Monthly Archives: December 2011

How to Conquer Disney pt 3: Epcot

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Wow. Totally forgot to write my EPCOT recap. For some reason, I thought I had done it. So when I came here to blog about something totally different (Christmas recap), I realized that I had forgotten. Crap.

But, really, it’s appropriate. I did the least amount of planning and research for EPCOT. I had never been, and I had honestly no idea what to expect in terms of lines. I did know two things, though: 1.) The busiest and best ride is Soaring. 2.) I had to try out Mission: Space.

I read up on the rest of the rides, looked at the map, and tried to chart a course. But it was our last day and after a full day at Magic Kingdom, my feet wanted to rest. Here’s where I learn a lesson: Do Hollywood Studios last.

We walked the least amount at Hollywood Studios, so we could have been more leisurely. With Epcot and Magic Kingdom, we walked the equivalent of miles and we wasted so much energy in those rides. So, for EPCOT, we agreed to take it slow.

Wanting to sleep in a bit and knowing that we had a 4am wake up the next day, we vowed to take a later bus to the park, even though it was magic hours in the morning. Even though we tried to be there after the drop, the park opened later and we were there with the early rush to get in. As soon as the gate opened, people leaped towards Soaring. Like, literally sprinted towards it.

We went the opposite way. B insisted that we start our morning with his Disney favorite, Spaceship Earth. The website warns NOT to start there, but we did anyways. And we were probably one of the first people on it. I love it, btw. It was a trip highlight. After that, we made our way to Soaring to pick up a fastpass. By the time we got it around 8:15am, the fastpasses were already scheduled for 11am! Insanity!

We went the other direction towards Mission: Space next. This ride was like a hidden gem. Besides a ride malfunction, it had NO lines at around 8:30am. I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved this ride! It was my favorite of the day. Basically, you are given a job as an astronaut headed to Mars (I was the pilot). The ride simulates what it would feel to be on the spacecraft with motion sickness inducing G-Force. If you get car sick… do not go on this ride. And heed the warnings they give you. I glanced to my side at one point and felt sick to my stomach. It’s that intense! (But there is an option for an easier, non- G-Force version).

After Mission: Space, we got in our longest actual line for Test Track. The 15 minutes was worth it. The ride had an estimated wait of 40 minutes, but we obviously got through their faster, even without a fast pass. A lot of people use this ride to wait out the Soaring fastpasses. We also tried out the Finding Nemo ride. It’s cuteness was helped by an adorable girl dressed up as the fish in the next clam over…

At 11am, the Cool Station opens. This place is a fantastic time waster if you drink Coke products or are an adventurous foodie. Basically, you get mini cups and you try self-serve coke samples from around the world. Everyone quickly discovers that the Beverly version of Italy is the WORST (super bitter). I love the Isreali version best. The place does get crowded and sticky fast, so go early before it gets too hot outside.

After a long wait, we FINALLY got on Soaring (get the fastpass because the wait at noon was over 2 1/2 hours)! To be honest, it was totally worth it. The ride was fantastic. I dont want to spoil it, so I am going to leave it at that. You can research it if you are curious.Let me just say that it is cooler than any description I can write.

After Soaring and a failed attempt to sit through Captain EO (fail on the part of Disney for bringing back this shit storm), we made our way to the World Showcases. I really dont have much to report. Each place was unique and interesting. We didn’t spend much time at any particular one. I did do the Pick and Pearl in Japan an we watched the Canadian Santa tell his story (each area has their own holiday spot to hear Christmas stories from around the world).

B drank around the world while I basically ate. LOL. I was beyond excited for crepes and pretzels. We had dinner at the Italy plaza at Tutto Italia, which was delicious. We got tickets to the Lessons and Carols event at the American plaza by eating at EPCOT. You have to book in advance with Disney reservations, but it was pretty much worth it.

The show was incredible! I’m not religious, but both B and I could have been convinced to return to the fold after seeing that show. They had 2 high school choirs, one honor choir, and one mini-all star group in addition to an orchestra. Our celebrity narrator was Trace Adkins. I hate country music, but I’ll give credit to the man. His reading of the Christmas story was sublime.

We were pretty much Disney-ed out after that. We returned to our hotel to eat some snacks, watch Up! by the pool, and call in for an early bedtime. Our plan left around 5am the next morning, and we were home soon after. The trip was wonderful. Disney was a great spot for us as adults. And I recommend it for anyone else willing to put in the time to research the parks in depth before going.

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How to Conquer Disney World (pt 2)

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“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…”

Isn’t it insane how fast the holiday season and end of the year came? I just cant believe it. I feel like Halloween just hit! And even though I did the majority of my shopping in September and October, I still spent part of the day looking for last minute ideas and knitting my big project. Yikes.

Anyways, let’s go back to how I conquered Disney World. My fiance (jesh!) said to me, after reading my last post, “Stop revealing our secrets!” So you better enjoy this!

On our second day, we woke up super early to make it to Disney World for the rope drop. The opening of Magic Kingdom is the BEST out of all three parks. They put on a show as a train opens the gates and then ride staff walk you to the ride of your choice.

Here’s where my biggest hint comes in…. NO MATTER WHAT, GO LEFT! Seriously. Whenever you have a choice to go left or right in a park or in a line, go left. Most people will choose right. In the case of Magic Kingdom, most people will head to the most popular rides in Tomorrowland (Space Mountain, specifically).

So going left, you have a better chance of beating crowds. In our case, we went left and found ourselves at Fronteirland. We had a choice to go for Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. With temps around 65 at 8am, we went with Big Thunder. We originally planned on getting fastpasses, but we quickly realized that we were the FIRST people in line for the ride. As the ride operator led us up the “mountain,” we decided it would be a waste to not take on the opportunity to ride a fastpass ride in 2 minutes.

As soon as we finished, we circled the park and got fastpasses for Space Mountain. With a two hour wait to use the pass (we got ours at around 8:10am, and it was already up to 10:30am), we headed back towards Adventureland and got on Pirates with NO LINE. I couldn’t believe it. We literally sprinted through the place. Here’s the proof:

Sorry for the darkness, but it's me going "Where is everyone?!?"

After we finished, we headed towards Haunted Mansion (my favorite Magic Kingdom ride), rode it with, again, no line. At this point, it was about 9am. We had ridden three of the most popular rides with NO lines. Wanting to test our luck, we walked back to Tomorrowland to ride one of the COOLEST of the newer rides: Buzz Lightgear Space Ranger Spin. There were fastpasses for this ride, and when we visited it at night, the lines were over 40 minutes, so it must be popular when the kids start getting there. But in the morning, the wait was nothing. When we got out, it was the perfect time to ride Space Mountain. Well worth the fastpass.

Our longest wait of our entire trip was, oddly enough, at astro orbiter. Seriously. But it was, tops, 15 minutes. With energy to spare and the park filling up with the younger crowd, we headed over to Fantasyland. They are basically redoing the whole land, but most the main rides remain. So we grabbed the fastpasses for Peter Pan and headed for the must-do ride, It’s a Small World and the Tea Cups. I loved it. B did not. I probably should not have spun it so hard:

My must-meet characters were the Evil Stepsisters. I didn’t really have hopes to find them, but as soon as we got out of Peter Pan, there they were! They were a hoot, especially when they saw our “Just Engaged” buttons.

Around noon, we realized that it was warming up enough to give Splash Mountain a try. The crowd was still older or people just getting in to the park, so the line without a fastpass was manageable. Normally, this would be the most popular, non-Space Mountain ride, but going off season during colder weather has its benefits. Go mid-morning or early afternoon. Best part was that we got to ride it without getting wet (ride in the back two seats)! WOOO!

The park easily starts to fill up after noon. Younger kids are fully awake, the parades are going, and the weather is warming up. If you can, get out of the park or do your shopping (away from Main Street where the parades are). We headed to Downtown Disney for the afternoon where I did some Christmas shopping and B indulged in some cigars from Sosa.

We did dinner at Citricos. It’s one the ritziest and priciest restaurants in the whole resort, but it was NOT worth it. I really think that because we were dressed casually (which you can do) and because we were young, we didn’t get top notch service that the other tables around us did. It was pretty disappointing, to be honest. Dont get me wrong, the food was great (I had the beef and B had tofu), but we felt completely jaded by the lack of attentiveness and inability to quickly and effectively serve us.

The best part of going to the Grand Floridian for dinner was taking the boat back to the Magic Kingdom for magic hours. What we didn’t plan for was the MASSIVE amounts of people there to see the fireworks show. The park was completely congested, so try to work around the edges. Do not go towards the castle! While the fireworks went, we rode Haunted Mansion (again), got on Dumbo, made it on the Carousel of Progress, walked through the castle, and ended the night on Cinderella’s Carousel.

Seeing the castle lit up was the icing on the cake for an almost perfect day. It is GORGEOUS. Pictures do not do it justice…

So… what rides did we not ride?:
Jungle Cruise, Swiss Family Tree House, Magic Carpets, Snow White (a regret, simply because the ride is closing in January), and Tomorrowland Speedway. We also skipped almost all of the shows, but we would have done them if we stuck around in the afternoon. Looking at that list, I am completely happy with how our plans played out. This is the Holy Grail of theme parks, and I think we did it justice.

Here’s a quick recap on how we did it:

  1. Make a list of “must see/do” rides and a secondary list, and agree upon it before you go.
  2. Get there for the rope drop, maneuver your group to the front of the line. Once you get past the bag check, it’s just a huddle by the gates…
  3. GO LEFT. Hit Fronteirland first and THEN go towards Fantasyland. Once you are done riding your first fastpass line (without a fastpass), you can easily get a fastpass for the other big rides.
  4. Ride water rides and any bigger kid rides in the mid-morning and then hit the little kid rides as the park fills up.
  5. Avoid Main Street and the Cinderella Castle routes after 12pm. It’s easier to circle the back of the castle than it is to go through it.
  6. The wait signs are usually inflated by about 10 minutes. Get in line for any ride that has under a 20 minute wait or prioritize what is worth waiting for while you are holding on to a fastpass.
  7. If you can live without fireworks, ride the rides during the shows! And dont be afraid to use up the magic hours. While we were there, the park was open till 3am. We stayed till about 12:30.

But my biggest tip? Get a silhouette done! Seriously, how cool is this? We got two copies and framed for much cheaper than the drawn caricatures. You can get them done on Main Street and also Downtown Disney, but Magic Kingdom’s versions are about $5 less.

 

See ya tomorrow for EPCOT!

A Proposal and How to Conquer Disney World In 3 Days (part 1)!

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Now that I’m home from my Disney vacation, I can finally talk about what I’ve been waiting for… the proposal!

On the day we left for Disney, I couldn’t sleep. I was just too excited. I even woke up Brendan, who spent the last two nights at Wilco concerts. After breakfast, we struggled to find ways to pass the time before our car came to pick us up for Midway. I suggested we play Monopoly. Monopoly is our FAVORITE game. We probably play it once a week. And ever since he found out that I knew about the impending engagement, he has been teasing that he had hid the ring in the game box. Every time he’d tease, I’d open it up thinking… “well, maybe this time, he’s for real.”

I wasn’t falling for it on Saturday. I refused to open the box, but he was insistent. Eventually, I stopped protesting, and inside the box were two pieces of chocolate. I turned around to yell at him for tricking me again, but instead I found him on his knee, proposing. I’ve read so many engagement stories where they say it was a whirl, and that everything stops. It really does. And even though I knew it was coming and he knew what I was going to say, it still shocked me.

Oh, and the ring was GORGEOUS. It doesn’t look like any ring I’ve ever seen, which is what I wanted. It’s very modern without being too showy. And it just feels me. He reallllllly got it right.

  

After the proposal, we changed our facebook status, called and texted everyone close to us, and grabbed our bags for our trip. B had rented a limo for us, which was such a nice touch! We landed in Disney about three hours later.

*Let me just stop here and say that we CONQUERED Disney World, as in, we did EVERY SINGLE RIDE on our wishlist (which was pretty extensive, plus some). I did a lot of research beforehand on how to maneuver the parks, and it really paid off. The next part of this blog is a recap, in addition to a how-to-guide:

Our first night was spent at the Boardwalk. It’s a beautiful little area meant to look like 1920s seaside town. We wanted to enjoy it, but we were overwhelmed and tired. We did have a drink at the Atlantic Dance Hall and munched on some fries at the ESPN Zone. Either way, it’s great if you are a group of adults looking for something to do when most of the parks and shops are closed.

Our second day was at Hollywood Studios. For our days at the park, we followed the magic hours perk we got as guests in Disney resort hotels. Even though we could use the park late, we insisted on getting up early, taking the Disney buses to the park about an hour prior to the park opening, and waiting in line for the “rope drop” (the official opening of the park). Our goal of the day was to do three things: ride Rock n Roller Coaster; Star Tours; and Tower of Terror, take a class at the Animation Academy, and see Muppets in 3D all before we had to go back to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for dinner at Jiko in the late afternoon.

We started by lining up behind the rope drop nearest to Tower of Terror. As soon as the rope dropped, we walked quickly to the fastpass line and grabbed our first fast passes. Then we headed to Rock n’ Roller Coaster where the line was about 10 minutes, if that. We hopped on without fast passes.  When we were finished, we rode Tower of Terror. It was B’s first time and he loved it, so we grabbed another fast pass on our way out to ride it again. At this point, it was only 9am, so the park still wasn’t crowded. We shopped, then headed to Animation Academy where we learned how to draw B’s favorite, Donald Duck. The class was actually a TON of fun. And it killed 20 minutes of our wait for Tower of Terror, which we then rode a second time without waiting.

After that, we spent the rest of the afternoon shopping, seeing the Muppets (really no line, which shocked me) while waiting for our Star Tours fastpass, experiencing the cheesy joy that is the Great Movie Ride and Backlot Tour, and getting a free hot dog from a vendor that spotted our “Just Engaged” buttons. *If you are celebrating ANYTHING while in Disney, tell a cast member. They will give you a button or two that your whole party can wear around the park. Cast members and other vacationers were congratulating us left and right, and we got a couple little perks to go with it.

Late afternoon, we headed to Jiko in the AKLodge. The Lodge was gorgeous with a ton of animals roaming the grounds. They, hands down, had the best lobby of them all as well. And Jiko… omg…. I am not over exaggerating when I say that Jiko had maybe the best food I’ve ever had. Jiko is also overlooked compared to the other AKLodge restaurant, so it isn’t crowded. But mainly, I picked Jiko because of the full vegan menu. But for us meat eaters, I tried the duck, which was cooked perfectly. After dinner, the restaurant gave us free creme brulee made out of spices. It tasted just like pumpkin pie. Yum!

When we were done stuffing our faces with the best food ever, we jumped on the bus and headed back to Hollywood Studios for the Osbourne Family Lights. Basically, a guy in Arkansas decorated his home in millions of lights. Eventually, his neighbors complained about them and the crowd it was drawing, so he was forced to remove them. Disney bought the display and added it to the movie sets. From Thanksgiving to the New Year, you can walk around and watch the lights dance to music and see fake snow fall. It was gorgeous. Here’s a video I found:

We made it back to our hotel around midnight. So, here’s what we learned about how to conquer Hollywood Studios:

  1. Head to the big attractions first, either Tower of Terror or the Roller Coaster.
  2. Grab a fast pass for at least one of them and then ride the other without the fast pass. My personal opinion is that the Roller Coaster will most likely have a shorter line each time.
  3. Kill time for Star Tours or the other main rides by taking in one of the shows or doing the drawing classes. You can also meet a ton of Disney characters in the Animation area.
  4. Avoid the entrance for Indiana Jones and Star Tours if you are in a hurry. Go through shops or walk around through the fake town instead. The place gets congested fast, especially in the afternoon.
  5. We didn’t realize this, but the biggest wait was for the new Toy Story ride. So, if you have someone that must ride that ride, head there first and get a fastpass ASAP. By the time we headed to Pixar, the wait was 3 hours and the fast passes were all gone (by 3pm!).
  6. You can only get one fast pass per hour, so read your ticket carefully and prioritize.

… So that’s it. Tomorrow, I’ll post on how to do Magic Kingdom (aka, the holy grail) in 4 hours and EPCOT in 2. HA!

 

 

Waiting…

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I’ve been quiet lately. No apologies because once I get back from vacation (we leave Saturday) and make it through the holidays… I anticipate a TON to write about.

Until then, I’ve been waiting. Oh, and counting. I’ve been counting down the days to Disney World like a 6 year old girl. Every morning, I email B with how many days until we leave and a “fun” fact about Disney. I’ve been doing this since October so finding new facts every day has been kind of a fun scavenger hunt. I could probably write a book with all the new things I learned about the amusement park.

Did you know that the parking lots at Magic Kingdom are named after the 7 dwarfs? Well, all but one- Doc. Because Disney didn't want parkers to get confused with the loading "dock."

 

Yeah, I’m full of those facts.

So, we are 3 days out right now. I’ve got several busy days to occupy myself until then. I’m hoping to finish one of my most extensive Christmas presents tonight. (I’ll post about that later.) Oh! And cooking! I’m making another apple pie tonight simply because I can. On Thursday I have a non-pregnancy related ultrasound to occupy my night.

And Friday is my start of vacation. I took the day off so I could have time to drop Foster Pup off at the boarders before they closed. AND I wanted to start my vacation off right with a massage and a manicure. I’ve only gotten a manicure once or twice (for weddings), and I’ve been silently saving for a really good massage since my half marathon. It’s time to cash in.

But it’s not all pampering. I’ve mentioned the ultrasound. I’m dealing with some medical issues right now that I am not ready to discuss- mainly because it is not conclusive. My doctor has put me on some strong antibiotics that have left me feeling dizzy and tired for the next ten days, but we’re still waiting on test results till I know what the next steps are.

So, here I sit in limbo.

 

My Christmas presents are pretty much wrapped and ready to go (or about 3/4ths of the way done), my bags are packed and I’ve purchased another Sookie Stackhouse book for the plane, and I’m dutifully taking a motion-sickness inducing antibiotic.

As for my workout challenge… going well! I’m working on making a vacation plan that wont involve me doing squats while waiting in line for Space Mountain.

 

Plank-A-Day

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I’m not very consistent. I dont like to do things over and over and over again. That’s why I try to make my fitness or nutrition challenges different each week. Nothing can ever get boring if you try to spice it up a bit.

But then I got word of the #plankaday challenge going around twitter, and I though, “Hmmm… that could really be awesome!”

But wait- didn’t I just get done saying that I hated routine? Wouldn’t doing the same strength training exercise over and over again defeat my never ending goal to mix up my workouts?

Yes! and No!

Planks are fabulous. They challenge your core and shoulder strength. Unlike crunches, they challenge your entire abdominal area and lower back. And you dont have to do a million of them to see results.

But the best part is that there are a bajillion different versions. Sure, there are the standards:

Standard, forearm plank

But then people improved upon it. They added side planks:

Raise the arm in the air for a more yoga-like pose.

And then, made it more complicated with twists:

My favorite: Thredding the Needle

Of course, someone got the great idea to add props!

Stability balls scare me to death.

And, why not just work your shoulders and core? Let’s add legs!

Arms and Legs! (I dare you not to look at her chest)

Some people get really hardcore in their planks:

Sure way for me to fall and break something...

But you can make them easier by dropping to your knees, criss-crossing your feet, changing your hand or forearm position, etc.

I even do these some days when I'm not feeling it.

… and all you have to do is hold it.  I know people who do interval planks where they are in plank position for 10 seconds and then rest 10 and do it all over again. Others can hold planks for minutes at a time. I can do a regular forearm plank for about a minute twenty before I fall in to a heap.

Put multiples versions of the plank together and you’ve got a pretty formidable core and shoulder workout. You can even add them to your yoga routine (vinyasas) for a more soothing version!

What’s your favorite plank?… and no, I do not mean this:

Life’s a Great Adventure

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Quick update on my current challenge. So far, I am rocking it. 15 mins/day may have been too easy. On days when I’m not feeling the workout, I’ve been putting on a couple of internet videos and getting in core. Other days, I’m doing my regular thing. It’s been mainly strength and toning, so I better be ripped come Christmas time!

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You know that feeling when things start to build up? One day, it’s my flat tires and the next it’s a lost CTA card. I’ve got a dog throwing up and (thus) a destroyed futon to replace. For some reason, this week hasn’t been too kind to me. B says it’s karma and I’ll get something good coming soon.I’ve got one thing to say to that….

IT BETTER BE.

On Tuesday, our office power went completely out for forty minutes. My coworker and I sat in complete darkness waiting for it to pop on, both surfing the web from our phones. And even though we were miserable (with the power comes the heat), I couldn’t help but chuckle and think that this was so unplanned.

I often wake up and think, “Today’s going to be a great day.” We’ve all had that feeling that something wonderful was going to happen soon. And I know that we’ve all had the opposite- that feeling of dread that nags at us. The morning of our lost power, I had none of those feelings. It was completely ordinary.

It got me thinking…

I have an adventurous soul with careful tendencies. I have all of these grand plans, like rock climbing or eventually moving across the pond for a bit. I’m constantly collecting pictures of places I want to go.

Vienna at Christmas time...

On the other hand, I really love my creature comforts. I love having a home base and the safety of loved ones around. I miss home when I’m gone too long. I cant go a week without talking to my dad.

I’m really not sure how to reconcile those two characteristics. Is there such thing as a cautious explorer? Or do we have to be one thing or another? Maybe it’s more about me being a realist (careful) with delusions of grandeur (adventure)… Is that possible.

It’s (I’m?) a confusing mess.

One thing I do know, however, is that life is a complete and grand adventure. I may not get to travel the world yearly like some of my friends. Nor can I move back to the hometown and be completely satisfied. My adventure is how I address life as it is now.

So, that’s my new mantra. As the days become slower and darker, and I spend my days drooling over beautiful vacation pictures of my friend’s, I just repeat to myself that this is my adventure. And if I dont like it, it’s up to me to change it.

Shout out to the boyfriend...

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And on that encouraging note… it’s time for my December goals. First off, goal #1 is to pay my rent… which I forgot to do yesterday. December really crept in there.

I’ve decided to be pretty vague in my December goals only because I know that I’ve been pretty lazy the last couple months and because we are going on vacation before Christmas hits. So it’s the double wammy of diet/workout disasters waiting to happen.

To combat this, here are my slightly vague goals:

  1. 15 min/day of working out
  2. A new recipe a week
  3. Vegetarian every other week
  4. Strength train or tone 3xs a week
  5. Cardio 3xs a week
  6. Plank-a-day (this is a twitter based challenge I found through @Irisheyes1982 and @dawnieslife… both have awesome fitness based blogs you should check out)

 

I think all are doable (really working on that “hating your body” one). I can easily do planks in a hotel room without my mat and I already decided that I will wear a pedometer at Disney and try to get a certain amount of steps for it to count as fitness time (though I may attempt a run at one of the paths near our hotel).

How are you working your December adventure?