The Big Disney Vacation; Day Five

Today was a low-schedule day.  Our big plan for the afternoon was to see Avengers; Age of Ultron, and I had managed to make a plan for us to meet with a girlfriend from college (who was also one of my bridesmaids) who lives in the Orlando area for dinner.

We began the day in the apartment, enjoying a leisurely breakfast of cereal, watching the river, and generally chilling.  Mr. Chili got online and bought the movie tickets while I was texting with Anne Marie about where and when we should meet for dinner.  She and I decided on a spot at Downtown Disney called Paradiso 37, and I made a plan to head over there before the movie to make reservations (it’s Friday, after all).

We finished breakfast, tidied up, showered, dressed, and strolled down to the boat landing to catch the next run to Downtown Disney.  While we waited (we timed our walk exactly between the runs, so we were watching a boat leave as we were walking in the other direction.  It wasn’t really an issue, though; the weather was fine and we were on vacation), we admired the flowers, checked out what movie was going to be screened at the pool later tonight, and perused the gift shop for the resort for a Hawaiian shirt for Mr. Chili (he really likes the uniforms that the Old Key West employees wear, and was hoping to find a similar shirt in the shop.  No such luck, but it was suggested to us that we should stop by the Polynesian and check out their gift shop).  The boat arrived, we got on, and enjoyed a lovely float to Downtown Disney.

Bean and I hoofed over to the restaurant and asked the nice lady at the podium if we could reserve a table for 8 at 5:30.  That it’s Friday should have clued me in to the idea that making reservations might be a bit more difficult than I imagined, because that nice lady looked at me like I was crazy.  She could give me reservations, she said, but the only openings she had were all after 8:45.  Since Anne Marie and her boys wanted to make an early night of it (they’re running a 5k tomorrow morning), that wasn’t going to fly.

Undaunted, Bean and I headed over to the T-Rex restaurant down the way, but we got almost exactly the same story; nothing available until after 8:00.  I figured that the tune would be the same all over the place, so I texted Anne Marie to ask her to call a Macaroni Grille Mr. Chili and I had seen on our way to pick up the rental car to find out if THEY could seat us before bedtime.  She made the reservations while we were watching previews, and just like that, we had a plan.

The movie was good for what it was.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I liked the first Avengers film much more.  There were a couple of promising directions that the story started to investigate, but it never really followed through.  I think that a nuanced and in-depth story was sacrificed for action and special effects – which were good (see “the movie was good for what it was”), but I have to admit leaving the theatre a tiny bit disappointed.

The timing worked out that we needed to head right back to the boat to get back to the rental car to meet Anne Marie and her boys (her husband wasn’t able to join us).  That went pretty seamlessly; the boat we needed to get on was just disembarking its incoming passengers, so we were able to get right on.  We walked back to the apartment, got the car keys, and arrived at the restaurant literally just as Anne Marie and her kids were parking their car.

We had a lovely dinner together.  I hadn’t seen my friend in a very long time – years, in fact – and it was very nice to catch up.  She is a wonderful person, and I have long admired how she moves through the world.  She’s always seemed to me to be a little bit of peace and calm among the noise and chaos, and I aspire to her grace.  I was very, very grateful that she took the time to visit with us – and that she was willing to brave traffic on a Friday night.

After dinner, we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the apartment, where we enjoyed some ice cream and down time.  It was a quiet day, but a good one.

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The Big Disney Vacation; Day Four

EPCOT!

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If you’ve ever been to the Walt Disney World complex, you’ll understand when I tell you that the whole place exists in this weird vortex that does freaky things with time and space.  You’re there with literally tens of thousands of other people (the statistics I found say that visitation averages about 50-60 thousand people visiting a day), yet with a few exceptions, I never felt that there wasn’t enough room for everyone.  The place my husband chose for us to stay (Old Key West resort; it’s GORGEOUS) was spacious and quiet; there are 761 guest rooms at the resort, and while a block of them was closed for refurbishing and I suspect that the place wasn’t at full occupancy, we never once felt like we were jammed in with too much humanity.  We went during a relatively low concentration period, and while there were a few places where it was clear that we weren’t the only people on vacation that week, we were never overwhelmed by traffic, lines, or crushes of people.

The other weird thing about the WDW complex is that it’s situated in a relatively small area of land.  It’s only 43 square miles (for contrast’s sake, my little town is 384 square miles) but it houses four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios), two water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon), the Downtown Disney shopping/dining/entertainment complex and a shit-ton of resorts and hotels.  Despite all this stuff on the property, the feel of the place isn’t that everything is piled on top of everything else.  It only takes a few minutes to drive from Old Key West to Epcot – we could see some of the Epcot fireworks from one of the bridges on the resort – but there is no other indication that everything is close together.  The layout and design – along with some very skillful landscaping – mean that everything feels spacious and open.

Our fourth day was planned as an open-to-close at Epcot.  We got up, showered, doused ourselves in sunscreen, piled in the rental car, and headed over (the trip took us exactly six minutes from parking lot to parking lot; I timed it).  We were guided to a parking spot (the location of which we all noted but failed to mark down in any kind of meaningful way; this will be an important detail later in my narrative), and walked to the front gate.

Our magic bands granted us entrance to the park, and the first thing we did was seek out the picture of Mr. Chili’s work husband’s kids on the legacy wall so that we could take a picture of us pointing at it and text it to him (he was living vicariously through us during our vacation week; he and his wife have a timeshare in Orlando and absolutely LOVE it there, but he wasn’t able to get away for this week).  That done, we stopped to admire some of the topiary (the International Flower and Garden Festival was still going on, much to my unmitigated delight), then we made our way to the big silver ball at the beginning of the park (see the picture above) to go on the Spaceship Earth ride.

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Because it was still early, we were able to pretty much walk right on.  We settled into our little pod (I rode with Bean; Punk and Dad were in the row ahead of us) and were welcomed by Dame Judi Dench, who is the narrator for this iteration of the ride.  We were treated to a slow-moving journey through the history of human communication from paintings on cave walls to the invention of papyrus and all the way through to computers and (mostly) modern communication (there was no mention of things like Facebook, Twitter, or text messaging; I think maybe the technology is advancing faster than the animatronics people at Disney can keep up).

I’d like to pause here to appreciate how awesome my daughters are.  As we were walking off the ride, the FIRST thing that BOTH of my girls commented about was the representation of a black woman in the computer section of the narrative.

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“Mummy!  There was a BLACK woman with NATURAL hair who WASN’T a secretary!  It was AWESOME!”

Seriously; that’s what they remember (well, that, and Bean noticed that the Romans were speaking bits of Latin that she could understand and translate, and that geeked her out).

We were still talking about the Spaceship Earth ride when we arrived at the Test Track.  Again, Bean and I were paired up and Punk and Dad went in together.  The idea here is that you “design” a car on a console and the details of your creation are loaded into a computer to be tested on the track.  Our car was a freaky looking thing – we didn’t know how much time we were allotted, and we may or may not have spent too much time fussing about color and wheel options.  Punk and Dad’s car looked better (“of course it does, Mom; Dad used to do this actual thing for a living!”), but at the end of the test, our vehicles came out about even.

Anyway, after you are shuffled out of the design studio, you’re loaded into a cart for the testing.  Another touch of the Magic Band loaded our design into our seats, and the car took us through a series of “tests” that measured things like performance, economy, aerodynamics, and such.

About 3/4 of the way through the ride, though, everything came to a sudden and unexpected stop (not a jarring stop, though; we were in a slow part of the ride).  An automated voice came over the speakers telling us that our “test trial has been temporarily suspended” and that we were to “please remain in your vehicle as it will begin moving momentarily.”  About ten minutes later, though, we were starting to get a little antsy and, just before I was about to give up and make a phone call, the ride started up again.

The fun part of this ride is when they take you outside and whiz you around the building.  Our little car got up to about 60 miles an hour on the straight away, and then we were pushed through a bunch of good, hard, positive G banking turns.  That part was a hoot, and I got off with a big grin on my face despite the long wait.

From there, we wandered about enjoying the flowers and the topiary and the butterfly exhibit.  We spent a fair bit of time oooh-ing and ahhh-ing at butterflies in the enclosure behind the Tinkerbell topiary pictured above.  I even managed to find a couple of dragonflies in the process.

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From there, we stopped for a few photo opportunities, then decided to make our way to the World Showcase.

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I think that Epcot is my favorite WDW park.  Granted, there aren’t a ton of rides, but there’s a zillion things to look at, and that is often more entertaining for me than roller coasters or swirling teacups.  We decided to “do” the World Showcase counter-clockwise, so we began our journey in Canada on the right end of the horseshoe that is that part of the park.

We wandered around the Canada exhibit, then made our way to England where we bought a snack (a couple of packets of British cookies) and took a little break.  There was some window shopping and some flower and topiary viewing and some general oooh-ing and aaah-ing at the spectacle of it.  We meandered over the bridge to France where we bought a (mediocre) crepe and found the Beauty and the Beast topiary and did some more window shopping (I got spritzed by some expensive French perfume in the process, which could have been much worse than it was; I saw her moving in and held out my left wrist for her prey.  The perfume wasn’t offensive, but I did end up washing most of it off in my next restroom trip).

Next comes Morocco, which turned out to be my least favorite exhibit; I was fascinated by the languages I heard being spoken in the shops, but the middle eastern aesthetic just doesn’t appeal to me, though the fountain and a lot of the tile work was exquisite;

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Observe the Bean, all grown up!

Next is my favorite part of the World Showcase; Japan.  I LOVE this exhibit.  Almost everything I’ve experienced about Japan and Japanese art and culture delights me; I think it’s all beautiful.  We arrived at the showcase in time to watch a taiko (drum) performance

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and then the girls and I spent the better part of an hour in the enormous, interconnected shops in the ground floor of the great hall.  I came this close to buying a lovely set of four rice bowls, each delicately painted with differently colored dragonflies, but decided against it; I’m trying very hard to simplify, and bringing more clutter into my life, regardless of how pretty that clutter may be, was counter to my purposes.  Bean got herself a little figurine of her Japanese horoscope animal (a little bunny with a teeny-tiny fortune tucked inside) and we delighted in looking at the art, sampling the incense, and admiring the kimonos and parasols and fans.

After roaming a bit, we decided that we were starting to get a little hungry (and a tiny bit cranky).  We’d built into our schedule for the day that we would go home for lunch (remember, we’re only about six minutes away). so we did a quick wander through the Germany exhibit (mostly to look at the model train set up), and then made our way out of the park.

Remember when I said we’d noticed – but not noted – our parking space?  Yeah; it took us a good ten minutes to find the damned car.  By the time we did, we were hungrier, hotter, and crankier than we were when we started, so the trip home was a good plan.  We enjoyed some sandwiches on the cool breeze of our riverside patio and I read portions of this website that Dingo sent me out loud to my family.  Mr. Chili was stressing a bit about our reservations in the China exhibit later that night, and this didn’t help to ease his concerns at all (though the bit about the Norway pastry shop and the tea stand in China had us laughing practically out of our seats… more on that later).  We made some plans for the rest of the afternoon, relaxed, and felt much better by the time we decided to return.

THIS time, we made a point of marking where we’d left the car (I love cell phone cameras; I just snapped a picture of the lane name and number) and then stopped in some of the shops that we’d buzzed by on our way out of the park a few hours earlier.  The girls were engaged in some low-level pin-trading (do you all know about this?  The idea is that you buy a lanyard or other pin-carrying device and any number of pins.  Then, you encounter cast members or other guests who are also displaying pins and, if both parties are willing, you trade.  The cast members are pretty good about it – they’re willing to give you anything they have – but you might run into resistance from non cast members (though the girls and I wondered why, if you’ve got a pin from which you’re not willing to part, you don’t just leave it at home; that’s what they did when they scored one they had no intention of trading away…) so we bought a couple of pins.  We found a GREAT one for Mr. Chili, who decided that he was going to have a Mickey silhouette theme going on his baseball cap; it was the Epcot ball with Mickey ears to go with his Great Britain and globe Mickeys, and it was perfect.

The rest of the afternoon was spent just wandering about the World Showcase.  We didn’t spend much time in the American exhibit (Bean wins the quote of the day with, “I think we’ve had quite enough of the “American Experience,” thankyouverymuch”), and we gave China only a cursory run-through (stopping, of course, to have a look at The Joy of Tea).  The girls and I sought out the “wyking mousse…with the horns” and I made sure to get a picture:

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We doodled around for the rest of the evening, had a smattering of dinner at the Nine Dragons restaurant in China (it was okay; I like our local Chinese food better), and then I found some ice cream while Mr. Chili staked us a good spot in the Japan showcase from which to watch the park-closing fireworks.DSC02561

It was SPECTACULAR.

We literally danced our way out of the park (I’ll figure out how to upload the video I took of Punk and Mr. Chili), found our car with no trouble (this time!), drove the six minutes home, and fell – exhausted but entirely satisfied – into bed.

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The Big Disney Vacation, Day Three

Subtitled, “You’re a wizard, Chili!”

Today was our big day at Universal.

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I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but Mr. Chili is something of a rocket scientist (no; literally.  He’ll tell you he’s “just a mechanical engineer,” but for the last decade or so, he’s been doing his mechanical engineering thing on shit that goes into space on rockets and does amazing and magical things. In MY book, that makes him a rocket scientist).  Last month, he was in Florida to witness one of his toys getting hurtled into space on top of a rocket.

He was here with one of his co-workers (who also happens to be a very good friend of his (I jokingly refer to Mark as Mr. Chili’s “work husband”) and, while they were here, they did all kinds of fun stuff and ate at all kinds of nice restaurants.  Mr. Chili felt bad that he did all those things without us (he’s good like that!), so we’ve been recreating his experiences since we got here.  Our first dinner here was at a lovely Italian place because he ate there with Mark and his wife while waiting for launch day, for example.One of the things that totally geeked my husband out was his trip to Universal Studios to see the new Harry Potter attraction.

We’d been to Universal a couple of times before, and we’d been to the Hogwarts/Hogsmeade site a bunch of years ago, but that didn’t prepare me for the literally amazing experience that is Diagon Alley.

We were among the first people at the park (on a “low attendance” day; Mr. Chili had crowd forecast maps… seriously) and made our reasonable way to the site (I only saw one or two people sprinting across the park; I gather that, on some days, the rush to the place resembles the Running of the Bulls, but I didn’t see anything even remotely resembling that on the day we were there).  Even the approach is magical; one rounds a corner and a street (specifically, Grimmauld Place) comes into view; row houses, shops, a BT phone booth, the Knight bus, and King’s Cross station.  Over a bridge, and you’re there.

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We stopped at 12 Grimmauld Place to take some pictures of the girls in the doorway (one of them pointing up at Kreacher peeking out from behind the second story curtain!), and to notice that the bricks on 12 are darker than the bricks that make up the rest of the row, then we made our way to talk to the conductor of the Knight bus and the shrunken head (does he have a name?), which is a very cool, interactive thing; it actually talks TO you.  The conductor asks your name, and the head repeats what you tell him and introduces himself.  They tell jokes, they sing songs; it’s all very cool.  Even though I really didn’t like the shrunken head in the movie, this was undeniably cool.

From there, we headed right to Diagon Alley.  The entry to the thing looks just like it did in the movie; the wall is open and the bricks are tilted and it’s just amazing.  The cobblestone street is lined with shops; Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes‘, Madame Maulkin’s, Flourish and Blott’s, a quidditch shop, a bookstore (which, much to my profound disappointment, was just a display), Olivander’s, and the FREAKING LEAKY CAULDRON!  Seriously; we spent the first ten minutes just gawking in geeked-out, nerdy amazement.

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The view up the street is to Gringotts, and the effect of it cannot be overstated; the dragon from the vaults is perched on top of the building, and every 20 minutes or so, the thing starts to roar and then spits out an enormous fireball, the heat of which can be felt from the street.  We decided, since the crowds were still really small, that we’d head to the “Escape from Gringotts” ride, and it was great.  We stashed our stuff in a locker and headed into the lobby, which was EXACTLY like it was in the film; giant crystal chandeliers, and goblins on high desks working on ledgers.  They’d occasionally look up at us – one of them nodded at me – and they each had little idiosyncrasies; it was fascinating and I’m a little sorry that we didn’t have to wait longer because I feel like I missed a bunch of really neat stuff in the lobby.  Anyway, the lead goblin at the end of the lobby directs you into the office behind his desk where our goblin guide comes to search a desk for the keys to the vaults.  After he roots around for a bit, Bill Weasley comes in to help, and to explain to us what we’re doing; we’re to get into an elevator to go down to the vaults where we’ll board a trolly for our tour.

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Along the way, of course, mischief ensues.  It turns out that we decided to take our tour at the same time that the kids were robbing Bellatrix Lastrange’s vault for the horcrux, and she and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named are tearing around trying to find them.  There are trolls tearing up tracks and swinging clubs at us, Nagini is hissing around, and at one point, I actually jumped from the 3D effect of a wall being blown apart (the ride is a combination odyssey and physical props, though the wall blowing out bit was 3D).  The kids mount the dragon and leave it to Bill to guide us safely out of the vault, but not before the thing spits his fireball and blows our hair back with hot air.

It was amazing.

After that, we collected our things from the locker and went shopping.  Really, even if you never buy a thing, the shopping is cool; there are quills and ink, there are badges and pins, there are ties and hats and robes and GORGEOUS real wool Hogwarts sweaters (the pretty dark ones with the red stripe at the bottom), there are quidditch ball sets and wizard’s chess sets and journals and train tickets and….really; it’s amazing.

We took in a show (we saw the Tales of Beedle the Bard troupe doing the Fountain of Fair Fortune), then we took in a bit of lunch at the Leaky Cauldron.  Bean had mac and cheese (natch), Mr. Chili had cottage pie, I had the Guinness stew, and Punk had an order of fish and chips.  Butter beer to drink (of course) and I had the Peachtree Fizzing Tea, which was yummy.

Thus fortified, we did some more shopping and sought out more magical spots.  OH!  I forgot to mention; when we landed, Mr. Chili headed straight for the Universal shop in the airport and bought a magic magic wand.  Apparently, there are RFID wands that, when swished around in specific spots, make things happen.  At the blacksmith, for example, magic magic wands (as opposed to plain old regular magic wands) work the bellows and repair some goblin armor.  At the stationery shop, a flick and swish makes a feather quill pen levitate.  There are spots all over the place, and while we had some trouble with some of them (the sun sometimes gets in the way, apparently), the overall effect is fantastic.

We walked through the streets, got a frozen butterbeer (Punk decided she wanted to try all the varieties; it comes cold, frozen, hot, and as ice cream.  She got everything but the hot; it was too warm outside for it), and then made our way through Knockturn Alley (don’t miss it; the Dark Arts shop is cool).  From there, we decided it was time to go to Hogwarts.

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King’s Cross Station is amazing (I’m using that word a lot, and yes, I DO know what it means, Inigo!).  The entryway has some sort of magical illusion that makes it look as though the people in front of you really ARE going through the wall between platforms 9 and 10 (the only bummer is that you can’t watch yourself go through).  When Mr. Chili came here a month or so ago, he was kicking himself for not stopping in the little British food shop in the queue, so we made a point of going in (there was no line at the time and people were just walking right by it on their way to the train) and buying a load of Aero bars (the sweet trolley goes by in the hallway of the train, but you can’t buy anything from it, so we had to supply our own sweets).  The Hogwarts Express is gorgeous; a giant red engine and a bunch of cars that are divided into cabins.  We made our trip from “London” to Hogwarts with just one other couple in our cabin, and it was wonderful.  The inboard side of the cabin is, apparently, some sort of shadow puppet screen; the kids go by (I don’t think they got Emma Watson to do the voice, though; I think the girl sounded much more like Ginny than Hermione), the aforementioned sweet trolley goes by, Dementors go by.  On the outboard side, there’s a movie screen that shows images of London, we go by the Malfoy estate, we watch dark wizards flying by on their clouds of black smoke, we see the enchanted car, and finally, we come around the corner and see the lake and the forest and the castle.  Hagrid greets us at Hogsmeade and there we are.

I found Hogsmeade to be less magical than Diagon Alley, but that may have just been because it was crowded and hot and there felt like less to do there.  Mr. Chili and Bean went on the Dueling Dragons roller coaster while Punk took a nap in my lap, then we got up and made our way to Hogwarts, where the girls and I got in line to go on the ride while Dad went to find someplace shady to sit.

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The queue takes you through parts of the castle, Professor Sprout’s greenhouses, and then back into the castle, where there are giant sculptures of famous witches and wizards (though I wish they’d had identifying plaques on them) and talking portraits.  We spent some time with the Fat Lady, wandered through the Dark Arts classroom, then were shown into Dumbledore’s office, where we were welcomed to a tour of the castle and a lecture with Professor Binns.  As we made our way into his classroom, though, Harry, Ron, and Hermione appeared on a balcony (they were under their invisibility cloak) and told us, sure, we could stay for the lecture, but it’s DEAD boring (as Professor Binns is, in fact, a ghost), and they’d be willing to sneak us out (“It will require a bit of magic,” Hermione told us) so we could see a quidditch match.

We were loaded into benches and then Hermione cast a spell on our group and we were thrown through the floo network which sent us outside where we met Harry and Ron in their quidditch robes.  As we passed a bridge connecting two parts of the castle, we found Hagrid holding an empty chain leash asking us if we’d seen a dragon (oops!), then we swooped under the bridge and ran into said dragon.  The dragon proceeded to chase us, Harry, and Ron into the Dark Forest where Ron fled from the spiders (which spit at us) and, as we tore through the forest, Hermione told us to follow her voice to get out of the forest.  We flew to the end of the quidditch pitch where we found Harry and Draco.  The snitch flies in front of them and they jostle each other trying to get at it.  Then we ran into Dementors.  Harry cast a patronus spell and we left him to deal with them while we flew around the moat and into the castle dungeons – the Chamber of Secrets, to be specific.  We dodged the skeleton snake and collapsing beams and eventually made our way out into the open again.

From there, we flew to the observatory of the castle, flying down and through the castle, through the great hall, then passed by the quidditch team congratulating us and Dumbledore welcoming us back to visit any time.

All of that was provided for you courtesy of Bean; I had my eyes closed through most of the ride.  Motion odyssey rides wreak havoc on my system, and I didn’t enjoy the ride at all.

After that, we found Dad and the girls decided the wanted to go on the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster, so I held everyone’s stuff and watched them roll by (this being a family friendly coaster (“all positive Gs,” says my husband), they all came off with smiles), then we decided to get back on the Hogwarts Express and head back to Diagon Alley and some of the aforementioned butter beer ice cream (which was yummy) while we watched Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees do their singing thing.  Bean found a couple of things to buy in a shop (a gift for her best friend and a sweatshirt for herself) and then we decided it was time to go.

We went on the MIB ride in the next section over, and that was fun.  You’re put in a cart, given a noisy cricket sort of ray gun, and told to shoot as many aliens as you can find.  Our boat earned a rating of “celestially average,” which is much better than we did the last time we went on that ride; Will Smith told us that time that, if we hadn’t been in a training simulator, we’d all have been bug food.

After that, the girls went on the Simpson’s ride and Mr. Chili and I sat our butts down for a bit.  Once the girls were back (it’s another motion ride, they said, and we’d have hated it), we made our way to the Rock-it roller coaster so Mr. Chili and Bean could partake (Punk and I found a bench with a good view of the first part of the coaster ride to wait).  They both came off smiling, and Bean said she wanted to do it again, but we had reservations at the Hard Rock Cafe and needed to head over; besides, we were all pretty hungry by then.

I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at a hard rock before, but I enjoyed it.  The food was pretty standard for these kinds of chains (Punk and I shared a burger, Mr. Chili got a bbq chicken sandwich, Bean got chicken fingers, and we split a plate of potato skins between us), but the atmosphere was a hoot.  The music was way too loud (we gave the waitress our orders through a complex combination of sign language and menu-pointing), but everyone – from the guests to the wait staff to the busboys and hostesses, was singing (and occasionally dancing) along.

A quick run through the gift shop (where Punk bought a tee shirt and got $10 off with the coupons one of the roving managers left at our table) and we were off for home again, exhausted but delighted.  It was a really, really good day.

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The Big Disney Vacation, Day Two

We woke to rain, but did that deter us a bit?  No, Dear Readers, it did not.  Water may have been falling from the sky, but it was near 80°, so we’re good.

Mr. Chili and I got up pretty early, had a smattering of breakfast in the apartment, then headed to the front of the resort to catch the rental car shuttle to pick up a car.  While we were waiting, Reggie introduced himself to us; he’s a new front-of-house manager and stopped by where we were sitting to ask us how we were and if we needed anything.  We ended up having a lovely conversation with this gentleman who, it turns out, started his career as an industrial engineer and has worked all over the world.  He got his Disney job because someone he worked with had a job at Disney and recommended him.  Mr. Chili commented that he’d love to be an Imagineer, but he’s heard that the only way to get in is to know someone, to which Reggie replied, “well, NOW you know someone!” and promised to get in touch with us before we leave.  I’m strangely excited by this.

We picked up our car then headed back to the apartment to pick up the girls who, by this point, had pried themselves out of bed and were ready to face the world.  As it was still raining, we figured we’d get some errands out of the way, so we found a Target (to get Bean a new swimsuit; she’d outgrown her suit from last year and a couple of things we forgot to pack), then found a AAA office to buy our tickets for Universal.

By the time we made it back to the apartment, it was lunchtime, so I popped a pizza in the oven while the family goofed around on Pottermore to find out which house they belong to.  I haven’t been able to get the thing to work properly (I was using my iPad; I’ll try again with my computer), but it’s no matter; we’re all really, really excited about tomorrow’s trip.

Once we’d finished lunch, the rain stopped, so we walked down to the boat dock to catch the water taxi to Downtown Disney and our afternoon at Disney Quest.

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I wasn’t sure I was really going to enjoy this afternoon.  I’m not much for arcades; I’m kind of lousy at video games and all the noise and flashing lights give me headaches (to say nothing of the screaming kids), so imagine my surprise when we emerged a number of hours later with plans to return after we’d found something upon which to nosh.

Our afternoon started with a trip to the Pirates of the Caribbean game, which, again, I thought I’d hate.  I’ve got a pretty study constitution, but motion odyssey rides heeb me out; I get mildly nauseated and disoriented and vaguely headachy and I don’t feel right for a while afterward, so I wasn’t really keen about doing this game, but I figured I’d give it a go and see what happened.  It turned out that I needn’t have worried; though it’s a 3D ride, the motion of the thing is entirely manageable (it has to be, as you stand for the entire experience) and the graphics weren’t jerky or flashy.  The point of the adventure is that you and your “crew” are out to plunder rival pirate ships and collect their gold then, at the end, to try to keep your gold when you’re attacked by the ghost pirate ship.

Punk steered the ship and Bean, Dad and I manned the cannon and we won!

From there, we kind of split up and did our own thing.  Mr. Chili and I found the “classic games” sections and consumed unknown quantities of time playing Pac Man, Frogger, Asteroids, Centipede, Qbert, and Galaga.  After a bit, I wandered off to watch the Buzz Lightyear bumper cars, then found a fun video bowling game at which I got pretty good before I realized that I was starting to get hungry.

We didn’t have a plan for lunch, but I knew that if I didn’t get something to eat, I’d start getting cranky.  I found the Punk and she and I agreed to split a monster chocolate peanut butter cupcake; and when I say “monster,” I mean it.  We ended up quartering the damned thing and making it a family snack.  It was delicious, but I shudder to think about how many calories are in one (or how many people think they’re single-serving).

Properly sugared, we headed back in to do a bit more exploring.  The girls and I did Aladdin’s Magic Carpet ride (which was disappointing… and mildly nauseating) and then we found a four-person air hockey table (WIN!  We love air hockey!).  I played some Tetris while Mr. Chili wandered off to play Blazing Aces.  After that, we figured we’d head out into Downtown Disney for a bit, so we found the girls (playing Guitar Hero) and then perused the shops.  We moseyed through a couple of really interesting gift shops, a surprisingly small candy shop (really; it was tiny.  I expected much more) and then spent about 15 minutes in a hat store.  We determined that Mr. Chili is really a baseball cap kind of guy, that Punk looks good in only the expensive hats, that Bean looks good in damned near ANY hat, and that I have an enormous noggin, even leaving my humid hair out of the equation; there were exactly two hats that I tried that fit, and neither of them was particularly flattering.

From there, we walked around a bit more and decided that we were getting genuinely hungry (the cupcake having been yummy but not especially nutritious), so we made our way toward the Earl of Sandwich for a bit of a snack.  When we got there, though, Mr. Chili had second thoughts; we have some sandwich fixings in the apartment and he was stressing about buying sandwiches out when we could just make them at home.  We decided against walking back to Disney Quest and headed for the water taxi to take us back to the West End of Downtown Disney while Mr. Chili reconsidered how he wanted to negotiate the dinner question.

In the end, he decided against going back to the apartment; we were hungry AND we wanted to go back to do more Disney Quest, and going back would have eaten up more time than he wanted to spend.  We stopped at the Smokehouse next to the House of Blues and got ourselves a basket of barbecue chicken nachos which we split among the four of us (Mr. Chili noting that, as with the cupcake earlier in the day, the nachos were likely intended to be a single person’s fare).  They were yummy, though I would have liked a bit more bbq sauce.

From there, Mr. Chili and Bean wanted to go back to Disney Quest and Punk wanted to go to Basin to get some pretty stinky bath stuff.  I agreed to walk back with her (forgetting just how long a walk it was), so she and I headed off.  It turned out to be a lovely bit of time with my elder daughter, though; we chatted as we threaded our way through the crowds, then spent a fair bit of time (not to mention a fair bit of money) getting the aforementioned pretty stinkies; Punk got a tube of bath bombs (we have a giant jacuzzi in the apartment that she wants to make use of) and a couple of jars of salt scrub (one, believe it or not, for Mr. Chili who tried a scrub when he was here a few weeks ago for his rocket launch and decided he really liked it.  He brought us back last night after Ghirardelli’s to use it again, and I paid attention to which one he liked).

On our way back to Disney Quest to reunite with our family, we stopped to listen to some of the street performers, and this one caught my attention.  His name is Nicholas Marks, and I knew that I wanted to stop and listen even before we rounded the corner to his spot.

He’s quite the performer, but more than that, I LOVE the music.  I bought one of his CDs right then and there and would have stayed for the rest of the show except that I knew that Mr. Chili and Bean would be wondering where we were, so we continued on and made our way back to the arcade.

In the whole afternoon, I’d never quite made it to the top floor, so that’s where we headed upon arrival.  I texted Mr. Chili to let him know where we were and then spent (again, unknown amounts of) time playing pinball (gods, but I love pinball!) and skee-ball and more Pac Man.  After a bit, Mr. Chili and Bean found us, we goofed around upstairs for a bit more, then we decided we wanted to do the Pirate game again, so we took the elevator to the first floor and found that there was almost no line.  We got right in, we were put in a different program (same story, different ships and, I think, different port) and we won again!  We make a good crew.

The grown ups were done at this point, but the girls still wanted to play for a bit, so we left them and made our way out through the gift shop, through the Cirque de Soleil gift shop across the street, then found our way back to the water taxi to the resort.  It was a lovely, quiet ride back.  When we got to port, I noticed that the poolside movie was Lilo and Stitch – and I LOVE Lilo and Stitch – so Mr. Chili suggested that we stay and watch the rest of it.

As we were walking home, we saw the girls’ water taxi float by, so we waved and blew kisses and enjoyed some cookies while we waited for them to walk back to the apartment, which brings me to now.  I’m off to bed; we’ve got Universal lined up for tomorrow and it’s going to be a big day.

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The “Big Disney Vacation,” Day One

So, it’s a big year at Chez Chili.

Bean turned sixteen this year.  SIXTEEN!  I know!  I can’t believe it, either!

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Punk turns eighteen (EIGHTEEN!) and graduates high school in June.

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Because of these special milestones, we decided that we were going to have a big vacation year to celebrate.  For the April break, we gave the girls a choice of a bunch of things to do – a cruise, a trip to Bermuda, a trip to the Keys, or a Disney vacation.

Without skipping a beat and all at the same time, they both said, “DISNEY!”

My husband, as I’ve noted before, has supernatural vacation planning abilities.  I mean it; this guy puts together a trip so that things happen seamlessly; he finds beautiful apartments for us to stay at, he researches when the best time to go to attractions is (“they have crowd calendars,” he tells me.  Who knew that was a thing?  He does, apparently).  He took it upon himself to put together this trip for us; all we did was tell him which parks we wanted to go to and he did the rest.

We got on a plane this morning and flew non-stop to Orlando.  The flight was a bit bumpy (I’m a nervous flier, so anything but perfectly smooth is “a bit bumpy” to me).  Regardless, we landed safely and made our way to the shuttle buses that take Disney guests to their resorts.

Mr. Chili passed out our “Magic Bands” which, apparently, do everything; they checked us in to the shuttle, they unlocked the door to our suite, they’ll get us into the parks (and purchase anything at any Disney-owned store or restaurant.

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(mine is the blue one; the black band is my fitbit; in addition to starting up my blogging habit, I’m committed to getting some exercise this week, too.  Plus, I’m curious to see how much walking gets done in Disney parks).  After a lovely trip on a comfortable bus, we arrived at the Old Key West resort.

This place is GORGEOUS.  We have a two bedroom suite with a kitchen, full size washer and drier, and a gigantic hot tub in the master suite (thank you, Mr. Chili!)!  As I write this, I’m sitting on our porch overlooking the river.  Seriously; this is my view:

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We weren’t here five minutes before a knock on the door heralded the arrival of our groceries.  My husband ordered groceries and arranged to have them delivered to our suite when we arrived.  He got “the things we get on our first vacation grocery run;” that means a loaf of bread, some mayo and tuna, cereal, milk, double stuff Oreos and, of course, Chips Ahoy and Nutella (GODS, but I love this man!).

As I write this, we’re waiting for our bags to be delivered from the airport (that was part of the service).  The girls have already been to the pool, and we have reservations for Portobello’s at 6:00.  We’re going to dress up a bit and take the water taxi (the one that goes right by our porch on that river there) and have a lovely supper, then we’re headed to Ghirardelli’s for dessert.

We have a busy week planned, but I’m hopeful to be able to see a couple of friends while I’m here; one of my college friends (and a bridesmaid at my wedding) lives in Orlando and suggested meeting for lunch when she saw my travel update on facebook, and I’m desperately hoping to be able to see TwoBlueDay while we’re here (though that might be tricky and, as such, may not happen, but I hold out hope).  I’m really looking forward to spending time with my nearly-adult children.  I’m delighted to be where it’s warm.  This is going to be great.

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Back on the Wagon

For a very, very long time, I wrote here literally every day.  Sometimes I’d write about things that mattered to me and sometimes I’d write about fluff and nonsense, but I wrote every day.

Then, I started to get self conscious about this habit.  Was I doing it because I WANTED to, or was I doing it because it was just something I did?  When I looked back on all I’d written, would I be proud or nostalgic about what I’d committed here, or would it be a catalog of the aforementioned fluff and nonsense?

It was that reflection that led me to let go my daily writing habit for a while.  I spent time on facebook, I spent time with my friends and family, I read books and took classes and did stuff.  Every once in a while, I’d stop by to drop a bit of thinking or to save something important that I’d want to look back on (Kes and the kittens, most notably), but I never really came back with any kind of focus or commitment.

I have decided that I don’t like not writing, though.  I feel as though I’m a bit adrift.  I mean, sure; I have a ton of stuff on my facebook wall, but the brevity of facebook posts and statuses and comments do not lend themselves well to any kind of critical or sustained thought (and facebook is a bitch to search) so I’m using our April vacation as an excuse to get back into the habit of regularly getting my thoughts and experiences down.  One of the things I truly treasure about the time I spent blogging regularly is that I can look back on important events in my life – from vacations to my mother’s illness and death to the making of new friends – and have not only the time and dates that these things happened, but also my thinking and feeling about them as they were happening.

So, friends and comrades, I’m back on the writing wagon.  I’ve missed you.

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The Way We Talk About Things That Matter

I’m engaged in several concurrent discussions about two very different topics – feminism and racism – but I’m finding that I’m making the same argument in both of them.  Since Facebook doesn’t really lend itself well to lengthy reflection, I’m coming here.

My first conversation is with a former student.  He’s a bright boy, though he is sometimes resistant, as we all can sometimes be, to ideas that are contrary to his experience or to the way he views his world.  I fondly recall a number of lively (and sometimes, for both of us, frustrating) conversations about controversial topics in which we both ended up exhausted; I because of the work it took to present him with compelling evidence in a way he’d be amenable to accept and he because he expended an inordinate amount of energy refusing to accept that evidence.

The other day, he posted something on his Facebook wall that was akin to “why can’t we call ‘feminism’ ‘humanism’?  If feminism is really about equal rights, then it should be about men’s rights too.”

Well, yes… and no.

I’ve been thinking an awful lot over the last decade or so about how incredibly polarized we as a society have become.  At what point did it become a bad thing to be able to inhabit the space between extremes?  When did admitting that the opposition had a valid point become a sign of intellectual (or worse, moral) failing?  Why can we not concede that a thing might be grey, rather than insist that everything be categorized neatly into black or white columns?

What ensued was a long – and frustrating – conversation about why, in fact, we need a particular branch of thinking that is specifically and unapologetically feminist.  Do feminists care about men’s rights?  Of COURSE they do; at the heart of feminism is a need to see complete gender equality, and we can’t have that unless and until both genders share equally in the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of society.  The point, however, is that, at this particular point in time, we don’t NEED a specialized movement in order to protect men’s rights (or gay rights, or white rights…).

I talked about the idea of weather versus climate; that an individual’s experience does not necessarily represent the experience of the larger group.  A particular woman may enjoy a bigger salary than her male coworker.  A particular woman may be the abuser in her relationship.  A particular woman may experience no discrimination or harassment in her workplace.  That an individuals experience is such does not mean, however, that all women experience these conditions.  In fact, the opposite is generally true, and unless and until that changes – unless and until the general experience of women is free from gender-based encumbrances and discrimination and threats of physical intimidation and control – then we need a line of thought that is specifically, enthusiastically, and unapologetically feminist.

I think part of what made my former student choke is the fact that his personal, lived experience doesn’t bear out a “need” for feminism.  He has very often felt disadvantaged and marginalized and, as a consequence, resents the idea that women should be afforded special consideration in society when he, himself, feels like his gender doesn’t afford him any particular advantages.  He was arguing the same point that poor men – or black men, or gay men – tend to argue without realizing that the concept of intersectionality – that just because one is privileged in one aspect of their lives doesn’t mean that they are privileged in all aspects of their lives – is an actual thing.  Again, I had to fight against the ‘all or nothing’ paradigm that seems to be the hallmark of our modern discourse; you either are something or you aren’t, and the in between is either too confusing, too difficult, or too uncomfortable to navigate.  Yes, my student may have been poorly treated.  Yes, my student may have been verbally harassed by women on the street.  That doesn’t change the fact that he is LESS likely to be so specifically BECAUSE he is a man.  There are a thousand things that he doesn’t have to worry about BECAUSE he is a man.  There are a number of invisible privileges and advantages that he enjoys BECAUSE he is a man.  Whether or not he understands or appreciates these facts doesn’t make them any less true.

I think one of the things that frustrates me most about these kinds of conversations is the idea that we somehow have to include everyone equally in the conversation.  The central tenet of political correctness – that to marginalize anyone or to silence any voices is to commit the same kinds of crimes we’re fighting against – is, I think, one that stifles rather than encourages conversation.  I reject the effort of people like my student – or the #alllivesmatter people, or the “not all cops are bad cops” people – to try to be all-inclusive specifically because I think that to broaden the conversation to include everyone does further violence to the people whose rights are being denied.

I’m insulted by the implication that my support of feminism means that I reject men’s rights, or that I want women to have advantages over men.  I hate that my support of #blacklivesmatter means to some that I don’t think that ALL lives matter.  I’m deeply insulted by the thought that my outrage at the behavior of bad police officers automatically means that I believe all police officers are bad.  These arguments are simplistic, reductive, and disingenuous.  They are insulting to thinking people and they serve only to keep the status quo in place.

Of COURSE men matter, but we’re not TALKING about men; we’re talking about WOMEN and the ways in which their gender disadvantages them in our society

Of COURSE all lives matter, but we’re not TALKING about ALL lives; we’re talking about BLACK lives and they ways in which they are undervalued in our society.

Of COURSE not all police officers are abusive, but we’re not TALKING about the good ones; we’re talking about the officers who use their power and their access to deadly force to abuse the public (and, specifically, the black public).

When we try to inject the entirety of the population into a conversation about a particular segment, we water down that conversation.  I, as a white, middle class woman, have very little of value to add to the conversation about poor black people beyond offering my unconditional support for the ending of the policies and practices that keep them poor.  MY experience is completely meaningless in that conversation, and it is both arrogant and counterproductive for me to try to force my experiences in; doing so takes away from the very real problems that people face and, not for nothing, makes me look like an ass.

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