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!

Friday, August 16, 2013

John & Kirk's Epic trip out west: Part 1 - Las Vegas and San Diego (and Rancho Cucamonga)

The trip threatened to get off to a very bumpy start - at least for me. I went into Manhattan to work from my mid-town office with the intention of catching s shuttle bus around 2:00 for Newark Airport. My with Andie kindly offered to take my (very large) bag with her to her office which happens to be very closes to where I needed to catch the bus. When I finished working for the day I met her at the bus stop and she gave me my bag. I just missed a bus. "No biggie" I thought, as there would be another bus soon and I was leaving with ample time to account for traffic. Then the bus was late. Again no big deal, still plenty of time. I boarded the bus and we drove to the Lincoln Tunnel. There we waited. And waited. And waited. After about an hour it was clear there was something amiss. As it turned out there was an overturned truck in the tunnel and the tunnel was completely closed down. And traffic was at a complete stand still. This did not look good. When we were basically in the same spot at 4:30 I figured there was no way I was making my 6:30 flight. Well, the gods smiled down on my, the seas parted (as did the traffic), the tunnel re-opened and I made it to the gate with time to spare.

The flight itself was completely uneventful. Then I went to pick up my bag. I went to the baggage carousel and waited. And waited. And waited. No bag. Now, remember, I was not planning to stay in the area. I was leaving on a shuttle that night to Rancho Cucamonga (about an hour away). So I went to the lost bag desk and got in line. And waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, after about an hour I got to the desk where I was promptly informed that my bag was on the carousel. And it was. Why I didn't see it was completely beyond me. Oh well. Finally, bag in tow, I went to catch the shuttle. The company promised pickup in 15-20 minutes. Well, an hour later my shuttle finally arrived. *sigh* To add insult to injury I was the last stop for the shuttle. I finally arrived in Rancho Cucamonga at about 1 AM. But who cares! The vacation has officially begun! Kirk and I stayed up and visited for a bit, but we were both bushed so we called it a night soon enough.

I should mention here that I am a runner. I ran my first race - the Walt Disney World Half Marathon - in January of this year. Since then I have run 3 more half marathons and a few 5Ks and 10Ks. I am now training for my first full marathon which I plan to do in November. I try not to let my vacations get in the way of training, so during this report I may mention on certain days that I went for a run. Without boring most readers with the details, I will point out that the training consists of "short" (in my case, 45 minute) runs and weekly "long" runs of anywhere from 4 or 5 miles to 13 or 14 miles. I also cross train with core and strength training (although my strength training has been waylaid by a fractured left elbow). Anyway, Thursday morning I woke up early and went on a very pleasant short run through Rancho Cucamonga.

After I got back we got ready to leave, had the font desk call a cab for us and went to Budget Rental Car to pick up our car - a Mazda 3. The car was fine except they did not fill up the windshield washer fluid which was annoying. Kirk and I drove to the neighborhood where we met and did a quick tour of our old stomping grounds, checking out some things that were relatively unchanged and others that had changed quite a bit.

We then hopped on I15 and headed out to Vegas. We stopped in the town of Baker for gas, noticing that there were several eating establishments there. Even though it was past lunch time and we were both hungry, we had already decided we would stop at Buffalo Bill's in Primm right on the border to Nevada. On our last trip to Vegas we did this and had a good time, especially riding the monster roller coaster "Desperado". Mistake. We may have enjoyed Primm on our last trip but not this time. First of all, neither of us really felt like riding the coaster. When we walked in Buffalo Bill's we were struck by the place's foul, musty smell. The food court was completely uninviting, so we went to the Primm Casino instead. The odor in the Primm was not much better. But we were hungry so we went to the buffet for lunch. It was not horrible, but that's about as positive as I can be. We decided that, should there be a "next time", we would stop in Baker for lunch and breeze right through Primm.

We arrived in Vegas in the afternoon and checked into the Aria. Boasting over 4,000 rooms, The Aria is, I believe, the largest hotel in the new City Center complex in Vegas. They tout themselves as the only hotel/casino in City Center, which I found confusing because The Cosmopolitan is also a hotel/casino. Turns out The Cosmopolitan, although right next to City Center, is not actually part of City Center. At any rate, The Aria is a huge hotel/casino that is part of a truly enormous City Center complex.

After parking in self-parking we made out way to the front desk. This is a very long walk that winds a rather circuitous path through the massive casino complex. In fact, it seemed to me that the front desk is as far from self-parking as possible. Like most Vegas hotel/casinos, The Aria does not really have an impressive lobby since the casino area serves more or less as a lobby. That said, the hotel's decorating scheme begins at the check-in area with dark woods, simple lines and lots of interesting textures. The modern design is reminiscent of many newer hotels, like The W and even, from what I've seen, Bay Lake Towers in WDW. While the style is clean and attractive, it is also perhaps a bit cold.

This design theme continued to the room, which was quite spacious. When we entered the room the curtain automatically opened, revealing an impressive Las Vegas Strip view - a nice touch. Speaking of that, while the view from our room was nice, I have to say that the configuration and position of the hotel makes me think that most of the rooms don't have much of a view. At least not a view of the Strip. Of course I can't confirm this, but it looked that way to me. And while, like the rest of the hotel, the room was clean, well appointed and tastefully decorated, it was also a bit, well, odd. As an example, in the bathroom there was a frosted glass wall and door separating the toilet area from the rest of the bathroom. OK, this looked pretty interesting but for all practical purposes it was useless. How shall I put this? Unless you are... let's see... comfortable enough with the person with whom you are sharing the bath to use the toilet with no wall at all, then this frosted glass wall makes no difference at all. You are still going to want to be the only one in the bath as you, uh, take care of business.

In addition to the odd glass wall I noticed the lack of towel rings. OK, I get it, towel rings ruin the aesthetic you are going for. But you know what? I have damp towels and I need to hang them on something. Annoying. And speaking of annoying, can hotels please start using safes that are big enough to hold a large laptop? Not a single one of the five hotels we stayed in on this trip - including the Aria - could fit my laptop. And the safe at the Aria I think was the biggest I encountered on this trip. In addition to large safes, most hotels, especially higher end hotels it seems to me, refuse to provide free wifi. This is another thing I find aggravating. I think that we are going to start seeing more free wifi in hotels in the future, though. At least I hope so.

On the good side, the shower was large and very nice and the beds were comfortable. Kirk reported that he did not like the pillows but I had no issues with them. Overall the room was quite nice and comfortable. Only minor complaints there.

Once you leave the room is when the complaints start. There are issues may have seemed very insignificant when taken individually, but I had the feeling that they informed larger problems. First, there are the little details. These are the things that you only notice when they're not right. An example was they had towel bin at the pool which was a large plastic bin with "Aria" scrawled on it in indelible ink by what appeared to be a three year-old. Speaking of the pool, or pools really, I was unimpressed. There are several pools with their own pool areas, and each of them is unimpressive. None are very large nor do they boast interesting landscaping or theme-ing. And the pools were too warm and the spas were not hot enough. A resort of this size should do much better. And finally, the staff. The staff at the Aria were actually quite pleasant to deal with, but there were little things that indicated what I suspect is a lack of proper training. One case in point: I asked where the pool was and I was told "The Second Floor". OK. I went to the elevator - no "Second Floor". I actually asked a guest who informed me it was on the "Promenade" level. Look, if the elevator says "Promenade", then call it "Promenade". You and the other folks that work there may call it "The Second Floor" but the guests have no way of knowing that.

Finally, housekeeping took Kirk's phone charger. Of course I don't think they intentionally took it - that would be silly. Rather I suspect they unplugged his charger when they plugged in the vacuum and inadvertently took it with them when they left. He didn't notice until we were ready to leave and we tore the place apart looking for it. Kirk called security who said they would call after the housekeeping crew came in "at 11" (this after the housekeeping manager said that the crew comes in at 9). By 11 we would be well on our way so Kirk just bought another charger. And they never did call.

So, no, we were not impressed with The Aria.

On that first night in Vegas we met 2 of my brothers - younger brother Todd and older brother Norm - for dinner. They had requested someplace "not too expensive" (no problem for me), so we went to an upscale burger place in The Cosmopolitan called "Holsteins" (a horrible name, but better than what I originally thought it was - "Heifers"). It's a cute place with a funky decor which predominately features the restaurant's cartoon cow mascot. We were seated in a large banquette which was, honestly, not conducive to conversation. We were seated 4 across with me and Kirk on the ends and Todd and Norm in the middle. As a result Kirk and Todd talked to each other mostly while Norm and I talked.

I had "The Classic" (a basic burger - $14) and 2 Guiness ($8.50 each!), Kirk had "The Longhorn" ($16) and a Diet Coke ($3), Todd had a quesadilla ($15.50) and Norm had a salad ($13). I also had onion rings, which I ordered specifically because I thought I read that they were beer-battered. They were not. Our total bill came to $91 before tip. The food was... OK. I would expect an exceptional burger for $14, and I can honestly say that the In-N-Out Burger I had on the last day of the trip was much better for less than a third the price. Of course comparing any burger to In-N-Out is not fair, but still... Kirk has the same impression. just OK. At least there was no exceptional food to get in the way of the conversation. I would not recommend Holstein unless you are dying for a burger and are right there.

As we had a $100 resort credit for the Aria, Kirk and I also ate at two restaurants there. We had much better luck with The Aria restaurants.

First, we had pizza at "Five 50". It was a good, rustic pizza. (Forgive me for not having pictures of the food, I am not in the habit of taking "food porn" shots. I always think of it after eating.) We split a 16" pizza with mushrooms, half pepperoni and half sausage. It was quite good. Although it looked too big for use to be able to finish the the whole thing, we managed. We also ate at a high-end Mexican restaurant called "Javier's". This would turn out to be, perhaps, the best meal of the trip. Kirk and I both ordered a Chile Relleno/Taco/Enchilada combination. (I only wanted the chile relleno and taco, but our server told me it would be cheaper to get the combo so I did. I did not regret this as the portions were not large.) The chile relleno was excellent, though a bit on the small side. The enchilada was good and the taco - the hard shell variety using a shell made from home made tortilla - was perhaps the best hard shell taco I have ever had. Also, instead of the usual pinto or black beans they served some sort of yellow refried beans - and they were delicious! The combos were $22 each. The food was excellent. I can't say the same for the drinks. I had 2 specialty margaritas - cucumber and pomegranate. Both were good but way too strong. And I don't mean booze strong - I mean taste strong. Almost thick and syrupy.I know this sounds like sacrilege, but I actually watered them down after a few sips. The margaritas were $15 each and Kirk had Diet Coke in tiny bottles for $5 each. Obviously they make their money off the drinks. The total bill was $90 before tip.

On Friday morning I got up for a run and ran down Las Vegas Blvd. By pure chance, and almost exactly the halfway point, I ended up near a pretty famous sign. I stopped to look and luckily there was someone there willing to take my picture:

On the DIS Unplugged podcast we discussed things to do while in Vegas. One thing we discussed was a zip-line through downtown Vegas. That sounded awesome - but unfortunately it is no longer available. Another idea was Cirque du Soliel, but the only one Kirk was interested in was "One" (featuring the music of Michael Jackson) which I had no desire to see - mostly due to the fact that, as it had recently opened, all tickets were full price. So, we decided to skip it. We actually ended up doing the same thing I had done with my family on our last trip to Vegas - Red Rock Canyon. Red Rock Canyon is a National Park just outside of Vegas - about 30 minutes from the Strip. In fact, when you drive out there you find yourself thinking that it couldn't be that close because you are driving through residential neighborhoods right up until the last couple of miles.

We were both a bit concerned about walking around in the 100 degree-plus temperatures, but the park is mostly organized in a loop where you drive from one site to another. You can get out and go for long hikes - but you don't have to. Even still, while we expected to stay there an hour or two and we were there all afternoon. I can not recommend this side trip enough.

Here are some pictures from Red Rock - hard to believe this is only about 30 minutes from the Strip.

I know what your burning question is: did we gamble while in Vegas? Yes. About an hour of video poker. Kirk lost $15 and I won $40.

On Saturday (August 3) we checked out of the Aria and drove to San Diego. Along the way we stopped in Baker to have lunch at one of the fine dining establishments that you can find in the West but not where either of us live: Jack in the Box. We both ordered their unique tacos (2 for $1!) and I had onion rings as well, which are also unique. Jack in the Box make their tacos by deep frying the taco shell and beef and then stuffing it with a half slice of american cheese, lettuce and sauce. Definitely a one-of-a-kind taste (thankfully, some would say I'm sure).

Alas, their deep fried apple turnover is no longer on their menu (or else I would have ordered one of those bad boys in a heartbeat!)

We arrived in San Diego just in time to check in to the hotel and get to the game. As I mentioned in the intro blog entry, I am a Yankees fan and, as serendipity would have it, the Padres played the Yankees this weekend. We stayed at the Bayfront Hilton. Nothing in particular to report here - it's a fairly typical and serviceable Hilton. the room was a bit smaller than the room at The Aria. And the view of the docs - with a Dole Pineapple shipment unloading - was less impressive. We found ourselves wondering if any of those containers were filled with Dole Whip.

Dole Whip anyone?

PetCo Park- where the Padres play - is a beautiful park (even though Kirk, who owns a small boutique pet supply store, was none too happy about being in a stadium named after his arch nemesis). The game was excellent except for the sun being directly in our eyes for the first half. It started out as a real pitchers duel through the 6th with Ivan Nova matching the Padres pitcher Tyson Ross 0 for 0. Then, in the seventh, Granderson hit a 2-run homer scoring himself and Soriano. Granderson would score again in the 9th. Nova pitched 7 shut-out innings with Robertson pitching a scoreless 8th and Mariano coming in for the save. The final score was 3-0 Yankees. The Rivera save was particularly satisfying because in the only game I had seen this season - Rivera's final season - he not only blew the save but lost the game. Kirk and also never seen the future Hall of Famer pitch and this would be his one chance. A great game all around.

On the podcast, Tony suggested we check out the Gaslamp Quarter, so after the game we did just that. The joint was jumping. It's a really cool part of town with lots of clubs and restaurants. Kirk had a hankering for some sort of seafood soup or bisque, and we ended up at The Palm which served a very good Lobster Bisque. I also had an excellent salad (like a Caesar but not) and a glass of very good pinot grigio. It definitely hit the spot. About $50 before tip.

The next morning (Sunday) I went down to use the hotels decent gym and then tried to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks but it was way too crowded. Instead we left - I figured I could get coffee on the road. Our destination was Old Town San Diego. Interestingly this was not one of the recommendations from the podcast, but I did hear about it from another episode of the podcast. Once we got there I went to the bar at Casa Reyes - which is located right in the center of Old Town - where I was finally able to get a cup of coffee. Not a great cup of coffee, but at least it dispelled the caffeine headache.

After walking around Old Town a bit we had lunch at Casa Reyes. We both had tamales - which were huge. I wish I could say the food was amazing, but honestly it wasn't. It was fine, but not great. The tamales were huge as I said, but not memorable. Neither of us finished ours. And the refried beans were pretty ordinary.

After lunch we decided to walk to the Presidio. Mistake. I'm not saying going to the Presidio was a mistake - walking there was. It was difficult to find as we could not find a clearly marked path and we doubled back several times. If you want to go there, drive. Still, it was very pretty, just not worth the effort we put in to getting there. While there we asked about the Mission and we were told that, while the Presidio location was the original location of the Mission, it had since been moved to another location.


Once we walked back to Old Town we decided that, as the Mission that exists now is not the original, we would skip it and instead look around Old Town some more. I was glad we did as Old Town is very interesting with some wonderful little shops and museums (including a cool little Wells Fargo museum).

After returning to the hotel and resting up at the pool (for me) and in the room (for Kirk) we decided to head out to Belmont Park and The Big Dipper roller coaster. This was another of Tony's recommendations. And if this had been about 20 years ago it probably would have been a good one. But for us, it just didn't really have much to offer. 2 good things did come out of it, however. First, it was our one and only opportunity to check out that beach. Although admittedly all we did was check it out, as we stood on the boardwalk for a few minutes and looked out to the ocean. Also, Belmont Park has a "Hot Dog on a Stick". This little franchise in ubiquitous in Southern California malls but I have never seen one anywhere else. I had a corn dog and a lemonade. It definitely took my right back to the SoCal mall experience...

The lobster bisque at The Palm in the Gaslamp Quarter was such a hit we decided to go there again. We headed back to the hotel pretty early as we would be leaving early the next day for Disneyland. One thing I like to indulge in is the occasional cigar (preferably with scotch). The Hilton is a non-smoking hotel but they did have a nice little smoking area with seating, so I went there. Now, it obviously takes a lot longer to smoke a cigar than a cigarette, so as I set there several cigarette smokers came and went. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with them. First was a young Italian mother living in France. She spoke several languages, but her English was very rough. Still, we managed to have a pleasant conversation. She left and was replaced by a young woman from England of Scottish decent, with whom I discussed accents. Finally was a Turkish gentleman who I chatted with for a few minutes before it was time for me to leave. It was a very pleasant finish to a fun couple of days in Vegas and San Diego.

I know that most of you reading this are probably most interested in hearing about Disneyland and especially D23, but I wanted to write them in chronological order. I hope to have the rest done by the end of this weekend, so stay posted! And if you want to get updates when I post entries, friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or add me to your Google+ circles (link below).

Next up: Disneyland!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

John & Kirk's Epic trip out west: Intro and planning

OK so this was an epic trip. There's no other way to put it. A 12-day whirlwind of activity culminating in the ultimate Disney event and including some interesting surprises and more than one fortuitous happenstance. In fact this trip could have been titled "A Series of Fortunate Events". But I get ahead of myself...

First, this is another entry in the on-going saga of my friendship with Kirk that goes back more than 45 years. I will not get into details here, but you can read about our previous adventures HERE.

James Michener wrote that if you want to understand the history of Texas, you have to go back to the dinosaurs. Well, to understand this trip you don't have to go quite that far back, but you do need to go back 2 years to September 2011. That was when D23, the official Disney fan club, held there second bi-annual expo in Anaheim, CA. I read all about the expo online, saw pictures and videos, and read blogs and reports, and I made myself a promise that I would be there for the next one. And of all the people I know, besides perhaps the youngest of my 2 daughters (who is never available that time of year), I knew that the person I wanted to share the experience with my old buddy Kirk. And so it happened that, about 2 years ago, I called him up and said "Dude, we are going!"

As the date got closer we started expanding on our plans. Naturally we would have to spend a few days at Disneyland. That went without saying. A quick visit to Las Vegas also seemed appropriate - especially since 2 of my brothers - neither of whom I had seen in a couple of years - both live there.Then Kirk mentioned that he had never been to San Diego and always wanted to go there. Another thing Kirk and I like to do is go to MLB games, so I looked up the schedule for the Padres. And wouldn't you know it? The Padres played the Yankees (I'm a Yankees fan) on the weekend before the expo. All the pieces were falling into place. Finally, I decided to book the flight using frequent flyer miles. Because of the limitations on when I could fly using points the trip ended up even a bit longer. So, here is our final itinerary:

  • Tuesday July 30 - Kirk flies to Ontario, CA, booking a hotel in Rancho Cucamonga using points. (Kirk and I met in Rancho Cucamonga - previously Alta Loma - and Kirk grew up there. He wanted to spend a day visiting his old stomping grounds).
  • Wednesday July 31 - I fly into LAX and take a shuttle to Rancho Cucamonga. (Originally I was going to spend the first night near LAX and rent a car the next morning, but I saved abou $150 by canceling the hotel and staying with Kirk in Rancho Cucamonga, and even more important I saved over $300 by changing my car pickup to Ontario Airport. And yes, I was still dropping off at LAX.)
  • Thursday August 1 - drive to Las Vegas for 2 nights at the Aria. I would pay for this in cash, about $400 total but with a $100 resort credit.
  • Saturday August 3 - drive to San Diego for 2 nights at the Hilton Bayfront. Again, Kirk paid with points.
  • Monday August 5 - drive to Anaheim for 2 nights at the Best Western Inn and Park Place Suites, again me paying with cash. This hotel is located on Harbor Blvd. right at the entrance to Disneyland.
  • 3 days visiting Disneyland.
  • Wednesday August 7 - switch to the Marriot Anaheim for 5 nights - again with Kirk using points. Originally we were going to do 3 nights at the Best Western and 4 nights at the Marriot, but when Kirk called to make the reservation they gave him the 5th night for free. This would be the first in a long string of happy surprises on this trip.
  • August 9 to 11 - D23 Expo.
  • Monday August 12 - Night flights home for us both.

OK, everything was set.

As part of my planning for this trip specifically, as well as just something I do for fun, I listen to the DIS Unplugged Disneyland Edition podcast. Over the years I feel like I've gotten to know Tom, Nancy, Tony, Mary Jo, Wayne (who has left) and more recently Michael. Now, a while back they did a series of podcasts where they helped a Walt Disney World veteran plan her Disneyland visit. While doing these shows they asked for other folks to write in if they wanted help with their trips. I thought that would be fun, but I assumed they were looking for folks with families and that they would not be interested in a couple of men-of-a-certain-age planning a trip out west. Tom kept asking for, as he said, "victims - I mean - volunteers" so I thought "why not" and I wrote in. Well, a few weeks later Tom invited me on to the show and I had the distinct pleasure of being a guest on one of my favorite podcasts.

OK, so at the beginning of this I wrote that you could read about the on-going saga of my friendship with Kirk. If you are interested in the whole story, which I do not write about in this blog, I suggest you listen to the podcast. There are 2 episodes as of this writing. You can find the first, where I tell the story of our friendship (which is, if I do say so, pretty intriguing) HERE and the second HERE. There will be a third later where I recap our trip, and I will post a link to that when I have it.

One more thing before I get into the meat of the report. As I mentioned we had a reservation for 2 nights at the Best Western Park Place Suites. Well, I had also put in a waitlist request for The Villas Disney's Grand Californian, a Disney Vacation Club property (I am a DVC member). I was told in no uncertain terms that I should not expect to get the waitlist request fulfilled. As it would turn out, I found out about a week before our departure that our request had been fulfilled. So I cancelled the Best Western because we were staying at The Grand Californian! (And using DVC points so there would be no cash layout.) Another fortuitous event.

Next up: Las Vegas and San Diego

John and Kirk's Epic Trip Our West:

Intro and Planning
Part 1: Las Vegas and San Diego
Part 2: Disneyland Resort
Part 3: D23 Expo

Thursday, July 4, 2013

John gets interviewed on a Disneyland podcast!

On July 1st I was interviewed on the DIS Unplugged Disneyland edition podcast. The show was uploaded on July 4th. It was a lot of fun! My thanks to the DID Unplugged crew Tom, Mary Jo, Nancy, Tony and Michael. You can listen to the podcast here. Check it out!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Intro: John & Kirk in WDW for January 2013 Marathon Weekend

Intro and Day 1

About 7 months ago I decided, as a 55-year old who was never much of a runner (although I do exercise regularly including "quick walks"), that I would run in the 2013 Walt Disney World Half Marathon. I am not going to go into details of what lead up to this decision, but if you are interested about this you can read more here. I started training and stuck with it for 7 months (if you are interested in reading my training journal you can do so here).

I called my friend Kirk and asked him to join me - no surprise he accepted. I warned Kirk that my main focus was going to be on the marathon, but that said there were a few other things that we were very interested in experiencing (the New Fantasyland in particular). Another thing we wanted to do was to check out some sit-down restaurants we never went to before. That did not work out too well... as you will read later.

Anyway, I flew out Thursday night and arrived in Orlando at about 10:10 (a bit early). When I got there I called Kirk on his cell phone and was quite surprised when his wife answered. Turns out Kirk had inadvertently picked up the wrong phone and the one he had did not work. If you know Orlando Airport you know that it has 2 different gate areas that are across a large plaza from each other. So I basically just walked between the two gate areas and the two baggage claim areas until I eventually ran into Kirk.

That little glitch out of the way we hit the road and headed to Old Key West (OKW). I had rented a studio using DVC points. At first we were booked into Saratoga Springs but I put in a wait list request for OKW because the OKW studios include 2 queen size beds instead of one bed and a sleeper sofa. We arrived at a bit before midnight and checked in. The OKW studio is, indeed, quite large with a very nice bath and 2 queen beds. Our room (4120) was a bit long in the tooth and in need of a refurb, but not not too bad and still quite comfortable.

Our plan was to get to the Magic Kingdom (MK) on Friday at park opening. We rose at 6:30 and made our way to the Hospitality House. Our plan was to have breakfast at Olivia's. The problem was that Olivia's did not open for breakfast until 7:30. Good's, the counter service restaurant, was open and Kirk bought a refillable mug which he thought would be a good deal for him. I don't drink soda so I never get them. After that we hung around the resort store (Conch Flats). One thing I noted was that there was a lot of logo merchandise (merchandise bearing a logo specific to a particular attraction, resort, etc.) This is a development that is getting a lot of positive reaction from Disney podcasts as well as the DISboards discussion forums. I saw an OKW t-shirt with my name on it.
Olivia's opened at 7:30 and we were the first customers of the day. I had bacon & eggs, coffee and OJ and Kirk had a very large omelet. The breakfast was about on par with your typical diner fare (albeit a fair bit more expensive).

After breakfast we headed over to MK. We parked and decided to take the resort monorail which promptly sat in the station for about 10 minutes. *sigh* Now, Kirk and I consider ourselves to be pretty expert at park touring, but for this first day of touring we decided to try using the "Trip" application from I keyed all of the attractions we wanted to experience into the app and hit "optimize". The plan it came up with - starting with Peter Pan Flight (PP) and the Haunted Mansion (HM) - was quite different than what we would have done on our own. Unfortunately, as Olivia's opened later than we expected, we didn't get to MK until 9:30. We had to re-jigger the touring plan and now it had us start at HM.

After that we followed the plan to the tee right up until we planned to stop for an early lunch. We did Jungle Cruise (with an awesome "Captain" named Chanel), Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Pirates of the Caribbean.

As I was doing the Half Marathon the next day and had to rise early I wanted us to have an early lunch and dinner, so we decided to eat at "Be Our Guest" (BOG) at 11:00. This worked out well because I had heard that BOG got very crowded later.

BOG is a first at WDW in that it is counter service during the day and switches over to table dining in the evening. I understand that it is very difficult to get dinner reservations there. For lunch you simply need to get on line and wait. Inspired by Disney's classic animated film "Beauty and the Beast" (BatB),  the exterior of BOG is in a building themed to look like a rock mountain with The Beasts Castle atop it. The Disney Imagineers use a technique called "forced perspective" - making things in the distance smaller to make them look further away and larger - to make the castle look considerably larger than it actually is. The effect is stunning.

Entrance to "Be Our Guest"
You enter the restaurant in something of an anteroom where you queue up to order. You pass through a hallway lined with suits of armor. Listen closely - OK, you don't have to listen that closely - and you will hear the suits of armor talking to each other! As you pass through this hallway you also get a chance to peruse video kiosks that illustrate your dining choices. Click here (thanks to +The DIS ) to see the full menu.

Next you are greeted by a cast member (CM) at a podium who will ask you how many are in your party and give you a "rose" (a small plastic RFID locator). You are then directed by another CM to a video kiosk where you place your order. This part could use some refining - I noticed that the CM directing guests to the kiosks were not very careful about making sure they pulled from each line equally. As a result the line we were in went very slow. Before you are directed to your kiosk you are asked if you will be paying cash or credit. Most of the kiosks are unmanned and require a credit card while two (I think? Maybe one?) are manned and you can pay cash. Once at the kiosk you hold your "rose" to a reader (so it knows who is ordering) and you place your order and pay.

The Ballroom
When you have finished ordering you go into one of the restaurant's three dining rooms and find a seat. The largest and most elegant of the dining rooms is the Ballroom. This room is themed to look like the ballroom from the iconic scene in BatB where they dance to the film's theme song. It is a very large room with exquisite chandeliers, cherubs painted on the ceilings, and a row of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over a landscape with perpetual snowfall. The other two smaller dining rooms are the Rose Room and the West Wing. The West Wing is themed as the room where the Beast goes to be alone. The rose from the story sits in the corner, the curtains and wall hangings are all torn and tattered, there is a constant thunder storm and the torn portrait of the Beast before his transformation hangs on the wall. Every few minutes the thunder gets louder, a petal falls from the rose and a flash of lightning reveals the Beast in the portrait. The Rose Room has a sculpture of Beauty and the Beast dancing in the center of the room and the walls are lined with artwork featuring key scenes from the film. This room looks, to my eye, like it is geared for family's with younger guests.

Ok John... blah blah blah... how was the food? Well, I ordered the Tuna Nicoise salad and Kirk had Braised Pork. We both had water to drink and our total bill came to $26.14. My salad was very good and the tuna tasted surprisingly fresh. Kirk said that the pork was the best meal he had ever had at MK. (Of course anyone who has eaten at MK knows that's not that much of a recommendation - but the food was quite good). One interesting thing, Kirk realized after ordering that they give free refills for soda so he decided he wanted a soda. Thing is, they really don't have a good way of adding to your order. When he asked the CM at the drink station, she just told him to take some soda and she said it was his "pixie dust" for the day. So, overall I would say that Be Our Guest should be your top choice for lunch at MK. 

The Beasts Castle in the distance
After lunch we did more park touring at MK. We got a FastPass (FP) for Peter Pan Flight (PP), then looked around New Fantasyland for a while before watching PhilharMagic. New Fantasyland is absolutely spectacular. The whole area has much more room now, something it sorely needed. Technically it is still under construction  because the Seven Dwarfs Mins Train is not yet complete. It's unusual to see construction in WDW where you are able to view it up close. I was impressed with the size of the ride structure. I had imagined a smallish "kiddie" coaster. Not true - this is a massive undertaking and will be an awesome addition. Unfortunately right now it sort of divides New Fantasyland, making it impossible to get from the Enchanted Forest side to the Storybook Circus area without walking around the construction.

Mine Train construction

We did not experience either of the two new attractions in new Fantasyland - Enchanted Tales with Belle and Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid. This was my fault. I want to experience them for the first time with my daughters - especially as Ariel (along with Repunzel) is Charlotte's favorite Disney princess. I did NOT however say I would not have my picture taken with Ariel who is my favorite as well! Still, when Kirk and I went to Ariel's Grotto, the wait was 40 minutes. I knew we were coming back and hoped I would have another chance.

Journey of the Little Mermaid ride building

We then headed over to Tomorrowland for a ride on the People Mover, Carousel of Progress and Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor. Laugh Floor is interesting because each show is different - and this particular show was mediocre. We then got a FP for Space Mountain (SM) and rode PP using our FP. I wanted a Dole Whip but the afternoon parade had started and got in the way of me and my pineapple dessert. Kirk wanted to ride HM again but the line was too long so we headed back to Tomorrowland and sat while we waited for our SM FP time. Once our time came up we rode SM and left the park about 4:00.

I needed to get over to Disney's Wide World of Sports (WWoS) to pick up my race packet. I should mention here that we had made 4 dinner reservations. Our first reservation was for Boma in the Animal Kingdom Lodge at 5:00. We also had reservations at Le Cellier and
Monsieur Paul in Epcot as well as The Brown Derby at Disney Hollywood Studios. We had decided to cancel the Monsieur Paul reservation, then my return flight changed so we needed to cancel Le Cellier. Well now here we were leaving MK later than expected so our Boma reservation was looking iffy as well.

My racing bib
We caught the monorail back to the Ticket and Transportation Center, got back to Kirk's car and headed over to WWoS. As soon as we got there it was clear that we would not make our Boma reservation - WWoS was extremely busy with a line of cars going in and - more important - a huge line coming out. So I called Disney dining and cancelled our reservation. 

We were directed to a building where I filled out a waiver and picked up my racing bib and a bag I was told I should use for bag check at the race. From there I was told to go to the Health Expo at the Josten's Center to pick up my shirt. One thing I would have done differently - I would have given myself about 2 or 3 hours (as well as $200 or $300 dollars) to spend at the expo. It was awesome! I wish we could have spent more time there. For one thing there was a lot of race specific merchandise - a lot of it was very cool stuff. One thing I noticed was a booth for a company that makes something called "the stick" - a sort of roller bar used to knead out aching muscles. My chiropractor recommended this to me for my knees and it worked wonders. I stopped by their booth and told them how much I liked their product - they seemed to appreciate it.

Me with Jeff Galloway
We were starting to leave when I heard over the PA system that running guru Jeff Galloway was greeting people at the runDisney booth. Now, I read Galloway's book and i have to say that without his advice, and without his "run walk run" method, I'm not sure I could have done this race. I had to meet him. So we went to the runDisney booth and I waited for a few minutes to chat with him. What a great guy! he could not have been more gracious. The weather was expected to be unseasonably warm on race day so Jeff was advising folks to take it easy. In my case he asked what my "walk run" interval was. I told him 2 minutes/1 minute. He suggested I start at 30 seconds/30 seconds and go no higher than 1 minute/30 seconds. I thanked him and we left.

TIP: Plan to spend time at the Health Expo!

We left WWoS and, as expected, the traffic leaving was pretty bad. Although we had cancelled Boma we still needed dinner so we went to the House of Blues in Downtown Disney. I had a salad and a french dip sandwich and Kirk had meatloaf. The salad was good and the sandwich was OK, Kirk said his meatloaf was passable.

After dinner Kirk kindly took me to Goodings so I could get some epsom salts. I packed a tub for soaking my feet with my luggage, but I did not want to pack epsom salts and I knew I would want to soak my feet after the marathon.

Before heading back to the room Kirk was kind enough to take me to Goodings so I could get some fresh fruit and epson salts - two things I figured I would need the next day. As we drove Kirk complained that his car was pulling to one side and it felt as if the breaks were being applied. Then, just as we pulled into OKW, smoke started pouring from the front passenger side wheel. Clearly something was amiss. More on that later.

Kirk dropped me off at OKW around 8 so I could try to get some sleep. It was Extra Magic Hours night at DHS so Kirk headed back there. I set my alarm for 2:30 and also called in for a wakeup call for 2:30 just in case. Then, as I lay in bed trying to sleep, I suddenly realized that I had no idea how I was going to get to the race. So, I called the front desk. They told me that there was going to be one and only one bus at 3:00 to take folks to the race. Also, the bus was going to leave from the Hospitality House which was a 10 or 15 minute walk from our building. So, I asked to change the wakeup call to 2:00 just to be safe. With that I tried to get some sleep.

Here are shortcuts to all the entries in this blog:

Intro and Day 1
Day 2 and the Race
Day 3 in the Parks
Final Day 4

Here are some quick links to some of the more popular posts:

Europe trip 2012 including Santorini Greece, Athens and London
John & Kirk go to Williamsburg VA and Washington DC
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