Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Olympic Blurb 2016: Promote the Positivity

In eight days, our television sets will all be tuned into NBC to view the Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony. There will be pomp and circumstance, there will be dancing, and there will be way too much commentary so that we Americans (who apparently can't understand other cultures and countries?) can understand what's going on.

Of course, if you have kept your ear to the ground, you've heard how the Rio Olympics are a mess, the facilities are not ready, and athletes are already being suspended for doping. This is going to be the worst thing ever.

But I have been hearing other rumblings, as well. Something I have been hoping to hear for many, many Olympics. It's backlash of the Olympics backlash!

My sentiment throughout my 20 years (20 years?!) of Olympics viewing and eventual obsessing has been this: people will spend the 2-6 months before the Games begin complaining about everything concerning the Olympics. And I mean everything! Facilities, food, volunteers, athletes, white-washing Olympic committees, the Olympic village, language barrier, slums of the host city, expense, doping, NBC, and more that I can't even think of right now.

Some of the complaining is legitimate. But a lot of it is not!

After people have been inundated with all this negativity, the Olympics finally begin. And all that negativity suddenly vanishes! People get invested in the athletes (and their stories, which sometimes are over-hyped by NBC) and suddenly positivity has taken over. Yes, we are disappointed when a team or an athlete loses, but we're usually not negative about it.

As I just saw in a commercial, "For 17 days we are all UNITED." Say what you want about politics, but we are all cheering for that American athlete, no matter who he or she is. We'll watch an event where an American is not prominently featured (like table tennis!) and we'll watch and we'll hopefully go, "I had no investment in this event, but I enjoyed the heck out of it!"

To my delight, other people are pushing aside the pre-Olympics negativity as well. This morning I read an amazing article by Olympic historian Bill Mallon, and you should read it, too. I love his sentiment: go to the Olympics and then make your opinions!

(I do hope to follow his advice in 2020 in Tokyo! If I keep saying that I'm doing it, then it'll happen, right?!)

Bill Plaschke, writer for the Los Angeles Times and frequent guest on ESPN's Around the Horn, used some of his FaceTime yesterday during the show to tell people to quit talking smack about the Olympics. "I know it's corrupt, it's foul, there's the Zika virus, it's not ready, it's gonna be chaos and everything, and it's gonna be great. Every Olympics is great. They always get their act together...It's gonna be a tremendous, tremendous Olympics. Somebody's gonna win a gold medal, somebody's gonna cry, somebody's life dream is gonna be fulfilled. Watch it. It'll work."

And you can read articles by journalists and roll your eyes, but when it comes from the athletes themselves, then maybe you should pay attention. 3-time US Olympian Megan Kalmoe wrote a very blunt article telling complainers and media outlets to "Stop trying to ruin the Olympics for us." She has just made a new fan because of that article because she said everything I was hoping someone would say. (Plus she mentions that this Olympics should have been in Chicago. Remember that? I do!)

You might think that I'm only going to post positive articles here that drive my point. You know what? You're right. Because you can probably Google "Rio Olympics bad" and have 100 pages of negative Olympic articles, so why should I put them here?

Let's bring some positivity, people! Let's go on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat and whatever and promote the Olympics! Get ahead of the curve, instead of waiting for the first American gold medal to show up. Have fun, and show the love.

Wouldn't it be great to promote America as a loving, positive country? Well, let's start here.

Olympics articles will continue next week and then be posted every day (God-willing!) during the Rio Olympics! Like my page at or follow me @CeePipes on Twitter to get updates on my articles and other random Olympic musings!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Universal Orlando Trip: June 2016

View Day 6 of our Disney vacation HERE!

And you need to enjoy some Harry Potter music for this post, so enjoy this spectacular compilation of music from all eight films! (There's a dialogue/effects/music version, too - just check the comments section under the video for the link.)

Our final park day dawned cloudy, gloomy, and rainy. It had rained all night and didn't look like it was letting up. Fortunately we had parked under a structure so didn't have to get our luggage too wet.

We left the car there and walked out to the shuttle buses that take people from Cabana Bay to the Universal CityWalk, which bridges the two parks. You need to go through CityWalk to get to Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure. There were a ton of people waiting, but after a few minutes three buses drove up and started loading up guests simultaneously. We didn't wait long after that.

Our bus driver was very informative and gave a lot of helpful suggestions, even though we (Mom, Dad, and I) weren't very interested in most of his information. It was the last day of the trip, and we had one goal in mind: conquer the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

(But not in a Voldemort kind of way. The good way.)

As we pulled up to CityWalk, the rain had become a drizzle and it was a little lighter out. We walked through all of CityWalk and most of Islands of Adventure with our ponchos on, but shed them right before arriving at Hogsmeade Village. I was pleased that our tickets gave us no problems, but it was weird using paper tickets after spending a week with Magic Bands. We would need them not only when we first entered the park, but also when we were going on the Hogwarts Express. (Having a Park-to-Park pass is required for the Hogwarts Express, since you travel to the other park.)

The walk was a long one, and we were wearing our rain sandals instead of our cushy walking shoes, so our feet weren't in the greatest shape. Mom wished there was a train that took people from the front of the park to the back, because that's where Hogsmeade is!

The rest of the park hadn't opened yet, so everyone was a Universal Resort hotel tenant and were going to Hogsmeade. I was there pretty much for Mom's reaction, and it was priceless, especially with the Hogwarts Express train parked right in front.

We walked through the village and got to the entrance for Hogwarts castle. We gave Dad all of our stuff, since I knew full well this attraction was not calm enough for him, and headed in. He made his way over to the Three Broomsticks, which wasn't at all busy at this time in the day.

I had always done the single rider line when I rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, but had never done the full queue. This was my chance with Mom, and we both loved it! We started out in the greenhouses, entered the building, saw the entrance to Dumbledore's office and the office itself (with the Pensieve!), walked through the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom (with Harry, Ron, and Hermione there), saw many moving paintings including the portrait of the Fat Lady, and had a conversation with the Sorting Hat before finally making it to the ride vehicles. We had a bit of a wait right before the Sorting Hat because the ride broke down, but it was about 15 minutes and we were back up again.

This attraction makes me pretty motion sick, and I can't handle more than one ride each day. It's a great attraction, but you are really moved around! I was worried about Mom, but I shouldn't have - she loved it! She loved it so much she wanted to do it again right away, but I vetoed her.

We found Dad and headed for the Hogwarts Express. It was after 9 and the rest of the parks were open, so we could take the train to Diagon Alley. The wait wasn't long at all, and we got to enjoy the amazing windows they have in the train.

You exit the train in Universal's version of London, including King's Cross station. They do that so you can get the experience of walking through the bricks into Diagon Alley. I actually took a video of Mom's reaction:

We wandered slowly down Diagon Alley, taking in all of the sights and little details. You can go into shops like the Owlery or Ollivander's and other shops are locked, like The Daily Prophet and Flourish and Blotts. We made our way down to Gringotts Bank and went on the ride there. Dad went on this one, too, so we had to drop off our stuff in one of the lockers they have. The lockers are free for the first hour, and you get one by typing onto a screen and the screen tells you the locker to use and unlocks it. Then to unlock it, you type in the code they've given you earlier and it unlocks it again.

Many of the rides at Universal have lockers, and they're free for the first hour. But if it gets longer, they'll require a credit card to unlock it, too!

I also had never been in the main line for Gringott's, and it was beautifully done. The goblins working as tellers looked so real! Well, life-like, I should probably say. We went inside the main room and behind it to some elevators. We entered Bill Weasley's office, and he makes appearances frequently throughout the ride (naturally - he does work at the bank, after all).

The ride itself is much more tame than Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which is why I knew Dad would be okay. You're in a mine car, and people do jostle your car around with spells and dragons and such, but there's enough down time where you're watching stuff happen that it all works out. I prefer this attraction, and I enjoy the story!

The next thing Mom wanted to do was get her wand. We entered Ollivander's and watched the cool little show they have, which is very similar to Harry's experience when he got his first wand. In a neat turn of events, the lady picked out two girls instead of just one. Both tried one wand and had negative results, but the lady just took the wands and switched them, and they both worked! That was clever.

Then we got into line. While it was a long line, it went pretty quickly. Mom went out and found the wand that fit her - an oak wand. It took her a while, and Dad and I let a few people go ahead of us when we got to the front of the line.

I had never bought a wand before, and I realized why when the guy told us the price - fifty bucks for an interactive wand! That took the gift card I'd gotten for Mom, plus a bit more. I hadn't thought the price was so expensive, or I would have added more to my gift card for her! But I paid for the rest of it, too. The guy apologized a couple of times for the line - I don't think he realized that we were more displeased with the price!

Mom immediately got to work, though, to make the wand worth the purchase. For the rest of the day, she was finding windows and other objects with which to cast a spell. Most of the time, it took a couple of tries, and other times a team member had to come and help out. But occasionally, it worked right away. Here's an example:

We made it over to a shop and bought two butterbeers - one plain and one frozen. I much preferred the frozen butterbeer, while my Dad liked the plain. Mom actually wasn't a big fan! Dad and I chilled out and drank while Mom did some spells. You know, the usual stuff.

We wandered around a little more and caught a showing of The Tale of the Three Brothers at the Carkit Market stage. The puppets they use are supposed to look like the ones in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1), and they do the job! The tale is fantastic anyway, and they do it very well.

It was time for an early lunch (to avoid the long lines that build up), so we walked to the Leaky Cauldron. They have a queue for when the place gets busy, but we just walked right up to the counter. I got the Cottage Pie, and Mom and Dad split a Fish and Chips between the two of them. Very English, but very good. After we ordered, we were taken to a table, and the food was delivered to us.

When we got out of lunch, Celestina Warbeck was putting on a show at the Carkit Market, so we were able to watch that show. That Celestina sure has a voice! Mom and Dad got over there before I did because I cleaned up our lunch, but as I was catching up to them, I was passing a water fountain that featured one of the mermaids as a statue. Apparently, this mermaid spits out water, and I watched a lady get water right in the face!

We wandered a bit more and then decided to catch the Hogwarts Express back to Hogsmeade. Before that, we checked out the London area a bit more, saw Kreacher in the window of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, and talked to the conductor and Dre the shrunken head at the Knight Bus. (Dre sure is witty!)

The line for the Hogwarts Express was much longer this time, but there was plenty to see as we waited. I got a Snapchat video of Mom and Dad going through the brick wall, though I didn't clearly explain it to Dad, and he just stood there like I was going to take a picture. So you can hear me yelling, "Go! Go!" in the video, so even though you can see it happen, it wasn't as effective. I did get a very nice shot, though, of Mom and Dad in front of the Hogwarts Express.

The windows show different things happening as you travel to Hogwarts than what you see on the way to London, so it was just as entertaining as the first time.

Hogsmeade was much hotter than Diagon Alley, since Diagon Alley has a lot more overhead shading, which ends up keeping the air conditioning trapped inside, while Hogsmeade is all open air. By this time of the day, the rain was completely gone and the sun was making it hot and muggy instead.

Mom did a few interactive windows while I went into Honeydukes and purchased a gigantic Chocolate Frog and some Fizzing Whizzbees with raspberry flavoring. The Fizzing Whizzbees crackled in your mouth for a fun sensation, though I wish I had gotten a different flavor.

Mom wanted to do Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey one more time, but I bowed out this time, deciding to hang out with Dad. She went off to do the singles line, but about five minutes later I realized she didn't have her phone on her! So Dad and I went to the gift shop (Filch's Emporium) to hopefully catch her when she exited the ride. And to my surprise, amongst the giant swell of people inside, we did!

After a few more interactive windows, a visit to a few more shops, and a realization that it was really hot and we were really tired, Mom and Dad called it a day. It was about 2pm, so we had spent about 6 hours between the two Harry Potter experiences, which was all very worth it.

Our walk back to CityWalk was looooooong, and we really took our time and made frequent stops. Mom found a short food line and got free cups of water (I honestly didn't think that Universal did that like Disney does!) for our ever-reliable water bottle. I'm so glad I packed that. We also stopped to eat a bit of our Chocolate Frog, and discover that our card was Salazar Slytherin, to Mom's chagrin.

Dad still had a bit left on his Universal gift card that I'd gotten him for Father's Day, so we stopped at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville on CityWalk for a margarita! I have never seen a margarita disappear so fast between the three of us.

We didn't wait long for a Cabana Bay bus, and in no time we were back to the resort. Our stuff was already in the car, so we took off for our off-site hotel.

The hotel had comfy beds and good air conditioning, and that was honestly all we needed. We had dinner at a local Denny's and had a very nice waiter who chatted with us about good marriages and other things. That evening we just watched television, and I also showed a YouTube video of Fantasmic! to my parents, in place of the show that we didn't get to see the night before.

After sleeping in, we had breakfast in the hotel before driving back to the airport. We didn't have any issues dropping off the car, checking in at the airline, and going through security, and before long we were at my parents' gate. We had lunch together, and then their plane started boarding and we said goodbye.

Our flights had no problems, and when I was arriving back at my apartment in Aurora, my parents texted that they had just landed in Detroit!

To say this was a successful vacation would be an understatement. There were so many things that went right! We didn't have any travel issues, our hotels were great, and aside from the PeopleMover and Fantasmic!, we didn't miss anything we had wanted to see! Better yet, everything my parents wanted to do twice, we were able to do!

The thing I wanted most was for my parents to have an amazing trip. To my delight, I was able to witness that. You can hear it from my parents themselves in this interview I conducted. Or, you can see what Mom wrote to me in a note that I wasn't expecting to get a week after the trip:

"Dad and I have been telling the story of our vacation to everyone that asks. The more we tell the story, the more appreciative we become. We had a BLAST! I enjoyed everything, and most of all, I enjoyed spending time with you! Thank you thank you THANK YOU! It was truly 'exhaustively awesome.'"

Stay tuned, because Blurb Musings is preparing for the Olympics! Starting August 5, Blurb Musings will be posting daily updates of the Summer Games that are taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To get notifications of these articles, like Blurb Musings on Facebook or follow my blogs here on Google!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Walt Disney World Trip Day 6: Hollywood Studios

View Day 5's post HERE!

This park's playlist can only be one track. Listen to it here.

I have to preface this day's events, because a lot of you might be second-guessing my choices, and if you get what I was thinking, it might make it a little clearer for you.

Starting on Thursday (Day 2) there were rumblings that a tropical storm was forming in the Gulf of Mexico and heading towards Florida. By Friday, it looked like that forecast was going to come true on Sunday night and into Monday.

Monday was our only day at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It is the smallest park of the four Disney parks, and about one-third of the park was closed back in April - including the Backlot Tour and the Animation Academy - to make way for more Star Wars content. However, it still had many great shows and attractions, including Toy Story Mania!

However, if a tropical storm was coming through, that might derail our plans at the Studios since we did not have Park Hopper tickets and were only in the Studios for one day - our last day. So throughout Friday evening, Mom, Dad, and I were discussing a shuffling of our plans. Should we stick with our initial plan of Magic Kingdom on Saturday, Epcot on Sunday, and the Studios on Monday? Or should we do the Studios on Saturday instead?

Several factors were in play. Firstly, we were doing Epcot and the Studios on Days 5 and 6 because of our hotel's close proximity to both parks. This would allow us to enjoy fast transportation without long waits. Secondly, we had made a very hard-to-get dinner reservation for Saturday at Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom. Thirdly, we had a very hard-to-get FastPass+ reservation for Soarin' at Epcot on Sunday!

See the dilemma? It wasn't as easy as just switching a couple of days around. And while it was worth it overall to skip the Park Hopper option on our tickets, it kind of killed any plan modifications we would need to do in case of weather.

In the end, my parents ended up loving both the Be Our Guest dinner and the second time on Soarin'. If we'd had any other dinner reservations or FastPass+ reservations, it would have been more likely that we would have made the switch in days.

Unfortunately, the choices I made and the bad weather meant I made myself miss my favorite thing in all of the Disney parks:


With that in mind, here we go for Day 6.

After a couple of mornings of later-than-normal starts, we got up early to pack our bags and drive over to the Studios. It wasn't any problem getting there, but the parking lot is so different from the other three. There are multiple entrances, each manned by just a 2-car booth. Then all those cars entering from different areas have to merge all together to park! We ended up stuck behind a looooong line of cars coming from another direction after one of the cars in front of us misinterpreted the cast member's instructions and didn't turn when he was supposed to. As a result, we were parked way at the other end of the parking lot.

We came prepared with sandals on our feet and ponchos in my drawstring bag, but we also put on sunscreen, because Florida.

The park had just opened when we entered, and while nothing beats that first view down Main Street U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom, I adore the view down Hollywood Boulevard - especially now that the Sorcerer Mickey hat has been removed and you can see the Chinese theater again!

Our FastPass+ reservations were for Toy Story Mania, Star Tours, and the Tower of Terror. This meant our first attraction was actually the Great Movie Ride. This is an attraction that climbs in wait times later in the day, but everyone is in line for other attractions early on, so we just walked on!

I doubt my parents could tell the differences in things, but I noticed the recent changes that were made. Even though I like Robert Osborne of TCM, I wasn't a fan of the audio voiceover taking the place of the cast member. Everything else was fine.

We walked past Echo Lake and rode Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. This attraction has many different paths you could take, and I was excited to do some different stuff this time. But before we took off, we went through the safety procedures, and the cast member shut the door. There was darkness and quiet for a few seconds before the ride kicked on, and someone muttered,

"I've got a bad feeling about this."

The quiet broke up with knowledgeable chuckles, and I was thrilled that I had quickly thought to say that - it was just the perfect time!

We visited the planet Jakku, got a message from BB-8, and finished at Coruscant, which I'd never been before! I don't go on Star Tours too often because the motion really gets to me.

We got back to the center of the park right at 10, and we didn't wait long for the March of the First Order. It wasn't really much - Captain Phasma led her First Order troops from the former Animation Academy to the stage in front of the theater, they do some short maneuvers, she says some stuff, and then they march away. I'm glad we didn't wait long and had a good viewing location.

There was about 20 minutes before our FastPass+ reservation opened for Toy Story Mania, so we headed that way as we toured around the Walt Disney: One Man's Dream exhibit. My parents loved looking at everything - especially the stuff from the 1960s. My mom remembered a lot of that stuff! (Mom might have gone to the 1964 World's Fair and ride all the Disney-sponsored attractions, but Dad was actually the first Natsis at Walt Disney World, when the park was only 2 years old! And he's stayed at the Polynesian!)

It was time for Toy Story Mania, a carnival-like ride where your vehicle takes you to a bunch of different screens and you try to get points using your little pull-string pop gun. I enjoy everything except for getting jerked around going from one area to another (it's not calm!). Mom really got a kick out of it, and wanted to do it again!

When we exited the attraction, it had started to rain just a little bit. We put on our ponchos and walked around a bit. We headed down Sunset Boulevard and caught the Beauty and the Beast musical. We were one of the last people in the theater, and ended up sitting in the nosebleeds that aren't even under the covered pavilion! (The rain had stopped, though, so that was good.) Dad really enjoys this show, and it was nice to see it again.

It was time for one of my favorite shows: Muppet-Vision 3-D. I was astonished to see how packed the theater was, but encouraged at the same time. I adore that show, and if people are still packing in to see it, then it probably won't go away any time soon! I can quote quite a bit of that show.

Our final FastPass+ reservation had come up for the Tower of Terror, and we all went on it. It was nice not having to wait too much for the ride. When you enter the small library and the TV introduces the Twilight Zone, Dad quoted the whole thing! (Quietly, of course; enough to be adorable.) That introduction tells the story of the Tower of Terror, and then you are let out into the service elevators.

As we were waiting, a cast member yelled out, "is there a single rider?" Suddenly, Mom says, "Me!" and leaves us! As she headed to the elevator, Dad yelled, "If I never see you again, I love you very much!"

Out of all the times I've done this ride, I think this was my favorite time! I enjoy the sensation - it's much easier to tolerate than the motions of Toy Story Mania and Star Tours.

It was time for lunch, and we tried Starring Rolls at the exact wrong time. (It's so small!) So we decided to go to the ABC Commissary instead. While it's bigger, we still were there at the wrong time, and waited quite a long time. That was good, though, because it gave us time to choose our food. Mom got the chicken club with green beans, Dad had the angus hamburger with fries, and I got the chicken nuggets with apple slices, and we shared the side dishes amongst each other!

As we were eating inside, the clouds suddenly released a torrent of rain! You could see the amount of ponchos suddenly swell in size. So before we left the Commissary we made sure to put our ponchos on, and for the first time in the vacation, we were glad we did! We walked to the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular in a downpour.

Unfortunately, because of the rain, the third segment in the stunt show was cancelled, which was a bummer. It's always fun to see the plane explode. But it was still fun.

The rain stopped during the show, and I needed to grab a couple of things from the car. I didn't have a strong desire to see the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show, so I told Mom and Dad to catch that without me while I got what we needed.

As I walked to the car, I decided to do FaceTime with my little sister! My niece was taking a nap, so we had a nice conversation as I got to the car and walked back to the park. I had an especially nice-looking bag checker, and my sister saw him from the phone, and demanded I go back!

Mom and Dad got to talk to my sister as well as the rain started up again, and then we went to the Star Wars Launch Bay. Unlike Disneyland, they have everyone watch a preview movie before entering the exhibit.

I don't think there was quite as much as the Launch Bay in Disneyland, but we did come across some Jawas who were taking pictures without a queue and were very excited when I exclaimed, "Utini!" to them.

We decided against waiting in a queue to meet Chewbacca or Kylo Ren, but as we were heading out, I noticed a cast member guarding a small hallway. A lady was there talking to him about "her Chase card," and I realized this was one of those special Chase Visa character meet-and-greets, and I had my Chase card with me! I asked the cast member who was greeting, and he just said, "A representative of the First Order." It piqued my interest, so I showed my card and we were led inside.

We were told to wait just around the corner, and we were just standing there waiting, when Kylo Ren suddenly appeared from around the corner, beckoning for us to come with him! It was so cool! I honestly have no idea what he said, but he encouraged us (in Adam Driver's Kylo Ren voice) to join the First Order and bring down the Resistance at all costs. Mom took my phone and snapped some pictures, and Dad and I got our picture taken by the cast member. It was a free download, which was great. And it all took less than five minutes!

The Frozen Sing-along show was coming up, and we decided to give it a shot. It started to pour again as we waited under cover, thankfully.

For a show that probably wasn't on any of our Must-Do lists, the Frozen Sing-along was surprisingly good! I'd seen it before, but my parents loved the goofy narration provided by the Arandelle "historians." Dad also sat next to a little girl who was entranced by the whole thing and sung along with "Let It Go." (as did most of the girls in the theater). I saved my voice for Olaf's singing of "Summer." I was shocked to hear Dad declare it as his favorite thing of the day!

We snagged a snack as it continued to rain - Mom and Dad had Mickey bars and I decided to eat a Mickey ice cream sandwich (sacrilege, I know!). We huddled with some other people under an archway by the Great Movie Ride. Little moments like that are ones I cherish in the long run.

We watched the Star Wars: Path of the Jedi movie, which is a good clip show about Luke Skywalker's journey to becoming a Jedi. It was the same one they show in Disneyland, but when I saw it in January, it concluded with the main trailer for The Force Awakens. This time, it summarized the movie instead, including the big moments at the end! I liked how they incorporated it into the movie.

I had managed to get an addition FastPass+ reservation for Toy Story Mania because Mom wanted to do it again so badly. I was happy that, after we got through the queue, I could still get a Fantasmic! FastPass+ reservation. I figured that a lot of people would want to catch the only showing of Fantasmic! that night, so I wanted guaranteed seats.

We happened to be crossing the center of the park for the other Star Wars stage show: A Galaxy Far, Far Away. I liked this one because it used the video screens, movie clips, audio, music, and actual characters on stage like Darth Vader, BB-8, C-3PO, Darth Maul, both Imperial and First Order stormtroopers, Boba Fett, and R2-D2. It even ended with a few fireworks!

It was supper time, so we walked down Sunset Boulevard and decided to eat at the kiosks across from the Fantasmic! entrance area. Dad and I ate pizza - the pizza kiosk was tucked away in the back, and not many people even knew it was there. There were long lines for other kiosks, but not that one! Dad actually walked around and found a hot dog for Mom. It was comically large!

The rain was drizzling, and I still had a small sliver of hope that Fantasmic! would still be happening. We had covered everything in the park besides the nighttime show, so we weren't in a rush at all. I went down Hollywood Boulevard and picked up some souvenirs for my nieces and a nice Mickey ornament for myself.

The rain continued, and Mom and Dad had moved from their table-under-an-umbrella to an overhang by the Tower of Terror. Since we were so close to Rock-n-Roller Coaster, they encouraged me to go for it, since all we were doing was waiting. So I did! I caught the single-rider line, which took a little longer than I anticipated. As I was getting into the ride vehicle, I could hear Dad's phone ringtone, but didn't answer it. It wasn't till after my ride that I checked the voicemail. It wasn't very long: "Sorry, honey, but they canceled Fantasmic!"


Well, there wasn't any more reason to be in Hollywood Studios, and, to be honest, I don't think any of us anticipated covering as much ground as we did in such wet weather. But we only missed out on one thing - it was a very productive day!

We loaded up the car and left Disney property for the last time in the trip. It was a bummer - and I was especially moody because of the cancellation of my favorite show. Luckily, the rain didn't cause too many problems as we drove up I-4 to the Universal resort area.

Dad and I checked in at the Cabana Bay resort, where the team member (not cast member!) was incredibly helpful and told us everything we needed to know about transportation to Universal, where our room was and how to get there, where to find the food court, and more. We had to use the team member entrance because Cabana Bay was expanding its buildings and parking lot, but we got there.

Cabana Bay is a 1960s-themed hotel, and when you enter the resort, it really feels that way. We were in the Continental building, and the room was very cool looking. They even had Zest soap and VO5 shampoo and cream rinse!

Even with all these cool amenities, the resort didn't feel as safe as Disney. We drove past an ambulance for a medical emergency, and there were those blue emergency signal pillars (you know - the ones that area all over college campuses) all over the place. It felt different.

But we weren't there to enjoy the resort. I got this resort because I felt my parents would appreciate the nostalgia, but the main reason we were there was because it would provide us with early entry into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter the next day.

To make sure we didn't have to wait around for anything, I utilized the park ticket counter because we only had vouchers and not our actual tickets. I went down the first time, but then was informed on the computer that I needed the credit card that was used to get the ticket. So I went back up to the room. (The lobby and the room were not close together, by the way!) Dad couldn't remember which credit card he'd used, so he and I spent a lot of time online trying to figure it out. Eventually I was given a card and hoped that it would work. And it did! Phew. I didn't want to go up another time.

With our park tickets secured for the next day, I finally settled back to relax. It was already pretty late, unfortunately, and our break-less day was taking a toll. None of us stayed up too late that night. (I'll hand it to Universal - those beds were pretty comfy!)

Our final park day is here! The final vacation post that you can read HERE will cover Harry Potter World er, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure!

Dad's Universal Studios Top 3:
Bronze - Beauty and the Beast Stage Show
Silver - Toy Story Mania
Gold (and overall champ for the whole week!!) - For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-along.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Walt Disney World Trip Day 5: Yacht Club and Epcot

Read about day 4 HERE!

You need a little music for this blog - click here to get in the mood.

We finished up our stay at the Art of Animation Resort this morning. Mom and Dad consolidated their luggage for the future nights from two bags to one, since each night for the rest of the trip was going to be at a different hotel.

The biggest splurge of the trip was the hotel for day 5: Disney's Yacht Club. Even though check-in wasn't scheduled until the afternoon, we drove over after breakfast to see if we could just leave the car there and take advantage of the short walk to Epcot.

The lady manning the parking booth at the Yacht Club was very friendly and told us where to go after we gave her our reservation information. I drove straight up next to valet parking. The valets (who were dressed like a cougar's pool boys, IMO) directed us to the lobby, where we met The Captain. White pants, a blue blazer, and a sailor's cap greeted us warmly.

Since it was only 9am, there wasn't any line at the counter, and the lady there checked us in with no problem! There wasn't a room ready (no surprise) but they said they would text me with my room when it was clean.

Mom was thrilled with the Yacht Club. She had always wanted to stay in the Grand Floridian, and the Yacht Club is just a small step below the Grand Floridian. The lobby isn't as large and grand, but it's still very elegant and matches the yacht theming tastefully.

We left our luggage in the car, but took the back door out of the Yacht Club to the lagoon. We could have taken a boat, but the Yacht Club is so close to the International Gateway of Epcot that waiting for the boat would have actually taken longer time. Across the lagoon was the Boardwalk Resort, and closer to Hollywood Studios was the Swan and Dolphin resorts.

Our only FastPass+ reservation of the day was another ride on Soarin', and all of us agreed that it was a must! We got to walk through World Showcase before it opened up to the rest of the public since we entered through the "back door." It was really pleasant!

Soarin' was lovely once again. We once again were in the first row, so there were no feet dangling in view. I made sure to look around at the other sections of the attraction and how they were moving around. It was fascinating! Even better was the fact that, when the ride was over, we didn't come down right away!

We were determined to get to the American Adventure, so we hopped on a Friendship Boat and made it over to the dock at Morocco. We were able to watch the Voices of Liberty, a fantastic a cappella group that performs in the American Adventure pavilion. They sing right under the dome, and encourage people to sit right up at the circle to get the best sound from the singers.

The group made their way up the stairway of flags and into the theater to view what is probably the best show on property, the American Adventure. Yes, it's long. But it's done so well! And nothing beats the chorus entrance during the singing of "Golden Dreams." (It's at 2:30 of the YouTube link above.)

We exited the theater and went right back into the building to watch the Voices of Liberty once again. Each show is different, and we found out that there's even different singers! Actually, the soprano we saw the second time was featured in a viral video with Pentatonix' Kirstie Maldonado, and I'd seen her before. She can hit high notes that I didn't know were possible! I heard her since with Voices of Liberty during Christmas, and they sang a great version of "Go Tell It On the Mountain" that ended with a modulation that brings me to tears it's so perfect!

As we exited the pavilion, another a cappella group was starting to perform in the America Gardens Theater. This group - the American Music Machine? - did modern music, and is very similar to the kinds of groups you'd see performing nowadays. (They still weren't as good as the Voices of Liberty.)

It was time for lunch, so we grabbed another Friendship Boat and headed to Mexico and the Cantina de San Angel. While the counters from which to order from are outside, they have inside air conditioned seating that some people don't know about! We got a booth with no difficulty and enjoyed our nachos, empanadas, and tacos.

Fun fact: I mistakenly said in a previous post that we did the Gran Fiesta Tour in the Mexico pavilion on Day 1, but it was actually on this day!

One more Friendship Boat ride brought us to the rear of the park once again, but this time it was because we were heading back to the hotel. I went ahead of the parents in order to grab all our luggage and meet them at our hotel room. Just being able to get to the hotel within 10 minutes of leaving the park was amazing. I wish I had the money to do that all the time!

Our hotel room was incredible. It was clean, big, and just enough Disney detail to make it a Disney room. While Art of Animation screamed "DISNEY!!!!!" Yacht Club just whispered it. And it was just enough.

Our balcony had a relatively small divider between us and the other rooms, but it had a tree right in front to make it a little more private. What wasn't shielded by the tree overlooked the valet drop-off at the front entrance, and I liked sitting out there and watching the Magical Express and Cruise Line buses dropping off and picking up people.

We didn't stay in the room for too long; I wanted to get out and enjoy Stormalong Bay. It's probably the best resort pool on Disney property! It's large, has a giant waterslide, a lazy river, and a sandy bottom! Since it was so special, Mom and I even convinced Dad to come with us.

Our arrival was in mid-afternoon, so the storm clouds were starting to roll in. Our first brief stop was to enjoy the white sandy bottom of the pool. But our real destination was the lazy river. I LOVE lazy rivers. I wish there was a mile-long lazy river somewhere that I could enjoy.

Unfortunately, while we were able to secure the tubes easily, it was a little hard to get the three of us situated in the tubes and all together! When we were finally together, I looked over at Dad and said, "Are you comfortable?" And he just said, "No." (You could kind of tell, too.) After one lap, he got out and decided to sit on a deck chair and watch us.

Mom and I were just about to relax in a quiet area of the pool with a nice little waterfall when suddenly..."BOOM." Thunder. And as they are trained to do, the lifeguards all said that the water was supposed to be emptied immediately. Well, bummer.

Sure enough, as we headed back to the room, it started to rain. Of all the days for it to have an afternoon shower, it had to be they day when we were at the amazing pool!

Mom and Dad changed back into everyday clothes, but I decided to keep my swimsuit on. Mom found Toy Story 3 on television, and the two of us enjoyed watching that fantastic movie. After that, I suggested a tour around the resort. (My real motivation was to get us over to Beaches and Cream.)

We looked around at the store, viewed a smaller, unoccupied pool right next to the tennis courts, and passed the Yachtsman Steakhouse, the top-tier restaurant at the Yacht Club. We passed by the salon, the gym, and finally was over at Beaches and Cream! Dad was skeptical, and I kept giving them chances to say "No," but both of them kind of shrugged, not too keen on going in. But I needed to show them Beaches and Cream! (If you've been there, you understand.)

We got on the waiting list, and Mom and Dad sat outside (it was a little cooler than usual) while I decided to take advantage of my swimsuit and go back into Stormalong Bay! I did the lazy river - which was much emptier after the storm went through - and also found the entrance to the waterslide. It was across the walking path and up to the top of the mast! You actually ride down the mast back into the pool. It's a pretty great slide!

I was able to make the most out of the wait time, and by the time I was done, Mom and Dad had been seated at the counter (the best place to eat at Beaches and Cream),  had ordered my recommendation - the No Way Jose - and were already starting to eat it! The No Way Jose is vanilla and chocolate ice cream in a giant glass dish and covered in chocolate and peanut butter syrup, chocolate chips, and whipped cream. In short, it is one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. It also is something that should be shared, so the three of us all conquered it. (I have eaten one by myself, but would not recommend it!)

We enjoyed watching the waitresses creating other ice cream creations and having pleasant conversations with the people around us. We even saw the construction of the Kitchen Sink, and I think that watching its construction was more fun than trying to eat it. We even saw the whole can of whipped cream (the whole can??) put right on top!

It kind of ruined supper for us (we had it around 4) but it was so worth it. I'm glad we were able to eat there.

We needed to rest after our indulging, so we enjoyed some quiet time in the hotel room. Mom and Dad took naps, and I watched The Princess and the Frog. It was kind of clear that we weren't going to head back to the parks, and that was okay. We were not only able to take advantage of the closeness to the parks, but we were also able to just enjoy the hotel room!

After the naps and rest Dad and I ventured out into the Real World for a few things. We picked up more breakfast food and ended up getting dinner at a McDonald's that was nearby and bringing it back to the hotel. It was a great way to have a nice, relaxing, small dinner!

As we were driving back to the hotel, I told Dad an idea that I had. We had been tracking the tropical storm that sounded like it was going to hit Orlando the next day. We were planning on doing Hollywood Studios that day, but I was worried that the rain would cancel the nighttime shows: Fantasmic! and the Star Wars fireworks. So even though we didn't have a park hopper pass, I was going to take the 20 minute walk and catch the Star Wars fireworks from the outside of the park.

When I told him my plan, suddenly Mom said she wouldn't mind going with me! She probably volunteered to do it so that I wouldn't be walking alone, and I appreciated the company. Still, it was a longer walk than the one to Epcot.

We walked around the Yacht Club and over to the bridge to the Boardwalk. We crossed over and went past the Swan and the Dolphin. As we left the resort area, suddenly I heard a loud swelling of music. The walking path was on the left of the river, and the backstage stage for Fantasmic! was on the right! So we were actually passing by at my favorite part: when Mickey emerges at the top of the mountain and shoots of fireworks everywhere. And we could see the fireworks from where we were standing! It was so great! (And bittersweet, and you'll find out why in the next post.)

We were going in the wrong direction as we finally made it to the parking area of Hollywood Studios. However, since everyone was streaming out, no one was sitting on one of the many benches that surround the entrance. And as soon as Mom and I sat down, the fireworks started!

We had a great view of the fireworks, but the audio wasn't too clear. Mom told me to go up a little further, and I actually made it right to the entrance before a cast member told me I couldn't go any further. But I did hear more of the audio, and it was a really nice fireworks show.

Mom wanted to take the resort boat back to the Yacht Club, and to my delight, it was pulling up right as I was exiting from the fireworks! I yelled at Mom and we both took off for the boat entrance and were able to get on the first boat that showed up.

The ride was nice, and we were back at the Yacht Club very quickly. We didn't go to the room right away, instead sitting out on the beach in some
chairs and enjoying the view of the Boardwalk all lit up. (In light of recent events, that's kind of weird to think about right now.) But our day was done, and we slept in very comfy beds in a very comfy room in a pretty great hotel!

Hurricane Colin comes a-callin' during our trip to Hollywood Studios, but there's only one thing we missed the entire day! CLICK HERE to see what it was!

Dad's Epcot/Yacht Club Top 3:
Bronze - No Way Jose
Silver - American Adventure featuring the Voices of Liberty
Gold - Soarin' (again!)