It’s a World of Laughter…

14 06 2010

We’re ba-a-a-ck!  From Disney World.  And was it the happiest place on earth?  Well, I don’t know about that.  But I’m pretty sure it was in the top ten for

  • Hottest Place on Earth and
  • Crowded-est Place on Earth.

And to think it’s only early June.

While there I was reminded of a computer game, a book, and a movie.

COMPUTER GAME : SNOOD

This fairly primitive shooting game has a gun at the bottom center of the screen.  You’re trying to shoot little creatures before they hit the bottom of the screen.  After every I-don’t-know-how-many shots the remaining creatures drop down one level.  It’s all about getting the angle right so you can knock out large blocks with a single shot.  As I watched my kids play pool one evening, they lined up their shots and staked out various angles.  I thought, “It’s just like a game of Snood.”

BOOK : 1984

In the classic George Orwell novel, an ever-present telescreen rolls out endless drivel touting the party line.  Our suite had two bedrooms and a common sitting area, and each space had a large television.  You could even watch a television from the bathtub.  And while they carried an assortment of stations, overwhelmingly we kept running into the five or so channels that droned on endlessly about Disney–resorts, theme parks, vacation plans, cruises, sports, special tours, restaurants.  And if you didn’t speak English, you could find the same channels in Spanish.  Unlike 1984, these televisions only went one way.  They weren’t monitoring our thoughts as we sat there glued to the screens…or were they?

MOVIE : THE TRUMAN SHOW

This Jim Carey movie is about a man who thinks he’s living an ordinary existence until he accidentally discovers that his whole life is a reality show in which he is the star.  Disney feels a little like that.

They don’t have employees; they have cast members.  Some cast members change sheets on the bed in air-conditioned resorts (not hotels), while others flip burgers or dole out ice cream.  Still others don furry Chip’n Dale costumes and parade about in 95 degree heat.  (Which would you rather be?)

The bus drivers are also cast members.  One told us if he tries to turn down the volume on the endless cycle of Disney tunes that he listens to all day, and an “inspector” happens to be riding the bus, he gets “written up.”

And it’s not just a coincidence that you never see a cast member in a Tomorrowland costume walking through the Frontierland part of the Magic Kingdom.  In fact, you never see any of these people walking anywhere around the park.  They magically appear at their assigned destinations, thanks to an extensive underground tunnel system.

So Disney made everything just about perfect, except for two gigantic chinks in the armor:

Our last night there we stayed in the Hollywood park until around 11:00.  At which point we caught the bus to head back to our hotel resort.  And then landed smack dab in the middle of a gigantic traffic jam.  It took 30 minutes just to get out of the parking lot.  They were re-paving the road.  Why they couldn’t wait until midnight after the parks closed was beyond me.

And they tout their airline check-in service where by you can get your boarding pass when you check out of the hotel.  We waited over an hour and there were people who were there even longer than us.  If an airline ran in such a shoddy fashion they’d be out of business in no time.   Next time we would just check in at the airport.

Other than that, it was paradise!





I’m All (Mouse) Ears

10 05 2010

When Congress implemented the first US tax code in 1861 (to pay for the Civil War), it was pretty straightforward.

That was 149 years ago, and since then it’s gotten more complicated every year.  Recently, the complexity has gotten out of control.

The same might be said about a trip to Disney World.

I first visited thirteen years ago.  We blindly picked a hotel, booked some flights, packed our bags, and had a great time.  Our biggest concern was whether our kids would be tall enough for the rides.

My husband decided that it was time to do it again.  It feels like bookends to a major stage of parenting.  First when the youngest child started kindergarten.  And again when the oldest graduates from college.

This time, planning a Disney vacation feels a lot like planning a wedding.

I think it has a lot to do with the Internet.  Can you say information overload?

First you pick your dates.  I know you have constraints in your own life, like weddings, births, and graduations, but they really should take a back seat to other considerations, like climate trends, historical crowd levels, and special events in the park.  (Our visit will overlap with Gay Days.  Should be interesting.)

Now, will you stay in the park or off site?  Consider costs and the availability of a car.

To pick a hotel—I mean, resort—from the 32 in the park you must consider location, theme, pool quality, bus service, and size.

And, of course, cost.  There are three price categories.  Value (expensive), Moderate (uber-expensive) and Deluxe (get-out-your-will-cause-you’re-gonna-have-to-make-some-revisions-to-your-estate-planning).

And don’t just settle for any old room.  Some are a 20 minute hike from the lobby.  Where do you want to be in proximity to the pool?  Try to get a room close to the first bus stop, so the vehicle won’t be full by the time you get on.

If you request adjoining rooms, include a sob story about how important it is that you be close to Aunt Mabel as she’s prone to wandering.  That will increase your chances that they’ll abide by your request.

There are four big parks to visit: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood, and Animal Kingdom, as well as two water parks, Downtown Disney, and several smaller attractions.  Historically, on certain days of the week, some locations tend to be busier than others.  Schedule your visits accordingly.

Also note: every day Disney opens one park early and closes another one late.  You may want to visit those parks to take advantage of those extra hours.  Then again, you may want to AVOID those parks because they tend to be extra, EXTRA crowded.  But everybody else might be thinking the same thing so you should, in fact, go to those parks.  Strategy, people!

You can get tickets that allow you to park hop.  Ones that provide admission to the water parks.  Ones that don’t expire.  Of course, they cost more.

Once in the park, you can get fast passes that permit you to get directly on the ride at a certain time, avoiding the lines.  (So you go once— and wait in a line?— to sign up and a second time to actually ride?  Nice.  Remember, comfortable shoes are a MUST!)  There are rules.  Familiarize yourself with them before you go.

There are multiple meal deals.  But regardless of what you pick, get reservations before you go.  What do you mean you don’t know where you’re going to want to eat?  Do some research!

If you have little ones, character breakfasts, where costumed Disney characters wander among the tables, are a must.  And if your little one might be terrified of the creatures, you’ll need to get her involved in some sort of desensitization program to acclimate her before you head south.  Otherwise, it will RUIN your trip.

What about eating in the rooms?  You can

  1. buy at the overpriced stores in the park,
  2. take a taxi to a real grocery store,
  3. mail yourself some supplies before you leave, or
  4. order from one of two private food delivery services available.

Details of all the options are available online.

Do want to buy a mug for $13 which can then be refilled at your resort indefinitely for free?  Scope it out.

What will you do on the day you arrive and the day you leave?  What if the rain starts when your plane touches down and the first sun you see is when your plane taxis to the runway to depart?

Where do you want to be to view the parade or fireworks?  Or do you want to be hitting the rides then as the park will be relatively deserted?

There’s a forum that debates which Disney character is doing wake up calls on which days, something which is apparently a delight for youngsters (except for the ones whom it scares half to death.)

If interested, you can view pictures of the entrances to and the seating on all the rides.

You can see floor plans of various rooms.

Alright, times a’wastin’!  Hit those websites!

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Before you visit these web forums, it is critical that you familiarize yourself with abbreviations for hotels, parks, attractions, discounts, etc. Otherwise you’ll be at a loss when you read something like:

We stayed at BCV and PORS in FEB and visited both CS and POFQ.

Try out AK EMH and then hop over to the DHS and catch the second showing of F.





Size Matters

21 04 2010

I’m probably the only mom in my neighborhood  who didn’t own a minivan.  Three reasons:

  1. Mainly, I had no interest in driving anything that large.  I loved my Prism. I’m a small person and I feel comfortable in a small car.
  2. I was happy enough to ferry my progeny around, and maybe one or two other little darlings, but I didn’t want to become head chauffeur for the whole neighborhood.
  3. I never thought of myself as a van-driving soccer-mom, and if you don’t want the role, don’t act the part.

So having (finally) gotten the offspring in college, hubby and I just enjoyed our first travel adventure sans kids.  Upon arrival at our destination, we got off the plane, headed to the car rental counter, and learned that the only vehicle available to us was a brand new (eight miles on the odometer) Toyota Sienna.

It is a major minivan.

We nicknamed it The Beast.  Huge.  I told my husband if he woke up in the morning and couldn’t find me, check the minivan.  I would be sleeping there to escape his snoring.  The dashboard screen that showed what was behind you when you put the car in reverse blew me away.

I am so glad I held my “no minivan” ground all those years.





Leaving On a Jet Plane

19 04 2010

I always said that when the last kid left for college, I’d accompany my husband on business trips.  Since last fall there have been two or three such opportunities.  But there always seemed to be a problem with his schedule–or my schedule–or the destination wasn’t so hot.

My reasons for nor accompanying him were starting to sound like excuses.

Enough with the foot-dragging!  By the time anyone reads this I will have joined him for a delightful long weekend on the coast.  So what if there’s nothing but rain in the forecast?

As part of this newly acquired live-and-let-live attitude I’m not taking any checked luggage.  (Also because I’m a cheap skate.)  The carry-on luggage I have is pretty small, but I’m determined to survive four days living out of it.

I’m harkening back to my Girl Scout days.

One pair of pants—maybe two.  (Already I’m slipping.)  One jacket/sweater.  Two pairs of shoes: sneakers and sandals.  We’re going to admit from the get go that we won’t go anywhere fancy.  (Usually we drag along the nice clothes/shoes and never wear them.)  Minimal toiletries.

And I think the hardest thing will be to go without a hair dryer.  Me with drip-dried hair is not a pretty sight.  But hotels always have hair dryers, right?

Wish me luck.





See the USA In Your Chevrolet (Please)

10 03 2010

My graduating-this-May college senior is all excited about a cross-country trip he’s taking, which is departing two days after his graduation.  Always the worrier, I was somewhat concerned, but that boy is well-versed in the art of easing my fears.

The three guys going on the trip are buddies from high school.  After spending four years in very different parts of the country (East Coast: William and Mary, West Coast: USC, Midwest: Notre Dame) it’ll be a good chance for them to reconnect.  At least in high school, they were all decent kids.  (Then again, what does a mother know?)

With three of them, they’ll be able to really share the driving duties.  (The purpose of the trip is for Mr. USC to get his car from Virginia to Los Angeles.  Once there, the other two will fly back to the DC area.)

It’ll be a chance to do a bit of sight-seeing.  The pace is somewhat frenetic, as they’ll be combining a northern route (the Badlands of South Dakota) and southern route (Arizona and Colorado.) But they’ll at least be able to wave at some hot spots as they drive by.

It turns out the guy spearheading the adventure is a bit OCD about trip planning.  I’ve seen the schedule and he breaks each day down into three time segments: morning, midday and afternoon.  He specifies all sight-seeing stops, travel routes, and sleeping arrangements.  In most cases, he’s mapped out friends and relatives to stay with.  To estimate gas expenditures, he didn’t do a simple distance * gas mileage * current average cost of gasoline calculation.  He looked at predicted cost of gas in May in the areas they will be driving through. (While I appreciate the seriousness with which he is approaching the planning, I’m a bit worried he may go off the deep end if they take a wrong turn and fall behind on the schedule by a few hours.)

All things considered, I was actually getting excited about the trip.

But then my son told me what kind of car they’ll be driving.  A Toyota Prius.  Stuck accelerators.  Non-functioning brakes.  Now I’m worrying again.





Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jacks

5 03 2010

I couldn’t set my watch by it, but I could pretty much set my calendar by it.

Every year when March rolls around my husband starts talking about making a pilgrimage to Florida to watch spring training.

Personally, I can’t see why a person would go through all the hassle, inconvenience, stress, and annoyance, to say nothing of the expense, to make the arrangements, go through the airport boarding procedure, survive the flight, get the rental car, stay in the hotel just to see a baseball game that makes no difference played by guys who are totally out of shape from an off-season that was way too much fun.

Especially when one could wait another month or two and, by merely hopping on the subway, see a game that counts for something played by guys who are in, well, slightly better shape.

I think it’s a divide we’ll never cross.  Not so much a male vs. female, Venus vs. Mars thing.  More a true baseball aficionado vs. just along for the ride thing.  I guess I’m really just a fair weather fan.

I actually think there may be DNA involved.  That scientists may one day discover the part of the human genome that will henceforth be called the “baseball gene.”  My husband has it, at least one of my sons has it, but I don’t.

The first time the difference was apparent was when we were watching a game that was, you know, tied in the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs.  And hubby says to me that every ball player on the bench was wishing more than anything else that it was his turn at bat so he could hit one out of the ballpark and win the game.

In that situation, I can think of a few things I’d rather be doing .  Like

  • Having dinner at the Inn at Little Washington (a super classy restaurant.)
  • Exploring the Great Wall of China.
  • Watching one of my sons receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

I would even include the following on my list of places I’d prefer to be:

  • Eating a pizza with anchovies.
  • Sweating out an IRS tax audit.
  • Undergoing a colonoscopy.

Anyway, don’t expect to see me in Florida this year.





Taking a Chance on Me

15 02 2010

In honor of Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month in March, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation is sponsoring a Ready Set Shine campaign, encouraging everyone to venture outside our comfort zones.  For some people that might just mean venturing out of the house.  For some, it may mean fulfilling a lifelong desire such as sky diving.

It’s got me thinking about times in my life when I took on challenges that made me nervous….

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My husband has always wanted to take the family on a European tour.  He wanted to share London and Paris with the boys, and he himself had never seen Italy.  Timing was tricky; the boys needed to be old enough to appreciate the sights but not so old that their summers had become scheduling nightmares with their own stuff.

My multiple sclerosis diagnosis brought its own complications, as we worried we might be facing a countdown to immobility.

We took the plunge and booked the trip, most of which was part of a tour.  We scheduled extra time at the beginning in Rome and at the end in London when we were on our own.  I’m generally nervous about slowing my family down when the MS fatigue sets in.  Having to ask for a 15 minute breather or encouraging them to proceed while I sit something out is bad enough.  But to be on a tour group seemed even more challenging.

We went and I survived.  In some ways it was worse than I imagined.  I didn’t sleep terribly well at night due to the unfamiliar beds, unusual sounds and strange surroundings.  And the heat in Italy was worse than I anticipated, which contributes to my lethargy.

But the truth of the matter is, when I think about that trip, the first thing I remember is not how exhausted I was.  Rather I recall the marvelous adventure we had and the wonderful sights we saw together.

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Then there was the time I decided to volunteer on a Habitat for Humanity build site.  I didn’t know any fellow builders, and I’d never done any construction work.  But I was curious about home building so showed up for the adventure.  The “regulars” were eager to get me involved so set me to work.

Before lunch I had ruined a perfectly good, very long piece of wood by cutting it too short.  Before the day was over it was clear that I could hammer in one nail to every four or five the girl next to me was doing.  And the next day when my body ached so badly I could barely get out of bed.

In the end, I didn’t go back.  I decided I could learn about home construction in other ways.  But I did sign up for exercise class to whip this old body into slightly better shape.

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The MSF is probably right.  Now would be a good time to stretch myself in some new way….Hmm….