Sunday, March 20, 2011

We've Moved!

That's right!  We've moved our Trip Reports!

You'll find us now at

All of our current Trip Reports are running there in a more user friendly style.  And, the comment section will allow you to block quote and use emoticons!  It's a great day in America, isn't it?!

We've set it up so that all four of us can run our Trip Reports at once, plus you can read them from the begining in order if you so choose.

This is a soft-opening, so be aware we're still adjusting and updating things.  But the site is fully functioning as we test and adjust.

So head on over there.  The newest chapter of the Battle for my Wallet VII is posted.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Cool Day

by LaLa

If someone told me I would die tomorrow, there are two places in this world that I would desperately want to visit one last time. With the people I love the most.

One is the beach. Specifically, the emerald green water/white sugary sand beaches of South Walton. Call me a Redneck all you want, but the Redneck Riviera really is bucket list worthy.

And the other would be Fort Payne, Alabama. The Sock Capital of the World.


I'm kidding. It would be Walt Disney World. Specifically, Epicot.

Our Epicot.

How we feel about that place is well documented. In short, we love it more than a fat kid loves cake and on one particularly hot and muggy day last June, we were pretty doggone excited about the prospect of spending the entire day in the best park around.

The day began like so many other days on that trip. We all got up, grabbed a quick breakfast, and I helped my family get ready for the day. Then my husband and our kids made a beeline to the arcade downstairs to allow me to finish getting ready in peace. It was a win/win situation and those early mornings in the arcade with their dad turned out to be something the kids looked forward to every morning. I didn’t mind the calm that descended on the room the minute the “Could we BE any Louder?!” crew walked out the door either.

Soon enough though, I was craving the craziness once more and we were off for the day.

One thing about this trip: we slowed down the pace a good bit. We would’ve normally been stressing to get to the gates as soon as the park opened. But not on this trip, thanks in part to a little sump’m sump’m called the GAD Fastpass.

Awww yeah.

Because we had enough Fastpass cards for everyone for each of the four parks, we knew we were going to ride all of our favorites. There was no question of that. We may not be able to ride them over and over again. Like Nelly and Tim McGraw. But we were secure in the knowledge that we would be riding what we wanted to ride without any hassle. As long as the ride wasn’t down due to technical difficulties.

Or... Brazilians.

That made our trip SO much more enjoyable. It meant that if the kids wanted to linger in the arcade a little longer in the morning, we could allow them that. Something we never would’ve DREAMED of doing without the knowledge that we were good to go with the rides. If we wanted to enjoy the stroll over from the Yacht Club in the morning and stop to take 1,000 photos of the same thing along the way, we could allow ourselves that. Instead of power walking and stressing each other out. In a race to nowhere.

And that’s just what we did that morning. We enjoyed lingering and took in our surroundings as we made our way over to Epicot via the International Gateway. To yell and scream and laugh and play.

One thing I will never forget is how cool it was to walk through World Showcase with ABSOLUTELY no one around. It doesn’t open until 11, so the place was deserted as we cut through on our way to Future World.

Normally it’s packed as you walk through England, but on this day, we spread out and took up the entire path. Because we could. While our son, with one year of a foreign language elective under his belt, tried to read the guide map to us. The French guide map. He was practicing for his eventual date with a Les Chefs’ dinner menu.

As it turns out, he would need A LOT of practice. Beaucoup. Practice. But more on that later.

We explored Future World, watched the fountain dance, drank free little Cokes from different countries, stood around laughing at newbies experiencing Beverly for the first time (that never gets old) and rode everything we wanted to ride with plenty of time to spare that morning.

Yes, all the Fastpasses for LIVING WITH THE LAND had been given out before lunchtime. Making it an unscorable ride unless you were packin' the GADs. Living with the Land. Who knew it was a stud Fastpass?

The Tron monorail. I was skeptical at first, but it did look pretty cool....

Is it Test Track or is it Living With the Land? Will the doors open in time or will we crash into the wall going 65 mph?! I know I'M scared, are you?

They should definitely put a Test Track spin on Living with the Land the next time they do a refurb there. Because how much fun would a 65 mph boatride through a garden be?

I always take pictures of the same icons each year, so this year I spent a little bit of time looking for random shots around the park, shots that I don't normally take but still capture the feel of a day at Epcot, and I came home with a few that I still like pretty well.

ZZUB has assured me (more or less) that he will provide a prize (this is ZZUB so I'm using that term loosely) for anyone who can correctly identify where this 'P' is located. We'll call it P for a prize. NOFergie.

I’m also pretty sure we ran into Mel and MellyMan. That day. There was some doubt there for a little bit. On my part. But upon closer inspection, I'm now CONVINCED it was them.

No trip to Epcot is complete for our family without a trip to Biergarten. We discovered the place on our first trip back to the World after the honeymoon and we liked it so much that each trip since has included a meal there.

We like to go mainly for lunch. Less chance of being pulled out of the crowd and embarrassed then, so says the man who has yet to make peace with being blindfolded and having knives thrown at his head by a gaggle of clowns. Who speak only through a series of whistles. Other than that, it just always seems like the perfect ’cool down and rest’ break from the hot temps in the park during the day. And it was VERY hot on this day.

Plus nothing gets us pumped up and ready to tackle the second leg of the ole itinerary like a couple of Brats and a mouthful of juicy sauerkraut.

Followed by a BIG WET kiss afterwards.

Okay, I think I even grossed myself out there.

Sauerkraut is some kinda nasty! Just the thought of it makes acid build up in my mouth.

And not in a good way.

We made our way to Germany, got in line to check in at the podium and were oh so pleased to discover the person in line in front of us was trying to nail down a walk up reservation for roughly half the country of Brazil.

She was dressed in Disney CM garb and apparently it was her job to make sure the party she was representing (who apparently had done zero planning) was seated before we were. Her party wasn’t there and had no designs on rushing to be there anytime soon (according to her cell phone conversations) yet we still had to wait for them. For her. Because she was in front of us, and that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

The tour guide (?) CM would talk to the Biergarten people, then call half her people, then talk to the Biergarten people again, then call the other half of her people, then beg the Biergarten people to accomplish the impossible, then assure all of her peeps that she had this. Which all boils down to the fact that we had to wait for ALL of this to go down before we could even check in. Because her problem was apparently so big that it required the attention of all of the Biergarten check in crew.

In all the years we have been going there, we’ve never had to wait longer than just a few minutes for a table. The wait on THIS day was nearly unbearable. The party in front of us all finally sauntered in, looking very uninterested and bored with the whole thing, and they were seated. We were seated soon afterwards. But not before thinking we might be better off just grabbing a couple of Brats and a heaping mound of juicy, stinky sauerkraut from the counter service place nearby and making out in front of everyone. Just to pass the time.

Not a moment too soon, we were escorted to our table and despite the sour mood from the long (did I mention it was HOT that day?) wait, we found ourselves delighted that we scored a spot right beside the dance floor. And very close to the show.

We have been enjoying the show and food at Biergarten for many years. And even though we’ve seen the show plenty of times, we always get just as excited about it each time as we did the first time we saw it. Plus we really LOVE these guys….

They’re awesome, and although we have no idea what their names are and we know nothing about them, we do know that our experience at Biergarten just wouldn’t be as much fun if we didn’t see their faces there each and every year. They pretty much make that show for us.

After another great meal, we decided to head back to the resort and spend some time getting to know Stormalong Bay a little better.

But first, we would get to know Yacht Club’s gift shop a little better.

The girl had a gift card burning a hole in her pocket and begged me to take her to the gift shop on the way to the pool. So she could quench her thirst for overpriced souvenirs. So while the boys headed to SAB, the Girl and I took a detour and checked out the gift shop.

I have been in lots of different Disney gift shops and each one pretty much reflects the mood of the resort in which it’s situated. But I have NEVER felt the least bit awkward in any of them. Until that day.

We’re dressed in our bathing suits, cover ups and flip flops and here we come. We walk in the door and I’m immediately impressed by how pretty it looks there. Very nautical. Very pretty. I’m checking things out and in the process, nearly trip down a small set of steps that I did NOT see. On the way in. Good thing I regained my sense of balance in the nick of time and avoided a wipe out. Can’t imagine being sprawled out in the middle of the floor in my bathing suit in THAT place. Other places, yeah. Been there, done that. Nothing new for me. But that’s the kind of thing that might get you shunned there. Well, that and carrying around four six foot long noodles. While slapping fellow guests in the face with them.

So we walk (stumble) into the joint and the second thing I notice is how QUIET it is in there. It’s more like a library than a gift shop at Disneyworld. I found myself whispering. Quietly. For no good reason. Other than the fact that it just seemed like the thing to do. Whispering and standing up straight. Walking with your nose pointed upwards. Not touching anything. These are the things I felt like I needed to be doing while I was there. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because we seemed to be the only patrons there at the time, I don't know. But the atmosphere was SO weirdly… quiet.

So the girl whispers and points slowly at what she wants. I nod my approval, because I don’t think I should be talking. We walk in slow motion (Ninja style) to the cashier, pay for our purchases, and I lean in and ask her how to get to the pool from there. In a hushed tone. She answers back. In sign language. Somewhere in the distance, a pin drops. We all slowly turn our gazes toward it and give it the stink eye. Silently. With our minds.

Having paid for our Disney goodies, we turn around to leave (quietly and slowly) and on the way out, I knock over a Mickey shaped dish. It bangs around loudly on its way to the floor, creating such a ruckus that the cashier chases us out of the shop. With her silent stares.

I have a feeling there’s a Polaroid of us still hanging behind the counter to this day.


We finally made it safely to the pool. The lovely, wonderful, vast azure blue piece of paradise otherwise known as SAB.

We caught up with our men, who had already taken Gold in the Waterslide Olympics.

In celebration, we visited Hurricane Hannah’s for some icy cold refreshment and spent the next few hours floating and enjoying the feel of the sand beneath our feet and the coolness of the water on our sun warmed skin.

Despite the stifling June heat, it turned out to be a very cool day indeed.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Battle for my Wallet VII: Lost and Found

Chapter Six: Splash Areas

I was loving me some Tonga Toast. And the whole idea of being in Disney World. It was the first morning of the first day. So all was right in my world. The Toast was particularly Tongaish and the salt of the bacon kept my world balanced.

I assume Mrs. Z and the other Z’s ordered food as well and maybe they were enjoying it. I was focused on the T-Tizzle.

But Little Z wasn’t so perky. Normally, she bounces about, talks a mile a minute. Sings. Laughs. Yet, somewhere in the middle of our meal (who could focus on those kinds of things?) Mrs. Z noticed that Lil Z was looking puny. She asked her if she was ok and Lil Z told her she thought she was going to throw up. So Mrs. Z scooped her up and off they went to the bathroom. I kept eating.  Duh.

After a few minutes, they came back and Mrs. Z held Little Z  and tried to finish her breakfast. I asked her if she’d thrown up and she said she hadn’t. But Lil Z still didn’t feel so nice. The waitress came by and brought her both Ginger Ale and Sprite (which Lil Z calls, “Sprite pop”). Nothing really settled her stomach. She had pulled back from the pit of despair but she was still feeling icky.

We had planned to go swimming that afternoon but with Lil Z feeling puny, we decided to head back to our VIP cleaned room for some nappage. Yes, even me. I was feeling vaguely tired. Carb overload perhaps. We hopped the Monorail and rode back to the CR.

As we rode, I was feeling a little sumpm sumpm.

A little sumpm fierce, if you know what I mean.

But that Monorail was NOT going to EPCOT and I was NOT headed to the Canadian Outpost.

Still, by the time we reached the MK, I knew I had need of some private time. I looked yonder at the CR and hoped we'd make it in time.  No holds for traffic up ahead or any such nonsense.

We got back to the CR and I grabbed the newspaper and spent some quality time alone. Saying goodbye to the food I apparently only rented.

A while passed.

I don’t keep track of time when I’m in there.

But when I came out, Mrs. Z told me that Lil Z had thrown up. Sure enough, she’d spewed into the garbage can. In a burst of irony, I think she actually used the Jiminy Cricket recycle can. Mrs. Z tied the top of the bag and suggested I might should get rid of it. I agreed.

Now then. Where to put it? Obviously, it needn’t be in our room. It needed to be far away.

You know what the CR doesn’t have? Conveniently located garbage cans in the hallways.

I briefly considered putting it on the elevator and sending it to the 11th floor. But I thought better of that idea. However, on another day later in our trip, I did place something in an elevator and send it up. You see there is a rolling table in the CR rooms and one of our neighbors decided (for reasons I’ll never understand) that they didn’t want it in their room. Their room at over 400 square feet is quite capacious, and besides that, the rolling table actually nests under the desk. So it’s not hard to get the table out of your way. No matter, the clueless rubes deemed the table a superfluous piece of furniture and rolled it into the hallway. And left it there. For days. Why should it be in their way when it could be in ours?

After about 3 days of walking around this thing and wondering why they numbskulls in that room rolled it out and why the housekeepers didn’t move it, I finally took matters into my own hands. I pushed it down to the bank of elevators. But I stood across the hall from it.  Like I wasn't there with the table. I pressed the button to call the elevator, but the first one that came had people in it. I waved them on. Second elevator was also occupado. I waved it on too. Third one came and was empty. But it was across the hall and on the opposite end from me. I ran and grabbed the table and then ran like the Tonga Toast out my tush (too much?) to get the table there. The doors started to close just as I got there so I stuck my foot in the door and then the doors retracted. I pushed the table in. Pressed a floor number and then hopped back out. My work was done.

But that was about three days from the afternoon searching for a place to lose the bag o’ puke. Which I properly disposed of. Then back in the room, we all hunkered down for a nice nap. It was cold and dark. Delicious sleeping weather. If I ever take a nap, it’s 15 minutes. But on this first afternoon of the first day, the jet lag caught up with me and I slept for a solid 25 minutes. I awoke refreshed. Everyone else was still sleeping, so I went exploring. I came back about an hour later and by then everyone was ready to get up.

Lil Z was feeling peckish, so we gave her some crackers and I got her some more Sprite Pop. She sat with me on the balcony while I snapped these pictures:

This is unzoomed by the way.  If you're wondering what the view actually looks like.

We had plenty of afternoon left, so we slathered up the sunscreen and headed to the pool. The CR pool isn’t as tropical or as themed as some other Disney pools, but because it’s so big, it almost never feels crowded. Plus it has a pretty sweet slide and a new splash area.

We dropped our stuff off and headed to the splash area. At which point Lil Z announced, “I don’t wanna get splashed!” She wasn’t kidding neither. So Mrs. Z took her to the pool and ZZUBY and I splashed. And had water fights.

These post deals make music. If you hit them on top, they make a tone. And then water squirts out from the ground in front of them. I figured out that if you cover the water hole with your big toe and keep hitting the deal, when you move your toe, the water will shoot sky high. We had our own little Illuminations going on right there.

Then we moved on to the slide. The CR slide is fun. Lots of fun. ZZUBY and I were staging some Water Slide Olympics although the judging was full on rigged. As usual. However, on one of my trial runs, when I came slicing into the water with a very controlled splash, I came up out of the water and this guy standing there said, “nice form.” Which killed me DED. Not since three guys ran out of the Canadian Outpost bathroom complaining about the foul odor in there have I been so proud.

I think I love me some Disney World pool time about as much as anything. It relaxes me to get to unwind. Water slides are just plain fun. And the splash deal was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. But after awhile, we had to go get cleaned up.

We ate dinner at Chef Mickey’s that night. I do so love coming down the elevator, getting off on the fourth floor and walking over to that place. Our food was every bit as good as we remembered it being. The only negative was the kitchen doors were behind us so they're in almost every picture. I would have been annoyed by that if it was our only trip to Disney World. But it isn’t so I wasn’t.

What was this guy thinking?!

I did notice that the dessert selection seemed diminished. They didn’t have as many choices as they’d had in years past. Oh, it wasn’t like they were only serving graham crackers and grape jelly (NOGrandma), but there was noticeably less on the dessert buffet. While I was standing there giving it the once over, the “chef” came out to put out a plate of something. There was a girl standing nearby. And the “chef” goes all Brett Favre on her. He walked her all around the dessert table showing her what he liked and what he thought she’d like.  He was full on hitting on her. And like so many girls I knew back in the day, she was completely oblivious to it. She was this close to telling him he was like a brother to her.

Not that that ever happened to me.

Chef Cheese Dog made a big fuss about the chocolate bread pudding. Told her it was his favorite. “Best thing he ever put in [his] mouth.” Yes, he did say that. It was THAT kind of, how do you say, creepy dee.

Nevertheless, I thought, “hmmm, I like chocolate. I like ‘Ohana’s bread pudding. This might be something.” I fixed me some and headed back to my table.

Where I was promptly disappointed.

It sucked. Primeval Whirl sucked. Waiting 45 minutes in the standby line only to find out the ride broke down sucked. Cramming in the Monorail at the end of a long sweaty night in the MK sucked. The long switchback ramp up to the EPCOT Monorail station after a hot night watching Illuminations sucked. Going up 24-0 on Auburn and then watching them roar back to beat you at home sucked. Being Miley Cyrus’ dad sucked. Being the person who had to tell Michelle Obama that “yes, that dress makes your butt look big,” sucked. Waiting more than 20 minutes for a Disney bus sucked. Trying to sell encyclopedias to the Palins sucked.

Before we finished up, I paid a visit downstairs. Because I’m very traditional. And also because I drank 8 glasses of tea.

And then we were off to the MK. We headed first to Jungle Cruise. It was dusk, which is a cool time of day to ride the JC. Our skipper was silly and his timing was pretty good.

Then we hit Pirates. From there, we headed over to Splash Mountain. I made my usual deal with ZZUBY, she couldn’t ask for the front and I wouldn’t refuse it. Dangit if that girl don’t have all kinds of front row luck! She was full on giddy to be in the front again. And man oh man did we get wet. The nice people behind us kept saying, “oh my! You really took it that time, didn’t you?” And the wetter we got, the more ZZUBY loved it. So yeah, it was worth it.

We finished up at Splash and tried to dry off in the bathrooms. Then we met up with Mrs. Z and Lil Z and crossed the park to Tomorrowland. Squishing as we walked. My shorts stuck to my legs. Not a nice feeling, I’m here to tell you. Not a nice feeling at all.

We got up to Space Mt. and the line was pretty long. Fortunately, we had our FPs from the morning. We got in the FP line and moved quickly up to the control tower section. And right as we got there, the CM closed off the side they were sending the FP people to. She sent us to the other side. What looked like the standby side.

This was our first time in Space Mt since they redid it. I was confused by what had happened. And I thought we were getting the screwgie. Our side was inching along. And then we came around the corner and it was jammed full in the massive switch backs.

I was ready to go all ZZUB on someone. I haven’t seen them use the switchbacks in there since I was a kid. Now it was more crowded than the Wisconsin Capitol building. And it smelled just as rank. (NOandfile). I was about to tell ZZUBY to hang right there while I went to find a CM to ask why we had been sent to the standby section. I was running the words through my head when I suddenly realized that we weren’t stuck in the massive switchback. There was a separate queue next to it for FP. Our lane moved right up to board the rocket ships.

Crisis averted.

I had completely misunderstood what was going on. If only the Wisconsin insaniacs would reach the same conclusion.

After our rocket trip through space, we met up with Mrs. Z and Lil Z who had just ridden Goofy’s barnstormer. Lil Z said, “Dad! It was so much fun!!! You go up, up, up and then you go like this and then you go down, down, down!” Her little chubby hands gesturing to show me how they went up, went around and then down again. She talked about that for several days. Indeed, I got her on video a few days later during lunch telling the story again.

We started making our way towards Mainstreet. It was the first night of the first day. A great day in the MK. We’d gotten to ride all our favorites. Revisited so many old friends. Fulfilled the plans we dreamt of on so many drives, during so many dinners and so many spare moments together. About the last thing left for the day was to watch the Summer Nightastic Fireworks. My girls and I had watched them a time or three on Youtube and couldn’t wait to see them in person.

The MSEP was running down the street about the time we got there, so we found a spot in front of the bakery and watched it pass by, content to see it over the heads of other people. As soon as it was done, we moved to the street to wait for the new fireworks show. Oddly enough, I was feeling hungry. The smell of Casey’s lured me in like Bernie Madoff’s promises of unbridled wealth. The thing about Casey’s is this: the smell is better than the taste.

Oh it tasted good enough, but it smelled better is all I’m saying.

Soon enough, they were dimming the lights and the fireworks began. It was hot and Mainstreet was crowded. I’ll never understand people with their cellphone cameras trying to take pictures of fireworks. I want to shout at them, “Your pictures are gonna suck! Save your efforts and just enjoy the show.” I don’t say it of course. I just wonder when they’ll learn.

No matter the annoying dumb people. Or the soggy taste of the crummy whole wheat bun. Or my damp shorts. Or my sticky shirt. Or the warm night. Or the crowds.

On that night, in that moment, I was exactly where I wanted to be. Where I’d give anything to be right now.

It was that kind of night. Where it didn’t have to be perfect to be great.

Because it was great. Even with wet socks.