Monday, 30 November 2009

Thanksgiving long weekend

Are you tired of hearing about our vacation? Fear not, it is well passed and we are into the holiday season. Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving. I love this holiday because 1. It is about giving thanks (and we all have something to be thankful about) 2. It is about getting together with family and friends and eating (no presents, no decorating, no fuss) and 3. We get invited out for a delicious relaxing lunch. This year, our 4th Thanksgiving, was no exception to the rule and we had a fabulous time at Marlene's house along with 12 others. Lucy sat at the kids table and behaved well while Henry cooed and smiled at the adults table. We ate turkey, mashed potato and cranberry jelly. We've been here long enough now that pumpkin pie is not a novelty and don't feel compelled to try some. We talked with new friends and old(ish) friends and passed around the Disney photos.

It still amazes us that many Americans think that Thanksgiving is a world-wide custom. Why would Australians celebrate the pilgrims and the Mayflower? The ignorance scares me. All Americans should be forced to watch Charlie Brown's holiday specials to learn a little history.

During the rest of the weekend we played board games (all won by Fiona!), cooked a lot (2 dishwasher loads per day) and watched Peter Pan on DVD (badly modified from the original book). We also started getting ready for Christmas but you'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out about that.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Disneyworld - The rest

To finish off here are some random thoughts of our time at Disney.

  • Andrew spent an hour at Hollywood Studios one night riding the rollercoasters and the Tower of Terror. There were no queues so he was able to ride a few times on each before the park closed.
  • Ridemax. One way we maximised our time at Disney was to use a program called Ridemax to set our itinerary. It was a very helpful program and I recommend it to first time Disney travellers. However we did find that it had overestimated wait times - I think there are fewer people travelling to Disney this year due to the economic downturn.
  • Passporters Guide to Disney. I borrowed this book from Alexis and it was excellent. I spent many hours reading and noting down rides and shows we wanted to see. It also helped me select good restaurants to eat at. We used a travel agent to make our bookings so we had all our reservations organised for us.
  • Autograph book. Our travel agent gave Lucy an autograph book to gain character signatures. This was very fun for Lucy and gave her an entry point to meet the characters.
  • Photo Pass. Disney has professional photographers throughout the parks. We tried several times to get a family photo of the four of us but Lucy did not co-operate. So whilst it was a great idea to get a photo CD there were only a couple of good photos of Andrew and I, so we didn't buy it. We did have a voucher for one free photo so we picked the best one and had it printed.
  • Dining Plan. Disney has a dining plan (that we received for free as part of our package saving us $600) which covers all of their restaurants. It allowed us each day to get lunch, dinner and a snack. Both lunch and dinner covered a main meal, a drink and a dessert. In most cases a sugar-free dessert was on offer which helped Andrew out. He was surprised at how well we could eat if we tried and he kept his blood sugar under very good control.
  • Outlets. Since we had a car we visited one of the Disney outlets. We picked up some souvenirs at 50% off the regular price. Whilst there was not the selection available in the regular stores at Disney it was well worth a visit here to pick up what we could. I also stopped in at the crocs store and got some really good deals.
  • Magic. Disney has their own philosophy to life. It is that if you believe hard enough in the magic in your heart your dreams will come true. This is the message that was overtly presented in their shows. We made sure that we explained to Lucy that this was not a biblical view of life and is not the reality that she would see around her.
  • Baddies. Most Disney stories have a scary element to them (a component of good storytelling) so it is important to consider what to expose a 3 year old to. Lucy was not scared by any of the rides themselves, she loves speed, but she can be scared by characters and scenery. After going on an adult roller coaster she commented that she didn't like the bats.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Disneyworld - Downtown

Downtown is geared for those that like to go shopping. We aren't really into shopping (except for the online kind) so we didn't go into many of the shops. Despite the $ focus we did do three really fun things downtown and we had a great lunch at the Earl of Sandwich.

1. Visited the Lego store

2. Ate chocolate sundaes at Ghiradelli

3. Watched La Nouba, a Cirque du Soliel show

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Disneyworld - The Contemporary

We stayed at the brand new Bay Lake Tower next to The Contemporary. A covered walkway joins the two buildings so it was pretty easy for us to catch the monorail. However the tower is really close to Magic Kingdom and it was easier and quicker to walk than catch the monorail. As suspected we ended up spending 3 days at MK so it was awesome to be so close. [big thanks to Auntie Lynda for picking up the kiddie board from Wilmington!]

We stayed in a one bedroom apartment which includes a full kitchen, a separate laundry room and a 2nd bathroom. It was really great to be able to make breakfast every day, wash our clothes and have the kids asleep in a separate room by 7:30pm. [btw Lucy and Henry were so cute sharing a room. Lucy would talk to him in his cot and he would coo and laugh back at her] We don't think anyone had stayed in our apartment before so we were the first ones!

The tower is part of Disney's Vacation Club so many of the apartments are time-shares, with some being owned by Disney (which is the part that we stayed in). Of course there were plenty of staff willing to take us through the time-share spiel but we politely said no and they left us alone. Seriously, a $100 voucher is not worth 3 hours of time when I could be riding Dumbo with Lucy instead!

Two afternoons we went swimming the Tower's mickey shaped pool. Lucy and Andrew went on the waterslide and then we all explored the water fountain area for kids. Henry loved his dip in the pool and looked super cute in his bathing suit.

We had three excellent meals at restaurants in the Contemporary - a character meal at Chef Mickey's, breakfast at The Wave and one night Andrew and I had dinner at California Grill located high in the Contemporary building (with a view of the 9pm Halloween fireworks at Magic Kingdom).

I would highly recommend staying in these apartments! [Maybe even buy a week of time-share off someone who can't use it]

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Disneyworld - Animal Kingdom

We spent a very long day at Animal Kingdom starting at 10am and finishing at 8pm with no nap in between! Everyone did surprisingly well given the heat and all the walking (we purchased a water spraying fan to keep us cool) One of the highlights of the day, and the event with the most photos, was Mickey's Jammin' Jungle parade. We had a prime viewing location, free from the large crowd and got lots of waves from the characters. Henry even had a close up encounter with a bear!

We went on a number of rides including Kilimanjaro Safaris, Triceratop Spin, Kali River Rapids, and Expedition Everest (Andrew only). However one of the best parts of Animal Kingdom is the shows. We managed to squeeze two in - the Flights of Wonder [bird show], and Finding Nemo the musical [puppet show] Both were awesome. We also walked along the Maharajah Jungle Trek and Pangani Forest Trail to see various animals. Unfortunately we missed Rafiki's Planet Watch and Petting Zoo because even though there were magic hours in the park until 8pm some of the animals leave their viewing areas at 5pm.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Disneyworld - Epcot

"With Epcot Center, the Disney corporation has accomplished something I didn't think possible in today's world. They have created a land of make-b
elieve that's worse than regular life." P. J. O'Rourke

Epcot is really two parks in one. The first is about the future and is full of rides and exhibits. The second is a world showcase, like a permanent expo of various countries, to which the above quote refers. I was hoping for the best however, ala Las Vegas, the pavilions for the various countries are caricatures. The international food and wine show was going on while we were there which made the afternoon more interesting. Using one of my snack points I purchased an inauthentic lamington from the Melbourne stand (the bottom had no icing!) On the whole I was very disappointed with the whole Epcot shebang. The only authentic part of the world showcase we encountered was the surly service we received from the French wait staff. To stop worrying about authenticity I spent a bit of time at the American pavilion learning some American history with Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin (both wonderfully rendered robotically). The fireworks at 9pm were pretty spectacular but the technically-demanding LED globe didn't do much for me.
If I went back, as harsh as this is, my world showcase itinerary would look simply like this:
  • 7pm table for two at the French gourmet restaurant
  • 9pm watch the fireworks
Back to the French restaurant, this is where we had dinner with Auntie Lynda and Jen. This was also the only restaurant during the week to give Lucy vegetables for dinner, and she had a wider choice than just nuggets, burgers and hot dogs. Lucy took a while to warm up but in the end she couldn't go on enough rides with Auntie Lynda.

On the future side of the park we had a wonderful time with Lucy. She loved the hang gliding ride Soarin' (Andrew and Lucy got the best seats on the ride at B1 and B2) and all four of us squeezed into a clamshell for the Seas with Nemo and friends ride. We participated in Turtle Talk with Crush which was very fun and hilarious. Lucy sat down the front with all the kids and they were allowed to ask Crush questions about his life as a turtle.

Epcot has some good adult rides including Spaceship Earth, Mission:Space and Test Track. Although we did not experience long lines throughout the week, we would have liked to ride Soarin' again but we ran out of time and the Fast Passes were all given out.

We discovered that during the late magic hours it was MUCH quicker to drive (15 mins) than catch the monorail (over 1 hour).

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Disneyworld - Magic Kingdom

By far and away this kingdom was the best one of them all and we visited here 3 whole days!
Lucy was captivated by it all. She loved the parades, the characters and the rides. We truly had a fabulous time here and it went by oh so fast. One day we stayed for the 8pm Spectromagic parade and the 9pm fireworks at the castle. We ate Mickey Mouse ice creams, had breakfast with Winnie the Pooh and friends at the Crystal Palace, and drank frozen lemonades. Lucy and Henry picked out Mickey Mouse ears and we had their names sewn on the back. It was difficult to get Lucy to take off her ears!

If you ask Lucy she'll say her favourite ride was Dumbo the flying elephant. However I beg to differ. Based on her face and the number of times she rode I think her favourite was Goofy's Barnstormer. It is a little kid sized rollercoaster in Toon Town and I estimate Lucy rode on it 7 or 8 times over the three days. As it turns out, Lucy is tall enough to go on all the rides at Disney except 1 (Expedition Everest). I didn't let her go on all of them even though she technically could as I thought they would be too scary for her.

My favourite thing at MK was the 4D show called Mickey's Philharmagic. I didn't know anything about it beforehand but I loved the 4D effects - smelling the apple pie Donald had and feeling water spraying around when he landed in a puddle. Lucy thought the 4D was so real that she kept putting her hands in the air to touch Donald when he seemed to pop out of the screen.

Henry liked all his rides. Surprisingly he could go on most things, just sitting in our arms. He enjoyed riding the boat in It's a small world and looking at all the children singing. He was a very curious boy and spent a lot of time just looking around and not sleeping.

These are the rides we went on: Dumbo, Peter Pan's Flight, It's a small world, Cinderella's Golden Carousel, Winnie the Pooh, Mad Tea Party, Aladdin's Magic Carpet, Jungle Cruise. Andrew and Lucy went on the Big Thunder Mountain Railway and Andrew went on Splash mountain. Space mountain was closed for renovation.

Auntie Lynda and Jen joined us for a day and Lucy had a super fun time!

We also saw the Country Bear Jamboree, Tom Sawyer's Island and rode the train around the park. Andrew rode the Pirates of the Caribbean while the rest of us ate DoleWhip!

The only ride we didn't enjoy was the jungle cruise. It was night time during our cruise so this scared Lucy a little and she thought the animals were real. Andrew and I didn't like it as it was just SO fake. Thankfully we hadn't been to Animal Kingdom yet or we would have been more disappointed.

We have some awesome memories of the days spent here. It was very very fun.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Disneyworld - Overview

The problem with writing this entry is knowing where to start. Disneyworld was so much fun, it was so big and there was so much to do it is difficult to condense such a vast experience into a short blog entry.
So I have split the Disney blog into several entries covering the various parks and features. Phew! It seems more manageable now. Enjoy as we take you through our magical experience over the next few days!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Roadside Attractions

Driving long distances with two small children is not always fun but 80% of the time we enjoyed ourselves. On the journey to Florida we listened to Peter Pan (audiobook) On the way to Atlanta we tried to listen to The Jungle Book but our CD's were scratched. So we let Lucy watch DVD's and Andrew and I listened to our respective ipods and played with the GPS (how different modern driving is!) We had some 4 excellent pit stops which I will take you through (we had another awesome one planned- a butterfly conservatory but both kids were asleep when we pulled into town so we kept driving). Of course there were a couple of bad pit stops (shouting, crying, stomping etc) but we won't dwell on those. Lucy only asked if we were at Disney 3 times. We drove for about 25 hours all up and we still like each other!

Bee City and Petting Zoo [Cottageville SC]

This place was in the middle of nowhere at the end of a dirt road and it was AMAZING!!!!! We compared a lot of things back to this place, including the Atlanta Zoo and Sea World, and Bee City won out each time. Inexpensive entry fees allowed us to see so many exotic animals, feed livestock, and buy yummy honey. One scary and later hilarious moment was when Andrew was bitten by a donkey. He didn't read the instructions that the food was for the goats, llamas, alpacas and goats. Thankfully it was him and not Lucy. I had told her to stay away from the donkey remembering something about Katrina's dress being eaten by a donkey at the zoo? In any case Andrew's finger healed over the next week or so.

South of the Border [Dillon SC]

This place is a suburb of its own. Two gas stations, 2 fireworks shops, multiple cafes, a leather shop, a western shop, an ice cream shop, a miniature golf course, a motel, a 6 storey sombrero with an elevator inside, basically you name it and its here at South of the Border. We ate in the Cafe of the Pink Flamingo and were disappointed to find out that the sombrero elevator had closed 1/2 hour earlier. Andrew keenly looked around the fireworks shops but most of them are illegal in NC (hence the name South of the Border)

Australian Bakery & Cafe [Atlanta GA]

We stopped here on our way home to pick up a whole lot of meat pies, sausage rolls and lamingtons. We enjoyed some for a picnic lunch in Augusta by the riverfront. The lady serving us was American and we had to point out to her that she shouldn't be saying "y'all" in an Aussie cafe!

Hurricane Grill [Jacksonville FL]

We enjoyed a relaxing lunch here with the Danielsons on our way to Disney. A native restaurant to Jacksonville it served up fresh salads and burgers that kept Andrew's blood sugar under control. Lucy's meal was served on a frisbee that she could keep after her meal.

Thursday, 19 November 2009


Our stay in Atlanta was short lived and lasted barely 36 hours. When we woke up in the morning we noticed that Lucy had a few spots on her belly. Fearing chicken pox we called a doctor who confirmed this diagnosis (now though we are unsure what she had, it may have been some other virus). The doctor said she was contagious if anyone touched her. We decided to cut the vacation short and go home but given our 7 hours in the car the day before we wanted to wait a day before the 7 hour journey home.

We saw 3 of Atlanta's top tourist sites and spent most of the time telling Lucy not to touch anything. First up was the Aquarium, the biggest in the US. It was pretty spectacular in terms of both the array of animals and the creative displays. It was also pretty pricey at US$31.50 per adult. Lucy was super excited to see a hammerhead shark (her favourite kind!), the penguins and the jellyfish. We experienced a 4D show which did not go down well with Lucy because we were sprayed with water.

The next attraction was the Coca Cola musuem. I asked Lucy if she wanted to drink coca cola and she excitedly said yes! 10 seconds later she asked 'what's coca cola?' An hour later she didn't need to ask the question anymore. I learnt more about coke than I ever needed to know. I saw ads, pop art and had my photo taken with the polar bear. It was consumerism to the max. The museum even asked us to record 'a special moment in our lives' with coca cola. I'm sorry but the major milestones in my life are not marked by drinking coke! In any case we actually had a really fun time trying the 60 types of coke product from around the world. My favourite was the apple and kiwi fanta from Thailand. Poor diabetic Andrew was restricted to small sips of his previously favourite beverage.

The final destination was Atlanta Zoo. Listed on our tickets as closing at 5:30pm we arrived at 4:15pm and expected to see most of it. Unfortunately what they don't tell you is that they start putting the animals inside at 4:30pm and the whole place closes at 5pm. So we had a quick spin around to see the pandas, complained to management (got free tickets and gave them away) and went home.

We ended the day with a room service dinner. Not your ordinary room service dinner mind you. The hotel we stayed at housed a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse so we had an awesome dinner squeezed between the travel cot, Lucy's fold out bed and several bags.

Hilton and Expedia were kind to us and refunded our unused hotel costs. And we didn't even need to threaten them with letting Lucy loose in the hotel.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


From Disney we travelled an hour west to Tampa to visit our friends Tim, Jackie, Ben and Mitchell. Lucy and Ben had an awesome time together and were very very noisy. They both missed having playmates! With Tim headed off to work the rest of us drove half an hour west to St.Petersburg to visit the Salvador Dali museum. Although some of the museum was closed to make way for a new exhibit we still saw a fair amount of artwork whilst only paying $5. Lucy and Ben were very good at finding objects within the paintings but I left them to their own interpretations! We then had lunch at an organic cafe and wiled away a few hours feeding the babes.

Before dinner Andrew took a tour of Tim's office, an old cigar factory in the heart of Ybor City. Ybor City is the area that many Cuban immigrants moved to upon arrival in the US and it is here that they set up their cigar manufacturing. We ate dinner at Columbia's, the oldest and most famous Spanish restaurant in Ybor City. The restaurant was established in 1905 and I had their 1905 salad, prepared in front of my eyes at the table. The food was excellent as was the dancing display in the main dining room. The waiters were all dressed in tuxedos and the decor was elaborate (note the chandelier in the photo) A very fun evening and great company and food.