Welcome to my blog. I write mostly about travel and in particular my love of Disney, with a few tidbits such as musings about movies or theater thrown in for good measure. I have stories dating all the way back to 1997 so be sure to explore! I don't post regularly, so if you want updates be sure to join and follow this blog (links below). Feel free to share, and if you want you can also click the Facebook or Twitter links below. You can also follow me on twitter. And be sure to comment letting me know what you think!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Europe, Summer 2012 - Animals of Santorini

Animals of Santorini

Many cats and dogs run free around the village of Oia. I'm not sure about the cats, but the dogs mostly seemed to be collared so I assume they have owners. Nat, being an animal lover, snapped several pictures of the animals:

      Nat's food pics
Next up, Athens

Europe, Summer 2012 - Nat's food photos

Nat's food photos

The food we had in Santorini was quite photogenic, to wit:

Bruschetta - Athens, Greece

Butter beans in tomato sauce - Perissa, Santorini

Oia, Santorini

Calamari - Sunset Restaurant, Ammoudi Bay, Santorini

Crepes - Perissa, Santorini

Vegan flan - Vegetarian restaurant, Madrid, Spain

Eggplant Dish - Vegetarian restaurant, Madrid, Spain

Balsamic roasted vegetables - Sunset restaurant, Ammoudi Bay, Santorini

Fava beans with local capers, olive oil, tomatoes - Nectar restaurant, Oia, Santorini

Greek Salad - Oia, Santorini

Tofu and vegetables - Vegetarian restaurant, Madrid, Spain
Greek yogurt with honey and nuts - Perissa, Santorini

Lemon hummus - Lotsa restaurant, Oia, Santorini

Mythos beer - Oia, Santorini

Greek salad - Oia, Santorini

Local Yellow Donkey Beer - Pelican Restaurant, Oia, Santorini

Greek yogurt with honey and nuts - Perissa, Santorini

Fava, pepper and tzatziki dips - Oia, Santorini

Local olives and olive oil - Magna Grazia hotel, Athens, Greece

Moussaka - Thira, Santorini

Morning coffee - Oia, Santorini

Spanakopita - Thira, Santorini

Stuffed peppers - Perissa, Santorini

Local Yellow Donkey Beer - Pelican Restaurant, Oia, Santorini

Cous cous tabbouleh - Nectar restaurant, Oia, Santorini

Local tomatoes - Oia, Santorini

Watermelon - Perissa, Santorini

Pomegranate champagne - Nectar restaurant, Oia, Santorini

Europe, Summer 2012 - Athens

Part 3 - Athens

Our flight arrived in Atens after dark. We were a bit concerned about going to Athens with all their recent issues, bu Charlotte - who is very interested in ancient mythology - was dying to see the city and The Acropolis in particular. After landing we caught a cab and drove to Athens. First I was struck by how well maintained the public highways were. When we got to the city, however, it was a different story. There was a lot of evidence of recent unrest and many shuttered businesses.

We arrived at our hotel, the Magna Grecia, and checked in. This is a very old hotel and the room was very quirky with the frayed look of a place with old-world elegance gone somewhat to seed. The room was nice enough, though with an odd layout. It was ostensibly a suite but the second bedroom was more like a large closet with a bed. And the bathroom was particularly odd with fixtures that Had a purpose that was, to me at any rate, something of a mystery. And I'm fairly well traveled.

The hotel also boasted a lovely roof top restaurant with a spectacular view of the Parthenon and the Acropolis.

Unfortunately Charlotte had caught some bug somewhere along the way and was not feeling well at all. In fact she didn't even want to leave the room on that first night to see the Acropolis. This was really a shame considering this was something she was really looking forward too. It was late at any rate so we turned in and hoped she would feel better the next day.

The next day she felt no better. We took turns going out and walking around the local shopping areas while Charlotte rested. By the light of day the city looked much better, and the streets were bustling with locals as well as tourists.

A bit later in the day we decided the one thing we must do was a trip to the Acropolis. Charlotte was not going to let a little illness interfere with that! She put on the "Greek Goddess" dress she had purchased and off we went. We took a cab to the Acropolis where we purchased our tickets to see the Parthenon and the other relics. I was impressed when the ticket taker noticed we had overpaid for our tickets (Charlotte was considered a child) and took us back for a refund.

Here Charlotte is wearing the hat that Nat bought
It was an extremely hot day for the climb to the Parthenon, but the sky was cloudless and the views spectacular.

The tour of the Acropolis pretty much wiped us all out and we had an early flight and a long travel day ahead of us, so we headed back to the hotel for the rest of the day venturing out only for dinner at a local restaurant.

I did manage to go to the rooftop restaurant for a nightcap overlooking the awesome night time view of the acropolis. As I was the only person there I chatted with the chef (who was extremely well traveled - he had even at one point leved across the street from a High School I attended for a semester), the waitress (who was from Rumania) and the hostess. They were all lovely people - as were all the people we met in Greece - and I had a very nice time chatting with them.

Next up, Madrid

Europe, Summer 2012 - Bonus city - Madrid

Part 4 - Madrid

Bad news - our flight was scheduled to leave at 7:00 and we were not sure how long it would take to get to the airport nor how long it would take to get to the airport or to check in, so we arranged to have a cab pick us up at 3:30. We were a bit worried whether the cab driver would be on time, but he was and we were in the airport in 30 minutes (€60 cab ride). Good news, for the return flight we were booked in Iberia business class so we were able to make use of the Olympic Airlines business class lounge.

Bad news, once we boarded I realized I had left my iPad at the gate in a charging station. Good news, the gate attendant was kind enough to run back and get it.

Good news, the flight was on time. Bad news, this was by far the worst business class I have ever seen. I don't think the food was different - either way it was not very good - and the seats may have had an extra few inches of leg room but that's it. All they did to make it "business class" was to leave the center of the 3 seats empty.

Thankfully it was a short and uneventful flight to Madrid where we had a scheduled layover. Bad news, the layover was for 8 hours. Good news, as they checked out luggage through the next flight we could spend the day visiting Madrid and take in one more city. We were afraid they would make us get our bags between flights which would have ruined this plan.

Once we arrived at Madrid we went through customs and took the train to the Sol station in the center of Madrid. It cost €5 each (€20 total) and took about an hour. (On the return trip at the end of the day we took a cap which took 20 minutes and cost €30. My advice - take a cab).

Our first order of business was to find a vegan/vegetarian friendly restaurant for lunch. No mean feet in a city that none of us knew where the language was one none of us speak. But we found one - although they were just opening and we had to wait a bit to be served.

We just tooled around Madrid for a couple of hours taking in the sights. Madrid is a lovely city with lots of old time charm.

Well, that was the end of our trip. For the last leg of our flight we flew in "real" business class - even with the fold-flat seats. As we were leaving Madrid Andie looked out the window of the plan and commented on the clouds. They were - and I am not exasperating - the first clouds we had seen on the entire trip. This was a fantastic trip and I hope you enjoyed reading about it.



Friday, August 10, 2012

Some thoughts on "Avatar Land" at Walt Disney World

OK, this is a bit of a digression for me, and admittedly I still have a couple of blog posts that I really should be doing instead of this, but hey! I'm feeling inspired.

As you may or may not know, Disney has announced that they are going to develop an Avatar themed "land" at their Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World Florida. Among Walt Disney World enthusiasts this has become a subject of much debate. Disney has still not released details, and indeed there has been much speculation that it will be an attraction as opposed to a real "land". Much of the speculation has been less than positive. In particular, Mike Scopa of and WDW Today has expressed some concern about the project. What I would like to do here is to take many of Mike's concerns and explain why I, for one, am optimistic. For the record, I am not saying that AVATAR is the best idea Disney ever came up with - in fact I think there are many other things they could have done that I would have preferred. But I do think that there is a better than average chance that AVATAR will be awesome.

I will list some of Mike's concerns here that I have heard and will address each.

AVATAR does not have a fan base. It is true that AVATAR lacks the fan base of, say Harry Potter or Star Wars. To that I say two things. First, AVATAR is, as of yet, only one movie. How big was the "Star Wars" fan base after only one movie? Honestly, even though I was around back then I don't recall. But I can say that the obsession with SW did not start until later. Same for Harry Potter - HP did not get really huge until after the 3rd book (and even more so after the first movie). James Cameron is making the second movie now and I see no reason to doubt that it will be a hit. So, Disney may very well have made the smartest play in the world by getting in on the ground floor.

And even if AVATAR does not do very well in the sequels and build a fan base - so what? Bottom line, if the AVATAR land (or attraction or whatever) is an amazing attraction, will anyone really care about the movies and how well they did and whether they developed a fan base? I doubt it (and see my final point).

Good Disney themed areas are all about story and AVATAR has a week story. OK, two points here. First, how important is story really to a good themed attraction? The best themed attractions tell a story, but that story is, in reality, a simple story and not necessarily a "good" story. Let's be honest - is the story of "Haunted Mansion" a "good story" using the same criteria? Or Pirates of the Caribbean? Expedition Everest? Seriously - "the band really wants to help their fans by giving you back stage passes and you need a really fast car to get there"... that is a great story? Really? And are you going to deny that Rockin' Roller Coaster is a great ride?

So why are all these attractions so great if the stories are not that great? Simple. It's the atmosphere that the stories engender. A dusty old attic with ghosts popping out of every corner. A Spanish town being pillaged by singing pirates. The Himalayan mountains - home of the legendary Yeti. These all have the potential for great atmosphere. And I don't think that anyone can deny that Pandora has the potential for some great atmosphere.

Second - The story of AVATAR is NOT a lousy story!!! Derivative? Of course. Unoriginal? Absolutely. But just because the story is unoriginal does NOT make it "bad". In fact, if anything, quite the opposite. Pocahontas, "Dances with Wolves", "Last of the Mahicans" - all of these share a basic story with AVATAR. This is a really good, compelling story. It's just not original. "Star-crossed lovers try to find love despite the violence and hatred around them". This is a lousy story? Well, jeez, it's been told like a million times! But I think Edward de Vere.. sorry, Shakespeare might take exception to it being called lousy.

James Cameron has no theme park experience. First this is simply not true as there have been several Terminator attractions. Second, the same could be said for Steven Spielberg and JK Rowling. But I think they've done OK.

AVATAR is not a Disney property and they should have done that first. Firsts, I think this argument has some validity. I too would have preferred Disney develop their own properties - if I had my way they would have developed Thunder Mesa. But that does not alter the fact that I think that AVATAR will be awesome. Interestingly, the two properties I hear brought up most in the "I wish they would have" category are "The Muppets" and "Star Wars". ahem... not originally Disney properties...

Disney's history with Science Fiction in their theme parks is not good. Mission: Space. Alien Encounter. OK, I get it. Disney has issues with Science Fiction. But, uh... AVATAR is a fantasy, not science fiction. Unless "floating mountains" and a giant tree that can bring someone back to life has some base in science I'm going to stick with that analysis. And I think Disney has done OK with Fantasy. At a minimum AVATAR is no more science fiction than Star Wars is - and I think they've done pretty much OK with that. 

AVATAR is nothing but a knee-jerk reaction to Harry Potter. Maybe, but consider this - Disney was in talks with JK Rowling about Harry Potter and Universal won. Universal was, rumor has it, in talks with Cameron about AVATAR and Disney won. And you know what? I think in both cases they were a better fit. Why do I say that? Simple. Rowling insisted on exerting a degree of creative control that would never have worked for Disney, yet was fine for Universal. And I think that Cameron will be much better at working, creatively, within the constraints of what Disney wants. Honestly I think it was win-win.

Finally, don't under-estimate Disney Imagineering and James Cameron. Disney has a big ace-in-the-hole with Imagineering. Don't believe me? Take a stroll through Carsland at Disney California Adventure. Check out the new Fantasyland. And think about the creative genius of James Cameron. This is the man responsible for the two most successful movies of all time. How, as a Disney park fan, can you not be excited by the prospect of what these two creative titans can accomplish?

Friday, June 22, 2012

London and Greece

We will be leaving soon on a trip to Santorini Greece with stops in London and Athens. I will report back with thoughts on restaurants and attractions, and will be posting lots of pictures. And these will be much better pictures because 1) we will be in some of the most photogenic places on the plant and 2) the pictures will have been taken by by wife and two daughters who are MUCH better photographers than I am! So, check back a bit later, or better yet, follow!

I am still organizing the blog, but here are some quick links to some of the more popular posts:

Orlando 2010 including Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando
Adventures with my good friend Kirk including Walt Disney World, Vegas, Disneyland and more
A Daddy/Daughter jaunt to Walt Disney World in 1998
A trip to Southern California including Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in 2002
Middle School Rock Band trip to Walt Disney World  2010
Key West 2002
South East Florida 2012