Live Free Or Die

This past Saturday I went with my friend and former college roommate Greg to New Hampshire as our mutual college friend (and another of my former college roommates) Andrew was getting married.

The first event that was worthy of note happened during the drive up. While making our way through scenic views of the mountains, Greg and I saw a large black spot fly across the view of his windshield an hit the bottom left corner. All of a sudden I felt a whap against the side of my face and when I looked down there was a huge dragon fly lying dead on the seat next to me. Apparently after hitting the windshield it had gotten sucked into Greg’s open window and into the car. I brushed it off on the floor and we kept driving.

Soon we were off the highway and while on the back roads, took a wrong turn and ended up passing a state fair. We joked about stopping there instead but we ended up turning around, eventually making our way to the wedding. The wedding was taking place on a campground with a church, some cabins, and a lake. After finding our cabin and parking, I quickly changed and met up with some unexpected guests -former Fitchburg State people- before heading into the church. The only real cool/funny thing that happened during the wedding happened once the official ceremony was over. It was the priest’s turn to speak and he started with the quote from Princess Bride: “Mawidge. Mawidge is what brings us together today.” That was pretty cool.

FormerBoys#formerboys -Greg, myself and Dave; all roommates our freshman year of college.*

Next we all made our way over to the nearby beach where there were drinks and appetizers. I got to talk with a bunch of people I hadn’t seen since graduating- 3 years ago! It was fun to catch up and get buzzed and get amped up for the main event, the reception. However, before that could happen, the was one girl I had to talk to. I had seen her at the ceremony and saw that she was looking at me and I think we were both thinking the same thing. How do I know you and why are you here? As it turned out she -Nichole- was also a former Target employee and has known the bride, Angelina, since she was 10. Small world.

After finishing our drinks, we made our way to the hall where the reception was happening. The interesting thing was that there was no assigned seats. This was cool in that you sit with whoever you wanted. However, it was lame in that I got stuck at a table with people I mostly didn’t know. However, we got to chatting and it never was awkward. Besides, how much time do you actually spend at the table? Once you’re done eating, you go right to the dance floor. The food was another cool element. Rather than having a specific meal, it was serve yourself. This helped add to the laid back atmosphere and was an interesting touch that I’d never seen at a wedding.

Angelina_AndrewCaught Angelina (the bride) and Andrew (the groom) off-guard while dancing.

After a slide show, the best man speech, and the bridesmaid speech, it was time to dance. I was a little disappointed in the response from some of the girls who, despite not having dance partners, didn’t seem super interested in dancing. However, I still had fun dancing with some of them for a little bit of time. I even danced with the attractive woman whom had helped give Greg and I directions on where to park and was one of the organizers/co-ordinators. [Grabbed shit from the car] [Accidentally tried to hitch-hike a ride from a cop]

Eventually, the party fizzled and a bunch of us went back to our cabins to change into our bathing suits for a little bit of late night swimming. The group consisted of Greg, Lawless, Chinmo, some Sweedish girl, a couple of other girls, and myself. One of the other girls in question was Marcel, Angelina’s cousin. I had met marcel about five years earlier at a house party at my apartment in Fitchburg. I mentioned that we’d met before and to my pleasant surprise, she remembered me… sort of.

When we got to the lake it was super dark. The Sweedish girl was in a towl and told us that she didn’t have a bathing suit but that she was going to swim naked. Greg and Lawless had only their underwear and despite me wearing and Marcel having bathing suits, we all decided to skinny dip. A couple of the other girls didn’t end up going in and Chinmo was too shy to take off his suit, but regardless, it was still some good clean fun. Live free or die, right?

After a bit of swimming around in the surprisingly not-so-cold water, we all decided to change and make our way over to the bonfire. The time around the bonfire was filled with the usual, conversation, singing and general reminiscing about the very recent past, ie. the wedding. I tried chatting up Marcel for a bit before heading across the way to talk with some of my other friends. I soon realized that Lawless seemed to be in a bad way, so I ran back to the cabin to grab him a water. I then met back up with him and walked him back from the bonfire (well technically the function hall but who cares) to the cabin. He had to stop a couple times during which he almost threw up.

We (Lawless, myself, and Greg) then transported our things from the cabin they were in to the cabin next door as they were far less crowded and much quieter and neater. For me the key was the neatness as I like having my things organized. After making sure Lawless was alright I put him to bed and then made my way back over to the original cabin where I hung out and talked with Greg, Dave, Papp, and anyone else who decided to stumble in and out of our conversation. We ended up chatting about nothing of consequence from about midnight until 4am; after which we all went to bed.

*The phrase “former boys” was coined by my friend Evan and has three meanings. The first is boys that have now grown to become men. The second is a group of guys who you used to be tight with  (your “boys”) but with whom you have since fallen out of touch. The third is a bunch of guys who have had a sex change. The third does not apply to anyone in the picture.

—The Next Day (8/31 – yesterday)

Everyone but me woke up hungover. To my pleasant surprise I was told there was to be breakfast. After mistakingly going to the wrong building, I eventually found the right one and, to my surprise, several others who were up and already eating. Once I was done, I helped Steve bring back some of the tuxes and then kind of hung out and chatted with people as various groups were packing and leaving. It felt like the last day of summer camp. “Don’t forget to write. I’ll be sure to send letters along with Hedwig.”

We were told there was going to be a BBQ at 11 and that we should stick around. I was good either way, going or staying, it was really up to Greg as he was the one driving. We decided to go and so we grabbed our things and started making our way back to the car. As we were walking, there was a car blocking our path and it turned out to be Dave, Stef and Papp. They told us that they were going to a nearby diner and that we should join them. So, Greg and I hopped in the back of the open hatchback, facing backwards on the bumper as Dave took us down the dirt road back to Greg’s car; live free or die.

Greg_LawlessGreg and Lawless. An album cover if I ever did see one.

Greg and I put our things in his car but when we went to leave, we saw Dave had started to go the wrong way. We followed him back in towards the campsite and eventually found him and Lawless parked in a side lot. They had, apparently, decided to stay after all because the wait at the dinner was going to be too long.

Because the food was not really close to being ready, Greg and I made our way down to the dock and stuck our feet in the water. Eventually Dana showed up. Both of us noticed that a family (obviously relatives of either Andrew or Angelina) were using a canoe. We kept talking about how we wanted to use it but didn’t want to kick them out. Then, light dawned on the fact that there were about three other canoe’s that were not being used. So, without asking -because like I said before, live free or die- we went into the boat house, grabbed some oars, grabbed a canoe, and cast off.

Simple as this sounds, just being on this lake, out in the “wilderness,” being on a paddle boat, something I’d not done in years, was truly plesant. I don’t know if it’s because it was so calm or because it brought me back to when I was younger, but whatever it was, it made me feel really content. The calm however was soon interrupted in the best way possible. A gang of our friends swam over and started messing with us in the boat, rocking it, trying to tip us, making it bounce up and down. It was a lot of fun. We then rowed back to shore and went for a swim.

TheLakeBoring flat picture of the lake.

There was a small square dock set not too far out from the waters edge, but far out enough that it was deep enough to jump off of without fear of hitting the bottom. We ended up playing the game, king of the dock. The goal was to get everyone to stand on the dock at the same time and see who could stay on the longest. It sounds easy, but when you have several big guys offsetting the balance of the dock while simultaneously submerging it, it becomes quite a task. Eventually we all got tired out and by the time we got back to everyone else, the food was ready.

We all ate what we wanted, then helped the bride and groom breakdown some of the tables before we all said our goodbyes and parted ways. It felt like we had been their for ages even thought it was actually less than 24-hours. But it was a good feeling, like a vacation that you don’t want to end. On the ride home Greg and I agreed that we were going to go to our respective couches when we got home and take a nap. And that is exactly what we did.

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Better Out Than In

So apparently I am, as usual, late on the uptake. I guess in May, Banksy “took New York”. He then posted the following short film.

However, on top of that HBO is planning on doing their own documentary/special about the event set to air on November 17. I found all this out thanks to Instagram and Hypebeast .

To read more, go to /Film.

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Epcot/Magic Kingdom – Day 7

Friday 8/15/14

This was it, we had sadly come to the last full day of our trip. We weren’t set to leave until Saturday but all we did was Downtown Disney. There, I spared you having to read another post. In any case, since before leaving for the trip it had been my goal to meet up with my friend James while we were down there. James is a fellow roller coaster fan I met through a mutual friend. We used to live in the same hometown, but five years ago he moved down to Florida and has been driving the Monorail ever since.

MeAndJamesMet up with my friend James aka @canobiefan at Epcot. Click here to check out his blog.

After making solid plans the night before, James and I finally were able to meet up at the beginning of the day at Epcot. Being that we’re both thrill ride guys, the first thing we did was Test Track. Unfortunately, because we did the single rider line we got split up sort of defeating the purpose of us hanging out together. Next we made our way over to Norway because I had yet to ride Malestrum; the boat ride there. We actually got to the World Showcase section of the park before it was fully open so we ended up shmy-ing around the gift shop until the ride opened.

It was just as mediocre as usual, but is one of those rides that’s a tradition to go on. After getting off we continued our way through the different countries. Since I had breezed through them before we took our time, stopping in at Japan and Morocco. I wanted to try this German beer my sister had told me about, but we seemed to be there before they had begun serving. It seemed my thirst for grapefruit flavored beer with a strudel or pretzel would go unquenched.

After seeing all this, I realized that I had basically done everything else at Epcot (except Mission Space and The Sum of All Thrills and the American Adventure) so we left. However, we didn’t just leave any old way, we accomplished one of my last minute goals by taking the Monorail over to the Magic Kingdom. The first thing we did upon entering the Kingdom was to ride another staple attraction I had thus far neglected; The Pirates of the Caribbean. The wait was kind of long at 45 minutes, but with all the chatting we were doing, it moved right along.

Next we made our way over to Big Thunder Mountain which I had also failed to ride. This ride will always hold a place in my heart because the first year we went, 20 years ago, I was too short to ride. The next year we went, we brought thick heeled shoes and I was able to cheat my way onto the ride. The line said something like 60 minutes but as James predicted, it was much shorter and ended up being closer to 15 or 20. As the coaster pulled into the station James pointed out a hidden Mickey to me. After that we moved on to The Haunted Mansion where James helped us get on the ride faster by standing in the corner of the room with the secret door that leads to the attraction. While on the ride he pointed out a hidden Donald would have never known was there. I just don’t look for that sort of stuff.

After Haunted we made our way to Space Mountain. However when we got there it was closed so instead we rode the People Mover. While on the ride he pointed out yet another hidden Mickey to me, I was getting the grand tour from this Disney insider. By the time our ride was over, Space Mountain was open again. The sign said that there was a 120 minute wait, but again James was skeptical. Again he was right and we ended up waiting no more than 15 minutes. His prediction was that a guest who had been given one of the cards that is used to generate wait times had been waring it in line while the ride was broken, thus generating a false wait time. This in turn scared riders away giving us the opportunity to capitalize on the mistake.

Next we did something I probably hadn’t done since the first time I went to Disney, ride the train. We took the train on a scenic trip around the entire park. It was nice and relaxing. Since we had done what we wanted to do, we left the Magic Kingdom and took the Monorail back to Epcot. This was cool because we got to do something I’m pretty sure I’d never done before, ride the loop that goes into the park, around Spaceship Earth, and back out of the park. It was lame, but cool. Additionally, while we were exiting the Contemporary Hotel, James pointed out another hidden Mickey sitting on the rooftop of one of the buildings.

The reason we went back to Epcot was two-fold, 1) because James had driven to the park to meet me and thus needed to pick up his car, and 2) because we had a mission. Earlier in the day James had told me about the “Disney Salvation Army” that is only open to Cast Members. The “salvi” is home to out of date merchandise, used hotel furniture, and out of date signs on sale at a significant discount. My thought was that there might be a Captain EO shirt there. To spare you the details and me the writing, after waiting in a long line of traffic and getting to the ghetto Disney Store, there was sadly no t-shirt waiting for me. However, I was able to see some of the behind the scenes or “Back Stage”sections of the Disney facilities, so that was sort of cool.

After showing and telling me more about the lesser known Disney World, James drove me to the Transportation Center where I took the Monorail back to the Magic Kingdom. Upon my arrival, I met back up with the fam at Liberty Square. I had been craving an ice cream so I found a stand and got an ice cream sandwich that I quickly ate. After sitting for a bit, Kyra insisted we get a picture of the four of us in front of the castle. We found a secluded area and a Cast Member and got the picture.

Family_CinderellaCastleThe Family in front of Cinderella Castle.

Since we had pretty much done everything else, we were sort of twiddling our thumbs as to how to spend the time until our dinner reservation. As we were walking around, I decided I wanted to do the Tomorrowland Speedway. It’s not a very fun attraction but I had had an urge to go on it earlier in the trip and so I figured I’d do it now. The posted wait time was 35 minutes during which I just caught up on my Instagram feed; I know lame. Soon it was my time to drive but when I got in my car I was in a bit of a pickle. The steering wheel was on the right and the gas pedal was in the middle. This meant that I drove like I was in England and used my left foot to hit the gas. The ride was fairly uncomfortable but I did well, not hitting the center rail and by the time I was done it was basically time for our reservation.

We made our way over to the Beast’s Castle and checked in. We were given a pager and admired the castle for the last time. Soon it was time for us our experience to begin. We handed our pager to the Cast Member who got someone else to come to us and let us in. A man dressed like one of the Beasts servants came out and greeted us by name. It was then on to the double doors that creaked when you opened them.

B_and_BMosiacMosaic of Belle and the Beast.

As you enter the castle, off to the left is the mosaic (above) of Belle and the Beast. In front of you there is an archway that leads to the great hall. This is the main dining area of the restaurant and from the moment you walk in it feels like you’ve been transported into the movie. On the ceiling there is the painting of the clouds and the angels. From the ceiling hangs three very impressive chandeliers. When you look out the windows at the rear of the great hall it even appears to be snowing!

TheGreatHallThe Great Hall/Ballroom/Main Dining Room.

On the table are red napkins folded to look like roses. Our greeter points out the hidden Minnie Mouse in the clouds in the painting on the ceiling. He also points out the West Wing off the the back left of the castle which had additional seating. Off to the back right is a third room that has even more additional seating. Off to the right side is a room were guests can take pictures with the Beast after their meal. He then informs us that we are more than welcome to walk around and explore/take pictures before, during, or after our meal.

RoseNapkinRose napkin.

After he is done with his part, our waitress came over and brought us our menus. Luckily I was prepared for the prices and thus was not shocked when I saw them. Although I don’t know why I cared, Mom had saved up her Disney points and was planning on using them to pay for this family meal.

BeerChimay Blue, the beer I had and Chimay Red, the beer Dad had.

Dad and I got french onion soup and we both tried the two most expensive beers on the list. Kyra, in her typical fashion, got a glass of wine, and Mom got a lemonade that had some sort of fruit flavored whipped creme on top. All of a sudden, while we were waiting for our food, music came on and there was an announcement that our host was honoring us with his presence. The Beast then came our of one of the side rooms and walked around waving at everyone. Guests clapped as he entered each room.

TheGreyStuffThe infamous “Grey Stuff.” I was a little surprised by it’s presentation as I thought it would be served like this. However, I’m guessing guests complained that for the money, they wanted something more substantial.

Eventually, the food came out and, naturally was delicious. After that, in spite of everything I’d had, the rolls, the beer, the soup, and my main course, I had to make room for dessert. Our waitress brought over a cart with a glass display case which showcased the dessert options. Three of us chose “The Grey Stuff,” and my Dad, having to be different got a cupcake or something.

TheWestWingThe West Wing.

“The Grey Stuff” was basically just a mousse, but, to make it more substantial, was served on some sort of cake type thing. It was really quite good but after eating all the aforementioned food, despite not being that big, I wasn’t able to finish it. I took it with me though and continued to munch on it even after we left the restaurant.

TheRoseThe Enchanted Rose in the far corner of the West Wing.

Once we were done eating we were escorted into the side room where we got out picture taken with our host, The Beast. After that we took a walk around to the other dining rooms, the West Wing and the other dining room. Though the other rooms were cool, I was glad we were seated in the Great Hall. I’m guessing it might have had something to do with the fact that we had made our reservation back in February!

TheOtherRoomThe other room.

After taking a look around we finally left the Be Our Guest restaurant. And then, as was the theme of the trip, we parted ways. Dad went back to the hotel to pick up something at the gift shop. Mom and Kyra stayed stayed in Fantasyland to watch the fireworks, and I went to the nearby Philharmagic 3D movie as I had not seen it the entire time we were there.

BeOurGuestBe Our Guest photo; I’m wearing a fake fucking smile.

Though I’ve seen it before, ever since it’s inception it has become one of our favorite attractions. Once the show was over, I met back up with Mom and Kyra and told them that I wanted to go on Space Mountain one last time. They then went to watch the parade as I began my wait in the 40 minute line. While in line, I met this couple. The woman had never been on the ride before and the man hadn’t been for many years. She was nervous so I tried to calm her with all of my knowledge of the ride.

When it eventually came time to board, we got split up and I ended up getting on a train before them. As I departed, they wished me luck. When I got off the ride, I waited at the exit until they were done. “You survived,” I said and they both seemed to enjoy it. After that I made my way to the front of the park to meet up with Kyra and Mom so we could all leave together. I realized later how perfectly bookended the trip was. I ended both the first and the last night of the trip, not only at Magic Kingdom, but riding Space Mountain alone.

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MGM/Fiction/MGM – Day 6

Thursday 8/14/14

Today was going to be different from every other day because I had plans to venture into real Florida and thus was going to have a good chunk of the day to myself. The first thing I did was to go to MGM studios. I was supposed to meet my friend James there but he never texted me back so I ended up going by myself. This worked out for the best because I was supposed to be at Fiction by 2:30pm and by the time I got to the park it was 10:30am or so. I new it was going to take a couple hours to get to Winter Park, so my time was limited. All I did was ride Tower of Terror and Rockin’ Roller Coaster before heading back to the buses.

TowerOfTerrorTower of Terror.

I had to get to Downtown Disney which is only accessible via the hotels. So I waited for the first bus that showed up for a hotel and took it. The bus I ended up taking was going to the Old Key West resort. Luckily this was one of the closest hotels to Downtown Disney. I got dropped off at the first stop at Old Key West and waited for a bus to DTD. Being on a schedule, it of course felt like it was taking forever. While I was waiting, the inevitable ominous clouds rolled in and it began to pour. Soon after, a bus for DTD pulled up. Little did I know, Old Key West is a huge resort and has about five other stops it has to go to before it leaves the property.

Eventually we did get to DTD and after a bit of second guessing I found my way to the nearby Lynx bus stop. I’m not sure now what time I got to the bus stop, but it seemed like a long time, 30 to 45 minutes before the bus came. Eventually I got on the #50 bus which took me to the Lynx Central Station. From there I made a transfer to the 102 to Winter Park. The stop I got off at was the Winter Park Sun Rail station. I knew that Fiction was located super close to the station but when I got there, I couldn’t find my bearings. Eventually, after looking up and reorienting myself, I found my way.

FictionThanks to everyone at Fiction for the tour and the free merch.

I met with the receptionist, Megan, who gave me a solid tour of the building. She brought me into the studio where they shoot some of their projects. Before we left the room, she asked me what size I was and gave me zip-up hoodie. Back at the reception desk she reached into the drawer and she pulled out some stickers. I hit the jackpot; it was super unexpected. I really just went there because I wanted to check out there place, I was totally not expecting free merch.

After that I went back to the bus stop and started making my way back to DTD. While on the 102, I was tempted to stop off to check out Mama’s Sauce, but I was just in the mind of wanting to get back. I felt like I had missed a big chunk of the day and I wanted to recoup it. When we got to the LCS it felt like there was a decent wait for the 50 to come. Eventually one showed up but we weren’t allowed on. A minute later another showed up and double parked next to it. The last person to get off was a drunk dude who stumbled around, walked into the bike rack of the bus parked near the curb, then tripped on the curb and took one right to the face. When he got up his face was bleeding and somehow hit arm was too. “Welcome to the real Florida,” I thought to myself.

WaffleHouseOn the way back to Downtown Disney we passed a Waffle House.

We then boarded the 50 back to DTD. Along the way we passed a place called Holy Land Experience. It seemed like Medieval Times, only for Jesus. I thought to myself, “Only in the south.” Eventually, we made it back to DTD where I took a bus to my hotel to drop off my hoodie before venturing back out to MGM. While on the bus I got a text from Mom asking when she thought I’d get to the park. I predicted 6:40pm. When I eventually got to MGM, it was 6:41pm.

Sci-FiSignShot this while walking around after getting off Star Tours.

The first thing I did was to meet up with everyone on “Sunset Blvd.” I briefly told them about my day before we split up. Kyra and Dad went on Tower and Rockin’ and Mom and I got food… well I got food and Mom watched me eat it. After I was finished eating, and Kyra and Dad were back, Kyra and I used our FastPass for Star Tours. The line was so short that we didn’t really need it and so once we were done, I rode it again. I then met back up with everyone and Kyra and I rode Tower. By the time we were done, it was time to get in line for Fantasmic.

This was one of the main goals for the day. It is one of the only Fireworks/end of the night shows that I actually enjoy watching. As usual it was really impressive. On the way out saw a woman wearing a Boba Fett dress and got to talking with her and her family about Star Wars for a bit. After that it was back to to hotel and straight to bed.

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Worth the wait…? – Day 5

Wednesday 8/13/14 – Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure

In a word, No. No it was not worth the wait. What, you ask… the Gringotts Bank roller coaster at the new Diagon Alley section of Universal Studios, but more on that later. To start I must warn that there will be spoilers in this post. So, if you do not want to know things about the ride or the new section of the park, Stop Reading Now.

NemoI drew this picture of Nemo while waiting for the Mears bus.

Kyra and I started our day by waiting for the mears bus. While outside our hotel I saw three easels with instructions on how to draw Nemo. Since we had nothing better to do and were just killing time, I decided to try it. After I was done and we were just standing around waiting, I noticed the guy in front of me had a cool backpack. I took a picture of the lable and when we got home I looked into the brand; they have some pretty cool stuff.

Eventually, the slightly late Mears bus arrived which was set to take us from our hotel to Universal Studios. We stopped at one other hotel and dropped people off at Sea World before finally arriving at Universal Studios at 9:30am. Upon making our way to the entrance to the park, I had to wait for Kyra to buy a second ticket in order to be sure she’d be let in. It’s a long story involving over-thinking things and buying tickets at AAA and wrong names on tickets and more crap than I care to get into all for what ended up being unnecessary.

London1Crappy overview of London.

So, becasue of all this, we didn’t get into the park until around 10am. I was already frustrated at the whole situation and we hadn’t even gotten on a ride yet. The first thing we did was to make a beeline for the new Diagon Alley section of Universal Studios.

London2Slightly less crappy overview of London with random people in the foreground.

After admiring and taking pictures of the outside, we stepped through the brick wall and into Diagon Alley. In hindsight, with a non angry mindset, I can say that I was blown away.

DiagonAlleyThe first thing you see when entering Diagon Alley. Go back and watch Sorcerer’s Stone, then look at this picture, your mind will be blown.

The detail of everything was out of control and, regardless of weather or not you know about or care about the books and movies, the architecture and world you step into alone is very impressive. But I didn’t care about any of that at the time, I wanted to get in line for the Gringotts Bank coaster. We went straight there and saw that already the line was out the door. We thought we saw a wait time that said 100 minutes.

DiagonAlley2More of Diagon Alley.

After a few minutes we noticed employees going up to various people in line and telling them somehting. We couldn’t hear what it was, but it didn’t seem good. I asked the woman in front of us if she knew what the deal was. Apparently the ride wasn’t even working yet and they weren’t sure how long it would be until it opened. Frustrated that I might spend my entire day waiting in line for one ride, I told Kyra, who is a huge Potter fan, to look around and that I’d text her if there were any updates or if the line began to move.

DragonBy the way, the dragon actually breaths fire!

We stood around for about 10 or 15 minutes until suddenly they began letting people in. Just before entering the building, I heard an employee say that the wait would be at least two-hundred and forty minutes! This made our original panic at the thought of a 100 minute wait seem laughable. I texted Kyra and she soon joined me in line. Shortly after though, I got the urge to pee. Seeing that I wasn’t going to hold it for 4 hours, I got out of line. At the entrance, I explained the situation to the employee. She said it was no problem and handed me a ticket to show I had a place holder so that when I came back, it wouldn’t look like I was cutting. This I thought, was a smart idea.

DiagonAlley3Took the pics of Diagon Alley while Kyra was holding our place in line.

After going to the bathroom, I decided to walk around for a bit to explore a little bit of the new section. What did they care how long I was out of line? After a couple minutes I made my way back to Kyra and the real waiting began. We went up and down endless switch backs. About an hour and a half in there was an announcement, the ride had broken down. Morale fell. A little while later it was operational again. More waiting. Another announcement. This time they predicted the ride might be down for a half an hour.

DiagonAlley4These pictures aren’t going to be in an order that co-insides with the story, but they will at least help to break it up.

Kyra left me to do more exploring while I sat and waited. By the time she got back there had been no progress. There was talk of an exit strategy. How long were we willing to wait? How much of our day were we willing to sacrifice? Though I didn’t want to waste my entire day in line for one attraction, I didn’t want to give up on all the time we invested. We agreed on 3pm, but I had it in my head that I was riding that ride. I then decided to tag out and told Kyra to text or call if the line started back up again. I got all the way to the front and was taking my re-entry ticket when I heard the announcement, “Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is once again operational.” In spite of this I continued walking around and exploring. There was no way she was going to make it to the front by the time I got back.

DiagonAlley5

I then explored Diagon Alley in more detail, going into the shops, taking pictures of the facades, and even taking a stroll down Knockturn Alley. It was nice to be in the sunlight, to be free to walk around, to feel like you were accomplishing something. By the time I got back, about 15 or 20 minutes later, Kyra had made it out of the switchbacks and into the straight bit that leads to the first open and themed section of the queue.

BankLobbyGringotts Bank lobby.

After being forced to step out to put bags and loose items in the free lockers provided, we got back in line and were finally able to appreciate some theming. Again we were over whelmed with the details but were torn between stopping to take pictures and running down the open section of queue. While I waited towards the end of the bank lobby, I looked down and notice $20 on the ground. I looked around and saw no one looking for money, then reached down and put it in my pocket.

BankLobby2Goblins hard at work.

I felt and still feel sort of bad about the whole thing. I could have done the right thing and handed it to an employee to put in lost and found, but how does one claim lost money? How do you prove it’s yours? “Did anyone turn in a $20 bill?” “Yes, could you describe the bill sir?” “Uuuhh…” “Do you know the serial number?” I dicided to just keep it. It was payment for all the waiting I was doing. I really shouldn’t have been surprised I found money, this was a bank after all.

DiagonAlley6

After the lobby, the queue moves into a long hall section. There are paintings of famous goblins and gold bars stacked behind bars. We heard from an employee that we were fairly close to the end of the line. All we had left was a pre-show, and elevator ride and then the last little section of waiting. He said we were about a half an hour away. This got us both very excited as half an hour seemed like no time compared to what we had gone through. Eventually we got to the room with the pre-show.

WandShopWand shop.

A goblin got out from behind his desk and began talking to us. I was very surprised by this becuase I thought, “Wow, they have a live actor here all day to do this pre-show!?” It wasn’t until one of the effects happened that I realized this wasn’t a live show, this was some sort of hologram projection like when Tupac performed at Coachella. I was blown away by how real it looked.

TalkingHeadsTalking heads in Knocturn Alley.

After this we moved on to the next room where we were loaded into an “elevator.” I say “elevator” because it was clearly just a staging area. The floor bounced up and down to make you think you were moving, but really you were just staying in the same place. The “elevator room” in the Haunted mansion is much more convincing.

NightBusThe Night Bus.

When the doors opened we exited to the basement level of the bank. It looked like a dungeon and this was where you got your 3D glasses. You then got in one of two lines that lead to a staircase the brought riders to a duel loading station. Soon we were at the top of the stairs and before you know it we were finally on the ride. As the ride pulled out of the station I yelled “Four. Hour. Wait. Wooo.”

NightBusInteriorThe interior of the Night Bus.

The ride basically takes you through the vault and cave section of Gringotts where you have run-ins with Voldemort, Bellatrix and Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The ride is a combination of a roller coaster and an immersive movie expirence. You move through actual environments but the rest is completed by the giant movie screens. The 3D is incredible and you’d swear that the actors were really there. Soon it was over and we exited the ride.

DiagonAlley7

After getting off, all I could do was think about the countless other things I could have done in four hours that would have been a better use of my time. The ride was good and unlike anything else I’d ever done, but definitely not worth the wait. (This however was apparently nothing compared to the supposed 7 hour wait times people dealt with when the ride first opened!) The thing that disappointed me was that I thought it was going to be this crazy fast roller coaster though Gringotts with barrel rolls and stuff. In reality, they probably could have used any sort of ride vehicle to give the same experience. I checked my phone and it was 2:29pm. I looked at the text I had sent Mom when we first got in line and the time stamp was 10:25am; we had in fact been in line for four hours.

—The Rest Of The Day

After being freed from the prison that was Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, we made our way out of Diagon Alley and over to Kings Cross Station to take the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmead. Your theme park ticket serves as your ticket to board the train. We got in the 45 minute line and after about 15 minutes of waiting, we got an announcement that we’d become so familiar with. In short, you guessed it, the ride had broken down. We waited through a few more of this same announcements before bailing. I was not going to spend my day waiting in line for unreliable rides. The Hogwarts Express breaking down was a blessing in disguise (though I didn’t know it at the time) as I had more to see at Universal Studios before heading over to Islands of Adventure and I figured it made more sense to finish one park before making our way over to the other.

OptimusPrimeOptimus Prime.

I angrily lead us towards the Transformers ride. I knew that this was basically the same ride as the Spider-Man ride they have at Islands, only with newer technology and Tranformers themed. However, though I don’t give to much of a shit about Transformers, this ride was relatively new to the park and 100% new to both Kyra and me, so I wanted to check it out. My thought was this, if the wait time is reasonable, like 15 minutes, I’ll do it. If it’s crazy long, I can skip it for now. I did want to do it just to say I did it and because it was new, but after that wait, I just needed to get a second ride under my belt.

We walked up to the line and saw that the wait time said 60 minutes. I was literally in the middle of saying “Fuck that,” when the following announcement was made: “If you want to turn your 60 minute wait into a 5 minute wait…” -I assumed they were going to tell us to by their device that allows you to skip the lines so I skeptically kept listening- “…why not try our single rider line?” I looked to Kyra and we were both on board. We got in the single rider line and as it turned out, the announcement was true! It probably took less than five minutes for us to get on the ride and on top of that, the attraction was incredible. This really turned my mood around and got me to think that if we ran into more luck like this, the day might be salvageable.

Next we made our way over to the nearby Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster. This is one of my favorites and again we decided to do the single rider line. The wait ended up only being about 15 minutes and Kyra and I still ended up on the same car. We weren’t next to each other, but she was sitting right behind me. This helped to solidify my new found good mood. We were able to ride two rides in the same amount of time it took us to wait in 8.3% of our total wait time for Gringotts!

After that we headed for the exit of Universal Studios. Along the way I checked out the single rider wait time for the Rip, Ride, Rock-It roller coaster. At 75 minutes I was like “Fuck that” and we made our way over to Islands of Adventure.

—Islands of Adventure

Now I was really getting excited because though I had been to Islands twice before, Kyra had never been. Though she was hungry, I wanted to check the wait time for the Hulk roller coaster. When we got to the entrance, I was shocked at what I saw: 15 minutes! Everyone else must have been in line for Gringotts. I asked Kyra if she could do one more ride and that after I promised we could get food. She agreed and we shortened our wait to about 10 minutes by once again doing single rider. As usual, the ride did not fail to entertain. It is just filled with nonstop action. You’re always either dropping, turning, or looping and the ride never gives you a chance to breath. It’s really intense but I love it every time.

JurassicParkWelcome to Executive Bathroom Island.”

After the Hulk, we went next door to Cafe 4. We got pizza and pasta at the Fantastic 4 themed restaurant before continuing our journey. The next stop on was Jurassic Park to ride the Jurassic Park River Adventure log (or in this case boat) flume ride. Yet again we did the single rider line, cutting our wait time from 40 minutes to about 10 or 15. I love this ride because you get to relax and enjoy a nice slow cruise, checking out some dinos along the way. Then, as is the case with rides like this, something goes wrong and you end up climbing a lift hill into the facility only to have to plummet 80 feet to the water below. It’s a pretty standard ride but I always enjoy doing it.

HogwartsJust Hogwarts… nothing you haven’t seen before… move along.

After that we made our way to Hogsmead. Upon entering that section of the park, Kyra, once again, lost her shit. She got super excited upon seeing Hogwarts and this in turn made me happy. However, I was dreading the wait time for the star attraction in this area, The Forbidden Journey. To my shock and amazement, the wait was only 30 minutes! This blew me away because when I came in 2010, the wait time was 2 maybe even 2 and a half hours. Now granted that section of the park was new at the time and granted four years have passed since then and now everyone is more interested in the Gringotts ride, but still, I was blown away. We hopped right in line and began our relatively short wait.

Initially, before knowing that the wait time was going to be so short, I was all set to tell Kyra, “Look, I’ve ridden this ride before, I don’t need to ride it again, I already did one big wait today. I want to get other rides in, but I don’t want to prohibit you from being able to ride it, so why don you go on if you want, and I’ll bang out a few other rides.” But, as it turned out this wasn’t the case. I’m actually glad I got to ride it again for two reasons. 1) because the last time I did the single rider line and missed most of the queue, which turned out to be interactive and entertaining. And 2) because it is one of the most unique and innovative rides I have ever been on and I was glad to get the opportunity to ride it again.

Once we finished the dizzying ride, we made our way over to the Dragon Challenge roller coaster. Formerly Dueling Dragons, the coaster remained the same but was merely enhanced with some Harry Potter theming objects in the queue. Upon entering the line we were once again greeted by a surprisingly short 15 minute wait! There was basically no line at all and it was actually closer to only five minutes. We chose the blue coaster to ride first and it was, as usual, a lot of fun. The one thing that disappointed me was that they were no longer making the coasters “duel.” They used to run the two trains at the same time in order for them to pass by one another in near misses. Now however, they no longer do that. This is/was lame to me because that was a big aspect of what made the ride entertianing. Nevertheless, it was still fun.

After riding blue, we headed over to the Three Broomsticks (restaurant)/Hogs Head (pub). Kyra had been craving a Butter Beer, and I wanted to try a Hogs Head brew; a red ale specially crafted for the park. We got a table and sat and drank our drinks. Kyra was underwhelmed by her Butter Beer, as I sort of expected she would be, I didn’t like it the first time I went to the Wizzarding World either. My real beer on the other hand was quite good.

DuelingDragonsDueling Dragons or Dragon Challenge.

After finishing our drinks I wanted to go on Dragon Challenge again in order to ride the Red coaster; which has a different layout from Blue. Kyra didn’t have an interest, so she waited and held my stuff and I got in line. Amazingly there was literally no wait! By the time I got to the front of the queue I walked right onto the ride.

After doing this we got on the Hogwarts Express and took it back to London/Diagon Alley. The ride was actually really cool. Rather than just sitting in a train, they make it an attraction. The windows are actually video screens that show you pulling away from Hogwarts and entering downtown London. The glass and doors project shadows of passengers walking by. Ron, Harry and Hermione even walk by and peek in, “Looks like a bunch of first years in there.” The cool thing was that when we left Hogsmead, there was still sunlight, but by the time we got to Kings Cross, it was dark out. This perfect timing made the ride feel more realistic; like we’d actually taken a long distance journey.

KingsCrossKings Cross station.

When we got off the ride, Kyra and I parted ways. We didn’t have much time left before the park closed but we had separate things we wanted to accomplish. Kyra wanted to take one more walk through Diagon Alley and I wanted to see if I could squeeze in a ride on the Rock-it roller coaster.

I walked over to the Rock-it and saw the wait time for single riders was still 60 minutes. I got in and hoped that, as had been the case with most of the posted wait times, it was shorter than it said. The only reason it was a factor was that we had a bus to catch and I didn’t want to miss it. I got in line and though it wasn’t fast, it wasn’t going to be 60 minutes either. It ended up being closer to thirty and though the ride wasn’t as enjoyable as I remember it being, mostly because I didn’t remember it being so rough, I was still glad I was able to ride it.

After getting off the ride, I met up with Kyra who was waiting near the ride’s exit and we headed to the bus. The day ended up being much better than I expected it to be from the way it started out. I was able to accomplish all but two of the things on my list. One was the Spider-Man ride, which I’ve ridden before and the other was the Classic Monster Cafe. But a) it was closed by the time we got around to it, and b) I wasn’t hungry by that time anyway. It was a long day and stressful at points, but it ended up well and by the time I got back to the hotel I was cooked. I even fell asleep on the bus that’s how burnt out I was. All in all a solid day.

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Animal Kingdom/Downtown Disney/Epcot – Day 4

Tuesday 8/12/14

Our fourth day began by meeting up with the rents at Animal Kingdom. The first thing we noticed upon our arrival was that the Tree of Life was closed. This meant that the 3D movie inside it, It’s Tough To Be A Bug, was closed too.

ZFGZero Fucks Given

We decided it would be best to get the star attraction, Expedition Everest out of the way. So, we did the usual split, me, Kyra and Dad went to the coaster and Mom went to Kilimanjaro Safari. Surprisingly, the wait time for Everest was only 30 minutes and again, it’s one of those lines you don’t mind waiting in because there is a lot to look at. In any case, we eventually got to the end, and after getting off the ride, simultaneously agreed to ride again, this time in the single rider line. This couldn’t have worked out better. From the entrance of the line, you can see the loading station. It probably only took us 10 minutes to get on the ride.

After that we made our way towards “Africa” to meet up with Mom. We stopped to look at some monkeys along the way, then, stopped again to watch a street show that was starting. Dad left to look in a gift shop and soon Kyra did too. However, shortly after she left, the dancer in the show began picking members from the crowd to join him, and one of the people he picked was me. Unlike most of the people who were against getting pulled up, I was all for it. I stayed for the rest of the show and once it was done, found the table Kyra and Dad were sitting at and joined the.

Shortly after, Mom was finally done with her ride and from there we all went to Countdown to Extinction. Countdown, or Dinosaur as it is now called after that smash hit film Disney made (he said speaking ironically), is a ride that takes you back in time to the minutes right before dinosaurs were wiped off the planet. Your mission is to drive this jeep/time machine through the prehistoric jungle in search of a dinosaur to take back to the present time. It’s a fun small thrill ride that even Mom can handle.

We then made our way towards the entrance and along the way everyone but me bought snacks. They sat on a bench to eat them while I went to the bathroom and when I got out, it was raining. I found them seeking shelter in a gift shop and once they were finished with their food, we made a plan. Kyra and Mom went off to the Magic Kingdom and Dad and I headed to Downtown Disney (after making a pit stop at his room to drop something off).

PeopleMoverPosterCrappy picture of the poster I bough for Mom.

I had three main goals while at downtown. 1) to buy mom an art piece that I’d seen a couple nights before, 2) to walk around during the day when it would be less crowded, I could see where I was going and thus be able to navigate my surroundings better, and 3) because I wanted to go all the way to the far end just to say I saw everything. The first thing we did was to go to the art store where I quickly made my purchase and had it shipped back to Mass.

Next, Dad and I went across the way to The Earl of Sandwich for lunch. Amazingly, the prices were super reasonable, no “Disney tax” inflation. I got a Hawaiian BBQ sandwich that was amazing. We then took the long walk down towards Disney Quest and La Nuba. As expected it was much less crowded and I was easily able to figure out where to go. Unfortunately, Downtown Disney is undergoing renovations in some areas, so we had to zig-zag our way around construction. Eventually we made it to the side I really remember for years gone by.

MickeyX-WingCrappy picture of one of the cool art pieces -Mickey as an X-Wing pilot- at the D-Street store.

We stopped into the D-Street store which was new to me and had some cool merch. Then, we made our way into the Pop Gallery. This was a blast from the past with a twist. I remembered the store very well, but, the last time I was there it was a music shop. They sold rare and expensive electric guitars. They even had one that originally belonged to Jimi Handrix. Now however, it’s an art gallery. The store sold various pop-art works such as paintings and sculptures and, to my pleasant surprise, not everything was Disney themed. In fact, very little of it was. There were some cool car sculptures, Star Wars paintings, and even wall-mounts of animals from Dr. Seuss books; it was really cool.

Next we checked out a few of the other restaurants and stores in the area (Splitsville and Bongos) -just walked through- before walking back to the end we started at. We then had to take any bus to any hotel (we took one to Pop Century) in order to grab a bus from there to one of the parks; in this case we wanted to go to Epcot. After doing all that and arriving at Epcot, the first thing we did was Captain EO as Dad had gotten screwed out of it the last time we were there. Next we crossed the way to Test Track, and then finally, we ended up at Soarin’.

This was the longest wait out of the three of them at 55 minutes. It felt like it took forever, but, as was the case with a some of the other rides (as we found out), this queue now had mini games to entertain you. These games were more all inclusive, making everyone in the line work together. The games were project on large screens on the wall and used motion sensor technology to control the action on the screen. It was pretty cool and fairly entertaining. Regardless, the line still felt pretty long, but, it was better than I remembered it being. After riding Soarin’ the park was closing up, so we walked to the busses where we parted ways.

Back at the hotel, Kyra and I went in “The Big Blue” -Finding Nemo themed- pool. After doing that for a bit, I got some food (including an Orange Blossom Pilsner which I’d wanted to try since I saw it in Florida in 2010), brought it back to the room, ate it, and went to bed.

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Epcot/Boardwalk/Magic Kingdom – Day 3

Monday 8/11/14

After eating breakfast and setting up our Mears transportation for Wednesday at the concierge, Kyra and I met up with Mom at Epcot. Dad was golfing with Michael so we decided to polish off the rest of the park. The first thing we did was to go to Captain EO. Though dated and super silly, the music is timeless and, to my surprise, Mom loved it. I then went in search of the EO t-shirt I’d seen but didn’t buy in 2010, only to find that this, the one souvenir I was planning on buying for myself, was no longer being sold.

Next Mom wanted to ride The Land but I was not into it, so Kyra and rode that while I walked through Innoventions. The side I chose was kind of boring and not very crowded at all. Again, for the most part people don’t want to educated on their vacation. I then walked over to Test Track and saw that the single rider line only had a 10-minute wait. I really wanted to go but I knew the second I got in line, they’d call. And, even if I did get to ride before they were done, Kyra would be pissed that I rode without her. So, I angrily waited for them to meet me outside Test Track before deciding our next move.

Not wanting to ditch Mom this early in the day, we went to the nearby Universe of Energy ride. This 37 minute attraction is a combination of slow moving ride though a land of dinosaurs, and movies starring Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ellen Degeneres talking about alternative sources of energy. (Bill Nye and Ellen were added in the 90s to modernize it but now that’s even out of date. It used to be slightly different but don’t ask me how, I was too young to remember). The ride is not very thrilling but still somewhat fun. It’s nice, now that I’m older, that I’am able to fully understand all of the concepts that are under discussion. Things like fossil fuels, global warming and alternative sources of energy. Additionally, It is a staple amongst our family as it is famous for my sister peeing on it in 1995.

By the time we got done with the ride it was raining out. Kyra and I attempted to wait in the now 30 minute single rider line for Test Track, but shortly after entering an announcement was made that, “due to inclement weather, testing is being postponed.” This really annoyed me because I could have ridden it earlier, but we moved on the World Showcase section of the park.

We started over at Canada, then made our way over to England before exiting the park for a side excursion to the Boardwalk. I like going to the Boardwalk anyway, but this time I had a plan to fulfill a lifelong Disney dream. At the Beach and Yacht Cub resort there is a water slide themed to look like a Pirate Ship’s broken mast. It goes over the Boardwalk and into the resort pool.

Upon arriving at the slide however, I found that it too was closed due to inclement weather. I walked over to the lifeguard and asked if he knew when it might be open. He told me to wait about ten minutes and sure enough, ten minutes later, the sign was down. I made my way up the spiral staircase to the top of the slide. On my way up I passed a troubling sign, “This slide is reserved for resort guest only.” If they were going to scan my Magic Band I was screwed. I got to the top and chit chatted with the female lifeguard for a bit. The water in the slide hadn’t been turned back on yet so I had more tense waiting to do. She looked at my wrist and said, “Oh, by the way, be sure to grab your pool wrist band after you go down the slide.”

Suddenly, the water came back on and shortly after that I was given the green light. I rode the slide… and it was good. Upon exiting the pool, the life guard asked if I was staying at the hotel. “No,” I said. “You can’t ride the slide,” he replied. I just smiled, “Too late,” and walked away.

Achieving this goal put me in a much better mood. After drying off and getting my shoes on, we continued our way around the Boardwalk, checking out some shops along the way. We then re-entered Epcot and breezed through the rest of the countries until we reached Mexico. Ever since the Disney trip I went on in High School with the chorus, I have wanted to eat there. We, Kyra and I, had made it our plan to do it this time.

DinnerInMexicoDinner in Mexico.

We entered the pavilion and asked for a seat. The man gave us a buzzer and told us it was a twenty minute wait and that the buzzer would only work inside the building. Seeing that there was no line for the boat ride, we got on. After only riding a short time, our buzzer went off. What was the deal with twenty minute waits being less than five!? We anxiously waited for the ride to end, then rushed back to the check-in counter to be seated.

CheesecakeCheesecake for dessert was my consolation prize since they didn’t have the Captain EO shirt.

Our meal was very enjoyable. It was nice to accomplish yet another goal of mine. After paying and exiting the pavilion, we parted ways. Kyra and Mom took more time to dig in to the World Showcase, and I was finally going to ride Test Track. I made my way to the front of the line and was told where to go. After getting there, I noticed that the girl who had been standing behind me in line (to whom I had been paging little attention) was told to wait for the same ride vehicle as me. When she came over she started talking to me about the ride and asking me questions. By her accent she was clearly British and by her looks she was fairly attractive. The only thing niggling me was not being able to tell how old she was.

When the ride was over, I said maybe on more thing and then just walked away, I didn’t even say goodbye. I didn’t, I guess want to seem annoying or like I was following her, but at the same time what harm would have come from saying goodbye. I never saw her the rest of the day : (. And so, I have this missed connection to pose to the internet: If you are that British girl who spoke to me in the single rider line for Test Track and are at least 18, go to the contact page and send me an e-mail.

After that foolishness, I made my way over to the England section of the World Showcase, maybe subconsciously thinking that she’d be homesick and our paths would cross again. Instead, I found to my surprise that I was in time for a small concert. This band called British Revolution was doing covers of all sorts of British rock bands from Queen, to The Beatles, to Cream, to The Who, to Black Sabbath. It was corny, but fun at the same time.

Once it was over, I met back up with Mom and Kyra. We went back to Test Track to try once again to ride it together, but, once again the clouds rolled in and the ride shut down. After that we contemplated riding Mission Space, but decided instead, since we had our bathing suits to go back to the Animal Kingdom Lodge to check out, not only the pool, but Mom and Dad’s hotel/hotel room.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge is a very impressive facility. Regardless of the fact that I’d seen pictures of it before, it is a hole other thing to see it in person. After being floored by the lobby, we went to the room which was just as good. I mean, the room was basically a room, but they had a balcony that overlook the animal park. You could see giraffe’s and impala and zebra’s right from their bed. It was really cool.

After that we made our way to the pool. Their pool was huge, and it even had a small water slide. Though probably meant for kids, Kyra and I went down the slide a least ten times. We all had a surprising amount of fun in the pool and even were briefly joined by a duck that landed in the water, swam around for a bit, then flew away. The more I thought about it though, it’s odd to me that stuff like that doesn’t happen in outdoor pools more often.

InTheMineIn the mine on the Seven Dwarves Mine Train coaster.

By the time we got back to the room, Dad was done golfing and after we changed, we got dinner at the hotel before heading to the Magic Kingdom. Once at the park, we rushed past the crowd that had formed for the impending parade in order to get in line for the Seven Dwarves Mine Train coaster. The wait time was 60 minutes, but it seemed to move right along and I was glad that this time we were all going to be able to ride it together. I was especially glad that Mom stuck to her guns and rode it.

SnowWhiteFireworksFireworks over Snow White’s cottage.

As the ride got to the end we got to experience a bit of Disney magic. The fireworks began to go off as we were riding the ride and in spite of not being right in front of the castle, we had a great view. When the ride was over, we were able to watch the fireworks from Fantasyland. Once they were mostly finished, me, Kyra and Dad went over to Space Mountain to get one last ride in before going our separate ways for the night.

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MGM Studios/Epcot/Downtown Disney – Day 2

Sunday 8/10/14

Kyra and I started our morning by meeting our Mom and Dad in line for Toy Story Midway Mania. The wait was 55 minutes but the ride is, in my opinion, one of the best family attractions at any of the Disney parks. It is super interactive and literally anyone can ride it. Just as was the case with Buzz Lightyear, I dominated with a score of ~88,000 points. After riding that, we made our way over to Tower of Terror. The wait was only 40 minutes or so, so me, my sister, and my Dad got in line. My Mom went off and did other stuff as this would get her sick, or rather, give her a headache for sure.

HollywoodTowerHotelThe Hollywood Tower Hotel aka Twilight Zone Tower of Terror as seen from the queue.

Tower of Terror is another one of my favorite attractions. Not only is the ride fun, but the theming is Disney at its best. Theming is one the things Disney is known for. The sign is weathered and at night you can see the words “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” appear glowing in front of the embossed Hollywood Tower Hotel. The queue leading up to the hotel plays eerie jazz-era music and there’s a thick mist on the grounds.

The deserted and cobwebbed lobby combined with the Rod Serling intro leading into the basement level of the hotel really helps to sell the whole atmosphere of the ride. You can go on drop rides anywhere, but I guarantee you none are as intricate as this. Rather than relying on our innate fear of heights, T of T really tries to impact guests on a psychological level. The ride as usual never fails to thrill and after it was over and we rejoined with Mom, we went across the way to Rockin’ Roller Coaster.

RocknRollerCoasterTheming outside the Rockn’ Roller Coaster ride building.

While we rode that, Mom rode another family favorite, The Great Movie Ride. Probably one of my favorite parts about Rockin’ is, again, the theming. Sure the launch makes your stomach drop and the loops are great, but the loading area is one of the best they have ever done. Set up on the night of an Aerosmith concert, guests are sent a “super-stretch” Cadillac limo. You board the limo in an LA parking garage then turn the corner into a deserted back alley before launching into the night.

I don’t know what it is, but something about emulating reality in a physical environment makes me really happy. Every time I go step into the LA alley and it’s “night time” and I see the first train launch, I’m a kid again. For that alone, the ride is worth it. After riding, we met up with Mom and decide to split up. Kyra and Mom go to the Back-Lot Tour, a ride I could care less about at this point, and Dad and I go on The Great Movie Ride.

Though the whole ride is fun, for a slow family ride, the part I was looking forward to the most was, ironically, the part that used to scare me as a child… Alien. Alien is undoubtedly in my top 50 favorite movies and before leaving for the trip I even had a craving to watch it that sadly went unfulfilled. What I love about this section of the ride is that you get put in the middle of one of the most tense parts of the movie, even if it is just briefly. My plan was to try and get a picture of the creature when it pops out from the ceiling, but I messed up my timing and didn’t get the shot. I could have tried again but the ride is kind of long and not really worth riding a second time just to try and accomplish this.

Starspeeder1000The Starspeeder 1000 inside the queue for Star Tours.

After getting off, Dad and I went to yet another favorite attraction of mine, Star Tours. Not only am I a Star Wars nerd, but the ride has been updated since last I was there and so I was excited to ride it. The queue was filled with even more nerdy details, like an arrivals and departures chart that displays in both the English alphabet as well as in galactic “basic”. The two other updates to the ride are that it is now in 3D, and travels to multiple destinations. This means that, in theory, every time you ride it, it could be different.

SingingInTheRainComparisonSingin In the Rain comparison.

As expected, the ride was good and after getting off we rejoined with Kyra and Mom. Next we made our way over to the Singin’ In the Rain umbrella. One of the small goals I had for this trip was to pose like Gene Kelly does in the movie. It was a dumb goal, but I was glad to accomplish it.

Sci-FiSnackBarSign for the “snack bar” at the rear of the drive-in.

After this we made our way over to the Sci-Fi Dine In Theatre. This is my favorite restaurant in any of the parks. I remember going to this one of the first times we went to Disney. The concept is a drive in theater with classic monster movies and old advertisements. I’m pretty sure we hadn’t eaten there since the only other time we’d eaten there, so it’d been a while. I had tried making a reservation using the Disney App but it didn’t let me.

So I walked up to the desk and asked if they had space for four and how long the wait would be. To my pleasant surprise they weren’t fully booked and, on top of that, the wait was only twenty minutes. The only down side was that instead of seating us in a “car” they were going to have to put us in a round table with an umbrella. Though not ideal, I was glad just to be able to eat there, and, as luck would have it, our wait was closer to five minutes than twenty. Also, when we were seated, they brought us to a car! I guess a group had just left.

Sci-FiDineInTheaterThe view from our car; kinda reminds me of Jack Rabbit Slims.

This worked out about as good if not better than I expected. The restaurant, though indoor is themed to look like it’s out doors at a drive in movie theatre. Again, I don’t know what it is about these false realities, but something about them makes me happy every time. We enjoyed the shows and the meal, and when the check came, Kyra and I paid the bill. We felt it was the least we could do seeing that our parents had paid for basically everything else.

—Hotel

After eating we promptly left MGM and took our parents back to check out our hotel. We showed them our room and took them on a tour of the grounds before making our way over to Epcot.

—EPCOT

SpaceshipEarthSpaceship Earth aka the Epcot ball, nothing you haven’t seen before.

The first thing we tried to do at the park was to see the movie Captain EO starring Michael Jackson. It had ran for a few years in the late 80s and early 90’s but was replaced with Honey I Shrunk the Audience shortly after Honey I Shrunk the Kids came out. However, after MJ’s death, they brought Captain EO back and out of the four of us, I was the only one to have seen it. Unfortunately we got to the park at around 7pm and that night it was closing at 9. Because of this, by the time we got to EO it was closed for the night.

WorldOfTomorrowI found this image on one of the walls while making my way into the park. I couldn’t believe I’d never seen it before, though I’m sure it’s been there since the park’s inception. It looks to me, like concept art for this Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.

Since there was nothing much else we could do, we did the go to attraction, Spaceship Earth. SE is the ride contained within Epcot’s iconic “golf ball” or geodesic sphere as it is technically called. Spaceship Earth, though not very thrilling, is a staple of any Disney trip, and, unlike most who can’t be bothered to learn a thing or two on their vacation, I actually enjoy the ride and learning about the evolution of communication. Because this was basically the only thing the four of us could do, and none of us were interested in seeing Illuminations, the fireworks show we’ve seen a million times, we left the park.

—Downtown Disney

The next stop on the list was Downtown Disney as Kyra and I wanted to show Mom and Dad the Marketplace Co-Op. However, after a quick tour, I only had one thing in mind, beer. Ever since my trip to Celebration V in 2010, my first time in the Orlando area when I was over 21, I wanted to go to the Raglan Road Pub. So, after getting the green light, I bolted to it.

KilkennyIrishAleLiquid diet.

Raglan Road is an Irish pub that has live entertainment, step dancing or music, every 10 to 15 minutes. I really was just looking for some time to myself with my thoughts and with a couple of Irish friends. The two in question were twins named Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale. I enjoyed them and the entertainment a lot. Eventually, a duo went up and performed some songs.

I asked the bartender if they took requests and he said they did, handing me a turned over coaster and a pen. I wrote my request, Drunken Lullabies, on it and brought it up to the stage with a couple bucks. Unfortunately that song was not part of their repertoire. They instead played a different Flogging Molly song for me, but, being that I only know the one, this was of no use.

Hashtag#hashtag

After finishing my second beer and snagging the coaster I’d written on, that they would have probably thrown away anyway, I rejoined my family before we each went back to our respective hotels for the night.

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20th Anniversary Disney Trip – Day 1

You may have noticed that I have not posted anything in a while. That is in part because I haven’t had much interesting happen, and in part due to the fact that I knew I would have the following posts coming up. So, for those of you who don’t know, this past Saturday (August 9th) my family and I left for Disney World. This trip was special because it was the 20th anniversary of the first time we went to Disney World as a family back in 1994!

Now to be honest, I was not 100% excited to go on this trip. Though it is/was something 20 years in the making, I was still not thrilled to go. I’ve been to Disney several times since ’94 and to me, it’s gotten a bit stale. When I go on vacation, I like going somewhere new, and even though there were some new or updated attractions, overall, things don’t change.

Additionally, I have been jaded by age. Things I never gave a second thought to when I was younger, I now see as corney. I think and worry about how much power each ride uses and how much AC the park wastes by keeping doors open. I get bothered by all the stupid dorky people that go there and can’t help but roll my eyes at.

And lastly, I was afraid that I would be stuck with my family the entire time and not have enough time to do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. However, in spite of all that, I couldn’t let literally years of thinking about and planning this trip ruin my vacation. So, here is how it went…

ArtOfAnimationSignThe sign guest’s first see upon arriving at the Art of Animation resort. The resort is split into four sections; Radiator Springs (Cars), The Little Mermaid (where Kyra and I stayed), Finding Nemo, and The Lion King.

We left Logan Airport at 6:05am. In the row behind us was a guy about my age I later found out was Johnny. While we were taxiing to the runway, he kept making stupid jokes to his sister. Stuff like, “I’m not gonna read 50 Shades of Gray, get it out of here.” They were stupid but funny and they kept the flight entertaining. Upon our arrival at MCO (at approximately 9:14am) I turned around and introduced myself and told him how much I appreciated his humor. It was a cool way to start the trip.

After taking the Magical Express bus to our respective hotels, Kyra and I stayed in The Art of Animation and our parents stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. After checking in, Kyra and I went to our room to find that there was only one bed. We called the front desk and in less than five minutes we were told a different room to go to; we didn’t even have to go back to the front desk. They sent the info to our “Magic Bands” (a bracelet with an RF-ID chip that serves as your room key and ticket to the parks) and by the time we got to our next room, our “keys” were programmed for that door. I was really impressed with how quickly and smoothly the issue was resolved. On top of that, our new room was on the other side of The Little Mermaid section, so now we had a view of the pool, rather than a view of the parking lot.

We finally got to our first park by 11:30-ish. Naturally, the first the first park we did was The Magic Kingdom. It is the quintessential symbol of Disney World and home to the new-ish Fantasyland expansion. Specifically, about a month or two ago the new Seven Dwarves Mine Train roller coaster finally opened, so it was not only new to us, but new to the park as well.

BalconyViewThe view from the balcony of our second room.

We tried to go right to the ride, but the attempt was futile. The 75-minute line overflowed out of the designated queue and back towards the carousel. Being that we were itching to get on a ride, we made our way over to Splash Mountian. This was going to be a big deal to ride because my Mom, who hates “thrill rides” was going to brave this one with us. The line was only 15 minutes shorter, but it was at least in the shade. Finally, after what seemed like endless bumps from the man behind us in line, we got on the ride. It was great as usual and really only gave my Mom a slight headache; could have been much worse. We (I) bought the on ride photo and we then made our way towards Liberty Square.

WheelWellHotelThis was at the back of the Radiator Spring/Cars section of the resort. I can only imagine they’re building Sally to put in place of where the box on the left is.

On the way, we ran into my Dad’s old friend Michael (which whom he had plans to golf later in the trip; additionally, we had plans to meet about him potentially hooking me up with a job, but more on that later) whom he used to work with at the Disney Store. Michael, who is now a big muck-a-muck at the parks, was there with his family (wife and two boys) as well and he and my Dad spoke for a while before they each went their respective way. The next thing we did was ride the classic attraction The Haunted Mansion. The wait was only 40 minutes and it went by pretty fast. However, when we got out, in typical Florida fashion, it was raining and lightinig. These cloud bursts never last too long, but they do make things uncomfortable. After dodging the worst of it in a nearby restaurant, we continued on to Tomorrowland.

FilmoreRadiator Springs is the section I would have preferred to stay in. Not only was it closer to the front of the resort, but the theming was way cooler.

There we configured our FastPass+ at the kiosk to include Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, and Space Mountain. We then slowly made our way over to Fantasyland because we had plenty of time to kill before our FastPass would be active. Eventually we got on the underwhelming ride and then made our way over to Gaston’s Tavern. There we got some snacks and drinks before going back to Tomorrowland. We were too early for our Buzz Lightyear FastPass, so we rode a family favorite, The People Mover. This was fun and relaxing as always and by the time it was done, we were able to get on Buzz Lightyear.

Sarge

I scored the highest with something like 400,000 points. The rest didn’t come close but regardless, it was a lot of fun. After that we were all pretty tired, as we’d been up since 2:30am, so we decided to leave the park. I made the mistake of saying we should try and find our brick (our family has one of the hexagonal bricks with our names on it on the path that leads to the entrance of the park) before leaving. We searched for a long time, but, not knowing the number on it, didn’t have a great idea as to where it was. After a few minutes, Kyra and I got bored and went back to out room.

LionKingSectionThe Lion King section of the resort.

After getting back, taking a dip in the pool (just me), grabbing some food, and walking around the hotel (just me), we made our way out to Downtown Disney. There we found the Marketplace Co-Op, a store I had heard about just before we left for the trip. The Marketplace is home to some exclusive merchandise that is potentially only there for a limited time. I had had in mind to buy three plates for Kyra’s apartment that I thought were really cool, so, upon finding them all almost right away, that’s what I did. I got the items shipped back to the hotel and then we moved on to the next store.

BeautyAndTheBeastPlatesThe three plates in question. Photos borrowed from the Marketplace Co-Op website.

Somehow somewhere along the lines we got into an inevitable fight about how we both envisioned the trip going; both visions drastically different from the other. This lead to tension, and after making a quick, angry jaunt through the Lego Store, I stormed off and got on a bus back to the hotel. Kyra and I reconvened over the phone, and, after getting a late dinner at the hotel, I went by myself back to the Magic Kingdom. Being that it was Saturday, they were having “Extra Magic Hours” meaning that for guests staying on Disney property, the park was open until 2am!

HipsterMickey“Hipster Mickey” art piece for sale at the Marketplace Co-Op.

Upon arriving at the park I bolted to the Seven Dwarves Mine Train ride. The wait was still 60 minutes, but, it was now dark and much cooler out. Before entering the ride, the Cast Member asked me what hotel I was staying at. This was to ensure I was staying on the property. I then began the wait. Eventually, at the main part of the queue, there were some mini-games. The first was a gem matching game that was much more fun than it should have been.

MineTrainTurnSeven Dwarves Mine Train roller coaster testing with no passengers.

All you had to do was fill a wooden crate with three empty slots with the matching gem color and shape with the gems floating by. It was a touch screen game and as the gems floated by, you dragged to appropriate one to it’s place. Once the crate was full, it lit up and made a noise. That was it, but it was a lot of fun for some reason. Plus it made you forget you were in line, so by the time you looked up, the line had moved substantially.

The next involved seven barrells filled with gems that were real, not touch screen. You had to spin the barrells and if you spun them fast enough, one of the seven dwarves images would be projeted on the ceiling. If you got them all spinning -a woman in line told me- an images of Snow White would appear dancing the center. Sure enough we got them all the spin and she appeared. The ride ended up being pretty short, but it was cute little coaster with a lot of fun theming.

WaterGoofeyWhile making my way out of the park, a Cast Member was using a brush and water to “paint” character faces on Main Street USA.

I finished with the ride at 12:43 so I decided to check out the line at Space Mountain. Upon my arrival it said 20 minutes, but surprisingly, the queue was out the building. It moved fast though, and I soon found out that the hold up was due to the Cast Members scanning room keys and “magic bands” to make sure you were in fact staying on the property.

Once this was done, the line moved pretty fast. This too was now equipped with mini-games. I got to play them a little and they were pretty fun too. When I got closer to the loading platform, a group of people behind me started a slow clap that seemed to envelop everyone. It really helped boost the energy of everyone in line. It’s stuff like that which only happens when you’re at a park late at night because that’s when all the die hards are there. The highlight however was finally getting on the ride. I always forget how much fun that coaster is. It’s not fast and it’s not long, but being in the dark with all the sharp twists, turns and drops, it still provides a thrill. It was a great way to cap off a long and sometimes frustrating day.

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When I grow up…

This is who I want to be when I grow up.

Not only is this dude super cool and stylish -without looking like he’s trying to look young and hip- he also is his own boss and does his own thing.

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