January 30, 2018

Disney World

by Steve W

As Southern Californians, Rosemary and I had been to Disneyland numerous times as children and a few times as adults, so the concept of a Disney theme park is etched into our minds and memories. But we knew that the Orlando parks would be somewhat different, so we devoted two days to visiting the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT (which stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow). But, not being idiots, we did NOT do them on consecutive days!

First, a word about how Disney has taken over Orlando. Aside from the fact that there are 4 different parks to go to (The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, The Disney Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom), there are many Disney-branded hotels and attractions, like Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney), Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Everywhere you go in town, there are shops selling real or forged Disney memorabilia. There is a freeway basically devoted to getting people in and out of the Disney properties. To call Orlando a company town would not be inaccurate, as Disney employs about 70,000 "cast members" at their facilities.

We decided to go first to the Magic Kingdom and we got up early so that we could be at the main gate when the park opened. What we didn't realize was that (1) getting to the gate from the parking lot required taking either a ferry or monorail; and (2) there would be two sets of security checks. Needless to say, we didn't quite make it but still got into the park very early.

Disney has instituted a program called "FastPass" which allows users to reserve a spot on certain rides in advance and get into shorter lines. There is also a Disney World phone app that can be used at any of the Disney parks and attractions for restaurant reservations, estimates on wait times, etc., but since we had bought our tickets only few days previous to going to the park, many of the FastPass times early in the day had already been booked, so we made a couple of reservations for later in the day.

From the ferry, we got our first glimpse of Cinderella's castle, the most recognizable landmark in the park. To the left of the castle in the picture (but much closer to the entrance) is the train station at the front of the park.

We headed for Tomorrowland and rode the Astro Orbiter. Using a joystick, you can take your "spaceship" higher or swoop down lower. But they have some pretty strict rules about who can get on this ride.

Luckily, I qualify, but only barely.

Ready for take-off!

Luckily, my toupee didn't come off!
We went on many other rides, including the Carousel, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, Mad Tea Party, the Jungle Cruise, and several others. Needless to say, there were WAY too many people, especially parents with strollers who seemed to believe they had the right of way wherever they wanted to go, to enjoy walking around the park. Still, we saw some familiar sights and some new attractions.

Being close to water, the park attracts a lot of different sea birds who have no qualms about flying low and perching on rooftops. Here are some ibises on a roof in Liberty Square.

In the afternoon is the Festival of Fantasy Parade, with floats based on certain characters, singers and dancers in costumes, including costumed characters. Quite the spectacular sight!

Beauty and the Beast, which is how some people refer to Rosemary and me.

The happy couple!

The Little Mermaid float. 
Peter Pan and Wendy



The Lost Boys

Got a light?

Cinderella's castle is the most recognizable feature of the park. During the day, it can be seen from many places in the park. At night, it is lit up in various ways and looks incredible.

One of the last things to see is the Happily Ever After fireworks show. This is the most incredible fireworks display I have seen, combining not only fireworks, but music and animation displayed on the walls of the castle, lasting about 15  minutes. Here are some pictures and a short video:

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Just before you get to Main Street when leaving the park is a statue of Walt and Mickey.

We had a great time at the Magic Kingdom and were there for almost 14 hours, walking about eight miles. We were exhausted but eager to go to EPCOT in a couple of days.

I'm not tired, you're tired!
For EPCOT, we tried the same early arrival strategy, and this time it worked! Once inside the gates, we waited until the "cast members" authorized the crowd to formally enter the park. While waiting, we were entertained by "The JAMMitors", men dressed like the park clean up crew but drumming on trash cans of various sizes. These guys were great!

They be jammin'!

We had researched the attractions at EPCOT because we had only one FastPass available to us. We found that the most popular attractions were the new "Frozen Ever After" ride, "Test Track" and "Soarin'". We were able to reserve "Soarin'" late in the afternoon, so decided to try "Frozen" first to avoid a longer line. Since it was in the International section of the park, far from the main gate, we power walked over there and only had about a 15 minute wait. To be honest, the ride was disappointing.

Next we walked back towards the main entrance for "Test Track", billed as the fastest ride in any of the Disney parks, going about 65 miles per hour at one point on a banked track. This was a ride where you got to "design" a car and the ride "tested" your design for handling, stability and speed. There was a wait of almost two hours UNLESS you were willing to be separated from your partner and be included in a car with strangers. If separated, the wait was far less, so we rode with other people. Pretty exciting and a very fast ride, as advertised!

Since part of the goal of EPCOT is also to educate ("edutainment"), there is an exhibit called "Living With The Land", which features a section showing how they are efficiently growing vegetables for use at the Disney parks.

At various times during the day and evening, we wandered through the World Showcase, featuring exhibits from 11 different countries, each with signature architecture as well as filmed presentations, some of them in 360 degrees. Japan had a replica of pagoda, Morocco had a North African-style building and Mexico had an Aztec temple. All very interesting. And each location had examples of native cuisine. For example, we had lunch at a Moroccan restaurant and dinner at a Chinese restaurant, both within their respective sections of the park.

One of the highlights of the day was the Soarin' attraction. This simulates being in a hang glider soaring over various landscapes from all over the world. The guests are strapped into a chair, which then elevates off the floor in front of a huge movie screen, with wind blowing and some scents released that would be typical of the scenes being shown. You are not actually flying, but the sensation is so real that you might feel a bit of motion sickness for a minute or two. Loved this!

As we exited the park, we saw the huge geodesic dome that is the symbol of EPCOT, all lit up for the holidays. As we had walked over 10 miles that day, we went back to our hotel to collapse.

From Orlando, we went down to the Florida Keys, featured in our next report.

Note: We visited the theme parks the week before Christmas, and spent Christmas in Orlando.

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January 26, 2018


by Rosemary

We went to Orlando to see Disney World, and that's what we did. It really is an entire world, with four major theme parks, two water parks, a large sports complex, several golf courses, a huge shopping-dining mall, resort hotels, and its own freeway. Even things that aren't Disney are Disneyesque: Street lamps are painted purple, gift shops are decorated with giant wizards and mermaids, and there is a street called Seven Dwarfs Lane.

Nevertheless, we were able to step out of the world of fantasy for a little while, to see some of the area's natural wonders.

Bear Creek Nature Trail

We took an airboat ride on Lake Tohopekaliga. Airboats have flat bottoms and can travel through water that is only a few inches deep. They are powered by aircraft-style propellers. Their design makes them very useful, not just for tourism, but for rescue operations.

This is what it looked like as we skimmed over the water.

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This alligator, hiding in the brush, was about 12 feet long.

Another alligator eyes us warily.

There are a number of cattle ranches in the area, and sometimes the cows choose to wade in the swamp. The adults have little to fear from alligators, who generally won't attack anything they can't swallow whole. Calves are well advised to stay on dry land.

Great Blue Heron


Another bird in the swamp.

This next creature was lurking in the water at Disney Springs, a shopping and dining venue that includes the Cirque du Soleil theater, where we saw "La Nouba".

The giant Lego sea serpent.

Of course, Disney Springs has the world's largest Disney store, 12 rooms of things you didn't know you needed until you walked in the door.

My new look.

As for the theme parks -- yes! We went there. Our adventures will be described in the next post.

Note: We were here in mid-December.

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January 22, 2018

Still Heading South: Savannah, Georgia

by Steve W

Continuing our tour of the South, we made our way to Savannah, the oldest city in Georgia. Established in 1733, Savannah was a strategic port city in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

Like many older cities, it has its own charm and beautiful houses from a time gone by, with styles and opulence you don't see anymore.

It also has many beautiful and historical churches, one with a history about a song that everyone knows.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Can you guess what song was written here?

Along the waterfront are shops and restaurants catering to the tourist crowd (like us). Here we saw some original artwork about our traveling companion.

The only cat we have left, I'm afraid. But we enjoy his company!
There is also a statue dedicated to Florence Martus, The Waving Girl, who greeted ships who came into the harbor for many years, a tradition that continues to this day.

Braving the cold wet weather, I've got my own Waving Girl.

Around town, we saw several interesting items and signs.

This is a downspout on an old building.

Do the blind know that they are supposed to cross here? And how do they know?

Seems very un-PC, don't you think?
Towards the end of our last day, we toured the Telfair Family Mansion, formerly owned by one of Savannah's leading (and richest) philanthropists, Mary Telfair. In front of the building are sculptures of Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Phidias, an ancient Greek sculptor. Mrs. Telfair also endowed several museums in the city.

Savannah is a beautiful city, but it's time to move on!

Note: We were here in early December.

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