauce (the only available applesauce was baby food aka “apple gruel”). So I stayed home and recuperated while Scott and Alex went to Epcot (this was doubly upsetting as Epcot is my favorite of the WDW parks, but at the time I was feeling too awful physically to care much). I spent the day writing postcards, reading, and napping. It was very quiet and calm all day. I had the balcony door open (natch, it was a warm, gorgeous day) and the only noise I heard was the toot of the boat transportation and an occasional honk from the trams at Transportation and Ticket Center. Housekeeping obeyed the “privacy please” sign (which was nice because I really didn’t feel like having to explain the situation) and even left a voice mail later asking if they’d done right by this and making sure all was OK. I really appreciated that.
Not an ideal way to spend the day, but I got some reading done (finished Vows by LaVyrle Spencer and got well into Dress Her in Indigo by John D. MacDonald).
I felt much, much better, so we went to Epcot. We got there reasonably early (I didn’t sleep in as I’d slept a lot the previous day), and rode Spaceship Earth. (In line Alex was chatting with a girl who, upon learning we were from California and had been to Disneyland, insisted that Walt Disney’s cryogenically frozen head is stored at Disneyland; this really annoyed Alex!)
Then it was on to Universe of Energy, which Alex liked a lot. Afterward we took turns riding Test Track with fast passes. I had gotten Alex a fast pass in case he decided he wanted to go, and when he didn’t, I tried giving away his fast pass. It was surprisingly difficult. I was standing there saying, “Fast pass, good for right now, get your fast pass here.” Finally someone took me up on it. (To be fair, it was just for one person, but by that time the single rider line was over an hour so I’m surprised it took so long to give it away.)
The previous day Alex and Scott had spent lots of time in Epcot doing the Kim Possible stuff. What you do is sign up at a booth, and then you get cell phone communicators that take you through “missions” located all over World Showcase. Kids have to find certain spots in a country’s pavilion, then perform tasks that cause interactive things to happen. It is very well done and an excellent way to get the kids interested in World Showcase, which doesn’t always have a lot of appeal for the younger crowd.
We got fast passes for Maelstrom. I took advantage of being in Norway to get a salmon and egg sandwich from Kringla Bakeri. It was the perfect thing for my still-recovering system. Alex wanted something more plain, so I got him chicken nuggets at the Liberty Inn, and we sat by the giant gingerbread house. Scott picked up some teriyaki at Yakitori House, and while we ate he regaled us with his tale of a woman in line at Yakitori House who had such a weird, complicated order (all sorts of really oddball demands and substitutions) that even though she was 8 customers ahead of Scott (in the other line) she was still ordering when he got his food and left to meet us. Bizarre.
After lunch we spent the afternoon meandering around World Showcase looking at stuff, riding Maelstrom, and doing the Kim Possible things. For dinner we went to the new restaurant in Mexico, La Hacienda de San Angel. Dining here was a late decision but am I glad we made it. ¡La comida es muy fantastica! I had the tacos de camarones (I ordered in Spanish and the waitress complimented me on my pronunciation, which pleased me inordinately); Scott had two appetizers, the queso fundido and the taquiza taco trio; Alex had the usual chicken tenders. Food was excellent. The portions were very generous and the spicing was perfect. We also had margaritas that were very strong (or possibly my still-recovering system wasn’t up for the alcohol yet). We will definitely come back here next time we visit.
Back to Animal Kingdom! We picked up fast passes for Expedition Everest and then headed for the safari, stopping on the way to see the siamangs. Lots of animals on both the safari and the trail, including some we hadn’t seen the last time (including rhinos). For lunch we picked up some food at Pizzafari for Alex (who didn’t want barbecue today) and then we went to Flame Tree Barbecue. My ribs weren’t as good this time, being a bit fatty (but when you’re cooking ribs by the metric ton, you’re going to have the occasional ones that aren’t lean). After lunch Expedition Everest was down, so we hung around the Boneyard for a while. After Everest was back up we rode that, then went to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which none of us had ever been to. Being late in the day, many of the animals were already put away for the day, but we still got to see some cool things. Unfortuantely someone had told Scott and Alex there was a cobra here (I wasn’t there for the conversation) which got Alex all excited, but there were no cobras to be found.
We caught a bus to Boma over at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Love Boma! The only downside was that they didn’t have some of the soups I liked so well at our last visit. No matter, everything was good. The standout this time was the fufu, which I hadn’t had before – it tastes like pumpkin pie! The meal was worth the hassle of getting a bus back to Magic Kingdom then the monorail to the TTC (a kind lady on the bus saw how exhausted Alex was and gave her seat to him).
Poor Alex! He was goofing around on the beds, fell off, and did a face plant on the floor. His pride seemed to be more bruised than his body, but he had some rug burns on his face. We did some quick checks to make sure he wasn’t concussed, and once we were all comfortable that he was OK we went off to Epcot.
We’d decided that Biergarten would be nice for a Christmas Eve dinner, and in honor of Biergarten Scott wore his lederhosen. He looks very, uh, ethnic in them and got comments all day long from guests and cast members alike. The highlight was when he was walking along with a beer in hand, and a passing guest exclaimed, “Look, y’all! A real German!” As if a German was some exotic creature he’d heard tell of but never actually seen.
Anyway, we kicked the day off with Universe of Energy (we let Alex pick first attraction as he was still a bit upset about the face plant). We skipped Spaceship Earth but did the “Body Builder” game in the exit area, which Alex found very fascinating. Then it was on to the Seas, which is always nice.
The boys got pizza from Cool Wash for lunch, while I got another salmon and egg sandwich from Kringla Bakeri. Then we got Kim Possible communicators and roamed around World Showcase, with an extended interlude at the Mitsukoshi Department Store where I did the “pick a pearl” thing (this took forever because some people were getting multiple pearls). But it was fun and the pearl was “ours” because we all voted on which oyster to pick.
At the Biergarten, the cast members all went nuts for Scott’s lederhosen. We had a great meal, especially the roast chicken and potatoes, and the schnapps shots were delightful. The band came out and played, and when they invited kids down the bandleader told the story of the song “Silent Night” and they played that. Very nice!
Upon returning to the hotel, it was time for the full implementation of Operation Candy Cane. After Alex went to bed we retrieved the Santa presents from their hiding space in the closet, arranged them on the table, and included a note from Santa (composed by me, written by my friend Gerry so Alex wouldn’t recognize the handwriting).
We woke up and Alex got his Santa presents – the last of the Lego Bionicle figures (they’re discontinuing that line), which he was very happy with. He spent the morning building those, and then we caught the bus for Disney Hollywood Studio. Since it was the warmest day we’d had so far, the plan was that we’d do the few things at Hollywood Studios that we liked, then come back for pool time and dinner at Ohana.
The day got off to a surreal start as I listened to the music playing on the bus and realized it was the theme from John Carpenter’s Halloween! More Halloween-themed stuff played and I realized that whoever selected the CD or whatever for today had picked the wrong holiday!
Once at Hollywood Studios we had our two top priorities established – attend the Lights! Motors! Stunt show for Alex and get fast passes for Rock and Roller Coaster for Scott and me. The stunt show was fun, even though those things are not my usual cup of tea. After the show we rode Rock and Roller Coaster, which is a blast as always (even though I was terrified of my glasses flying out of the little mesh bag that’s supposed to contain your valuables). (And having just attended two of Roger Waters’ Wall concerts, I can’t help fantasizing about a Wall-themed roller coaster, possibly centering around the What Shall We Do Now sequence, though that would likely induce psychosis in many of the riders.)
I digress. After the coaster it was on to get some lunch. On impulse we decided to see if we could score a seat at the Sci Fi Dine In. We’d had ressies for dinner there on Tuesday but I’d canceled since I was incapacitated and Scott and Alex decided they would rather just eat in Epcot. It turned out seats were available, and even though we were in the back and were “hitch hikers” it was a blast. We adored the trailers and other footage that played, and had either seen or had heard of most of the movies. Basically, if we had designed a restaurant for ourselves and our friends, it would be like this. The food was good, as well. It took a while to arrive but we didn’t mind because we had the films to occupy our attention (plus Scott and I had alcoholic beverages the size of our heads). I had the beef and blue salad, Scott had the burger, and Alex had pizza. I also had a hot fudge sundae for dessert. It was all very tasty.
By now the excitement of the trip and the fact that he hadn’t slept well the night before was showing in Alex, so we went to MuppetVision, which is always enjoyable. Then it was back to the hotel for pool time. Other than the unfortunate illness, my biggest regret about the trip is that the weather didn’t allow for more lolling by the pool with fruity drinks, or lazing in the hammock on the beach. Maybe in a few years we’ll come back in May or October, when the weather is warm but not horribly hot.
After the pool we headed over to Ohana. I love Ohana but it really is too much of a good thing. They need to eliminate the appetizers except for the noodles and salad, and I need to say no to the beef and yes to the shrimp (in fact, I could forgo all the meat and just have the shrimp). That said, the bread pudding is heavenly, and I usually hate bread pudding. I kept wanting to eat just one more bite, until I had to stop for fear of being like Mr. Creosote.
Well, from warm and pleasant we went to cold and blustery. I mean REALLY cold and blustery. We headed off to Magic Kingdom (we’d avoided it on Christmas day, knowing there’d be massive crowds there). When we arrived the boys went to Tomorrowland while I did some shopping, and lucky I did, too, as I ended up buying gloves for us all. They ended up being worth every penny. At least the cold seemed to keep the crowds to a minimum.
Shopping done, I met up with the boys in Tomorrowland where we rode the PeopleMover and then went to the Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor – this was a pleasant surprise, and not just because Scott was one of the people picked to be on camera. Very funny and well done. We then headed to Fantasyland, where we rode the Carrousel, then PhilHarMagic. After that it was lunch at the Columbia Harbor House, where I had the fried shrimp basket, Scott had the BLT salad, and Alex had chicken nuggets.
After lunch we went to Tom Sawyer’s Island. I prefer Disneyland’s version for the suspension bridge, but this version’s caves are much less claustrophobic. After a good long while on the island we headed over to Adventureland. Alex could not be talked out of that abomination they call the Tiki Room (we love the Disneyland version and will accept no substitutes) and even he said afterward it was lame. We rode Jungle Cruise and Aladdin’s Magic Carpets (two times for Aladdin), and then it was off to Epcot for dinner.
The Rose and Crown had set up its patio with plastic enclosures and space heating, so we were able to eat outside and not be too cold. We had the fruit and cheese appetizer, which was a hit with us all – even Alex loved the combo of apples and Irish cheddar, particularly after we told him it would be just like what Remy does in Ratatouille. As for the entrée, I had the fish and chips, which were very good – the fish perfectly cooked and the batter not too heavy or greasy. Scott had the shepherd’s pie and I forget what Alex had (probably pizza). As for beverage, I had the English Rose, which would have been better suited to a hot day, as it was so light and sweet – it packed a surprising punch, though, so I was able to indulge in one of my favorite Disney World pastimes, which is walking through World Showcase with a buzz on.
Then it was back to the hotel for our last evening!
We’d stayed up late packing the night before, and had everything ready to go. We called Bell Services and got our luggage hauled to the Great Ceremonial house so we could check it in for Magical Express and stash our carry-ons until it was time to go. The Bell Services staff was amazingly fast and very courteous.
Once all that was taken care of we went to the character breakfast at Ohana. I hadn’t told Alex which characters would be there in case one didn’t show up, but he was happy to see Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, and Pluto. The food was surprisingly good – a juice blend that we all loved, Mickey waffles, bacon, sausage, potatoes, and biscuits. We ate entirely too much, and then we were off for our last bit of fun.
At Magic Kingdom we spent our time in Adventureland, riding Aladdin and Jungle Cruise, going on Tiki Room for some reason (I swear I am never going to this again until they start serving alcohol in the Magic Kingdom and I can use booze to ease the pain), steering the remote control boats, and going in the treehouse. Then it was off to Epcot for one last ride on Maelstrom and Gran Fiesta Tour (and one last salmon and egg sandwich at Kringla Bakeri for me). Then we hauled it back to the Polynesian to catch the Magical Express to the airport.
We caught an earlier-than-scheduled bus (thanks to my OCD “must not be late, ever” tendencies). And then we were leaving the magic behind. I’ve noticed that the Magical Express leaving Disney World is much quieter than the one arriving there.
All in all, a few bumps aside, a very fun and successful trip.
Random observations and thoughts:
There seemed to be fewer instances of really awful parenting this time out. At least I didn’t see parents whacking their kids or bullying them into going on rides they were scared of. There were a few of the usual “Damien. Don’t do that, Damien. I said don’t do that, Damien. Stop, or I’ll say stop again, Damien” parents, but that wasn’t so bad. Kudos go to the good parents, particularly the woman I saw with two very young children in line for Rafiki Planet Watch train. They were getting very overexcited and squirrelly, and she got them singing “Old MacDonald” and gave them a way to channel the energy. I wanted to give her a medal.
I didn’t see rude guests so much as I saw utterly clueless ones. There were many incidents of people stopping dead in walkways to consult maps, discuss with their friends/family what they should do next, or gawk at something or other. This happened so much that we gave it a name: “There’s No One In the Park But Me Syndrome”.
The staff at the hotel were all great.
I can't stand the Disney Dining Plan. You'll be in line, just wanting a salmon and egg sandwich and a cappucino, and the people in front of you are wondering if this thing counts as a snack, does that thing count as a meal, blah blah on and on. Cast members seemed relieved whenever we told them we weren't on the plan.
All in all a very good trip. Can't wait for the next one!
Friday, January 14, 2011
The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that.
Monday, January 3, 2011
- End of Story – Peter Abrahams
- Looking for Mr. Goodbar – Judith Rossner
- The Lady in the Lake – Raymond Chandler
- Now and Forever – Ray Bradbury
- The Pale Blue Eye – Louis Bayard
- The Long Last Call – John Skipp
- Heat Wave – Richard Castle
- Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
- The Grifters – Jim Thompson
- The Knitting Circle – Ann Hood **
- The Preservationist – David Maine *
- Dawn of the Dreadfuls – Steve Hockensmith
- Dragon Keeper – Robin Hobb
- American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
- Horns – Joe Hill
- The Cold Six Thousand – James Ellroy
- Goodnight Nobody – Jennifer Weiner
- Somewhere in Time – Richard Matheson
- The Boleyn Inheritance – Philippa Gregory *
- The Choirboys – Joseph Wambaugh
- Make Room! Make Room! – Harry Harrison **
- The Price of Salt – Patricia Highsmith
- The Brave – Gregory McDonald
- The Sheik – E. M. Hull **
- Anno Dracula – Kim Newman
- Miss Lonelyhearts – Nathanael West
- Day of the Locust – Nathanael West
- Fool – Christopher Moore **
- Strip Tease – Carl Hiaasen
- The Killer Inside Me – Jim Thompson
- Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral – Kris Radish **
- The Last Boleyn – Karen Harper **
- Push – Sapphire
- Black Water – Joyce Carol Oates
- The Fire Gospel – Michel Faber
- Drood – Dan Simmons
- Mistress of Rome – Kate Quinn
- The Removers – Donald Hamilton
- The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck
- The Ruins – Scott Smith
- A Purple Place for Dying – John D. MacDonald
- The Heretic’s Daughter – Kathleen Kent
- World War Z – Max Brooks *
- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson **
- Disturbing the Peace – Richard Yates
- Afraid – Jack Kilborn
- The Continental Op – Dashiell Hammett
- The Exorcist – William Peter Blatty *
- Play it As it Lays – Joan Didion
- The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
- Blood Memory – Greg Iles
- A Rose for the Crown – Anne Easter Smith **
- Soul Music – Terry Pratchett
- The Courtesan – Susan Carroll **
- A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin *
- A Clash of Kings – George R. R. Martin *
- A Storm of Swords – George R. R. Martin *
- Boys and Girls Together – William Goldman
- Star Island – Carl Hiaasen
- Blood’s a Rover – James Ellroy
- Pompeii – Robert Harris
- Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin
- Through a Glass Darkly – Karleen Koen *
- Under the Skin – Michel Faber *
- Slammerkin – Emma Donoghue *
- The Shipping News – Annie Proulx *
- Full Dark, No Stars – Stephen King
- The Silencers – Donald Hamilton
- Death’s Daughter – Amber Benson **
- Let the Right One In – John Ajvide Lindqvist **
- Vows – LaVyrle Spencer
- Dress Her in Indigo – John D. MacDonald
- Confessions of a Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella
- True Grit – Charles Portis
The best books of the year were:
The Pale Blue Eye
Boys and Girls Together
Play it as it Lays
Blood's a Rover
Miss Lonelyhearts/Day of the Locust
The Sun Also Rises
The reading for 2011 has kicked off with John Gardner's Grendel.