Saturday, April 28, 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

Disney World Trip Report - Spring Break 2012

2012 Disney World Trip Report

Dates: April 6-14, 2012

We just came back from another trip to Disney World, and you know what that means? It means I’m tired and broke! It also means it’s time for another Trip Report!

Day 0

We did our usual thing of leaving our car at our friend John’s house, and getting on the plane. The flight was uneventful, and we got our luggage with no issues. Because we were (for the first time) not staying on Disney property we rented a car, a red Toyota somethingorother that got the job done. I confess it was very odd to have to worry about directions, tolls, and so on.

The timeshare we’d be staying at wasn’t available til Saturday, so we spent Friday night at the Holiday Inn Lake Buena Vista, which is a perfectly nice accommodation (the only bad part was the view from our balcony, which was of the pool’s water pipes, but since we were only there one night we found the whole thing amusing). While we were checking in we met my sister Meg and niece Rachel in the lobby – they had already checked in and were staying two doors down from us.

We walked over to Downtown Disney, which was only a few blocks away, and had dinner at Cookes of Dublin. The kids had chicken, Meg and I had fish and chips (which were delicious) and Scott had some sort of beef pie thing that wasn’t as good as he’d hoped it would be. From there we did a bit of shopping in the Lego store and the World of Disney store, then headed back to the hotel for a quick dip in the pool. Then it was off to bed.

Day 1

After checking out of the Holiday Inn we went over to Disney Hollywood Studios park. Luckily we remembered that since we weren’t taking Disney transportation there, we had to pay for parking. After picking up FastPasses for Rock and Roller Coaster, we got some breakfast at Starring Rolls, then headed over to Toy Story Mania, which Meg and Rachel had never been on. While we were in line, some fellow nerds commented enthusiastically on the Dr. Horrible t-shirt I was wearing (it’s the “Team Hammer” shirt).

Meg and Rachel both really liked Toy Story Mania – we tried to ride it later on but the line was huge and the FastPasses weren’t until late in the evening. From there we went to Star Tours, and the ride took us to (among other planets) the orbit around Geonosis, where Boba Fett in Slave 1 shot at us. None of us had ever seen that planet before so it was a real treat. Then it was on to Rock and Roller Coaster with our FastPasses. Those of you who wear glasses should invest in a set of Croakies, available at most good sporting shops. They kept my glasses on nicely and I was able to actually see things on the ride. After the coaster we did Great Movie Ride, which I hadn’t been on since ’98 I think, and I don’t believe any of it has changed during that interval. It could use an update! Then it was off to MuppetVision 3D, always a treat.

Lunch was at the Sci Fi Dine-in. I am sad that they took the Beef and Blue Salad off the menu, but the burgers we had were very good, and there was a cocktail with a glowing multicolored cube in it to wash it down so I’m not complaining. After lunch we went to the Lights, Motors, Action stunt show. After the show there had been plans to see the Indiana Jones stunt show, but we were all hitting the wall and thought it best to head over to the timeshare.

Our place was the Sheraton Vistana villas, which had a nice centralized location (we were never more than 10 miles from anything), a fairly confusing layout on property (but we figured it out after a while), and quite nice rooms. We had a two-bedroom villa, which put Scott and I in the master bedroom, Meg and Rachel in the other bedroom, and Alex on the living room sofa bed. The place also had a full kitchen, a washer and dryer, and a lovely screened-in porch that let you enjoy the view of a close-by lake without getting eaten alive by the bugs. Meg and I went to the resort store and got enough essentials for breakfasts and snacks, then made a run to a nearby Chick-Fil-A for dinner. Then it was off to the pool for a quick dip, then to bed.

Day 2

Because we were going to be leaving the park early to go to my nephew Mike’s house for Easter dinner, we got over to Animal Kingdom pretty much when the park opened so we could enjoy everything we wanted to. Scott rented an ECV, as he did most days (he’d had major surgery in February and still tired easily), and from there we went to the Kilimanjaro Safari. It was a walk-on, which I’ve never seen before. Saw a good number of animals, the highlight of which was a giraffe who decided the road was a fine place to stroll and held up the safari for a good five minutes.

After the safari we walked the forest trail, and Meg and I bought matching necklaces at one of the shops. I took the kids to the Boneyard while Meg and Scott rode Expedition Everest (we’d gotten FastPasses earlier), then Scott looked after the kids while Meg and I rode. What a fun ride that is!

We had FastPasses for Kali Rapids, but it was down. Lunch was at the Yak and Yeti, and it was about now that the one bad part of the trip kicked in for me – starting that morning I’d had a gastritis flare-up (thank you, wacky perimenopausal hormones!) that prevented me from eating much of the very delicious duck. Which was a real shame as I never get to eat duck otherwise. Everyone enjoyed their food, though, and we will definitely be back here on our next trip.

By this time Kali was back up, so we rode that. Then Meg and Rachel did the It’s Tough to be a Bug show while the rest of us walked the Maharajah Jungle Trek, where we saw lots of tigers, and bats as well. About 3 pm we met up at the entrance so Scott could return his ECV, then we drove to my nephew Mike’s house over in Winter Garden.

One of the most awesome things about this trip was that it essentially was a family reunion spread out over a couple days. Sunday’s gathering was at the home of my nephew Mike and his fiancĂ©e Illeana, and also there were my brother Dave (Mike’s dad), his wife Jody, and their children Miranda and Gracie. It had been years since we’d all seen each other and we had a great time catching up. Mike is a culinary school graduate and put on a fabulous spread that included ham, deviled eggs (best I’ve ever had), home-made mac and cheese, and more things than I can remember. My only regret was that my aforementioned gastric issues made it hard for me to do justice to the food. Then it was back on the road to get to the Sheraton Vistana.

Day 3

Thank goodness Typhoon Lagoon didn’t open til 10, as it gave us time to sleep in! We hit the park about the time it opened, and were pleasantly surprised that there was free parking. (Something FREE? At DISNEY? Have they lost their minds??)

The day was a blast – I’d hoped to ride some slides but the kids just wanted to do the wave pool and the lazy river. Which was fine. I could have spent several hours just floating around the lazy river. I have to say that the money we spent on good-quality water shoes was well worth it, as it gave good traction on the wave pool floor and you didn’t have to worry about where you walked on the paths.

For dinner that night Scott and I went to Epcot to Restaurant Marrakesh (our ressies included Alex but he decided he’d rather stay at the hotel to play Pokemon with Rachel and have a grilled cheese sandwich). So it ended up being a bit of a date night for us. Marrakesh looked as lovely as ever – I am such a sucker for Moorish architecture and tilework – but the food has become distressingly mediocre. I can make Moroccan food that’s a lot more interesting. I feel bad about this as I’ve always felt like Morocco was the underdog of World Showcase, being the most “foreign” locale (and I’m sure the political climate of the last decade hasn’t helped). But after the meal we had a fine time browsing in the shops, wishing we had more mad money. I did end up getting a very lovely necklace, and a snake bracelet that was my reward for being a published author.

Day 4

Well by now the gastric issues combined with too-low caloric intake and overexertion had taken their toll, and I knew the moment I got up that I wouldn’t be making it to Universal Islands of Adventure. I was nearly crying because of this because I love the Harry Potter books and really wanted to go to the Wizarding World. But my gut was (literally and figuratively) telling me this was a bad idea, and I listened. Instead, I stayed at the hotel where I drank lots of Gatorade, ate gentle foods, and read John D. MacDonald’s The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper.

I have been reassured by Scott and Meg that my decision was the right one, as Universal was insanely hot and crowded, and I would have been miserable. Apparently Universal does not have Disney’s knack for crowd management, to put it mildly. While everyone enjoyed the Wizarding World, no one seemed ready to go there again any time soon. They brought back souvenirs of pumpkin juice and chocolate frogs. I must say that the thing I really regret missing out on was the butterbeer, which was by all accounts not just fabulous but everyone’s favorite part of the Wizarding World.

Meg, Scott, and the kids got back to the Sheraton in time for dinner, and we all went to the nearby Chevy’s for Mexican food (I wasn’t up for it but I tagged along to be designated driver).

Day 5

This day saw all the relatives I mentioned on Day 2 meeting up at Epcot, where we were joined by my grandmother Billie and aunt Faith. We met up with everyone over by Spaceship Earth (after me, Scott, Meg, and the kids got an early ride on Test Track). We rode Spaceship Earth, and then got in line for Soarin’. I’ve never ridden Soarin’ at Epcot because we have it at the California Adventure park. I love the ride but the queue was hideous, easily a half hour past the posted 90-minute time. One the one hand, this gave us time to socialize (especially welcome to me as I missed everyone at Universal); but unfortunately by the time we got out we were well past our reservation time for lunch at Le Cellier and the kids were getting especially cranky with low blood sugar. Luck was with us, though, and the kind Canadians soon found a table for us. Billie and Faith shared the appetizer plate and a side of the macaroni; everyone else (even the kids!) had steak except for me, who had the salmon BLT sliders. I had to take it slow but I credit this food with getting my appetite back on track. Alex actually ate all of his steak, which shocked me, and declared it the best thing he’d ever had in his life. Wow.

After lunch we meandered around World Showcase, doing some shopping, meeting up with relatives, and eventually riding Maelstrom and Gran Fiesta. Then it was one last whirl on Spaceship Earth before heading back to the ranch.

Day 6

Billie and Faith had stayed overnight at the same Sheraton resort we were at (just two buildings over, in fact) and we met them for breakfast Thursday morning at the on-property restaurant. We took pictures and said goodbye (Billie and Faith were stopping at Downtown Disney and then heading home, while we went to the Magic Kingdom).

Having always stayed on property and used Disney transportation, I’d forgotten how much of a pain it is to get to the Magic Kingdom. When we arrived at the Transportation and Ticket Center we were informed that the monorail was running slow and we should take the ferry. It was nice for a change to take the boat, though I’m not sure how much time we actually saved.

Once in the park we split up, as the kids wanted to do different things. Me, Scott, and Alex went to Stitch’s Great Escape, then on to the Tiki Room (which has lost the “Under new management” abomination, thank You Lord) and Jungle Cruise, stopping for a Dole Whip break along the way. For lunch we went to Columbia Harbor House, which didn’t work out well as the lobster roll I ordered was all roll and miscellaneous and precious little lobster. Oh well, live and learn. After lunch we rode Haunted Mansion, then met up with Meg and Rachel for Mickey’s PhilHarMagic, which was loads of fun as always. Our last ride was the Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor, which Meg and Rachel had never been to. Then we caught the monorail over to the Polynesian for the Luau.

I’m not sure what was up, but the whole check-in process for the Luau was very disorganized. They found my reservation but apparently I did not have a ticket. So I had to go one way to get a ticket. Then I was told my ticket had already been printed. Then we finally got our picture taken but by the time we were seated food was already being served. Our server was awful – the only bad service I’ve ever had at Disney. He rarely came around and when he did he’d leave before we could tell him what we needed.

At least the food was good. The bread and salad hit the spot, and the pineapple was some of the best I’ve had. The chicken was alright though the ribs were much better, and the dessert was delicious. The show itself was good, though the “story” segments were very cheesy. The Polynesian dancing was phenomenal, especially the fire dancer. If they could cut out the cheesy story and have a shorter show of just the dancing, I’d be well pleased. Not sure if I’ll do this again any time soon but I’m glad we went.

Meg and Rachel went back to the park for a few more things, but the rest of us went back to the hotel for a quick dip in the pool.

Day 7

For the last full day, in the morning Meg and Rachel went back to Magic Kingdom, while Scott, Alex, and I went to Epcot. We parked in the exact same row we did the other day (Journey 6), which gave us all a good laugh.

We rode Spaceship Earth first and played a few rounds of the “Body Builder” game, which Alex adores. Then we grabbed a snack and went to the Universe of Energy, which is always fun and gives you a chance to sit down in air conditioning for 45 minutes.

After that it was over to World Showcase, where each person got lunch from a different country (Alex = Mexico, Scott = Germany, me = Norway). Alex got the Kim Possible communicator and we spent the rest of the day tooling back and forth around World Showcase, doing the Kim Possible games and shopping. After lunch we met up with Meg and Rachel, and hit up the Rose and Crown pub for a drink. Meg and I both got the English Rose, served to us by a wonderfully charming bartender. This was the day my appetite finally was its old self again, and I celebrated by getting a cheese plate from the Boulangerie Patisserie to go along with my English Rose. It was an Epcot Happy Moment: buzzed, with a tummy full of something delicious, ambling around World Showcase.

Dinner was at the Biergarten. We arrived just as the band was finishing, and then hit up the buffet. It was all delish, especially the chicken and the roasted potatoes. While we were finishing dinner the band took the stage again, and they were in fine form though I was disappointed in that they didn’t do the bit where the guy plays the bells.

After dinner we went past Maelstrom hoping for one last ride, but it was down. So we got ourselves back to the Sheraton and started packing.

Day 8

Meg and Rachel left early, for a morning flight back home. We checked out, loaded everything into the car (our bags considerably heavier than they’d been when we arrived, thanks mainly to bottles of pumpkin juice and Canadian ice wine). Then it was back to Epcot for our last hurrah. We rode Universe of Energy and Test Track one last time, then got Kim Possible communicator for Alex and did a last round of shopping and eating. I made up for lost time by having a salmon-and-egg sandwich from Norway, then a Grand Marnier slushie in France, and lastly some cannoli from Italy (this last one had me exclaiming, “That is SO good!” for all to hear as we walked through World Showcase). Finally we caught the boat from Morocco to Future World and left Epcot behind. From there it was an uneventful trip to the airport, dinner at the Ruby Tuesday’s there, and an uneventful flight back home to LAX.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Kelly's Big Score (Rolling Thunder Edition)

Didn't get to do quite as much shopping at this year's Festival of Books as I normal would have, because I was pushing around my friend Gerry (in a wheel chair) - he'd never been to the festival and just loved it.

I came home with:

Auntie Mame - Patrick Dennis

High Rise - J. G. Ballard

The Thin Man - Dashiell Hammett

When the Killing's Done - T. C. Boyle

Also went to the Joseph Wambaugh panel (and had him sign my copy of The Choirboys).

A great day!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

FREE book!

Mad about paying taxes? Then cheer yourself up with a free book.

From midnight to midnight, Thursday April 19, you can download the Kindle of The Day After Yesterday for FREE!

Get one for yourself! Get one for someone else - surprise your friends, amuse your enemies.

And happy reading!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Where does a writer go on vacation?

Anywhere he or she wants to.

But this writer went to Disney World and stopped by the Writer's Stop restaurant in Disney's Hollywood Studios park.