Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years ago

This is taken from Google's main page today.

September 11, 2001 - I woke up around 6am and got ready for work that day, like normal. I turned on the radio, to listen to Mark and Brian while I showered, like normal. They were talking about something, and I figured, oh yeah, they're doing another one of their bits, making stuff up to entertain their audience, like normal. Brian regularly talked about hoping that one day, someone would find the Titanic, and wouldn't that be cool, and when listeners would call to tell him that the Titanic had already been found, he'd "misunderstand" and say that yeah, they've thought several times they'd found it, but it didn't pan out. But someday, they were gonna find it. Mark and Brian also did a lot of prank calls, making up situations that didn't exist just to make a joke. It was all normal.

But the joke seemed to be going on too long. And there was a different tone to their voices. You could tell in the other instances that there was a smile to their voice, and if you knew to listen for it, it was obvious they were joking. But that tone was missing here. And the joke was going on too long. And the joke wasn't funny at all. Big planes crashing into very tall buildings is not funny. And then they cut to the ABC News audio feed.

And I started to realize that they weren't joking. It wasn't a "bit". Something had happened in New York. I don't remember if they'd talked about what happened at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania yet. Something major was going on, but it couldn't possibly be of the magnitude that they were talking about. That was impossible. Those kinds of things didn't happen.

When I got out of the shower, I turned the TV on to ABC. And they were showing the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, in flames. They showed and re-showed the footage of the first and then the second plane crashing into the towers. The husband and I watched, disbelieving what we were seeing. This is the stuff that disaster movies are made of. This does not happen in real life. This CANNOT happen in real life.

And the "normal" continued to be missing. Unimaginably, the first tower crumbled. I saw it as it happened on TV. And yet, I still didn't believe it. There was nothing about this that I could wrap my brain around. It's gotta be a mistake, or a dream, or something. None of this was normal. And then the second tower collapsed as well.

Sometime after that, the phone rang. When I answered it, it was someone from my work. I work in a 30+ story high-rise in the Los Angeles area. Some people were in the office early that morning, and because of the World Trade Center attacks, they were evacuating the building. They were calling to tell me not to come into work that day. I called a few of my friends who worked in the same building, to make sure they knew not to go into work as well, and I also called some other friends, to make sure they knew about what was going on in New York - some did, and some didn't.

The husband left for work shortly thereafter. He said they didn't get much work done that day, but they were all there. I sat at home all day, mostly online on a discussion board that I'm a member of, and watching and reading a lot of news reports.

I went back to work the next day. I wasn't afraid to go back to the high-rise, though we did have a number of employees who refused to go back so soon. The building is near the flight path of an airport, so small planes are normally flying by constantly. My drive home is also near a flight path to a different airport, so I always see the lights in the sky of planes approaching the airport. And for the next several days, there were no planes in the sky, no lights in the sky. It was eerie.

Eventually, life went back to "normal", at least what the new normal is after that horrific day. Thankfully, as far as I know, no one I know had a family member or other loved one who was killed that day, in either New York, Washington or Pennsylvania. But I know that a lot of people aren't that lucky. Lots of people mourn the loss of loved ones that they haven't seen in 10 years and will never see again.

The husband and I took a vacation to New York in 2006, but we didn't go to Ground Zero. I knew I couldn't take it. As we were wandering around Manhattan, we happened to walk past the fire station that had lost the largest number of firefighters on that day. And when we visited the Intrepid Museum, I was surprised to discover a 9/11 tribute section in one corner. Both of those experiences reduced me to tears fairly easily. At some point, I will probably visit the 9/11 memorial in New York, but I know it's something I'll have to prepare for.

I've noticed that for the past couple days, I've been feeling very teary. As today has approached, there are more and more stories about what happened 10 years ago, and I think it's just bringing back the memories. Lots of people take this day on a political level. I don't. I can only think about the people and what happened to them, those that survived, those that didn't, those who had family and friends who didn't survive, those who got one final phone call from someone who knew they weren't going to make it out of the towers or off the airplane.

So today, I mourn for those lost in the towers of the World Trade Center because they couldn't make it down the stairs in time, I mourn for those who ran up the stairs trying to save others, I mourn for those lost in Washington at the Pentagon and on the plane, and I mourn for those heroic passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 who brought their plane down in Pennsylvania, preventing yet another target from being hit. I send love and support to the family and friends of those who lost someone in any of those locations.

And unfortunately, I also have to think of a little girl and her family, who should have been celebrating her 10th birthday today. She was one of the stories of hope, born on September 11, 2001. But she was killed in a senseless act of violence. To her family, and all who mourn her loss, I send love and can only hope that my best wishes added to those of others can have some chance of easing the pain they must be feeling today.

I've posted this video before, but I think it bears repeating. During the Super Bowl in 2002, only months removed from 9/11, Anheuser-Busch/Budweiser had the following commercial. I join in the sentiments of that commercial, in remembrance and in honor of all the victims of September 11, 2001.

Monday, July 4, 2011

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" - spoiler movie review

I had really enjoyed the first "Transformers" movie, but I wasn't all that fond of the sequel, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen". However, since the trailer for the third film, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" looked pretty good, I was willing to give them another try.

I did like this movie much more than the second movie, but I think it fell far short of the first film. The story and the film itself was very uneven, and there were a couple story points that I really didn't enjoy. I really liked Megan Fox in the first film, but not in the second film, but I did not much care for the new girl. Yeah, she's a hot model, ok, but she just didn't do anything for me. The only time I liked her was when she made Megatron jealous that Sentinel was going to take over the Decepticons. But I wasn't interested in her story or the story of her and Sam. Let's save the romance story for a different film.

Oh, but I thought it was pretty cool when it turned out that the fancy car her boss had given her was actually a Decepticon.

I also really didn't like the scenes with Sam's parents. OK, they weren't quite as bad as in the second film, but really, could they have gotten worse? It seemed like they were meant as comic relief, but instead, they were still just really annoying and useless. If I could have fastforwarded through their scenes, I would have.

Oh, and ok, the Decepticons want to transport their home world RIGHT NEXT TO Earth. Ummm, ok, is no one else thinking about the detrimental effect that would have on Earth's gravity and orbital path around the sun? I had this same question when the aliens in "The Event" wanted to do the exact same thing. I mean, I know that the rest of the story itself is completely fantastical, but if you're going to take as granted that talking transforming robots from another planet can exist, that's fine, but you can't ignore normal regular things on Earth like gravity and planetary pull and orbits and such.

They had several awesome action sequences, as you'd expect. That corkscrew Decepticon 'bot was just evil - it's got no purpose other than to just destroy on a huge scale. That whole sequence when it took down the skyscraper was pretty cool, but I found myself thinking about what the crew had to go through to shoot those sequences, especially with all the furniture and office supplies and such going everywhere as the building was getting destroyed and falling.

I was actually quite proud of myself for figuring out two plot points before they explained it, which is fairly unusual for me. When they were loading up all the Autobots onto the shuttle to leave Earth, it occurred to me that it was the perfect time for the Decepticons to destroy them - they were all in the same place at the same time! So I wasn't surprised when the Decepticons blew up the shuttle. I will say, though, that I found that scene kind of disturbing because it reminded me a lot of the explosion of the Challenger. I don't think the vapor trails were the same, but just the images of the shuttle exploding, how far above the Earth it exploded, and then the look on Sam's face when he saw it explode so suddenly and unexpectedly - it just all brought back memories of when the Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff. And to me, it's never going to be ok for a fiction movie to remind me of that real-life tragic event.

However, I did know that even though the shuttle blew up, that the Autobots were not dead. They did something to trick the Decepticons and they were fine. I had thought they'd somehow managed to fake getting on the shuttle, so it was fun to find out that they'd hid themselves all in the rocket booster that broke off and therefore was not destroyed.

The fight between the titans - Optimus Prime and Sentinel - was pretty cool to watch. But while the fight between Optimus Prime and Megatron was good too, it didn't have the same effect. OK, so Megatron was killed, again. He'd already been killed in the first film. Granted, it was a much more graphic ending this time, given that Optimus yanked his spine out instead of just killing his battery/spark/whatever and dropping him in the ocean intact. But hey, who knows, maybe he can still be revived or put back together. Which would make his death (sorry, his SECOND death) even that more unimportant. But if Megatron really is dead, that doesn't work for the story either. Whether or not they plan to make another film is irrelevant - even if they don't make another film, the STORY of the Autobots and the Decepticons isn't supposed to be over, but if the Decepticons have actually lost their leader, then it's not much of a fight, is it? Before the fight, Megatron asks Optimus what he would be without Megatron there, and Megatron is right. The victor is only as good as the opponent he defeats. If the opponent is weak, if there's no great villain to fight, then the "hero" is much diminished. All the great superheroes and "good guy" characters are such because they have a worthy and formidable nemesis.

Shia LaBeouf was fine in this film. He did what needed to be done for an action film. Josh Duhamel was quite good, and I'm glad he had more to do in this film.

I've always loved the voice casting for Optimus Prime - Peter Cullen. He has an amazing voice quality, and I'm amused that he's also voiced the character of Eeyore in several Winnie the Pooh projects.

In the trailers that I'd seen of the film, there was no mention of the character of Sentinel, and it only took a few seconds of hearing him speak for me to realize that he was voiced by Leonard Nimoy, who I had not known was in the film. I actually found it a little distracting to try to separate him personally and his well-known character of Spock from the "Star Trek" universe from the part he was playing in this film. But that then made it all the more shocking when it was revealed that Sentinel, the Autobot elder, revered for having supposedly died in trying to help the Autobots win the war, had actually been defecting and had made a deal to work with the Decepticons. The turn was especially devastating for Optimus, who had been used by the Decepticons to resurrect Sentinel, since Optimus was the only one who could.

However, there is one line in the film, which, as a "Star Trek" fan, really pissed me off. At one point towards the end of the film, Sentinel is sort of justifying his actions and the deal that he made with the Decepticons. And Sentinel says that sometimes, the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. The line "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" is a pivotal line in the "Star Trek" universe as it explained Spock's sacrifice of his own life to save his shipmates in "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan", and that point is played in future sequels in the series as well. It really pissed me off that they took that line and used it in this situation, made worse by the fact that it was voiced by Leonard Nimoy. Frankly, I'm shocked and really disappointed that he agreed to actually say that line, knowing the place the original line holds in "Star Trek" history and lore.

Overall, I wouldn't necessarily dissuade people from seeing this film, which I would have done regarding the second film, but it's not really one I can recommend too highly either.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"Mamma Mia" - 14

As a followup to this blog post, we saw our fourteenth show last Saturday night (June 25) at OCPAC. OK, it's now called Segerstrom Center for the Arts, whatever. We've seen the show there before, so our "different venue" count is still at eleven. I don't think that number is going to change anytime soon since we've pretty much exhausted all the venues in the Southern California area, so adding a new venue would involve some kind of significant overnight travel.

I enjoyed this production of the show, though the mixing of the sound levels was a bit off. There were times I had a really hard time hearing Donna because her mic didn't seem to be turned up enough.

Overall, I thought the company was pretty good. The actress playing Donna seemed a bit more reserved in the first act (the song "Mamma Mia" didn't quite pop as much as I'm used to), but she really got into it in the second act. She killed both "Slipping Through My Fingers" (yep, made me cry again) and "The Winner Takes It All". I wasn't completely happy with the actress who played Sophie. She made choices in both her acting and singing that didn't work for me. She was more shrill than I would have liked. The stand-out performance though, was from Alison Ewing, who played Tanya. She was awesome.

In overhearing bits and pieces of conversations from other people, there were some who were seeing the show for the first time, after having seen the movie, so I'm glad the movie is bringing out more people to see the show.

There was a woman sitting on the other side of the husband from me, and I was amused when I heard her gasp when Sophie told Sky she didn't want to get married. She was one of those who'd seen the movie and was seeing the show for the first time, so it shouldn't have been a surprise to her that Sophie and Sky didn't actually get married, but even if it was a newbie to the whole thing, I didn't think that particular development would actually elicit a gasp from anyone.

I can't believe that it was our first time seeing the show in two years - no wonder I was going through withdrawal! Our fifteenth show is expected to be in late March/early April of next year, when the touring company is coming back to the Pantages.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Orlando trip - February 17, 2011 - Magic Kingdom and thoughts on Beach Club

Yeah, I know, it ended up taking a while to finish up the last day of this trip report. Other things needed my attention more. But, let's continue on.

For our last day at WDW, we went to Magic Kingdom, which had extra magic hours this morning, from 8am to 9am. (As a side note, I don't usually care about morning EMH because it's only an extra hour. I *love* evening EMH because it's an extra THREE hours. And we're usually up pretty late when we're at WDW anyway, and we then usually get up for park opening - whatever park we're going to - the next day, so getting up even earlier for just one extra hour isn't worth it to us.)

A cast member had a friend with her on Main Street to greet arriving guests.

As we walked past Dumbo, we noticed there was already a line. Seriously, Dumbo just has this pull on people. Must.ride.Dumbo.

We didn't go to the Magic Kingdom for morning EMH to go on rides. It so happened that we had gotten breakfast reservations for Cinderella's Royal Table for that morning. And it wasn't like we'd gotten up at some unreasonable hour of the morning right when reservations became available to get them. We made the reservation about 3 months beforehand, while we were making all of our other ADRs. I know that it's really hard to get a reservation for Cinderella's Royal Table for breakfast. I think we were able to get a reservation so easily because it was during morning EMH. Maybe it's because EMH can be announced later than the 180 days when ADRs can begin to be made, or maybe people don't think about making ADRs during morning or evening EMH and just usually use the regular operating hours to make their dining plans. Of course, dining during EMH only works if you're staying at one of the resort hotels, so that also eliminates those staying off property. Getting ADRs during evening EMH also worked for us on this trip, so we'll definitely keep that in mind when planning in the future.

We made a slight detour to Space Mountain to pick up Fastpasses in case we felt like using them later. Then we headed over for our 8:30 reservation.

We checked in and were invited inside the castle. Cinderella was in the lobby, and there was a line to have a meet-and-greet and picture session with her. Once we got to her, we said hello, exchanged a few more pleasantries, had our picture taken with her, and then we went upstairs to the dining room, where we were then taken to a table.

Our server came by and started pouring orange juice for us. The husband didn't partake of orange juice for health reasons so declined when the server was about to pour his. The husband asked for water instead. For whatever reason, that seemed to not sit well with the server. He really looked visibly perturbed ("offended" might be an exaggeration, but if so, only by a little) at my husband declining the orange juice. The husband had to ask a second time a little later for water, and it was some time after that before the server actually brought him water. It was also problematic to get the server's attention when the husband wanted to have his water glass refilled. I don't remember if any other beverages were available, but I know we weren't offered anything. It would be nice if they offered tomato juice, for those who might not be able to have orange juice, but I understand that with the limited space inside the castle, even that extra choice might be too much for them to do. But I would certainly expect that they'd have water readily available for anyone who asked for it and for it not to be an ordeal just to get a glass of water.

For breakfast, there was a choice of three different entrees, which the server told us about. I wish they had some kind of written menu as I tend to do better with reading it myself rather than trying to catch everything the server is saying. There was a regular breakfast platter, some kind of French toast platter, and a third choice which I honestly cannot remember now, but might have been yogurt and granola or fruit or something like that. All I remember is that the breakfast platter was the only option that contained any kind of significant protein. As much as I love carbs, I have learned that I do need protein in the morning to get me going, and that having just carbs for breakfast leads to a crash a bit later. The husband and I both chose the breakfast platter.

They also brought out a little plate of danishes and croissants and a small fruit cup, which were good, and which I had some of, but again, heavy on the carbs. The husband's dietary restriction meant that he could have very little of the starters brought to us. They might have been better able to accommodate him if we'd told them about the dietary restriction ahead of time, but we hadn't known what to expect, and he generally doesn't have a problem with breakfast items. But, it was our mistake to not make sure by telling them ahead of time, so for anyone with dietary concerns/restrictions, I would definitely recommend letting them know about it before your arrival.

The breakfast platter was standard fare and was fine.

This is a horrible picture because my phone doesn't do well taking pictures in low light (they were doing refurb on the outside of the castle, so the windows were actually covered), but I'm using it anyway because you can at least get an idea of what the breakfast platter looks like.

During this time, various princesses were making their way around the room to visit with the guests. As you can imagine, many of the guests included children, especially little girls dressed in princess costumes, who seemed to have a really good time getting such close, dedicated interaction with the princesses. They were fun to watch.

Snow White was the first one to make it to our table. We chatted with her for a moment, and then she said "Shall we take a picture together?" to me. Well, we don't generally do pictures with characters, so I was caught off-guard a bit so just agreed. The husband and I took turns taking each other's picture with Snow White, and then she thanked us and moved on to the next table. Also in attendance at breakfast were Aurora, Belle and Ariel. We don't often go to character meals at Disneyland, but we have on occasion with friends, and it's usually without any children in attendance. The characters haven't seemed to have a problem with it, and oftentimes, they actually seemed to enjoy the change of pace of interacting with adults rather than with little children, as the "conversation" (even with non-speaking characters) can differ a bit. Most of the princesses seemed not to know what to do with two adults in attendance at the breakfast. When the other princesses came by, they would stop to say hi, we'd chat for a second, and then they'd ask if we wanted a picture. We'd say no, thank you, we really just wanted to come by and say hi, and they would then thank us for coming and would make their way to the next table.

The best conversation we had ended up being with Ariel. When she came to our table, we talked for a bit, and I mentioned that Snow White and Belle and Aurora all lived nearby, so it was easier for them to get to Cinderella's home to greet everyone for breakfast, but Ariel lived so much farther away, seeing as how they were in the middle of building her a home in Anaheim. She said that yes, she did live far away, but that they'd all had a sleep-over the night before and had a wonderful time and were then all ready to see everyone for breakfast this morning. I managed from voicing what popped in my head, which was to ask if they'd had a pillow fight last night. Those who know me will either be proud or astonished at my ability to stifle the question. We did tell her that we were looking forward to seeing her new home, and she said she was definitely swimming home to be there for that.

At some point during the breakfast, a cast member came over to ask us if a particular princess (I can't remember which) had stopped by our table yet. We said yes, and he said, good, he just wanted to make sure. That's when we noticed that he was actually keeping track on a clipboard, noting when each princess visited a particular table, to make sure that each table was actually visited by each princess.

During the course of breakfast, various CMs were going to different tables with their pictures from the session downstairs. Included with the meal was a picture package which included one 6x8 and four 4x6 pictures with Cinderella and an 6x8 of Cinderella Castle. More pictures could be purchased for an additional charge. It all came in a really pretty folder. I was a little disappointed that there was no additional sleeve or envelope to protect the pretty folder, so after we left, I stopped at a nearby store to try to get a bag. They seemed very used to this request and made a little protector out of a flat box. I think it would be really nice if the folder did come with its own sleeve, even a plain white one, to protect the outside.

Front of picture folder.

Inside left of picture folder, with a picture of Cinderella Castle.

Inside right of picture folder, where your 6x8 picture with Cinderella goes.

Back of picture folder.

Our server was rarely available during our meal. After we were done, he finally came by to check on us. I had remembered reading that the breakfast was all-you-care-to-eat, but I wasn't sure how that was going to work given that it was pre-plated. He asked us if we "would like another breakfast". Well, no, not exactly. We might have liked a little more bacon and sausage, but at this point, we were pretty much done with the whole experience, and it would have been nice if he'd come by in the middle of our meal to ask if we needed anything. Also, we didn't want "another breakfast" - can you tell I didn't like him wording it that way? - but we weren't sure if we could have just asked for more of one item or another. But with how he'd been during the entire meal, we just really didn't want to deal with him anymore, so we told him no thanks, we were done.

By the time we were getting ready to leave, they had already started the next seating of breakfast guests, and the princesses were back out to greet the new guests.

We had wanted to have breakfast there just to see what the experience was like, and overall, despite the problems, we had a good time. I think the only thing that really marred the experience was the server. We haven't had that sort of treatment in a Disney restaurant in quite some time, so it was disappointing, especially in a place like Cinderella Castle. We won't likely be returning there for breakfast unless we're with others who want to go, but if that happens, I hope we get someone who more readily embodies the Disney spirit.

After breakfast, we decided to wander around a bit, to let our meal settle. We walked past Splash Mountain and noticed that it wasn't running, and there wasn't even any water coming down the final drop.

We eventually made our way back to Tomorrowland. We are not fans of Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom (we love the Disneyland version) so generally just skip it. When we had gotten the Fastpass earlier in the morning, it was really just as a "just in case" as opposed to having any actual intent. But, we were in the area, we'd had time to digest our breakfast, and we were even still in our return window for the Fastpass, so we decided to go on it.

And a funny thing happened. I've mentioned previously that in our last two trips, 3 of the 4 times we've ridden the PeopleMover, Space Mountain has been down. Well, after we were in the ride vehicle but before we were on our way, the husband turned and said he saw a PeopleMover car stopped on the track inside Space Mountain. I didn't see it myself, and by the time we were done with the ride and made it back outside (that long exit ramp is something I hate), the PeopleMover was running fine. So, I can't positively say that our going on Space Mountain ended up breaking down the PeopleMover, but the husband is adamant that it happened and that he saw the PeopleMover car just sitting there.

The next time we're at WDW and are contemplating going on either the PeopleMover (very likely to happen, a couple times even) or Space Mountain (less likely to happen), I'll definitely send out a warning ahead of time.

After Space Mountain, we were just walking around Tomorrowland, and we happened upon PUSH, the talking trash can. We watched for a while, and then PUSH ended up coming up to me. He asked if I had any trash, and I said I was sorry that I didn't. He said that he liked my hat (I was wearing a baseball cap style hat with Haunted Mansion on the front.), so I took it off and put it on him to try it. And he said thanks for the hat and rolled away. And kept going. And he was telling people to look at his cool new hat. And he wasn't coming back. The husband and I were laughing, but when I realized he really wasn't coming back, I headed off after him. At one point, he was showing off his hat to someone and saying how cool it was, but he was willing to sell it to the person. Ummm, PUSH, stop trying to sell my hat! I kind of snuck up on him and removed the hat from him. He then spun around and was saying that there was a thief who had stolen his hat. I put it back on him, and he happily started rolling away again. I took it again and said that I was sorry, but that I needed to go because we had to catch a flight, so I needed my hat. I can't remember what he said, but he did soon thereafter continue on his way.

I love PUSH. It was actually one of the best character interactions I had on the whole trip.

We really did need to leave. We had already checked out of our hotel that morning, and we knew what time we needed to leave the Magic Kingdom to drive to the airport for our flight home. We stopped for a minute in Town Square so that I could take a picture of Roy and Minnie.

It was a beautiful day out, and while it was cold and even a little rainy at times during the beginning of our trip, it had steadily gotten warmer over the last few days, so that it was in the low 80s by the time we were leaving. The Main Street Train Station looked beautiful with the puffy clouds behind it, so I took a picture. Except that for some reason, my phone did weird things with the picture, which was taken maybe 2 minutes after I took the Roy and Minnie picture.

My phone's weird rendition of the Main Street Train Station.

We made it to the airport and our flight and arrived home fine. For the most part, this is the end of my trip report. I still have a photo essay of Illuminations that might be forthcoming as well as a trip report for our Wild Africa Trek tour that might or might not be forthcoming, depending on if I ever figure out how to properly talk about it. Suffice it to say that it was an amazing tour, and we had a great time and we highly recommend it, and even though we paid a much lower price for the tour because it was during the introductory period, we would definitely do the tour again at its current price.

I did want to talk about the Beach Club a bit. This was our fourth trip to WDW and our third time staying on property. Our first time was at Caribbean Beach Resort because at that time, we had decided we only wanted to go with a Moderate resort. We loved staying there, and it did kind of get us accustomed to staying on property. For our August 2010 trip, we had stayed at the Boardwalk Resort. We had discovered by then that we loved Epcot, so we really wanted to stay walking distance to Epcot. In trying to decide between the three Epcot resorts, we had sort of randomly picked the Boardwalk, and staying at a Deluxe resort for the first time was made easier because it was during a period when they were giving 40% discounts on room rates for APs. We'd loved the Boardwalk, but for this trip, we decided to try out the Beach Club, since it was a tiny bit closer to the Epcot entrance. (For that reason, we don't figure on ever trying the Yacht Club since it's technically further away from Epcot.)

We did enjoy the Beach Club, and our room was located near an elevator that was near a side entrance, by one of the pools, which meant it was an even shorter walk to and from Epcot. We didn't do any of the pool activities or any of the other perqs offered at the Beach Club - we had thought about doing one of the movie nights, when they show a Disney animated film outside on a big screen, but we never had time in our schedule to do that. I did like that there was almost a regular store in the resort, so we could readily buy supplies, and we really liked that they had a hot food counter, so we could grab a quick breakfast in the morning that actually included decent protein, and I liked the nice bright cheery room we sat in to enjoy our breakfast.

I liked the Beach Club a lot, and it pretty much cemented our feeling that we'd be staying at an Epcot resort for any future visits, barring some other pressing reason to stay elsewhere. But I'm torn on whether to stay at the Boardwalk or the Beach Club again. Beach Club does have the nice store and the hot-food counter, but Boardwalk has my favorite restaurant (Flying Fish Cafe) and a wonderful bar/lounge (Belle Vue Lounge - they make great Bloody Marys there), and it's nice to have the short walk back to the room from either/both if we're staying at Boardwalk. But, our room at Beach Club was closer to Epcot than our room at Boardwalk. Then again, I think I liked the theming of the Boardwalk room better, and there are other things along the boardwalk to enjoy.

I'm really not sure whether I'd pick Beach Club or Boardwalk for our next visit, because I really did enjoy both. I guess I won't have to actually decide that until we're planning another trip.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Orlando trip - February 16, 2011 - Animal Kingdom and dinner at Boma

This was our full day at Animal Kingdom. We'd been there the day before for a few hours as part of the Wild Africa Trek tour, but other than riding Expedition Everest, we didn't do anything else.

We had considered going to the Festival of the Lion King show because one of the performers in a group that I like had been in the show the previous day, but unfortunately, I didn't find out until too late that he was in the early shows that day as well, so I missed it. I've seen the show before, and I like it ok, but it's not the same as the Lion King Celebration parade that Disneyland had, even though some of the floats from that parade are used in this show.

We went to the Pangani Forest to see the gorillas for a little while. The baby was out and about with his mother, so they were fun to watch. After that, it was time to go in search of breakfast. At first, we thought it might be a futile effort like it had been at Disney's Hollywood Studios, but then we saw a sign in front of Pizzafari indicating they had breakfast items, so we went inside to have a look. And we were pleased to find that they did indeed have a nice breakfast platter, so we had breakfast there.

Breakfast platter from Pizzafari.

After breakfast, we wandered around and spent some time looking at various animals and then made our way to the back of the Asia section. On our visit in 2007, I had picked up the roundie yeti, which I loved, and I was happy to see a new yeti plush that I liked. It's actually part of a collection that I can neither spell nor pronounce, but I like to refer to him as Flat Yeti.

Flat Yeti - the only one in the series I like. Yep, he came home with me.

We then got in the stand-by line for Expedition Everest because we wanted to go on the ride again, but we also wanted to see the queue again, with all its details. I love this ride!

Afterward, we looked at the other animals in the Asia section, and we spent some time with the tigers. There was one tiger in particular walking in front of the windows that we watched for a while.

Another tiger in the same enclosure came by, and there were other tigers in an enclosure on the opposite side as well. We stayed and watched them for a while, and it was also interesting to watch one of the tigers watching the tigers in the other enclosure, including trying to look around us to see the other tigers because we were inadvertently blocking his line-of-sight.

After a morning of communing with the animals, it was time for lunch. On our first visit to Animal Kingdom, in 2007, friends had introduced us to Flame Tree BBQ, which we had loved. They were unfortunately closed for refurbishment during our August 2010 trip, so we were happy that they were open this time. The food is really good, and if you walk all the way down to the bottom section of the seating area, you get a great view of Everest across the water.

Lunch at Flame Tree BBQ - half a BBQ chicken. Yummy, tender & juicy.

The husband had the half slab of St. Louis ribs.

Our view at lunch at Flame Tree BBQ seating - majestic Everest.

After lunch, we wandered around the Africa section to look at some more of the animals there and took a train to Conservation Station for a little while before making our way to the Kilimanjaro Safari to use a Fastpass we had gotten earlier. We usually do a late morning safari but we decided to try a late afternoon one this time to see if there was a difference in the animals there were to see. And we discovered that there was a difference - in the late afternoon, you don't see too many animals. Our tour was within the last hour or so before normal park closing time, and the animals have been conditioned to return indoors for the evening. It seems that they can tell from the location of the sun when it's about time to go inside, so they actually wait outside the gates to the back sections - which is why they're not roaming around the savanna for safari guests to see.

Our safari driver was funny, though. We were sitting on the right side in the very front, so it was easy to hear him, even when he wasn't speaking too loudly or wasn't speaking on mic. He pointed out all the "exotic" squirrels we saw - I don't know if he normally does that as a joke or if it was because there weren't many other animals around, but it was still funny. He was also good at spotting the few animals that were out but perhaps difficult to make out. We did see a whole group of them gathered at a gate to go backstage for the night. Disney's Animal Kingdom - the only Disney park were even the ANIMALS line up!

The best part of our safari was seeing father and son white rhinos fighting each other while mom came to intervene. Then a fourth white rhino considered charging our truck but decided against it when he realized we weren't in fact another rhino. And all of this happened while a cheetah was watching with great interest. Beautiful cat, so sleek and graceful.

After our safari, we went to look at the remainder of the animals who were still out in various locations, waiting to be taken in for the night.

Painted stork.

The park had extra magic hours that evening from 6pm to 9pm, and we just wanted to be there long enough to be able to ride Expedition Everest again at night. That's the tradition - we go on Everest twice, once in the daytime and once at night. When you're going up the long hill, you get a beautiful view of the surroundings (provided it's not cloudy, of course), and the view is different between the daytime and the nighttime. We browsed inside some stores to kill more time, then did our ride and went back to our car.

We had a dinner reservation at Boma, but we ended up at the wrong Animal Kingdom Lodge building at first, so we backtracked to get to the right building. We were a little early for our reservation, so the husband sat in the hotel lobby while I was on my cel, talking a co-worker through a work emergency. That done, we headed to dinner. I thought the experience was just ok, but both the husband and I found that the flavors of the buffet offerings weren't entirely to our liking. They weren't bad, and it's hard to describe what exactly didn't work for us. I also was a little annoyed that there were no signs above the buffet to say what things were. I like that normally anyway, but for food that's a bit more ethnic and not exactly run-of-the-mill, I would think signage would be more important. The CMs said it was fine to just ask the chefs, which I did for a couple of the items (even the soups weren't labeled), but they were busy, and I didn't think it was cool to take up their time to go through each thing on the buffet with me. Usually, we don't have any trouble finding at least a few things on a buffet to satisfy us, but this time, it was a bit more difficult. The service was also a bit spotty and the dining room wasn't as clean as I'm used to with Disney standards. I can't say that I envision ever returning to Boma.

Orlando trip - February 15, 2011 - afternoon and evening at Downtown Disney and dinner at Raglan Road

OK, I said at the end of the previous day's trip report that we were going on an adventure the next day. And we did, in the morning (the new Wild Africa Trek tour at Animal Kingdom), but that's gonna take more work to put together, so I'm leaving that for the end. So for the moment, we time travel to after the tour is over.

After we were done at Animal Kingdom, we went back to the hotel for a bit to rest before heading to Downtown Disney.

Pirate Stitch above and in front of World of Disney at Downtown Disney in Orlando.

We wandered around World of Disney for a while - that store is massively huge, so much so that it's a bit overwhelming. We've taken to just going through it like a grid, one row of sections at a time. We browsed around a few of the other stores in Downtown Disney and then we went to Goofy's Candy Company. I don't think we've gone in there on our previous visits to Downtown Disney, because I'm pretty sure I would have remembered. Wow do they have treats galore, all different kinds - there were even lots of different flavors of fudge (including fudge sandwiches, which would seem a bit much).

Egg and bunny cookies - a little early for Easter, isn't it?

Treats for St. Patrick's Day.

St. Patrick's Day fudge treat - mint.

Specially decorated apples for St. Patrick's Day too.

Other candy apples are available too.

These are much more "candy" than "apple".

The Butterfinger one looks good though.

Tuxedo Mickey apple is cute.

Mickey marshmallow treat pops can be dipped and decorated too.

They have giant Mickey *and* Minnie crispy treats.

On our previous visits, we usually parked on the West Side of Downtown Disney and then walked to wherever else we were going. This time, we decided to park in the Marketplace section since we were starting out there. But, we wanted to give DisneyQuest a try since we'd never been there before and since it was included as part of our premier pass. And, of course, DisneyQuest is on the West Side. You know, where we normally parked but not this time. Planning, yeah.

But...we discovered something we'd never known before - Disney offers boat service from one side of Downtown Disney to the other. How convenient! We took advantage of the service, got on a boat at the Marketplace and were then ferried (ok, boated) over to the West Side. It was a nice ride too, with pretty views. We'll definitely be doing that again.

I really didn't have any idea what DisneyQuest was or what to expect. We went inside, looked at the maps somewhat and decided to start from the top and work our way down. We spent a couple of hours in there and had a lot of fun. Everything is included with admission, so I played some really old video games like Galaga, Rampage and Centipede/Millipede. They had lots of different video games - no tokens needed. I also played some skeeball and basketball and a few other games (like what you'd expect to find in an arcade or a Dave & Busters). They also had a number of virtual reality games, but we didn't do any of that. They also have small snack bars on every level so if you're hungry, you can take a break to grab a bite to eat. We had a good time, and it's great as an inclusion for annual passholders, but I don't think it would be worth actually buying a ticket for.

We were tired from the day so decided to head over to the Pleasure Island section of Downtown Disney since we had an 8:30pm dinner reservation at Raglan Road. We'd gone there for the first time in August 2010 and loved it, so we wanted to go back. We were very early for our reservation, so we just took spots on the curb to people-watch and wait to be called to our table. We had glanced inside the bar with half a thought to go in there and wait, but the bar was packed. We were kind of surprised that they were so busy for a Tuesday night.

On our last visit, we had been seated in a side room, which was pretty quiet, and we were at a table (the only table, I'm told) with comfy easy chairs. It was a lovely dinner. This time, we were seated in the main dining room, where the entertainment stage was, so it was a very different experience, but none the less lovely. They had a group of Irish dancers, with a main stage in one section and a very small center stage where one of the dancers would perform as well. We had a good view of the main stage and an even better view of the little center stage. I also loved the house band - Creel - who sounded great. I even ended up getting their CD. We had a terrific evening with good food and great entertainment.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

dinner at Club 33 at Disneyland

On Saturday night, we had the opportunity to have dinner at Club 33 with friends. We've been there before for a special breakfast and for brunch, but this was our first time at dinner. We had a lovely meal and a good time with friends.

To read the complete review, which includes pictures, please click here.

Orlando trip - February 14, 2011 - DHS and Epcot and dinner at Cape May Cafe

We were going to spend a couple hours this morning at Disney's Hollywood Studios again, but we'd learned our lesson from earlier in the trip, so we stopped at the store/cafe counter downstairs in the hotel to grab a breakfast sandwich first. After sitting in one of the lounges for a few minutes to have our breakfast, we then boarded a Friendship boat to DHS. It's a nice ride, with views of all the Epcot resort hotels along the way.

Beach Club.

Yacht Club.

Boardwalk Resort.

Swan Hotel.

Dolphin Hotel.

Our first stop was to go on Toy Story Mania again, but this time, we wanted to be able to spend time in the queue, looking at all the cool details before going on the ride. There are fun things in the exit area as well.

For a photo tour of the Toy Story Mania ride and the surrounding area, please click here.

We'd never seen the Lights, Camera, Action show before and had wanted to see it, but the first show wasn't until the afternoon, and we hadn't planned on being at DHS that long, so we'd have to wait for another trip to see it. Instead, we took another ride on Tower of Terror, and then we were done with DHS for the trip so went to take a Friendship boat back to the resort, and then we walked to Epcot.

First order of business at Epcot was lunch. We'd loved Marrakesh, the table service restaurant in Morocco, but we didn't have time for that again on this trip, so we decided to go to the quick service restaurant, called Tangierine Cafe.

It's still the holidays in the Tangierine Cafe! Guess they have to use up all their holiday cups.

The husband had the lamb wrap.

I had the sliders combo (lamb, chicken & falafel).

We sat down at a table inside to enjoy our lunch. Everything was really yummy, and we'll definitely come back. For quick service, it's probably going to be hard to decide whether to come back to Tangierine Cafe or go to our normal brats-and-pretzels lunch from the German quick service because both are so good.

We had wanted to see/hear the Voices of Liberty, but our schedule and their limited performance schedule at this time didn't mesh, so we'll have to wait for another trip to catch them. After lunch, we went to the Japan section. A friend had told us about Miyuki, a fantasy candy art creator, and we'd wanted to see her for ourselves. She makes animals from a Japanese candy substance made from rice starch. She has a little podium/work station at the front part of the pavilion, right next to the front portion of the big Japanese store. She can make a wide variety of animals, and as she's making an animal, she sort of chants through the litany of animals she can make. She starts with making a particular animal, but then she'll take requests from the audience on what other animals she should make, and sometimes, she'll ask what color too. She's a lot of fun to watch, very funny, very personable. There are several times during the day when you can see her, and she's definitely worth making an effort to see.

Miyuki making a dolphin.

You can't keep the animals, but after she's done, you can have your picture taken with the animal you requested or any of the other candy animals she's made.

Miyuki's candy animal creations.

Miyuki's animal creatures - giraffe (with hidden Mickey) and dolphin.

Miyuki's candy animals - porcupine, unicorn, monkey and flamingo. The porcupine had been at my request.

Miyuki poses with some of her candy animal creations.

After seeing Miyuki, we headed to Norway. We'd gone on Maelstrom the other night, but we weren't able to see the film because it doesn't run during evening extra magic hours, and I really like the film. We'd been told that we could see the film without going on the ride (not that I wouldn't have wanted to go on the ride again, but it was a bit of a wait, and we didn't really have time) if we asked the CM at the front. We did just that, explaining why we hadn't been able to see the film previously, and she let us wait in a section until the next time the film started.

We then went to the pavilion next door, Mexico, to go on their boat cruise, which we've never done before. And, I have to say, I don't get it. All the other country presentations, whether a ride or a movie, showed you the appeal and beauty and allure of the respective country, making you appreciate what's there and wanting to visit to see more. The Mexico boat ride - was a mess. It's themed to the Three Caballeros, though I'm not entirely sure why. I wouldn't think Mexico would need a hook to get people to want to come on the ride. I think a ride is a lot easier to entice people to go on than to see a film, like some of the other countries have. And maybe I'm biased because Mexico is relatively close to where I live, but I wouldn't think that Mexico is such an exotic location that people wouldn't know what it is and would be hesitant about going on a ride for it. I would think that most people have at least heard of Mexico and so would be interested to know more about it if they don't already. I didn't really know how the Three Caballeros tie-in would work, but I kind of expected to see a travelogue of the country, showing things there are to do and see in Mexico. Instead, it was a very disjointed, frenetic journey through Mexico that left me knowing very little about the country and no real desire to see more. As best as I could gather, the Three Caballeros are in Mexico for a concert, but Donald gets distracted by various things and the other two are chasing after him to find him in time for the concert. There are screens in various places which the different characters run through/appear in, and this is amidst scenes of Mexico with people at the beach and at parties and other places. I was trying to follow Donald et al, but in trying to look for them and keep track of them, you miss a lot of the other scenes of people just enjoying the local flavor. I think that the main part of the story, just showing the various places and things there are to do in Mexico, would have been terrific. I've not spent much time in Mexico, but I know a lot of people who have, and the fun and relaxation they've told me about were nowhere to be represented in anything that I saw on the ride. I know that ride has been there for a long time, so maybe I'm just viewing it differently, but unlike Maelstrom and the films in the other countries, it's not really something I'd recommend for a new visitor to Epcot to take time in their schedule to do.

From there, we made a quick visit to the Seas pavilion since we hadn't had a chance to go on the Nemo ride, which I love, especially since they have clam ride vehicles. (On a side note, I'm excited that DCA's new Little Mermaid ride will also have clam ride vehicles cause they're cool and cute.) The queue for the Nemo ride is cool too, as you go under the water.

Love the Nemo ride and the seagulls outside. Mine, mine, mine!

Afterward, we went to Turtle Talk with Crush since we'd never seen Epcot's version of this attraction. It's always fun to see how Crush is going to answer some of the very creative and challenging questions from kids.

We then made our way back to World Showcase and looked around at some of the shops. I was amused to see this shirt since turkey legs are a topic of great debate among Disney fans.

For Disney fans who want to shout out their love of turkey legs.

A nearby store also had a large selection of plush and clothes for Duffy the Disney Bear. I haven't yet succumbed to buying one yet, though I've been tempted. I like some of the specialty outfits, but I'm kind of annoyed that the specialty outfits are actually sewn onto Duffy. Duffy is advertised as a bear for whom you can buy different outfits for him to wear. But if you want any of the specialty outfits, you have to buy the outfit and the bear, so you could end up with multiple bears if you want different specialty outfits or if you want a bear that you can actually dress in different clothes. That's not really what I had in mind.

International Duffy appropriately abounds at Epcot.

World Showcase has Friendship boats that stop at three locations around the lake so that you don't have to walk all the way around if you don't want to. We've used the boats for transportation before, but I also like it as a ride because you get wonderful views of World Showcase while on the lake itself. We got on a Friendship boat at Showcase Plaza, in the front middle section of World Showcase, directly across the lake from the American pavilion, and we rode the boat to its first stop at Morocco. We stayed on the boat and were happy to see that as we passed the American pavilion, the Illuminations globe was already parked, waiting for the evening performance.

Illuminations globe in the daytime parked in U.S. section.

We got off the boat at the second stop in Germany and walked around a bit more in the various countries, making our way to France. A friend had told me about the orange slushiein the French section, so I had tried it on our August trip, and I loved it, so it's pretty much on my "must-have" list now. Refreshing and tasty!

Grand Marnier and Grey Goose orange slush from France.

This is a better picture of the slushie, from August 2010.

The husband had wanted to go back to our room for a bit, and I wanted to spend a little more time in the U.K., so I bid him farewell and headed to indulge the Anglophile in me a bit more. Their Beatles tribute band was just at the end of their set in the garden in the back, so I found an empty space on a curb and sat down to enjoy my slushie and hear the end of their set. After they were done, I stayed and enjoyed the atmosphere while I finished my drink. I then did some shopping in the gift shop (I'd previously found an item that I knew would make a great birthday gift for a friend so went back to buy it.), and then I headed back to the room to rest for a bit before dinner.

Dinner on this night was at the Cape May Cafe at the Beach Club. When we were booking our trip, we had been aware that Valentine's Day would fall in the middle of our trip and figured we needed to decide where to eat that night. Well, nothing says love like a good seafood buffet! ;)

We had tried to have dinner at Cape May Cafe on our first trip in late 1999, as our Thanksgiving meal. At that time, we had been unaware of the necessity of making reservations at WDW restaurants since we'd never been to WDW before and were Disneyland regulars. There aren't as many table-service restaurants at Disneyland, and with a willingness to wait some period of time, getting a table wasn't really a problem. Such was not the case at WDW, especially on a holiday. We got there early in the afternoon, and no matter how long we were willing to wait, we were told they were too booked to take any walk-ups at all. We ended up at Le Cellier that night (They were also very booked but were able to fit us in at a tiny table in between two provinces - the food was delicious and our server was terrific and friendly, so it was a lovely meal overall and the reason why Le Cellier will always hold a special place in my heart.), and we hadn't had the chance to try Cape May Cafe again, but since we were actually staying at Beach Club this time, it made sense to finally dine there.

We took the elevator downstairs from our room and walked through the lobby to Cape May Cafe - it was a very pleasant and short travel time. :)

We checked in and waited for a bit for our table. I looked around and saw a cake that was a special decoration for the day.

Pretty Valentine's cake.

Close-up of Mickey and Minnie on top of the cake.

After a while, we were taken to our table, which was actually fairly close to where the buffet stations were. Our server came out to greet us and asked if we'd been there before so he would know how much information to give us. When we told him we'd never been there before, including the story of how we tried to go there previously, he told us all about the restaurant and the food offered at dinner. He was very knowledgeable about everything as it turned out that he had been there for quite some time - I think it was at least 20 years.

There were many wonderful things included in the buffet, but the seafood was pretty much the highlight, at least for us. The seafood was obviously plentiful, but it was also delicious and very good quality. Growing up, we didn't have seafood very often, but when we did, my parents made sure we had the good stuff. Bad seafood is just not worth it. You can find places that don't charge much for seafood, but cheap (aka "inexpensive") seafood pretty much means cheap (aka "blech") seafood. But that was certainly not the case here.

A little seafood to start off dinner at Cape May Cafe.

As I mentioned, there were many things on the menu, but since we were enjoying the seafood so much, we didn't have too much of the other offerings, other than mostly vegetables. Here's a photo tour of some of what's offered at the dinner buffet.

An overall picture of the front section of the square buffet station.

It's all about the seafood.

Steamed clams.

Steamed crab legs.

Steamed mussels.

Deep-fried calamari and pasta.

Carving station.

Chicken and ribs.

More food choices.

Mac and cheese.

I think this was technically in the kids' section, but I love mac and cheese so I took a little bit just to have a taste.

They had buckets that you could take to put your seafood shells and meat bones in, and the server would periodically clear the contents.

You could also get drawn butter for your seafood, but I actually like the taste of seafood, so drowning it in butter is not my thing.

Carrots are kind of boring, but I love green beans, so I think I mostly just took green beans.

Cabbage with bacon. Mmmmm, this was YUMMY.

Of course, after dinner, there were some dessert choices as well.

Cookies and brownie bites.

Mini cupcakes and more cookies.

They also had a few sugar-free options available. There were none sitting out, but when we asked our server, he said they had some he could bring out. I don't remember exactly what they were, but they had two different options, and he brought out one of each and would have brought more if we'd wanted it.

Overall, it was a wonderful meal, and definitely worth the 11 year wait. Our server was terrific (very attentive to our drink refills and other needs, very professional but also friendly), and the food was delicious, and we definitely had our fill of seafood. The cost of the meal wasn't actually as much as I'd expected since I figured that the inclusion of the seafood would mean a higher price, but it wasn't really that much more than a normal buffet. I can't say if the buffet would be considered a good deal for someone who isn't partial to seafood, but for a seafood lover, I can say that without a doubt, it's a terrific price for all the good seafood you can have during this meal.

We had made sure to have an early enough dinner time where we could enjoy our meal (we figured that the seafood would dictate a longer mealtime than normal) and still be able to get back into Epcot to see Illuminations one more time. We ended up hurrying a little bit at the end and to get our check closed, and we made it to Epcot ok but without enough time to get to any of the spots we might normally choose. Instead, we ended up to the left of the U.K., which still gave us a decent view of the show.

As usual, we watched the show and then stayed to listen to all of the exit music. I was a little sad because this was going to be our last time in Epcot on this trip, and it's going to be a little while before we're going to make it back to WDW. Disneyland is home, but Epcot is a second home.

After we were done at Epcot, we walked to the Boardwalk Resort and spent some time at the Belle Vue lounge/bar there. We'd stayed at the Boardwalk on our August trip, and we'd really liked it. A friend had recommended the Belle Vue, so we'd given it a try. It's a nice place to hang out, enjoy the atmosphere and drinks as well. So far, they've made the best Bloody Mary I've had.

We spent some quiet relaxing time at the Belle Vue, and then we walked back to our room. The next day, we were going on an adventure.