Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Battle for my Wallet VII: Lost and Found

Chapter Three: What We Need

Our check in was slow and painful. Not unlike watching Barack Obama struggle to answer a question without the benefit of a teleprompter. And after several minutes, I received some unsettling news: we were assigned a room on the sixth floor. For those of you who haven’t studied the floor plan of the CR, the sixth floor is the lowest level of rooms on the MK side of the building. It is right over the Monorail. It’s the equivalent of getting stuck in a middle seat on an airplane. It’s like getting seated in the back row on Soarin. It’s like getting a room in the Herbie the Love Bug section of the Allstarssomethinornuther. It’s a lousy location.

All the guy said was that our room was on the sixth floor. What I heard was, “none of your requests have been granted. You’re in the worst room we could give you. You suck! Your family sucks. Alabama sucks (perhaps it does if South Carolina’s beat down was any indication). All of your well made plans are destroyed! Your ENTIRE vacation is now ruined!!!"

Or so I thought.

I worked with a manager for quite some time to find a solution because the ZZUBs were NOT going to spend a week on the sixth floor. Like idiots. NOpeopleinCaliforniawhovoteforJerryBrown. But the CR was sold out and (if you can believe it), it was pretty late in the day.  There were no other rooms higher up on the MK side of the building. The best solution she offered was to let us move the next day. She even offered to let us keep our room until the new room was available. Promised me even that the transition would be seamless.

As if.

Out of options and tired of standing there, I agreed to go take a look at the room. Almost as an aside, she said, “if you do end up deciding to keep your room, just call back and let me know.” I looked at her and thought, “what kind of crack are you smoking?” She looked back at me and thought, “For a guy wearing puka shells, you’re not very relaxed, dude.”


I went to break the bad news to the girls. Not only were we stuck on the sixth floor, but there’d be no unpacking and getting sitched tonight. We’ll have to figure out what we needed and just leave our bags packed until we move tomorrow. For us, unpacking and getting sitched is the quintessential first day experience.

I’m not proud of this, but I was full on deflated. This wasn’t how I wanted to start our Disney trip.

And then an amazing thing happened.

We opened the door to our room and walked through it to our balcony.  It occurs to me that we walked straight to it.  And there we saw this.

And this.

And there wasn’t a thing wrong with the view. Not a thing which could be improved upon by five flights. Trust me. I confirmed this the next day.

Why did I think we needed to be higher up? Why did I think this wasn’t good enough? We walked around the room and kept going back out on the balcony and we were talking around whether the room would work for us or not. I was realizing that I’d believed higher was better for no reason at all. We were in Disney World for crying out loud!. We were in the freakin Contemporary Resort with a room facing the Magic Kingdom! Being 50 feet higher up wasn’t going to make that big a difference! I was so disappointed with myself. For several minutes I’d allowed myself to be one of those idiots, the people whose expectations are unrealistic.  Worse still, my expectations were also flat out wrong.

We prayed all summer for our trip. Our countdown chain had prayer requests written on it. So each night when we pulled a chain off, there was a request to pray for. Safe flights. No one gets sick. Make good memories. It was a good way to cover our trip in prayer as we counted down the days in anticipation.

One of my prayer requests was that we’d get the room we were supposed to have.

Which is, in fact, what happened. Even if I was too daft to recognize that. I thought it had to be higher up. But as I stared back at the Castle, I realized that we could move higher up and get still end up stuck next to a loud family. Or get a room with an adjoining door. Or have neighbors who improperly use their balcony for an ashtray. Maybe our room wasn’t higher up. But it was where we were supposed to be and better is one day in His house than a thousand elsewhere. If I may re-interpret a verse.

I was nervously pacing through the room, barely conscious of the fact the girls were jumping on the beds and talking nonstop. I decided we should just stay put.

And as I was making this decision, Mrs. Z was noticing the place was filthy. With a capital Ph! There was a good layer of dust on the furniture. That’s actually an understatement. The room was to clean what Barbara Boxer is to intelligent. What Joy Behar is to reasonable. What Brett Favre is to discreet. What Tiger Woods is to monogamous.  What Frickles is to math. 

The CR rooms have opaque glass doors to the bathroom. There was a greasy hand print that ran almost the entire length of the glass.  Which led to some discussion about what went on in there.  In the room itself, there was a hand print on the mirror and the doors to the balcony hadn’t been cleaned since before Jimmy Carter began his “superior to the others” post-presidency.

In other words, the typical Disney World housekeeping issues. But Mrs. Z was in the bathroom and she spotted something FAR WORSE. Worse than another two years of a Democratically controlled Congress. Worse than the words, "President Palin." Worse than Georgia’s football team even.

There was something brown sitting on the toilet seat.



Lurking really.

Taunting us. 

Daring us to do something.

Mrs. Z was grossed out, disgusted and maybe a touch mortified.

But not touched by the mortified, thankfully.

Not me. Oh sure, I was annoyed as all get out, wondered whether the room had been cleaned at all. But in that moment, a preternatural calm had come over me. I figured the brown was at least near where it was supposed to be. It wasn’t like we found a little piece of brown on the phone.

Still. This was an issue which needed to be addressed. I know from experience not to call the “front desk” from your room. Because you won’t get the front desk at all. So I walked down to the front desk to talk with a manager about getting our room cleaned. I also wanted to let her know that despite the general state of disrepair, we thought the location was fine. The irony wasn’t lost on me either.

The manager was insanely nice about the problem and offered to send up housekeeping immediately. To VIP clean the room. Like that would impress me. She also offered to give me a credit on our room. Without my asking for it or implying we’d be expecting it. I thought was a nice touch. Not the credit, frankly, that was the least they could do.  I appreciated that she offered it without my asking. 

I told her we were heading out for dinner and we’d be back in an hour or so and would expect to have our room cleaned while we were gone. She assured me that wouldn’t be a problem.

And it wasn’t. We took the boat over to Ft. Wilderness for some dinner at Trails End. We like it there. The food is reasonably good and they have sweet tea. Plus it just flat out feels like Disney World. The ride on the boat was pleasant and as we rode we comforted ourselves that we were in the right room. It would be cleaned and as a result of the brown on the seat, it was REALLY going to be cleaned and a clean room is more important than anything, right?

Dinner was fine but it wasn't spectacular. The food underwhelmed a bit although we loved us some sweet tea.  In many ways, the night reminded me of a dinner in Chef Mickey's four years earlier.  The thing which was worrying me was vastly insignificant by comparison.  But it still felt like we were going through the motions.

By the time we were done with dinner we were ready to get back into our room and get unpacked and get sitched.

And there it was. Finally, on the boat ride back to our resort, I finally started to feel like it was our first night at Disney World.

And all that was good. The sweet tea at Trails End, the evening boat ride on the lake. Finding a spotlessly clean room when we returned. The fun that is unpacking in your hotel room. Being so glad to be back at the Contemporary again. Watching the new fireworks show on the balcony.

All of that was good.

But you know what was great?

I woke up early the next morning. Insanely early. Even for me. It was 5:00 when I woke up. Pitch dark outside. Too dark to sit on the balcony for some Bible study time. So I got dressed, brushed my teeth, grabbed my camera and my Bible and went in search of a well lit, but quiet place to spend some time with the Lord.

There’s a large lobby area on the 2d floor of the CR by the meeting rooms. I walked all the way down towards the far end, found myself a couch and spent some time hanging out with God, praising Him for bringing us back there.

At the Contemporary, I’m just a 12 year old kid who can’t believe I’m getting to sit on a couch and read the Bible.

It was still silly dark when I finished praying but I figured the sun would come up soon and I could score some sweet sunrise over Bay Lake pictures. But it was not to be. The sun wasn’t working on ZZUB’s schedule.

Instead, I got to creep around the CR. In the quiet. In the stillness. Just enjoying the solitude. The time. Alone.

We don’t get that in Disney World very much. When it happens, you should enjoy it.

Eventually, the Contempo Café woke up and I stepped in, bought my mug and filled it full with brown water served warm.

The coffee spilled down the side when I put the lid on. As usual. And after I’d wiped it off, I headed up two flights to our room. To eat some Pop Tarts and start getting everyone else up for our first day.

Mrs. Z got up and began getting ready and as she did, she realized her eye was now well enough to wear her contacts again. No wearing her glasses. No squinting in the sun. At the exact moment she needed it, she was able to put in her contact lenses.

Right on time.

And so our vacation began.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Sudden Induction

By: Great Biscuit

In my previous installment, the Biscuit clan had arrived at Six Flags Fiesta Texas to find a virtually deserted park. With two rides down and many left to go, we headed over to The Boardwalk area. The girls soon discovered a few kid-oriented rides which had no lines at all.

(What is the deal with the spinning bus?  Why does it seem that EVERY Theme park has this ride?  Do they just give that out free when you puchase three or more other rides of equal or greater value?)

While the girls were thusly engaged and safely under the watchful supervision of First Lady Biscuit and Nana & Papa, I took a side trip to catch me a coaster.

It had been a while since I was able to get my coaster on so I was really looking forward to a chance to ride the rails again. The closest coaster to our location was Poltergeist and it was one I had never ridden.

Because the ride was built after the park opened, the coaster itself is sandwiched in behind some other buildings. To make it accessible from the park, they offset the queue and the loading area quite a ways from the actual track and tucked them between a restaurant and the back side of the car ride. The affect of this is that you cannot see the track from the line or from the loading dock. (This is an important note for later.)

I shuffled my way though the endless rows of empty rails and trudged up the ramp to the loading dock. There was a train waiting when I got there and the gates were all open. I was TOTALLY loving this no-crowd thing! I joined the three people already on board and after a couple of minutes, and a few more folks had wondered up and gotten on, the bored and alarmingly sleepy looking ride operator closed the gates, dropped the restraints, gave a thumbs up and hit the magic button.

It was then that I discovered something. It is probably a good idea to take a peek a coaster in action BEFORE you get on it.

Poltergeist is not one of those normal, haul you up a hill with a chain, type of coasters. No my friends. This bad boy was a linear induction coaster.

Now don’t get me wrong. I LOVE these things and have ridden them many times. However, I do like to know ahead of time so as to properly prepare myself. If there had been a ride video of my face during said takeoff, it would have gone viral by now. My head was suddenly pinned to the chair, my eyes were bugging out of their sockets and my lips were flapping so far around the side of my head that I was experiencing the disconcerting sensation of simultaneously kissing both of my own ear lobes.

While other men may have been reduced to shrieking like a startled school girl, I am happy to report that I bore it with equanimity and quickly recovered. By the time we made it through the first loop, I had reeled in my facial muscles and took to waving my hands in the air and grinning like the Joker on tater tot day at Arkham.

In short, the ride ROCKED!

I pondered riding it again, but didn’t want to leave the girls waiting. Plus I was sidelined by an injury while exiting. I don’t know how I did it, but in the course of making my way out of the queue, I raised my left arm while cornering a turn in the exit lane and somehow managed to smack the tip of my elbow on the edge of a metal bar. This created a chain reaction which shot lighting bolts up my arm and clear around the side of my back. It was about the worse funny bone smack I’ve ever dealt myself. And it totally soured the mood for another ride.

After meeting back up with the family, I discovered First Lady Biscuit had taken the girls on the mini-swings. This was nifty with me as I am much more prone to getting ill on those types of spinning rides as opposed to twisting and turning coasters.

I don’t get it either.

I also discovered that from the vantage point of the bench in front of the Taz swings, you could clearly see Poltergeist.  In fact Nana Biscuit snapped the shot up above while I was riding it.  I guess I should have stuck around over here a few minutes after all.

When the girls were done with their ride, we all headed over to Scooby Doo Ghostblasters and shot ourselves some ghouls. This ride is kind of like a poor man’s Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin. The concept is similar and both are themed. But the comparison pretty well ends there. Scooby is much shorter, a lot cheesier, not as nicely themed and doesn’t allow you to spin. The queue is limited when it comes to looking at anything interesting, and the ride itself seems a bit cardboard cut-outish. It’s a great way to enjoy some air conditioning, but that’s about all it has going for it.

After hanging with Mystery Incorporated it was time to go get a birds eye view of the park. (See panoramic photo in the last installment.) Little did we know that this simple act would become immortalized in the history of Biscuitdom.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The One With No Pictures

by: LaLa

In our trips to Disney over the years, we’ve seen a lot of unexpected things.

We’ve seen the interior of Space Mountain with all the lights on. Which was pretty cool. We’ve seen Tigger hit on every single woman in Crystal Palace. Not cool. We’ve seen a family of Splash Mountain Fastpasses walking hand in hand down Main Street. Wicked cool. And we’ve seen the loading area of Test Track completely empty. Save for three really tired and possibly really dumb families and a couple of bored CMs who all sat glued to a blip on a Blackberry. Wondering just when in the heck they would be free to move about the cabin.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let's rewind just a bit.

On this particular date, we were in Epcot. Still. It was early evening and we’d just finished an excellent meal at Le Cellier. We were hightailing it over to Test Track, hoping to get in a quick ride before it was time to grab a spot for our family’s favorite fireworks show in all of the World…Illuminations.

Just typing that word makes me smile.

If you’ve ever read any of my previous reports, you might remember how much our family loves Illuminations. If you haven’t, I’ll sum it up by simply saying it is the milk and Pepsi to our Laverne. The Ross to our Rachel. The blanket to our Linus.

We love it and it IS Disney to us. Always has been.

So we really didn’t want to miss the show. But we also really wanted a ticket to ride. Just one ride on Test Track prior to watching Illuminations (after a great meal at Le Cellier) would make for the perfect night at Epcot.

And dadgummit, we were going to make it happen.

As we closed the distance between World Showcase and Future World, feeling the breeze steadily pick up on our way, we were pleased as punch when we arrived and found the Standby Line was fairly short.


We hopped in line and began snaking our way through the queue. Cracking jokes about the crash test dummies and the punishment being inflicted on them and their knees and telling the kids that’s what's going to happen to them at their next doctor’s visit.

I don’t know why a certain member of our family (who will not be named) still screams bloody murder when he hears the doctor open the door to the exam room. Just like he used to. All those years ago.

You’d think he’d be used to that by age 40.


The point is: we had a good time and didn’t think it took very long at all to make our way to the front of the line. Surpringly.

Before we knew it, we were high fiving each other and practically running across the back of the briefing room in order to claim our place beside the Magical Doors of Fun. The ones that would lead us to the Loading Dock of Fun. We laughed at appropriate times during the preshow as if we’d never seen it before ("Not Seven! Anything but Seven!") and then shot out of the doors like a rocket when they opened. More snaking was involved and soon it was our time to tell the attendant how many people were in our party and move toward four numbers. It was number claimin’ time again, baby! A quick glance at my watch assured me we had timed it perfectly and would be good to go for Illuminations after our ride was over.

Things couldn’t be going any smoother.


There’s always an “until” with us, isn’t there?

We were just about to load our vehicle when we noticed the cars were all wet. I thought to myself, “that’s not good”. And then we heard the announcement. The one that had become so familiar to us, even though our vacation had barely just begun.

They were closing the ride indefinitely due to inclement weather approaching.


We stood dumbfounded. And numb. Numbfounded, even.

We were standing near a CM so I asked how long they thought the ride would be closed. Of course, we were given the “we really don’t know ma'am, we just work here” answer but then it was suggested that if we stayed put until the weather blew over, we would be the first ones to board once the ride started moving.

I turned to my husband and together, we weighed our options. Option A was to stay there and possibly still catch both a ride on Test Track and Illuminations. Option B was to wander out into the driving rain. Aimlessly. Option C was to wander down to the gift shop and browse the overpriced shelves with ninety eight thousand other wet tourists covered in sticky plastic who were also seeking shelter. Option D was to can the whole shootin' match and head over to Universal instead.

As tempting as Option D was, we went with Option A and decided to stay put. For the time being.

After everyone got comfortable, we tried to make the best of a crummy situation by lightening the mood and chatting up everyone around us. We ended up meeting several families who were actually from our neck of the woods. It really is a small world after all. We were all in this together, this circle of life.

As time marched on and several of the other holdouts moved down their list of options and headed over to Universal for a Cinnabon, we began to wonder if we’d made the right choice. A quick search of the Weather Channel via my new phone (good thing I saved it instead of the appendage) let us know that the system which was sitting on top of Lake Buena Vista at that moment in time was a monster. It was spinning idly, going nowhere soon.

And neither were we.

About an hour into the wait, and roughly around the time that I’d become so delirious that I didn’t even care that my children were sitting on Disney's germ ridden concrete, it became evident that the only Illuminations we would be viewing that night would be from the lightning strikes in and around the Orlando area. Illuminations would not be happening for us on that night, and neither would Test Track. At this point, we were just looking for the storm to let up long enough for us to span the distance between Test Track and the Yacht Club safely. If we could just score that, the night would be a success.

Funny how fast we can change our expectations.

And so it was that our family, along with two other families and two chatty CMs, hung out in a completely empty Test Track loading area for as long as we possibly could that night. Until they finally kicked us out.

Oh yes they did.

We had actually hung around, trying to wait out the weather, until it was time for Future World to close.

In exchange for our troubles, we were all given a set of Fastpasses good for the length of our stay on the way out. Which would turn out to be a good thing. If we survived the trek across the park.

A few minutes later as we stood in the crowded gift shop, watched the rain pouring outside and contemplated staying or going, we consulted the blip on the radar screen once again. The storm hadn’t moved at all and was still forecast to hang around for sometime to come. This one was the exception to the Disney thunderstorm rule. There would be no waiting it out. We didn’t relish the thought of sleeping in a Disney gift shop so we pulled out our trusty ponchos, said a prayer underneath our breath, told the kids to get ready, and evaluated the sitchashun as we cautiously opened the door.

No sooner had we stepped up than two CMs came up from behind us and in one swift motion, kicked us in the butt, then deadbolted the door behind us.

I have to admit I hated every second of that walk/run/power walk/sprint across the park. Rain I can handle, but lightning is not my thing. If I had my druthers (whatever those are), I’d prefer not to be spontaneously electrocuted without warning in front of a crowd of spectators. Mainly because I might lose control of my bodily functions, and that’s not something I want anyone, let alone fifty thousand strangers, witnessing.

The whole being lit up like a Christmas tree part would pretty much suck too.

And these were the thoughts running through my mind as we made a break for it and scrambled to safety via the International Gateway. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rain storm drop that amount of water on Disney property before. We were wading in ankle deep water all the way back to the hotel room. I don’t know why we even bothered with the ponchos because even with them, we were soaked to the bone. Once we finally made it safely back to our resort, we looked as though we had just stepped out of Stormalong Bay.

Fully dressed.

Our shoes creaked when we walked and water seeped out along the sides with every step we took. Our eyes were bloodshot as a result of the wind whipped water pelting our eyes as we ran. Wet hair was matted to the sides of our faces. The useless wet ponchos clung to our bodies like a roll of Cling Wrap, holding in the heat we’d generated from the run and making us sweat even though we were already thoroughly soaked down to our undergarments. We were dripping water everywhere we turned while tiptoeing gingerly through a puddle of our own making. So as not to slip and go sprawling across the floor.

And THIS is how we entered the lobby of the Yacht Club that evening.

For the second time that day, we could hear the Pop Cent'reh bus gun it and take out a curb somewhere off in the distance.

And as we stood there, avoiding eye contact with everyone else present (how could we be the ONLY wet people in the whole dadgum joint?! Seriously...everyone else was dry as a freakin' bone!), I turned to my husband and said…

“Wonder where we can find some ice cream around here….”

He stopped dead in his tracks. Looked me up and down for a very long time. And then asked me if I’d lost my ever lovin' mind.

“No, but I could really go for some ice cream right about now,” I said matter of factly. As I’m dripping wet, shivering, and people are staring at me. The wild eyed woman covered in Mickey Mouse cling wrap.

I never got that ice cream. Sadly. Or my Illuminations. Or the ride on Test Track. Or my 'perfect night in Epcot'. Not on that night at least. But we did get warm and dry. And we did get what was probably our best night’s sleep at Disney ever. The beds at the Yacht Club are the freakin’ bomb. So dadgum comfortable!

And despite our previous (great) expectations for how that night would turn out, a dry, warm bed and a good night's sleep turned out to be all that we really needed. And exactly what we wanted.

Because the next day, we would be making up for lost time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Toon Town

By NicoleMarie

(My apologies for the creepy no-face pics!!!)

There are lots of things I’m NOT good at.

Throwing a football, for example. I’m awful at that. Really AWFUL at that. I’m so bad that even though my son can be desperate for someone to throw with, he knows to ask me is futile. It’s not that I’m not willing, but I’m just not able. Did I say how awful I am?

I’m not good at being organized, either. I’m much too laid back to fret over the details of things, and although I usually do a good job fooling people into THINKING I’m organized, I’m not.

But here’s one thing I AM good at. And that's taking TONS of pictures and video of my husband and kids, and our life together, and preserving them in a way that we can enjoy forever.

We aren’t a “take-the-pics-and-video-but-then-put-them-away-in-a-drawer-forever” kind of family.

We LOVE to watch videos and look at pictures of the past, and I am so thankful that of all the things I’m NOT good at, I have been organized and good about that. Of all my earthly possessions, I think my photo and video memories are the most precious.

What does that have to do with my trip report?

It actually has everything to do with it.

Because this morning in Disney World, the second day of our trip, the NMs were headed to Magic Kindgom. And the main goal for the morning was to take our last family pictures in Mickey and Minnie’s houses, and on the Goofy Barnstormer. Our main goal was to say goodbye to Toon Town.

Without me having a melt down in the process.

See, the Disney World roots don’t run deep for the NMs. I never went as a kid, and although my husband went once or twice in his childhood, we weren't in a rush to get back with our own children. In fact, when my in laws took us on our first trip to Disney, because they wanted their grandkids to see the Mouse, (ALL EXPENSES PAID IN A MAGIC KINGDOM VIEW ROOM AT THE CONTEMPORARY!!), we still weren’t all that impressed. I remember not really enjoying the trip, but just tolerating it.

I know. I’m astounded at my past ignorance, too. I might just call my mother-in-law right now and apologize AGAIN for not fully appreciating their generosity.

But what did come out of that trip was the desire to plan another Disney trip with just my family of four.

And on the next trip that I planned, that first trip to Disney with just my husband and our two small children, we spent LOTS of time in Toon Town. The kids were 7 and 4 then, and my daughter loved the kitchen in Minnie’s house. My son – a HUGE airplane fanatic – thought he was really taking flight on Goofy’s Barnstormer. So many of my precious early Disney memories are pictures and videos of my kids in Toon Town.

Though I don’t share a memory with the folks who miss Horizons, and I don’t have a nostalgic sweet spot for the Main Street Electrical Parade, I understand where those feelings come from. Because I’m saddest ever about losing Toon Town.

There’s a saying that goes, “the only thing you can count on is change.” That’s so true. And I don’t fault Disney for changing. For growing, expanding, and staying relevant in the tough economic times. I’m not mad that Toon Town will not be a part of the Fantasyland expansion.

But I am sad about it. And on that hot, June summer morning, my only order of business was to say goodbye.

As ridiculous as I realize that sounds, I wanted, I guess you can call it, closure. I wanted pictures of my kids – at ages 11 and 8 – in the same places I had those precious pictures of them at ages 7 and 4. I wanted to put the two pictures beside each other and look at the differences. I wanted to notice how they had grown, how their chubby little faces had become slim and more grown up. I wanted to see how my daughter’s legs now touched the ground when she sat in the chair in Minnie’s house. They didn’t used to do that. They used to stick out straight because she was so small. I wanted to see the kids sit in the same row in Goofy’s Barnstormer. Even though it wasn’t a comfortable fit like it used to be.

And I wanted to do all of this without allowing the big, snotty cry I felt coming on.

It was odd, how I felt. I’m used to being on the verge of a big cry at bittersweet events at home. They are a part of parenting. But not in my happy place. Not in Disney World.

I had that same feeling I had last spring when my daughter graduated from Elementary school, and was headed to Middle School - and only seven years away from going off to college. The same feeling I had when my son went to first grade last year and I knew the days of having a lunch buddy were over. The bittersweet mixture of happiness for the gifts you’ve been given, and the fun stages you are entering, but lots of sadness for how fast time is going. And a little bit of mourning for the time you'll never get back. The feeling of wanting to dwell on that for a minute, but knowing that if you do, the emotions might just overwhelm you. And not in a pretty way.

So I didn’t let on to anyone in my family that this was the only Disney experience I’d ever had that was making me want to curl up in a ball and cry for a little while.

I put on my Disney happy face and lightheartedly said that we were going to visit Mickey and Minnie’s house, and ride the Goofy Barnstormer since it would probably be our last chance. The kids were a little bit sad that Toon Town would close, but like most kids, they didn’t share the sentimental emotions their Mama was hiding.

We walked over to Toon Town and Roger offered to take a picture of me and the kids in front of the soon-to-be-defunct Toon Town sign. We then made our way to the colorful homes of the Main Mouse and his Main Squeeze. The detail in those places is fantastic. We walked through like we always do, taking the same pictures we always take. I had my daughter sit in Minnie’s chair, and I had her pose in front of the oven in Minnie’s kitchen. We used to love watching that cake bake. We exited the Mouse residences and walked over to the Barnstormer, which was a walk-on. I had the kids get in the car behind me so I could train the camera on them for this closing ride in Toon Town.

They screamed and hollered, albeit without the excitement they used to feel. Who can blame them? Expedition Everest and Space Mountain make the Barnstormer seem tame. It's a perfect ride for a 7 and 4 year old. Notsomuch a preteen and her big-in-his-mind little brother. So because the Barnstormer is practically over before it starts, just like that, our time in Toon Town was done.

I’d done what I’d come to do.

We got off of the Barnstormer and wound our way down the ramp onto the main drag in Toon Town. We had fastpasses to use on Space Mountain, and the little NMs were pumped and ready to get over to Tomorrowland. They had no idea that this exit was both literal and metaphorical.

As we walked away from Toon Town, my camera full of pictures and videos of our final hoorah there, my eyes filled with tears under my sunglasses. My lips quivered a little and I scolded myself for letting it get that far.

But the emotions were strong.

My kids are growing up. Life is changing. Disney is changing. There’s not a single thing I can do to stop it.

But I can preserve it in pictures, and I can preserve it on video. And no matter how big my kids get, or how much Disney World changes, I can curl up on the couch and watch our history any time I want.

And if I’m gonna be good at something, I reckon I’m happy to be good at that.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Battle for my Wallet VII: Lost and Found

Chapter Two: Respect the Pukas

by: ZZUB

If a trip to Disney World includes the six months before, then a word or two about the months before our trip is not out of line.

As you may recall, I’m, a worrier. I tend to worry. Indiscriminately. I don’t discriminate. And as much as I love me some summertime, I worry about things mucking up my summer. Because worrying comes naturally to me.

This summer I had more than my usual helping of things to worry about. Going beyond the usual menu of worry points, I had an additional list of things which had me in a full on dither.
Two of my worry points are worth some discussion. Three will illustrate my point. I was trading in my car this summer and concerned about finding the right car to replace it with, the timing of the trade, and the economics of the decision. I drive a good bit in my practice and for whatever reason, I had several out of town appointments in July. Long drives which I knew needed to be made not in my soon-to-be-old car, but rather in my new ride. Whatever it was. As April turned to May (yes, we’re really going back that far in the warm up to a report about an August vacation), I began researching vehicles and pricing options, knowing that as summer began, there would likely be better deals ahead. May became June and I was feeling a pressure. A stupid, unnecessary, self-inflicted pressure to have this all wrapped up by the end of the month.

But nothing was fitting, nothing made sense. By the last week of the month, I wore the decision like an ill-fitting suit. NOJohnMcCain. Despite the myriad other concerns on my plate, I kept returning to the hulking piece of meatloaf which was my car purchase decision. And yes, I have really mixed my metaphors. Like peas and carrots. But suddenly, I’m in the mood for meatloaf.

One morning, while spending some time with God, little ZZUB came in my study. It was way too early for her to be up. She asked, “Daddy, is it morning yet?” I told her that she needed to go back to bed. It was too early to get up, she needed to wait a bit longer. I walked her back to her room and tucked her in her bed.

And then it struck me. God was using that as an object lesson. He was telling me the same thing. It was too early. I needed to wait. To be patient. It wasn’t time yet.

Sure enough, two days later, the right deal fell into my lap and within 24 hours of that, I was driving away from the dealership in my new car. Paying exactly what I planned to pay for it (and what the salesman had told me just 5 days earlier there was NO WAY they’d sell it for).

About three weeks later, as I was on a long afternoon drive out to meet with a witness, it occurred to me that was one of the days I’d circled on my calendar as needing to have my car situation taken care of before. It was comforting to know that God had taken care of what I worried about. There was no need to worry.

My meeting that afternoon didn’t go well. This witness was less than helpful. He was hostile. Rude and ignorant. He was like Nancy Pelosi. Only less racist.

And when I was done being insulted by him, I stopped into this little restaurant I like to visit whenever I’m in that town. I treated myself to a nice lunch because I deserved it and because food is love. Walking back to my car, I passed this touristy little store that sold, as you might imagine, touristy things. Crap essentially. (Not to be confused with essential crap. See, e.g. my garage). I wandered around for no other reason than to make certain any post-lunch flatus worked itself out of my system before I got into my car.

I have a firm "no farting in the new car" rule. The car must be at least six months old before the breaking of wind or the presence of fast food bags will be permitted.

And yes, I have a cabin air filtration system that is designed to combat noxious fumes. But I don’t trust it.

I wandered lonely as a cloud through this touristy store, and I happened upon a display of puka shell necklaces.

I’m not a necklace wearing kind of guy.

I’ve never been one for pukas. Either. Except when we were kids and stayed at the Polynesian and my parents bought my sister and me some pukas.

And I thought to myself, "I’m not a puka wearing kind of guy." I’m a navy suit and striped tie kind of guy. Buttoned down. Starched. Pressed. Intense. Cynical and sarcastic. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt me to be more like the kind of guy who wears puka shells and bring his dog to work. Dies his hair jet black, then red and then black again. Wears cargo pants to the office and goes by his middle name.

Not that I’m thinking of anyone in particular.

Except, I’m never going to be one of those people. But a step that direction wouldn’t hurt. Puka shells are vacation. I like vacation in part because I like me on vacation. Vacation ZZUB doesn’t think about deadlines or trial strategies, or kissing the butts of clients, or managing budgets or making major decisions. I’m unclenched. Mostly. I like vacation ZZUB. I eat fatty foods without remorse. I giggle scream on roller coasters. Smile more. Take naps. Wear flippies and big boy shorts. I eat Pop Tarts and ice-cream. I watch fireworks. I’m more easily amused. I laugh loudly. More. I wear t-shirts with Mickey Mouse and EPCOT on them. I don’t do any of those things in the real world.

And I’d never wear puka shells either.

But on vacation, I could wear pukas. Pukas would be the symbol of ZZUB unclenched. ZZUB relaxed. ZZUB enjoying the life God gave me. Without worries, dude.

I put on my pukas and drove back to my house. Completely relaxed. Despite getting verbally kicked in the groin by a surly witness, I was enjoying my new car and enjoying my new pukas. Listening to Disney toons. Thinking about our upcoming vacation. Enjoying the anticipation. I walked in the door and showed Mrs. Z and the little Zs my pukas. And I said, “the pukas mean vacation is here. The pukas mean I’m hanging loose. The pukas mean no worries, dude.”

I made a hang loose sign with my hand.

To demonstrate how loose I was.

The girls were amused by how silly their daddy was being.

Mrs. Z smiled nervously and thought, “Oh dear God, he’s having another mid-life crisis!” She shot out a group text to her friends, “PRAY FOR ME!”

The second major worry this summer was Mrs. ZZUB’s eye. She developed a clogged tear duct. And saw two different doctors and developed a nasty eye infection. Or three. It was finally established that she would likely require surgery and she was referred to a specialist. Whose first available opening is in October. Thanks for mutton, doc! At the time she was in considerable pain and discomfort. Plus her eye was tearing. And she couldn’t wear her contacts. Which meant she had to wear her glasses and couldn’t wear sun glasses. Just what you don’t want to happen if you’re about to head out on vacation to the sun. I was saddest ever for her. She needed her vacation, too. I begged God to heal her eye, to take away the pain and discomfort. To make it so that she wasn’t bothered by this at all on our vacation.

It made me sad. There wasn’t a darn thing I could do for her. There is only so much muscle flexing I can do to make people bend to my will and even if I could have impressed it upon Dr. Toobusyfornewpatients that he needed to see her in July, there was no time in Mrs. Z’s schedule to have surgery then.

You know, God doesn’t always move on our schedule and He doesn’t always answer prayers the way we want Him to. But then again, He is God and He does know what He’s doing. Even if His schedule doesn’t exactly jibe with ours.

By tradition, on Disney Eve, we go out for lunch. We were sitting in this restaurant, enjoying some food and I was distracted. Even though I was sporting the pukas, let’s face it, they’re not magical shells. I was still de-clenching from work the day before. Revisiting decisions I had made. Re-writing the vacation memo in my head. Re-playing a phone conversation. Thinking through what I still had to do before we went to bed that night. I was wearing my pukas because technically I was on vacation. But I wasn’t feeling fully puka yet. The sun was coming in through the window behind Mrs. Z and I couldn’t see her face too clearly. But I watched her dab at her eye under her glasses. She still couldn’t put on her contacts. My heart ached. Every other thing I’d worried about this summer worked out. Every last thing. None of the problems I expected to blow up did. None of the things I thought were impossible turned out to be so.

Why this one? Why was she still suffering?

I didn’t know the answer as I seldom do. I comforted myself by the realization that God’s timing was perfect and His ways are higher than mine. If her eye was going to continue to bother her, He had a reason.

There wasn’t a thing I could do about the situation. I released it to God the best I could. We enjoyed our lunch and we got on with the business of Disney Eve.

Morning comes early on the left coast when you want to be in Disney World by dinner time. And by "morning," I mean middle of the night. Like the Von Traps fleeing the Nazis, we were out of our house in the dark of night. But unlike the Von Traps, we weren’t wearing the curtains and after we checked our bags at the airport, we noshed on treats in the Delta Sky Club. Where ZZUBY spilled her first drink of the trip.

Our flights were completely uneventful. And nothing got lost. Not even my temper.

Remember, I was wearing the pukas. I was way relaxed, dude.

We arrived about 15 minutes early at Orlando airport. And Mrs. Z and I were especially excited because we had a little surprise cooked up for the girls. This year, we weren’t taking the improbably named Magical Express to the Contemporary.

You know, it occurs to me that I have an attitude problem when it comes to ME. I should flippin love that thing. It’s free. They move our bags for us. They’ve never lost our bags. It’s free. My girls LOVE riding on the bus and it’s free!

But I hate it. I hate it, I hate it, I HATE IT!

I hate the hurry up and wait. I hate the smarmy driver with the bad information and the fakey Disney Worldish voice. I hate that he expects a tip for doing much of nothing. And slowly at that.

After getting up in the middle of the night, flying across the country and being seated in the same row with a freaky, bald headed lady whose Star Wars fetish was abnormal even for people with Star Wars fetishes. I want to be treated like a person. Not a turd.

I hired us a limousine. Yeah, I could have just gotten a car, but I thought the girls would get a bigger kick out of the limo. ZZUBY discovered Hannah Montana this year. And in the opening song, she sings “you get the limo out front.” My girls walked around for months singing that song. I thought they’d enjoy actually walking out front to get in a limo.

If anything, I underestimated how much they’d get a kick out of the surprise and how much we’d appreciate the experience. I wanted to catch a picture of ZZUBY’s face when she saw the driver holding the sign with our name on it. But I worried about how to accomplish that. All I knew was that he’d be waiting for us in the baggage claim area. I didn’t know where exactly. And as we came down the escalators, I saw several drivers with signs. Not one of them had our name on it.

I was worried.


We walked over to the carousel to wait on our bags. It was warm down there on the lower level. Outside the doors, I could see rain blowing sideways. I thought, "man, we’re gonna get hugely wet." My skin was gooey with humidity and airplane film. And oh yeah, our bags were nowhere to be found. I thought, “this is not starting off well!” Stupid driver is late. Bags are lost. And my shirt is clinging to me like Levi Johnston to his 15 minutes of fame. I started formulating the Plan B for our luggage. We had emergency clothes in our carry-ons. But we’d need contact solution and stuff.

While I watched the bags go ‘round, I checked my messages. Because our flight came in early, our driver hadn’t arrived yet. There was a message from the limo company letting me know he was on his way. I was annoyed. But then I realized this worked out better. Now I could spot him first and go stand by him with the camera trained on the kids. Catch their expression.

Not to put to fine a point on this: God knows what He’s doing. And even the small things are in His hands.

Sure enough, I spotted our driver, George. I told Mrs. Z what I was about to do and to give me about 3 minutes and then walk my direction. I got over near him and introduced myself and then I turned my camera on the girls. Mrs. Z caught my eye and then started walking my direction. The expression on ZZUBYs face was worth every late night in my office and every morning I’m there before the sun comes up. I took a succession of shots, watching her read the sign, recognize her name, realize it meant we were taking a limo to Disney World. What a great string of pictures!

By the way, our bags came around the carousel as soon as we walked back over there.

George helped me with the bags and we headed out to the car. By now it had come a monsoon. But the limousines pick up in a garage. Another worry resolved. As we followed George out to the car, the girls were skipping along, singing. “We’ve got the limo out front, oh yeah!” Mrs. Z and I shared several smiling glances. And I've added this to the list of moments in my life when my expectations were actually exceeded.

I’m a HUGE fan of Happy Limousine. If you need a car service in Orlando, I strongly recommend them. I reserved a standard limo but they upgraded us to a Navigator. It was HUGE. NOMichelleObama’sbutt. George loaded our luggage inside. And got Little Z’s car seat installed for me. He did all that while we were taking pictures of the Navigator and of ourselves in front of it. Once inside, there were cold drinks and a flat screen tv was playing a movie. Although I asked him to turn that off because we didn’t want to be fixated on a movie. We wanted to enjoy the ride.

And enjoy it we did. Normally, we can’t get to Disney World fast enough. Not this time. He could have taken the long way. Driven through the park. Gotten lost between the moon and New York city even. It was so nice to be relaxed. Cool. Comfortable.

As part of the limo service, they do a 15 minute grocery store stop. It was one of the ways I justified the added expense of a limo. Mrs. Z and I had already charted out what we’d need to get. So as we pulled into the Publix, we divided up. She was taking Little Z and I had ZZUBY. She had her list. I had mine. As George opened the door for us, he reminded us we had 15 minutes.

We were off.

We ran through the parking lot like idiots. Like people on vacation who don’t care what people think about them. Like people wearing pukas. Screaming. “Run! Run! Run!” Inside the door, ZZUBY and I grabbed a cart and headed for water and milk. I shouted back at Mrs. Z, “Meet me at the check out in 5!” ZZUBY was on the front end of the cart and I ran it through the store (at a safe, respectable speed, being mindful that not everyone was on vacation and not everyone was on a 15 minute time limit) with her hanging on for her little life. We scooped up some cases of water and some pink milk and we were made it back up front in time to see Mrs. Z and Little Z coming around with grapes and bananas. We paid and were back at the limo in roughly 7 minutes. George was impressed! Indeed, he told me he’d owe me some extra time on our next trip.

The rest of the drive to the Contemporary went too fast. We actually hated to get out of the limo. Good service is so rare anymore that when you actually receive it you don’t want it to end. And you know what else? I gave George a pretty big tip and I didn’t mind at all! Because he deserved it. I hate the expectation of a tip from someone who is just going through the motions. But when someone actually treats you right, it’s a pleasure to give them a gratuity. Now you KNOW how good the service from Happy Limo was! ZZUB was pleased to give a tip.

Our bags were loaded onto a cart and we went inside to check in. Mrs. Z took the girls to the little TV area and I went up to the empty check in desk.

But despite the empty counter, our check in wasn't hassle free.

And Mrs. Z’s eye was still giving her fits.

There were a few more things to worry about.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Doing the Hustle

by: Great Biscuit

Day two of our adventures dawned and I found myself up a bit earlier than I had anticipated. (I shall spare you the details, but suffice it to say that I suggest AGAINST eating a large Italian meal at nine o’clock at night after spending an afternoon walking in the heat.) We were headed to Six Flags Fiesta Texas and the park opened at 10. Our motel was only 4 miles away and seeing as how this wasn’t a Disney park, there were no rope drop concerns to factor into our departure time.

Once I was back to my usual self, I quietly got dressed and headed down to the lobby. If there is a benefit that I enjoy the most about a non Disney vacation, a free continental breakfast certainly ranks high on the list. After loading up on some bacon and biscuits and gravy, it was time to sit and do some people watching.

As I sat and reflected on our trip, the thought occurred to me that it was exactly a year and a week since I had been sitting in Everything Pop following a similar bout of digestive instability. Only in this case there was nothing photo worthy to go out and take pictures of. Nana and Papa Biscuit joined me after a few minutes and we planned out the rest of the day.

Nana needed more sunscreen so we got the location of a Target store from the desk clerk. I then grabbed the girls some breakfast and headed back the room to pack up. The girls were up when I arrived and while they ate, I set about gathering up all our junk and getting it packed away.

Because we are the Biscuits, it took a few min longer than anticipated to get out the door. The clock was showing five minutes till ten when we made it down to the cars. Luckily the Target store was on the way and we found it with minimal difficulty. Finding the sunscreen within said Target proved to be bit more problematic so our five minute stop turned into fifteen. Eventually though, we were back on the road and we made it to Six Flags about 20 min after they opened. Turns out, we need not have worried about missing the opening as the parking lot was practically deserted. We wound up parking near the gate and passed through an empty entrance plaza to enter the park.

I’ve been to this park a handful of times and my mom has been there literally dozens of times as a youth sponsor. Neither of us had EVER seen the park this empty. It was, in a word, fantastic.

For those of your unfamiliar with this park, allow me a moment to set the scene. The park itself is built inside an abandoned rock quarry. The park itself is roughly horseshoe shaped and is surrounded on three sides by sheer rock cliffs. Many of the coasters in the park take advantage of this, as do many of the water slides in the water park.

Here’s a birds-eye overview from atop the Ferris Wheel.  (The "street" at the lower left is actually inside the park and part of the design of that area.)

The park’s design is not only cool looking, but it effectively isolates you from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city. Unlike many of the other Six Flags parks I’ve been in, you can’t see an interstate or shopping malls or cheap hotels from inside the park.

Which is nice.

And is a feature which bears resemblance to another favorite park of mine.

That is until they build a massive resort right behind Space Mountain.

Not to be a hater.

I’m just saying.

Our first order of bid’ness was to head over to the “you think you’re driving, but you’re really not” miniature cars.

It was a walk on.

While the girls went puttering around the track, I perched on a bridge and took their photos as they rolled past. At some point along the way, the girls spotted the The Hustler and it was ON!

Now I have to say, The Hustler is an evil ride. Pure nasty funkiness. The concept is identical to the tea cups, except they aren’t cups, they are giant pool balls. Which spin you unmercifully until your innards attempt to exit your body.


I was somehow elected to ride with the girls.


The line for this one was a walk on as well.

So we walked on. And I got the girls buckled. And I took their pictures. Then I walked off.

That’s right; I left the girls to face the horror of the billiards alone.

Remember that continental breakfast I was singing the praises of a while back? I figured the girls would prefer not to have it displayed for them. And I knew beyond any doubt that if I parked my ample belly inside a giant billiard orb of evil, that there would be fahrvergnügen in the corner pocket.

Besides which, they were the only two on the entire ride so I didn’t have to worry about them disappearing in the crowd.

While they were riding and waving at Nana, Papa and First Lady Biscuit, I poked my head around the corner and shot a few more pics.

(Theater housing a 1950's Rock 'N Roll Stage Show.)

(Restaurants and shops in the 1950's Americana area.)

The girls soon emerged with nothing but smiles and we headed over towards the boardwalk area to discover a plethora of lineless attractions.

We were LOVING us some Six Flags Fiesta Texas!