Sunday, November 30, 2008

Orlando Adventures - Day 12

Click on the photo to be taken to the first in the set of today's photos.

Just a relaxing day at the pool and beach today. We did get some clouds and rain that brought a cold wind. That cut our outdoor fun short. There's an indoor pool too, so we moved in there when we wanted to keep swimming but couldn't put up with the weather anymore. I even saw some tornado warning on the news while I was picking up lunch. But there wasn't any tornado touch down that I saw.

Only a couple pictures for today. I was also taking a break from having the camera always attached to me.

There's a movie theater right next door so we also went to go see Bolt. It's a pretty fun movie, although it's a very similar story to Toy Story 2.

Also, having just spent 1-1/2 weeks at Disney parks I think I've been spoiled by the level of service you get there. Everyone I've run into that works in a service type position around here just seems to be doing the bare minimum. They almost seem to be just going through the motions as if they really can't stand the job but can't seem to get out of it either. Not really a complaint, just another observation from having been sheltered in the Disney bubble.

Tomorrow I'd like to go out to Cape Canaveral and see some NASA toys. Plans might change though.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Orlando Adventures - Day 11

Click on the photo to be taken to the first in the set of today's photos.

Our last day at Walt Disney World. :-(

We slept in then had to pack things up to vacate the house we've been staying at. The rest of the gang has relocated the remainder of their vacation time to Turks & Caicos while we are going to Daytona Beach for the next few days. But we wanted to get one last visit to the parks in today before checking in at our next hotel.

So we began with Animal Kingdom. I took the kids to Everest and waited in the standby line while Tammie got Fast Passes for the safari. I really don’t mind waiting in Everest's standby. The queue is very fun to meander through. It’s set up as if you are going on an expedition to the top of Everest. The first portion is the expedition office. Set up like a 3rd world travel/tour office with an old computer and an even older tv/radio. Then you move through what I can only assume is a temple of some sorts with statues of yetis with offerings of fruit and money all around. Then through a supply/souvenir shop with camping and hiking equipment plus t-shirts and other items a tourist might like all ready to be purchased, but the store owner is currently out. The station after that is a yeti museum with all kinds of interesting yeti artifacts.

The kids and I love this ride. Tammie likes it too, but can’t ride it. She tried it once but it aggravated her heart. (She does just fine on Thunder Mountain though. But this one is much more intense.) Adam even had his hands up most of the ride. (Can you tell I'm trying to train the kids to be coaster junkies? But I'm also trying to show them that Disney can be enjoyed without high speed rides.)

On our way to take the safari tour we stopped by the Flights of Wonder show...a free-flight bird show that tries to show more natural behaviors. No birds on bicycles here. It was a fun show with some really cool birds. Unfortunately most of my pictures turned out blurry. Then I had the same troubles on the safari again. I’ve really got to figure out which setting is best on my camera for the fast action shots.

When we tried to leave the park we, of course, got caught by parade traffic. And in the Animal Kingdom with its narrower walkways and fewer walkway options it's an even bigger congestion problem. We had no choice but to wait it out. I'm really really hating parades now. They are seriously nothing but trouble. And more often than not they really aren't worth all the trouble.

We finally made it out of the park and made a dash over to Hollywood Studios to try to get to the Backlot Tour before it closed for the day. I was imagining the tour to be much bigger. It was a bit of a letdown. It had a quick "stunt" show at the beginning where they had audience members participate in a demonstration of some movie magic. Then we hopped on the trams and took a back and forth drive through boneyards (where old movie props are left to rot) and another demonstration of movie effects magic involving a fuel truck explosion and a flash flood. It scared Adam and made him cry, but it really made no sense at all other than showing some cool effects. Why exactly are things breaking, exploding, and flooding? Is Michael Bay here? Oh, yeah…he's actually mentioned quite a lot throughout the attraction.

Once that big disappointment was over we made our final walk out to the trams and to our car. I couldn't help but feel a little sad that it was over, but I was also glad that we were able to come and enjoy so many good times together. I learned a few more things about my kids and I hope they have made some good memories that will last a lifetime.

Here in Daytona things are much different. It's nothing like the serene Kissimmee neighborhood or the sanitary Disney atmosphere. There was some kind of car show tonight and classic cars were cruising the streets in front of our hotel. There was quite a bit of noise outside with the cars and the onlookers that made our arrival a little more confusing than we had anticipated. And so far, the party atmosphere and high rise hotels have the kids feeling a little intimidated. It should be interesting to see how things go the next few days. But I'm sure once the sun comes out and the daylight takes the place of the nightlife things will be better.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Orlando Adventures - Day 10

Click on the photo to be taken to the first in the set of today's photos.

I think the kids are officially Disneyed-out. I felt like I was dragging them into the parks today against their will. Adam seemed excited though. Rachel just seemed to be going with the flow. But David was protesting the most. Well, most of the day that is. But towards the end of the day Disney delivered on their "dreams come true" end of the deal and David was able to find a cast member wearing a limited edition Monorail pin that he had been dreaming of getting (literally...he had a dream about it) and that seemed to perk him up quite a bit and he was much more cheery the rest of the night.

And even though it was the day after Thanksgiving, the park attendance wasn't as bad as it was yesterday. It was still pretty thick, but things seemed to lighten up after dinner.

We also managed to avoid all parade traffic and get quite a bit done, including things we hadn't seen before. In fact, we did so much I'm currently having a hard time remembering the order we did things. And some things are repeats, I'll move quickly through those. So in order as best as I can remember...

After taking the ferry boat into the Magic Kingdom this time instead of the monorail we got Fast Passes for Space Mountain then rode Tomorrowland Transit Authority followed by Tomorrowland Speedway. We ate lunch at the Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle place. It was okay. Not as good as the Yak & Yeti Cafe in Animal Kingdom though.

Then we caught story time with Belle. Adam got called up on stage to play the part of Gaston. He loved it. Sometimes if he gets shy he'll completely clam up and roll up into a ball. But he just let the ham in him come out and shine. It was hilarious!

Then we made it Fantasyland to get Fast Passes for Winnie the Pooh and ride Peter Pan. While we were in line for Peter Pan, Tammie took Rachel to get her hair all glittered up at the barber shop. We were hoping she would have been done before we made it all the way through the line, but they caught us at the exit and we rode later again at the end of the day to give Rachel the chance to ride (we also lucked into getting someone else's Fast Passes and saved us 30-40 minutes in line).

After we met up with Rachel and Tammie again we rode Pooh (our first time riding the WDW's's got some fun bouncy parts), then Space Mountain.

We wanted to give the kids a chance to go play on Tom Sawyer's Island, but the sun was quickly setting and we had to get to the other side of the park. We hopped on the train to make it faster, but even that wasn't fast enough. The rafts were already closed by the time we got there. We grabbed some Fast Passes for Thunder Mountain and went on Country Bears (yay...I miss them), got some Dole Whip Floats (mmmmmmm), and went on Tiki Room (Under New Management...and this new management thing is a real stinker...they need to restore it back to the original and get Yago out of there, ugh), Pirates (this time the Davey Jones effect was working...very cool), Haunted Mansion (it's more fun at night), then grabbed dinner at the Columbia Harbour House (again...great place).

After all that we did some souvenir shopping, watched Mickey's PhilharMagic (first time seeing it...that was a very impressive show...I wish we had the time to watch it again), went back to Peter Pan (this was the second ride I mentioned earlier), caught the fireworks, then rode Thunder Mountain in the dark (this time even Adam was raising his arms!)

And the day is over. I think I covered it all.

Tomorrow will be our last day at Walt Disney World. We're going to spend some time in Animal Kingdom doing a couple things over again, then over to Hollywood Studios to try to squeeze in a backlot tour. In the evening we head to Daytona Beach for the rest of our stay.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Orlando Adventures - Day 9

Click on the photo to be taken to the first in the set of today's photos.

Thanksgiving Day! But we still spent some time in the park. Not all day though. We had a big Thanksgiving dinner at 4:00.

We expected huge crowds today so we tried to make plans to work around them. And there were indeed very big crowds. But we were still able to do most everything we wanted. To make things easier we just stayed in smaller groups instead of trying to do everything together. Plus some people wanted to stay home to make the dinner.

When we got into the park we used the train to get around at first. We wanted to go to Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain first and the train stop is right next to them. Tammie grabbed Fast Passes for us on Thunder while I got the kids some ice cream and frozen bananas. Then we rode Splash. It was going to be a while before our Fast Passes for Thunder were mature so we got back on the train and headed for Space Mountain. The line there was 90 minutes and Fast Pass return was after 7:30 at night (but we couldn't pick up any Fast Passes anyway). We decided to skip Space, much to Adam's disappointment.

On the train.

David and Tammie didn't want an ice cream but they did want a treat from the bakery on Main Street. So they went to go get their treat while I took Adam and Rachel on the Carousel then Small World. We wanted to go on Peter Pan, but the line was too long. We grabbed Fast Passes just in case we'd be back later tonight. Tammie and David made it to Small World just as we got off so we jumped in line on Haunted Mansion and they caught up to us there.

After Mansion we had time for Rachel to go pick out a parasol she wanted and then we rode Thunder Mountain. After Thunder we grabbed a corn dog (we were trying to save our appetites for dinner but we were all so hungry by this time that we were getting quite irritable), then we needed to leave the park. Unfortunately a parade was underway and make the already thick crowds nearly unnavigable. And we made the mistake of trying to walk our way out on Main Street instead of just going the other way and taking the train around.

Oh well, we made it out, and made it home just in time.

But we still had about 1 hour to kill while waiting for dinner to finish up, so everyone jumped into the pool for some Marco Polo and Sharks & Minnows.

Dinner was grand, delicious, and very filling. With turky, stuffing, and pie sitting happily in our bellies we just weren't feeling like leaving the house. So we took the rest of the night to just relax.

No idea what we might be doing tomorrow. Maybe back to Magic Kingdom just 'cuz it's our favorite.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Orlando Adventures - Day 8

Click on the photo to be taken to the first in the set of today's photos.

We finally made it to Animal Kingdom. This was our first visit to this park for our trip. Actually, the first visit for any of us except the locals in the family. I'm really impressed with and love the atmosphere there. It's very lush and feels nicely overgrown. But in a crowded park it just seems to add to the confusion. Especially since the trees block any kind of view beyond the immediate area making it impossible to orient yourself with landmarks. Many of the trails look very similar and I got turned in the wrong direction more than once.

We wanted to make sure to go on the safari so one member of our group grabbed everyone's park passes and made a dash for the Fast Pass distribution while we went over to ride Dinosaur. That was a really fun ride. Unfortunately, all the kids were scared of it. They take your picture just as a huge t-rex attacks your vehicle. In the photo all of the kids have their heads down in fear (in fact they pretty much hid like that after the first dinosaur encounter)...except Adam. He had a look of fear on his face that can only be described as "I want to hide and cry but there's no way I'm turning my back on that thing." It was kind of sad and funny at the same time.

Then we grabbed passes for Everest, the one ride I wanted to be sure to ride on as many times as possible. We ate lunch, then went on the safari. I'm impressed at how well they were able to transform Florida into Africa (I wonder how much the animals enjoy the humidity during the summer though). It was a fun ride, but the vehicle is so bouncy and they don't slow down long enough at the animals to really take it in and/or take pictures. So half my photos are really blurry.

We watched It's Tough To Be a Bug. I gave Adam a warning before hand about some of the effects so that he could avoid them. Unfortunately I forgot about a few of them. The funny thing was, he was more upset about having one of the bugs spit "acid" on us than any of the other scary stuff in it. There seemed to be many first-timers in that showing too, which made it all really fun.

We also rode the river raft ride where Adam and I got soaked. Adam was freezing afterward so we had to take him into the bathroom and let him undress and wait in a stall while we dried his clothes at the hand drier. I just stayed wet the rest of the day. And things got much colder tonight than any of the other nights.

We tried to make it to see the Finding Nemo Musical, but didn't get there on time so I took a group of kids to wait in the stand by line for Everest (our Fast Passes were still not mature yet). It was a 1 hour wait, but we really didn't have much else we wanted to do and I wanted to ride more than once...which means one of those rides will require a stand by wait. It was awesome! That is a fun ride. I've seen video of it on the web so I knew what to expect, but those videos can't recreate the entire experience. And the queue is one of the best I've seen yet. Very immersive and highly detailed.

I'm constantly impressed with how fearless Rachel is with these coasters. During the second ride on Everest I actually saw her raise her hands during some parts of it. Of course, not the really fast or dark parts, but's a start. (She absolutely hated Dinosaur by the way.)

While we rode Everest, the remainder of our party had held places in line for Nemo, so we were able to immediately jump over there. It was a fun show, but that downtime in the dark revealed just how tired I was. I kept nodding off. We can't have that, so back to Everest we go for another shot of adrenaline. This time we had Fast Pass. Then we were able to ride a 3rd time right after that with some extra Fast Passes someone was able to pickup.

By the end of the final ride the park was about to close and we still needed to eat dinner. We went to the Yak & Yetty Cafe. Delicious!

I think tomorrow we're going to be going back to the Magic Kingdom. It will be Thanksgiving, so it should be interesting to see how the crowds are.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Orlando Adventures - Day 7

Click on the photo to be taken to the first in the set of today's photos.

Today went off pretty much as planned. We made it to Blizzard Beach around 11:00am (an hour after opening) and had a really fun time there. The weather was cool and there was some rain just as we were leaving the house. At first we were worried that it was going to ruin the day, but I figured that if I'm going to get wet then I want to do it on purpose. Better to be wet at a water park than wet at an amusement park. So we kept our plans and it worked out perfectly. The rain stopped just as we got there and the sun came out from behind the clouds quite often. But the water park attendance was really low which made it all the more fun. No lines at all on any slides. Plenty of room in the pools and beach chairs.

We had fun in the wave pool, then moved on to the water slides. The weather was just cool enough to chill the kids in between slides. By the end of the day their teeth were chattering so we left about a half-hour early (it closed at 5:00). The kids were really brave doing some slides that looked scary.

David had the goal of conquering the biggest drop (in the top picture above). It's a nearly verticle drop all the way down. You get going about 50 mph by the time you reach the bottom. I took Rachel along with us just to see if she wanted to do it. She showed no fear and just walked right up to it without hesitation. This is the same little girl that runs and screams in fear if she sees a bee, or hears a bee, or thinks she might have seen or heard a bee but it was actually a fly.

They made me go first though and I felt like I had to put on the brave face. Sitting at the top of this thing is very intimidating. About 2 feet in front of you the slide just disappears. I made it to the bottom, with some pain from the water slapping me pretty hard as it brought me to a stop. Then Rachel came next followed by David. Each of them came out with a look of pain on their faces. And each of them, like me, said "that was fun, but let's not do it again."

We didn't have a chance to do everything there, but we did get to do everything we wanted to do multiple times. They also asked if we can go back, which we definitely will when we have the next opportunity.

After we left Blizzard Beach we continued as planned and went back to Hollywood Studios. Everyone was hungry so we went to the Commissary for dinner. We ate there the last time we were in that park and liked the selection. We also saw some cool Lost displays.

I still wanted to see the Backlot Tour, but we were too late. The sun had just set and they don't run it after dark. So we went to One Man's Dream instead (a display and movie about Walt Disney), Star Tours, Muppet Vision 3-D, then Fantasmic. The park was closed when Fantasmic got out so we headed back home.

A fun filled day where we did pretty much everything we had set out to do and had a fun time doing it.

Tomorrow is the Animal Kingdom and back together with the whole gang again.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Orlando Adventures - Day 6

Click on the photo to be taken to the first in the set of today's photos.

After much deliberation this morning, we decided not to ditch the rest of the family and do our own thing. At least, not entirely. My original thoughts were to just go to Animal Kingdom regardless of what the rest wanted. Epcot yesterday was just too crazy and unproductive.

But when I found out they were going to Magic Kingdom and I felt a little bad about not letting the cousins have more time together...(and I really favor the Magic Kingdom so I was wanting to go back there too...and test my hypothesis that it would have been the better park to visit yesterday...) we decided to rejoin the throng and make it another massive gathering in the park. We were short 2 people this time as they wanted to go fishing instead. But a 10% decrease didn't seem to really make that big of a difference. Or did it?

The Magic Kingdom was absolutely insanely crowded today. And we tackled things differently this time that made all the difference in the world.

Rule #1: If you're hungry you stop and eat where you are regardless of what the rest of the group wants to do. Everyone else will go on and leave you but we'll regroup later if we want to.

Rule #2: We don't have to do everything together unless it's convenient. Smaller groups are more agile and can have more fun. Grouping the kids by size/interest and providing enough adults per group for kid management makes for more efficient use of time and energy.

We split up, regrouped, changed groups, etc. multiple times during the day. All without too much trouble. We had a few snags of confusion where the crowds were heavier or where communication was difficult due to noise, but we made it through.

We did begin the day with a special trip to Epcot (just Me, Adam, Rachel, Tammie, and a couple cousins) to ride Spaceship Earth as we had promised Adam. And this time my screen worked. Not that there was anything particularly exciting about the video that plays (just your face on some animated characters). It was the principle of the thing.

Then we hopped on over to the Magic Kingdom, where dreams come true. (It says so on the sign so it must be true. Does that count as a written contract? I may have to visit guest relations to find out.) Our special trip to Epcot cost us 2 hours, so when we finally got in to MK we needed to eat. The rest of the group that got there first had found a perfect corner by Space Mountain right by the railroad tracks that we had all to ourselves.

The view from our private picnic area.

While waiting for everyone else to get off Space Mountain we grabbed some Fast Passes and some of us went on Tomorrowland Transit Authority (I miss the People Mover) followed by Carousel of Progress, then Buzz Lightyear.

By this time some people in our group had mature Fast Passes for Thunder Mountain. Instead of trying to hike across the park we were going to take the train around. Unfortunately the 3:00 parade was starting and the train was put on parade delay. Everyone got on the train anyway while I tried to make it by foot so I could drop off some stuff at the locker. I had to fight my way through parade traffic (I've decided that parades are evil) and everyone beat me there anyway. I grabbed Fast Passes for Splash Mountain and the whole group found their way on to Thunder Mountain's Fast Pass line (some extra Fast Passes magically appeared making it possible for those of us without them to still ride...maybe that counts as a dream coming true).

Just after getting off Thunder Mountain.

Then we split up again to go ride Haunted Mansion. Wait times for the most popular rides today were over an hour. Mansion was about 40 minutes with no Fast Pass. We went anyway. Some rides you just have to wait in line for. Then the kids and I managed to break away from everyone else and go get a Dole Whip Float. Mmmmmmmm! Then Tammie found us and we rode Pirates.

Dinner was at the Columbia Harbour House, my new favorite restaurant in Magic Kingdom. We (just the 5 of us at this point) found seating up stairs that was so peaceful and had an awesome view out over the river. The food was excellent too. It's counter service so the prices weren't too high either. I'll be going back there as often as I can.

Our Fast Passes for Splash were ready after dinner so we made our way there and found that everybody else was also on their way. So with just a 1-2 minute wait we were able to all ride together. Well, in 2 logs of course. Adam and I got to sit in the very front and while we didn't get soaked, everything from the shoulders up got really wet.

Then I took our kids and 1 cousin over to Space Mountain to ride with our Fast Passes. To make the trip easier we used the train. Adam was a little upset with not being able to ride Thunder Mountain in the dark (I was telling him how fun it is and now that's his newest thing to keep asking for), but we'll do it another day. After Space we rode Autopia (not the right name for it in MK, but I'm calling it that anyway).

It's now getting to be 8:00-ish and the kids are starting to get tired. Some of the group was going to go home and I had planned to stay in the park with a few of the older kids who wanted to stay until 11:00 closing. Unfortunately, there weren't enough seats in the cars going home early to take everyone. So I drove home with them with the intent on returning. But by the time we fought our way through another parade crowd (now I'm hating parades with a passion), stopped at the candy store to get a treat, caught a monorail back to the parking lot, and a tram back to the car, it was nearly 10:00. Forget the return trip. This was a one-way trip home.

All was not lost though. The kids got to finish things off with a dip in the pool (it's pretty cool out at night, but the pool is bathtub-warm so it's still fun) and I found that work had lined up some things for me to do (not the best way to end the day, but better to have the time to do it at night than burning morning hours with it).

Tomorrow we are definitely doing our own thing. Not necessarily because we want to split from the group though. Everyone else is going to Hollywood Studios, and except for a couple things we haven't seen we really don't need to spend the entire day there again. Instead we are going to a water park with the plan on joining everyone in the later afternoon or early evening at Hollywood Studios.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Orlando Adventures - Day 5

Click on the photo to be taken to the first in the set of today's photos.

With the whole gang in town now we made an effort to go to the parks all together today. Here are the numbers, you do the math: 13 children (which includes 2 babies), 10 adults. Anybody who has been to a Disney park with more than 8 people are now shaking their heads in bewilderment and pity. We decided on Epcot for it's diversity and larger spaces. In hindsight, I think that was a mistake. Many individuals in the group enjoy Epcot for the fun Future World provides for the kids and the eye candy in World Showcase. But the way the group functioned as a whole, there was more interest in riding rides, which isn't exactly the way Epcot is set up. I think Magic Kingdom would have been a better choice. Also, keeping track of kids through Inoventions is a nightmare. And "a group of 23 in a souvenir shop" could replace the phrase "bull in a china shop."

But all was not entirely bad or crazy. We did have fun too! So let's get on with that part...

Again, the first ride of the day was Space Ship Earth. And again, the computer on our car didn't work on the way down. My only purpose in life right now is to ride that dang ride and have it function perfectly for me. By the way, one of the coolest things about that ride is the smells. When you enter the burning library you smell fire. Right after that you enter a scene with incense and you smell incense. I love the little touches like that. They should have more smells on that ride. And I think this is becoming Adam's favorite ride in Epcot. He wanted to ride it again before we left and never got the chance. I told him if he gets ready fast enough in the morning then we can make a trip very first thing tomorrow just to ride it again.

Then we went to the Energy pavilion where I almost fell asleep on that ride. It wasn't entirely boring...just relaxing. I've also learned the sign language for "bored" as Tammie kept signing it to me the entire ride.

We then went to Mexico in World Showcase for lunch then rode the boat ride there. I'm still impressed with that area and would love to spend more time there. In fact, that's pretty much my theme when it comes to World Showcase. And I've learned now that when I do this again we should spend a day in Future World and a day in World Showcase. Don't try to do both in one day. We just can't get it done in a sufficient manner.

After that we rode Maelstrom in Norway.

By this time our Fast Passes for Soarin' were mature and we headed across the park to ride it. We had some first time riders with us and that is always a treat. Some people in our group then wanted to go to see the Living Seas. We had already seen it enough and wanted to go see parts of World Showcase we missed last time. So this is where we split off from the pack.

This time instead of starting on the left in Mexico we went straight for the right with Canada and watched the circle vision movie O Canada. Good movie, nice area, I'd like to spend more time there.

Then we continued on through the United Kingdom, and really only stopped there to use the restrooms. Nice area, I'd like to spend more time there.

On to France, our main destination in what time we had to do this part of the park. We (I) really wanted to make it to the pastry shop. We all got a little treat and enjoyed the faux French streets.

Then we made it to Morocco to cancel our dinner reservations (long story). Nice area, I'd like to spend more time there.

The time of rejoining the family was getting close and we also needed to get back to China to buy a souvenir David had his eye on. So we headed straight there and only stopped a few times for photo ops. Nice areas, I'd like to spend more time in all of them.

In China we saw some acrobats but the crowd that was there was already too thick for me to be able to get a good view for pictures. If we have the opportunity again I'd save a spot just to watch that. Incredible skill. I'd like to spend more time there.

Then it was on to Mission Space and Test Track. This time I rode Mission Space on the Green team (that's the tamer version of the ride without the spinning). Much better. It was still very fun but didn't have the nausea afterward. Test Track was also really fun.

By this time it was dinner and nobody could decide if we were going to stay in the park and eat or go off-site. After much deliberation it was decided to go off-site so we left the park...much to Adam's dismay. We had to go home first though to drop off some tired babies. But this turned out to be our final stop. The combination of hunger and fatigue had warn others to the point of just staying home and getting dinner there. Which turned out to be a really good choice. We've been playing hard and staying up late. Tonight we'll have the opportunity of getting to bed at a more reasonable time to better charge our batteries.

We've also decided that tomorrow we're back on our own.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Orlando Adventures - Day 4

Click on the photo to be taken to the first in the set of today's photos.

"Wow! We got into the parks reasonably early this time."

Today I started out the day by taking the kids to Disney's Hollywood Studios and left Tammie and Grandma to do some grocery shopping before the rest of the brood arrives. We got into the park around 10:00am. The first thing I immediately noticed was how much smaller this park was than all the others. In fact, having walked back and forth from one end to the other (several times) it seems that it's even smaller than Disney's California Adventure. I've heard many people call it a half-day park, but we actually spent the entire day there and didn't see everything. We did get to see most of what we wanted. I think the only thing we missed out on was the backlot tour.

The first thing we did though was to make a beeline for Toy Story Midway Mania. We had been told that it's a popular ride and the Fast Passes distribute very quickly. At 10am the return time was already 4:45! Once we had our Fast Passes we aimlessly wandered around trying to figure out what we wanted to do first. That's when we ran into the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers! Woohoo! least for Adam. He was very excited. And to our surprise there was really no waiting for picture opportunities with any of them. Turns out we got pretty lucky with the time because they left before we got pictures with all 5 and every time we saw them after that there were huge lines.

We then stumbled on the Lights, Motors, Action stunt show just as it was about to start. We missed a couple minutes of the beginning and got some crummy seats, but we returned later in the day and got somewhat better seats. And having seen it once already I knew when to have my camera ready the second time.

After the show we meandered around taking in some of the scenery and discovered Star Tours. Just outside Star Tours they were starting the Jedi Training Academy, but we couldn't see it very well and decided to come back later. We never did make it back though. I'm sure we will before the whole trip is over. This was Adam's first time riding Star Tours and he loved it. We came back again at the very end of the day and made it our last ride.

Right next door to Star Tours was the Indiana Jones stunt show. That was also a lot of fun. Again, we arrived just before it started and had bad seats. I'd like to also go back and see that again.

The kids then insisted on riding the Tower of Terror. Even Adam wanted to. I don't think Rachel has ever been on it either. I told Adam all about it, and although he seemed a little intimidated, he put on a brave face and didn't back down from wanting to ride. Once inside though he began to be even more scared but pressed on. I had a penny with me that I was going to use to entertain him with having it float as we fell. The penny doesn't float though. You fall so fast that it shoots straight up to the ceiling and falls back down. I managed to catch it and do it again. That seemed to make things more fun and a little less frightful for him. When it was over he said he loved it. We even rode it again later in the day and he didn't need the penny this time. Rachel also loved it enough to join in the second trip. I almost had David not holding the handles.

A young starlet trying to catch a break.

We got Fast Passes for Rockin' Roller Coaster. Adam was just an inch over the minimum height requirement, but I wasn't going to let him ride this one without me riding first to see what it's like. I loved it! Rachel liked it too. It was her first roller coaster with an inversion. She had no idea it was coming, but she loved it too. Of course, David loved the speed and the inversions. We'll be back to ride that one a few more times.

We also visited the animation building and enjoyed the shows in there. We joined in the drawing class where Rachel, Adam, and I learned how to draw Pluto. Rachel did a really good job. I hope her picture survives the trip home so I can scan it in.

When our Fast Passes for Toy Story Midway Mania matured I gave mine to Tammie (she wasn't in the park when we got them) so she could enjoy it with the kids. So I really don't know what it's like. But Tammie says it's worth a return trip just to ride that again.

Our second to last ride of the day was the Great Movie Ride. It was good, but I wouldn't say it was great. Rachel really liked it though. The Alien scene was a little too scary for Adam, but I thought it was cool.

My overall impression of the park is positive. We came to Walt Disney World the first time about 12 years ago but only visited Epcot and Magic Kingdom. So this was my first visit to Hollywood Studios. I am a bit annoyed at having to work around a show schedule when I visit a theme park. And with all the shows, that's pretty much how things work there. It makes it difficult to plan your day and kills spontaneity (unless you have luck on your side like we did the first half of the day). You also either wait around a long time for shows to start or you walk from one end of the park to the other quite frequently, trying to jam in as much as we did the second half of the day.

But there are things we want to come back to do a second time, and I'd still like to see the backlot tour.

I'm not really sure what we're doing tomorrow. We'd like to go to a water park while we're here, but it's been a little too cold for that the past couple of days. We'll probably do that in a few days. We also want to visit the Animal Kingdom.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Orlando Adventures - Day 3

Click on the photo to be taken to the first in the set of today's photos.

Another slow start to the day. This time though it was mainly because we had to relocate from the resort to the house we're renting. The big one that all 4 families will be staying at for the reunion. Right now it's still just us and grandma. Everyone else shows up Saturday night.

We made it into Epcot at about noon-ish. I am hoping this trend of getting to the parks late won't last long. Mainly because I know I won't stop opening each post with a complaint about getting to the parks late. So I'm not even going to mention it anymore. From now on, if we get in early I'm going start the post with "Wow! We got into the parks reasonably early this time." Otherwise assume we got there 20 minutes before lunch. Then we had to postpone seeing or riding anything even longer while we ate lunch.

The first ride of the day was chosen by Adam again: Spaceship Earth. This time it was one he loved and has been begging to go on it again and again. We haven't returned to it yet, but we definitely will. By the way, we also found out that Spaceship Earth runs on Windows.

No wonder it had to reboot.

The ride stopped on the descent and the interactive video did a reboot on our car. We never did get it up and running again, so our finale was really disappointing. We could see what was supposed to happen on the other cars around us though.

Then we ate lunch at the Land pavilion and grabbed Fast Passes for Soarin'. And since Living with the Land was right there we rode on that. We then went and visited the Seas pavilion while we continued to wait for our Fast Passes to mature. There's a Finding Nemo attraction there and we all had a great time seeing all the fish, dolphins, and other aquatic life. One dolphin liked to buzz the windows while we were standing there. He'd make laps around the tank, seemingly coming out of nowhere as he swooped on by. I got video of it and will post it once I finish editing it all together. (Too tired to do it tonight.)

We then rode Soarin'. It's a favorite for all of us. Had great seats too. I'm usually unlucky on that ride and get the very lower corner seating position. But this time we were smack dab in the middle. And I had the extra pleasure of sitting next to Adam while he got super excited about the whole thing.

Following Soarin' we wanted to go ride Test Track and Mission Space, but we also wanted to be sure to save some daylight for the World Showcase. Since the Test Track line was too long and the Fast Pass return was too late in the day, we decided to just ride Mission Space. And by "we" I mean me and David. None of us had ever been on it before so we weren't quite sure what to expect. I wanted to see what it was like before taking Rachel on it. And we're taking no chances with Tammie and her heart condition.

Mission Space is a flight simulation that uses a spinning "centrifuge" type ride system to simulate the G-forces of a rocket launch and deep space mission. David was all excited to just feel some extreme G-forces. They have it set up where the "Green" team doesn't spin or feel the extreme forces. But the "Orange" team gets the whole experience. Naturally, we went with Orange. I get sea sick, car sick, and just general motion sickness pretty easily. I don't have any problems with roller coasters though. But a flight simulator isn't really truly a roller coaster. And every 30 seconds they're warning you about the ride conditions and motion sickness. I started getting a little queasy just standing in line with all those warnings. The ride was incredibly fun and very realistic feeling. But afterward I did feel a little dizzy and my stomach wasn't too happy. David was whooping it up about how awesome it was, and I was doing my best not to feel too sick. I'll go on it again, and I'll take Rachel next time, but on the Green team instead. (Why isn't the sicky version called the Green team?)

After that we made our way over to the World Showcase, starting on the left with Mexico. Riding that attraction and enjoying the indoor "outdoor" street shopping. It's pretty cool and I look forward to going back and maybe eating dinner there. We continued our way around the lagoon seeing as much as we could and as time allowed. The highlights include (in order of yummiest): dinner at Oktoberfest in Germany (fun show, great food), the circlevision theater and gift shop in China (the gift shop is an attraction itself...Rachel mastered the marionette), Norway and the Maelstrom ride (the gift shop there also looks quite fun but we had to dash through it to get to dinner on time to see the show). After more gift shop browsing in other countries we saw the fireworks show and headed out.

We never did get to see or do everything we wanted, but we'll be back.

Epcot is an interesting place. You really need to spend 2 days there in order to take it all in. But at the same time it doesn't seem like there's that much to do. Future World contains most of the rides, but it really doesn't have many. It's also not very picturesque (so I don't have many pictures there). On the other hand, World Showcase is very well themed and there's something wonderful to see around every corner. Unfortunately I didn't have much daylight while we were there so not many pictures there either. There aren't many rides at all, but still a fun experience getting to have a small taste (or at least a Disneyfied look) at cultures from around the world. We all look forward to our second visit to see the things we missed the first time and to experience some things a second time.

I believe tomorrow's plan is...Hollywood Studios!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Orlando Adventures - Day 2

Click on the photo to be taken to the first in the set of today's photos.

I woke up at 7:00 this morning with the sun shining right in my face. And although I'm not a morning person, lately I've been finding it difficult to go back to sleep once woken up. So I decided to just get out of bed. My alarm was going to go off in another half hour anyway so I could get up to remote into work and do a couple things that I'm going to need to do every morning while I'm away.

I finished my work at about 8:15 and tried to pull everybody else out of bed. Nobody wanted to move. It must have been a tougher day yesterday than I realized. Eventually the kids were coaxed from their beds (everyone accept David who is an early riser on his own). But all they wanted to do was watch TV.

"We've got the Magic Kingdom out there just waiting for us. We didn't come all the way to Florida to just watch TV," I begged.

And after much more pleading and prodding the kids were fed, bathed, and dressed and ready to head out the 11:00.

We had intended on using the shuttle service the hotel provides for transportation to and from the parks. Unfortunately, they only drop off and pick up twice per day and we missed it already. So we drove instead. It was a very short and pleasant drive. The weather was perfect for a day in the parks. High of 69 degrees. Sunny. Beautiful weather. (I heard it was rainy and cold back in Portland...snicker.)

The Magic Kingdom was gorgeous with all the holiday decorations on display. And the castle...breathtaking. Especially with the lights all over it at night (see picture above). Adam insisted that the first ride we go on be Space Mountain. I tried to warn him that it was a fast ride in the dark (but I didn't try too hard because I didn't really want to scare him out of it, I just wanted him to have some necessary information). It scared him pretty good. He acted like he enjoyed it afterward, but when we went on it again later in the day he wasn't up for it.

We also rode the Indy Speedway (WDW version of Autopia). It was Rachel's first time driving alone and she seemed to have difficulty steering and reaching the gas peddle even though she met the height requirement.

We then rode Thunder Mountain (another one Adam wanted to ride but didn't enjoy too much), Splash Mountain (no complaints from anybody here, other than getting wet), Haunted Mansion (cool new effects I haven't seen before), visited the Swiss Family Tree House (sniff...I've missed it), Jungle Cruise (some cool additions not at Disneyland, but the skipper was dull), Pirates (not anything as cool as the original, but had to ride it anyway), Stitch's Great Escape (I'm not a really big fan of Stitch, but had to see it anyway...I prefer the Alien Encounter that was there before...although that would have been way to intense for the kids), then back to Space Mountain.

By this time it was 6:30 and the park was closing at 7:00 for some Christmas party that was a special ticket event. We could have bought tickets to stay until midnight, but they were $60 each and seeing the crowds that came in for it we're glad we didn't. Instead we grabbed some food. We did stay over the 7:00 cut off to finish eating and we were politely asked by a cast member to finish up and exit as quickly as possible. We did finish up, but took our time exiting due to the crowds and being distracted by some of the changes that took place after dark.

We got lost on the way back to the hotel (took a wrong turn out of the Magic Kingdom) but eventually found our way back and went for a night swim to finish the day off.

Even though the day started out late and was cut short at the end it was a good first day. We didn't try too hard to see everything at the park, knowing that we have plenty of time to come back. We also took the time just to take things in, enjoy the scenery and even some of the wildlife.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Orlando Adventures - Day 1

Today we flew out to Orlando Florida for a 2 week vacation/family reunion. My plan during this time is to provide a daily trip report with pictures (and maybe video) as we go instead of waiting until the end to try to catch up. I've got a computer with me this time due to work commitments that's making this daily report possible.

Things started out not so great but ended up nice. Our flight was at 6:00am which meant we needed to leave the house at 4:15. I also had some work I needed to get done before leaving the house, which meant I had to wake up at 3:30. Not impossible. This was something I planned for and was ready to deal with, so no complaints about it. But we didn't make it to the airport in time to meet the 45 minute cutoff. Yes, United Airlines (at PDX at least) requires passengers who are checking their bags to be there 45 minutes before the flight leaves or they don't get on. We missed it by 3 minutes. So we were put on standby for another flight. The United agents did their very best to get us on the next available flight, and I have no complaints about the way they treated us. They did a great job.

We did make the next flight 30 minutes later that put us through Chicago instead of Denver. We ended up getting to Orlando only about 45 minutes later than originally planned. But due to being put on standby we didn't get to sit next to each other on the first flight. They were able to find at least 2 seats together where Adam and I were able to sit. But David, Rachel, and Tammie had to sit in separate seats. They did fine though, and I had lots of leg room (yay). Adam and I played about 10 games of chess. (Yes, about a week ago I taught Adam chess and he picked it up very quickly. He's still learning strategy and is learning to take quick advantage of my slip ups. He's turning out to be quite a gamer. Any game, be it electronic or board. I want to introduce RPGs to the kids too. He'll probably love them.)

On the second flight we were able to get groups of 2 and 3 seats that were relatively close, so not so bad there. However, in the Chicago airport I think I got hacked when I tried to make a quick jump online to check in at work. I didn't have much time to do it and I may have tried to connect to the wrong hotspot. Those of you who got the email that appeared to be from me already know what I'm talking about. But I've been researching this email that went out and found that it's been happening to others and only with Yahoo mail. So now I don't know if my computer was hacked or just my Yahoo mail. Either way I've changed my password and that should prevent any further attacks. If it wasn't due to the Chicago airport hotspot then that's an awfully big coincidence since the email was sent roughly the same time I was in Chicago.

So we made it safe and sound to Orlando. Got a nice rental car. And we're currently staying in the Floridays Resort. It's a beautiful resort and very comfortable. We're tired, but excited about what tomorrow brings...Magic Kingdom here we come!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Water Park

We went to the North Clackamas Aquatic Park today. It was our second time going, but this time I took my waterproof camera case.

The above embedded video is really low quality. I recommend going to the Youtube page instead and clicking on the "watch in high quality" link just below the lower right corner of the video.

More pictures here.