Day 5 – Animal Kingdom

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Pop Tart Breakfast Sandwich

Following our day off, our next stop was Animal Kingdom.  Before leaving for the park, I finally got to try something that I’d heard about.  We were staying at Pop Century, as we always do, and there was a new addition to the menu… The Pop Tart Breakfast Sandwich.  This item had apparently been available in the past when people requested it, but never on their published menu.  But that had changed.  What more could one ask for in a breakfast?  Eggs, bacon and cheese sandwiched between two strawberry Pop Tarts.  While I wouldn’t eat this daily, it did make for a fun experience.  Plus, it gives me a great story to tell people.

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Day 4 – A “Day Off” at Disney Springs

One thing we do on every visit to Disney World is to schedule an “off day” mid-visit.  This allows us to rest up a bit and just relax since the other days are what you could call loaded.  We typically leave the hotel around 8AM and often return around/after midnight.  So we need a little downtime to recharge and get ready for the second half.

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Day 3 – Epcot

Epcot was the next stop on our trip.  This was a break from our usual pattern as we typically would visit Epcot on our first day.  It was also a chance for us to continue with the new adventures.  Earlier this year, the Norway pavillion’s Maelstrom ride was re-purposed into a Frozen ride.  Knowing that this was one of the busiest rides in all four parks, we opted to make a bee-line directly to the ride on our arrival first thing in the morning.  Despite the fact that we arrived very shortly after the park opened, we arrived to find the line snaking all the way around the little courtyard.  In all, we ended up waiting in line for over an hour for this ride, but it was well worth it.  You get to immerse yourself in the world of Arendelle, with all of the characters from the movie.

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After the ride, I was able to try something I’d wanted to try for some time, but had never taken the time – School Bread.  The Kringla Bakerei at the Norway pavilion sells these delicious, coconutty and custardy items.  I’ll talk more about them some other time when I focus on the food at Disney World.

We always enjoy walking around the World Showcase.  Visiting the 11 pavilions.  It’s the day we walk the most, by far.  I could stroll through the park all day long.  In the span of a few hours, you get to visit Mexico, England, Norway, Japan, China, France, Italy and more.

Apart from the World Showcase, we had a chance to do a character encounter with Baymax from Big Hero 6.  He winked at Isabelle.   Our night ended with supper at the Japan pavilion, eating at Teppan Edo.  Since it’s a hibachi restaurant with tableside grills, we were seated with some other people, including a non-verbal Down Syndrome child at the opposite side of the grill.  He loved shrimp. And I mean LOVED shrimp.  It was adorably cute.

Once the meal was over, we strolled through the pavilions yet again as they have a whole other feel to them in the evening.  We found a nice spot around the World Showcase Lagoon from which to watch the Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.  This is one of the best fireworks displays in Disney World, and definitely a must-do for anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity.

And thus ended our third day.

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Day 2 – Happy Birthday, Chris!

Day 2 of our 2016 Disney adventure was a special day for me.  It was my birthday!  There is no better way to spend your 38th birthday than being at Disney World.  This is now the 3rd birthday I’ve celebrated at Disney, and they each get better and better.  We even have my 40th planned to be visiting Disney yet again.  (I’m still working on getting my birthday twin, James Corden, to join us.  We were both born August 22, 1978.)

As it was my birthday, the choice of activities was left to me.  Naturally, we visited my favourite park – Hollywood Studios.  It was a day full of Star Wars, Tower of Terror and food.  Our absolute favourite ride is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – a thrilling drop elevator ride.  We definitely took a few rides through the tower on this day.  But the biggest part of the day was around Star Wars.  Over the past few years, since Disney acquired Star Wars from Lucasfilm, the presence in the parks has increased.  They are currently building a new Star Wars-themed part of Hollywood Studios.  On this visit though, we were able to meet a couple of characters – Chewbacca and Kylo Ren.  We rode Star Tours a few times and got to see some Storm Troopers marching through the park.

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On the food side of things, lunch consisted of popcorn and a red-velvet cupcake from Starring Roles Café.  We didn’t want anything too heavy for lunch as we were heading to one of our favourite restaurants for supper – the 50’s Prime Time Café.  For those who’ve never been, the concept is that everyone in the restaurant are cousins, and you’re eating in your grandma’s family home.  Mom’s in the kitchen making supper and Grandma’s making dessert.  Our waiter, Cousin Carmelo, even gave me a birthday card!  We are always left with an overfilled belly and huge smile on our faces when we leave here.  Here’s my tip – try the PB & J milkshake.

One of the absolute highlights for me was the new Star Wars Spectacular – an all new firework and laser-projection show at the end of the night.  The show is broadcast onto the front of the Chinese Theatre in the centre of the park using lasers and digital projectors.  The images were spectacular, the lasers and fireworks stunning…it was one of the best Disney fireworks shows that I’ve had the pleasure of viewing to date.

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The Memory of Smells

I like to think that everything in the universe is imbued with some form of consciousness.  Whether a living creature, a plant, an inanimate object, or even smells.  Smells are a marvelous thing.  They are the equivalent to a time machine.  They link us to specific places, specific times.  All it takes is a small whiff of that particular aroma to propel you back to that memory.

I find that the aromas that trigger me the most commonly are the ones related to Disney World. (Surprise, I know!)  Working in the downtown core, I often will find myself transported back to that magical land simply because of a passing bus.  Suddenly, I find myself standing outside of Pop Century, just waiting to get on the next shuttle to one of the parks.

Disney's Magical Express bus outside of Pop Century
Disney’s Magical Express bus outside of Pop Century

It does not work on command though.  No matter how intently I go somewhere trying to trigger these memories, it won’t happen.  This is why I think smells have some consciousness to them.  I seem to find myself getting transported at those moments when I need a little escape.  It’s like the universe is trying to say “Hey, you’re seeming to be a little stressed, overwhelmed.  How about I help you take a moment of happiness and bliss.”

Thank you universe.  You take care of me so incredibly well.

So, happy reader, what is your Delorean?

via Daily Prompt: Aromatic

Disconnected

In my previous life, I was well-connected.  From morning til night, I found myself in front of a computer for nearly every instant that I was not working or sleeping.  Actually, even sleep did not always dissuade me as I’d often pull my laptop next to my bed in case someone would message me in the middle of the night.  (I did have friends in Australia, Europe and on the West coast after all!)  I would get up in the morning and the first thing I did was sign in.  I would get home from work – sign in.  I had even set up my apartment so that while seated at my computer, I could watch TV.  My life consisted of being online. I had become an extension of the internet.

It was during these years (the majority of my 20’s really) that I “disconnected” from the real world and connected electronically.  All of my friends were chat buddies.  I would spend countless hours in chat rooms, or just messaging my friends.  I’d communally watch TV with people, chatting about the show during commercials.  (How many “OMG can you believe that?!” conversations about Lost did we have Nat?)

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LOCKE: Why don’t you want to go down there, Jack?

I’ve found myself, over the past couple of years, going in the opposite direction.  By becoming more “disconnected” from the online world, I am becoming more connected in the real world.  I still have my online presence, but it is severely limited.  Even my net-surfing is almost nonexistent.  There are 5-6 sites that I check once per day for various reasons (Facebook, email, local newspaper, wrestling news, t-shirts).  I’ve realized on a few instances that I hadn’t even been in to check my email in over 24 hours, which would have been unheard of a few years ago.  As another example, I started writing this post 2 days ago during my lunch hour at the office.  I just needed to sign it from home, reread and add a couple of pictures.  I didn’t touch the computer last night and had to force myself to finish this post tonight.

I’m wondering if this is something that is occurring due to my own life journey, or if it’s something we’re seeing more with my generation?  For those of you in your mid/late 30’s, do you see yourself having a smaller online presence?  Maybe it’s part of the fact that we’re growing up.  We’re in the age of having children, families, real world priorities.  Even in a world with constant contact via smart phones, I’m finding myself online less and less.  I’m even too cheap to pay for a data plan, so only use WIFI on my phone.  I just don’t see the necessity or value of having an internet connection at all times.

On our previous trips to Disney World, the one thing that my darling wife and I have loved nearly more than anything else was our disconnected rule.  From the time we arrived at the resort until we were on route back home, we did not go online (in actuality, we would turn off our cell phones all but for 5-10 minutes a day in case there were any urgent messages from family, which there never were).  We did not watch the news (or TV really, apart from Disney programming).  We did not look at newspapers.  We would completely disconnect from the rest of the world and live in the present moment – enjoying the magic and splendor that is Disney World.Cinderella's Castle - Magic Kingdom

On our last visit this past summer, things changed.  Disney has now moved to an online-driven account to book your reservations for restaurants and Fast Pass bookings for rides.  Their app would provide real-time wait times for the various attractions around the parks.  WIFI is available in all resort hotels and in the four Disney parks.  We caved.  We both brought our phones with us the entire time we were there.  While we did agree that we would not really “go online” other than the My Disney Experience app, both of us did.  While the trip was still amazingly fun, I did have a sense of sadness over the fact that we weren’t able to fully disconnect the way we usually do.

Next week, I’ll be heading to a silent retreat for most of the week.  No computers, no cell phones, no radios, no iPods, no books.  I am very much looking forward for this chance to disconnect once more.  Disconnect from the world in order to connect with myself; in order to connect with the universe.  I can’t wait for the experience. While some people are uncomfortable with this type of activity, I’m very much okay with it.  I like the introspection.  As a call-back to the quote above, this Jack isn’t afraid to go down there.

So what do you think, dear readers?  Do you think you could do it?  Could you cut off any and all communication and connection for a few days and just be with yourself?

Disney World – August 2016

It’s been well over two months since I’ve had my trip to Disney World.  Two months, and I’ve not yet written a word about the trip.  Since I’m sitting at work with all of our systems down (over two hours now!), I thought I’d take some time to write a bit.  I didn’t know what to write about, so I thought Disney would be a good way to start.

It had been 4 years since Isabelle and I had been to Disney World.  While we did make a visit to Disneyland in California a couple of years ago, the magic is definitely not the same; to the point where we debated taking a trip to Disney World as a palate cleanser.  But it did not come to pass.

We’ve been wanting to return to our happy place for a while, but with the low Canadian dollar, combined with our doing the “responsible, grown-up thing” of replacing the windows in our house made for a tighter budget over the past few years.  (That’s something that you don’t really notice when you’re buying a house – how many windows.  We remember thinking “wow, look at all the natural light that comes in” but not “wow, look at how many windows we’ll need to replace some day!”)  This October marked our 5th wedding anniversary.  We had agreed that we’d do something special for our fifth.  The discussion didn’t last long – Disney World it was!

As my wife is a teacher, we have limited windows of time in which we can travel.  March Break and Christmas are uber-expensive to travel to Disney World.  The other option is during summer vacations.  This is our usual travel time.  The end of the summer sees a lull in crowd volumes as many schools return to class mid-August in the US.  The trade-off to the lower crowd volumes and cheaper rates is the heat.  It is routinely mid-90º when we leave the hotel at 8AM (that’s mid-30’s for us Canucks) with the temperatures climbing to 100-115º by mid-afternoon. (mid/high 40’s C)  We’ll put up with the heat.  And we’ll do it with a smile!

We organized a bit differently this time.  Our flight only landed in Orlando around 10:30PM, so by the time we got to the resort and checked in, it would be close to midnight.  Our usual pattern was to find the flight that landed the earliest in the day.  Because we landed before midnight, and were spending the night, we were able to get a start on the parks first thing the next morning.  A bonus to this was also that, as we were on the dining plan, we had an extra day’s worth of meal credits!

Despite the fact that we have been to Disney World multiple times in the past 8 years, the four year gap had allowed for many new attractions and restaurants to open, so we had lots of new things to experience.

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Welcome ceremony at Magic Kingdom

For our first day, we went to the rope drop ceremony at Magic Kingdom. This was the first time we’ve seen the welcome ceremony.  I am not ashamed to admit that when Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy & the rest of the gang were all standing there on the Main St. USA train station, music blaring, fireworks roaring, I cried.  I was filled with so much joy and enthusiasm.  Pure unadulterated happiness.  Just thinking about it now gives me shivers and makes my eyes well up with tears.

Some of the other new experiences for Isabelle and I were:

  • eating at Be Our Guest in Beast’s Castle
  • riding the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster
  • riding Frozen Ever After at Epcot
  • meeting Baymax from Big Hero 6
  • eating at both Kona Café & ‘Ohana at the Polynesian Resort
  • eating at California Grill at the Contemporary Resort
  • experiencing Animal Kingdom at night
  • meeting Kylo Ren and Chewbacca
  • the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular fireworks display at Hollywood Studios

 

Given how amazing some of the food has been, I might steal a page from my darling wife and write a full post on the food. Unlike her though, I will not focus solely on desserts.