A Very Disney Christmas

Four Park Collage

Right, so let’s get to the oft-asked question straightaway: Is Disney World busy at Christmas?

BAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  *Gasp, wheeze, struggle for breath* Is Disney World busy at Christmas?!

So yeah, this would be the part of the answer where I lob back a number of saucy replies involving the business that bears do in the woods or the activities of a one-legged man at an ass-kicking competition.

In other (less sarcastic ) words, YES, Disney World is busy at Christmas.  All four parks were busier than I have ever seen them over 11 visits and 40 years of existence.  And on Christmas Day in particular when the Magic Kingdom hit capacity for just the second time in Disney history, the kind of busy that regrettably pulls you right out of the magic as you question the efficacy of any emergency procedure that will involve the evacuation of 70,000 people.

However!  Mr. Finger Candy and I – particularly in light of our back-to-back trips in 2017 – kind of consider ourselves pros at this whole Disney business, and we viewed our adventure as a challenge or a task or a mission to be completed, and completed well!  So we were organized and motivated and driven.  Also willing to adapt, modify our plans as needed and just go with the flow, bro.

Magic Kingdom Castle Collage

“Park or Perish!” may seem like a pretty lousy rallying call for a vacation, but I assure you, we had a fantabulous time, in large part because we were up for just about anything.  Which led to all sorts of fun shenanigans that I will share with you in more exhaustive detail a little later, such as this awesome meet-and-greet with Buzz Lightyear in which he congratulated us on our top scores on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.

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Or this incredible retro meal we enjoyed (so much!) at the 50s Prime Time Cafe at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Prime Time 1

Or hugs from this hairy dude.

Chewie 1

For that matter, hugs from this hairy dude as well, who graciously received us in his study after our late (10 pm!) Christmas Day dinner at Be Our Guest.

Dinner with the Beast

Or this amazing moment, which I have already decided is going to be next year’s Christmas card.  “Merry Christmas, Force-choke a husband!”

Christmas Card

We had a blast, crowd levels notwithstanding (in fact, in some cases we had an amazing time not in spite of the crowds, but because of them.)  And I like to think that was our “reward” for our laid back, yet organized, approach to Disneying through the holidays – an actual good time to be had at the Happiest Place on Earth.  Revolutionary, I know!  But it can be done, and I’m looking forward to sharing all the fun with you over the coming days.  Please do stop by for a visit; there’s plenty more Star Wars and meet-and-greets and deeply unattractive on-ride photos to come!

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Merry Manatees

Merry Manatees

Know what this is, friends?  A Sandra Lewrey original, and an early Christmas gift for my mom.  You’d never know I’m nearly 41 years old with art skills like these!

No surprise that “real” is not exactly my thing (you need look no further than my nail art designs for abundant evidence of that) but these manatees look like they were drawn by a four-year-old!  Which is appropriate, because I’m kind of feeling like a four-year-old.  Because tomorrow morning my husband and I are once again leaving on a jet plane for all places Disney World, straight through Christmas and a little bit beyond.

And I’m feeling only-child wretched about it.  Unbelievably excited, of course – oh my cats, we’re going to Disney for Christmas!!! – but also sad.  Have, in fact, here on the eve of our flights, been crying for the better part of the evening.  Before you (somewhat rightfully) declare me an epic wuss puss, allow me to say that I’m very close to my parents, and this will be the first Christmas in 40 years that we will not be together.  I’m trying to be mature about it, but I actually like hanging out with my parents, and as much fun as I KNOW Mr. Finger Candy and I going to have, I also know I’m going to miss them terribly.  Hence all the tears.  I’ve actually gone the full ham and we’re watching The Christmas Toy, a Jim Henson production of the late ’80s about an unlikely friendship between a stuffed tiger toy and a catnip mouse that makes me SOB from start to finish.

The quasi-joke among our family this holiday season is that my husband and I are ABANDONING them, AT CHRISTMAS.  Which we are.  Might as well own up to it!  So I made this painting for my mom of two manatees abandoning their family for the holidays.  I’m the one with the bow. 🙂

Happiest of Christmases, friends.  I will try to update this blog over the next week, but I’ve never blogged on the road before, and I’ve no idea what to expect.  Also, you know I’ll be back at you with a complete rundown of the entire experience, in exhaustive detail!  You’ll be begging me to stop telling you about the Star Wars fireworks and projection show at Hollywood Studios already.  But until then, the merriest of merrys to you and yours, and warmest of wishes for a wonderful holiday.

Disney World Blitz: Parklife Part V

When we last left off, I was breaking promises left, right and centre regarding the eventual end to this epic tale of my two-day anniversary blitz trip to Walt Disney World.  If you’re at all interested in catching up on the first four installments, in which I blab on endlessly about our resort, food, rides and Gaston’s Tavern, you can find those here, here, here and here.

But last we actually left off, we were discussing Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and how a late night run proved that maybe our stomachs just ain’t what they used to be.  More on that in a bit.

PhilharPooh

But earlier on, following our not-so-nauseous afternoon run of Big Thunder, we swang it across to Fantasyland and hit up two sweeties, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, a cool 4D musical, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.  Pooh is an absolutely adorable attraction, a classic Disney dark ride, but holy cats, what an uncomfortable ride!  You get into these honey pot carts that bob from side to side when the rain, rain, rain comes down, down, down in rushing, rising rivulets, and also sproing up and down when you go bouncing with Tigger, and I never stop feeling like I’m about to just slide off the seat, straight onto the floor.  Pooh could stand a bit of grip tape.

Tomorrowland Speedway

“I don’t know what to do with my hands.”  Mr. Finger Candy versus the Tomorrowland Speedway, these gas-guzzling little go-carts on rails.  Thankfully, unlike Ricky Bobby, he kept his clothes on and didn’t dash about the track in his underpants screaming that he was on fire.  Or at least he didn’t on this particular trip.

People Mover Collage

The People Mover!  Also known as the Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover, a magnet-powered Walt original.  I semi-joke that you know you’ve gotten old(er) when you consider the People Mover a pretty great time.  I don’t know, 10 seated minutes of amazing views, great breezes, cool park trivia, bit of air conditioning – that’s 40-year-old pay dirt right there.

AstroCarousel

An insincere thumbs-up for Astro Orbiter (eh, you go up, you go down, you go fast – it’s fine, but not worth the 25-minute lineup) and yours truly pretending to be that nagging cow Sarah from the Carousel of Progress (an entire rotating stage show filled with animatronic nightmare fuel, and a song that’s somehow more of an ear worm than It’s a Small World.  Everybody sing it with me now, “‘Cause it’s a great! big! beautiful tomorrow!  Shining at the end of every day!”)

Buzz Lightyear

In the midst of all this Tomorrowland fun we took a break to dash back to Liberty Square for another run through the Haunted Mansion, before doubling back to the future for target practice on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.  Buzz is a hoot, one of those shoot-the-target rides (also an excellent candidate for a FastPass, because its lineup is long, cramped and boring.)  A super nice cast member (again, there is really no other variety) snapped this photo of us just outside the ride.

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Ah, but inside, actually on the ride, the attraction snapped this photo of us mid-action.  I call this one “The Gamer and the Goof.”  This is admittedly not the best photo of either one of us, but this is what happens when you put a hardcore gamer on a shoot-the-target ride – intense concentration and laser-like focus.  Or at least until your wife suddenly shouts, “This is where they take your picture, SMILE!” and you try to pretend like you’re not SEVERELY committed to ridding the scourge of Evil Emperor Zurg from the galaxy.  All the same, he got something like 400,000 points his first run out and I got, oh, 9,600.

After conquering Buzz (or just sitting there making “Pew! Pew!” noises) we thought, “Hey, there’s an hour until the projection light show at Cinderella’s Castle.  Let’s hop over to Pirates of the Caribbean for one final boat ride of the day.”  Which would have made for some pretty tremendous timing had the ride not broken down, leaving us in semi-darkness for the next 40 minutes.

Pirates Collage

I say semi, because after 20 or so minutes of the pirates yo-ho, yo-ho-ing in their normal fashion, they turned the sound off, brought the lights up and then began resetting the pumps that push the boats along the tracks.  It was very cool to see how much the water line dropped when the pumps were turned off – probably a good three inches.  And the water’s only about two and a half feet deep to begin with!  At one point I thought we were going to be evac’d off the ride; wondered how that was going to happen when we were all out floating in little boats.  And through it all the pirates continued their revelry, albeit now in static silence.  Being temporarily stuck on a ride may sound like a nightmare to you, but I loved this unexpected peek behind the Disney magic; it was practically its own attraction!

Following our misadventure in Adventure Land, which did indeed cause us to miss the projection light show, we hightailed it over to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train to take advantage of the substantially decreased wait times during late night Extra Magic Hours (another perk that comes with Disney resort life – extra in-park, on-ride hours either before or after regular park open or close.  Which is how you sometimes find yourself stumbling out of the Magic Kingdom at one in the morning!)

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We snapped this photo in front of the Dwarfs the following morning when we realized we had forgotten to take one the night before.  Two somewhat unenthused thumbs up for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, another super zippy roller coaster (this time with individually rocking seats) themed to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  It was fun, but nothing I’d wait in line any longer than 20 minutes to enjoy (which we did, while we watched the fireworks that now seem to be launched from about six different spots in the park, making for a very fulsome, awesome experience, no matter where you’re standing.)

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After exiting the Mine Train, we jaunted on down to Space Mountain.  Why not keep the roller coaster love flowing?  Oh, because Space Mountain has never not been an exceedingly rough ride, and one in the pitch dark, no less.  I was joking the other day that I don’t always enjoy putting up my Christmas tree every year because we have history, and my dad is the same way with Space Mountain – there’s a dark past there I think neither one wishes to acknowledge!  My parents were – and are, even as they approach their 70s – super game for any and all theme park fun…so long as it doesn’t involve a roller coaster.  Even then, my dad will still go on the zoomers like Big Thunder (but only after thoroughly checking to ensure that the ride absolutely, positively does not go upside down.)  But Space Mountain has always been off the menu; she’s just too rough.

And after suffering through our own rough ride on Space Mountain, I’m not sure she’s on the menu for US any more either.  Oof, I felt quite unwell as I exited the ride – barely spared a glance at the fun (and so appropriate) mock ad for SPF 3500 sunscreen bearing my screaming, on-ride likeness on some nearby screens (this is also why we have no photo of this attraction!)  Mr. Finger Candy actually fared much worse, getting hit with a double dose of first motion sickness and then panic sickness when he thought he had lost his very expensive prescription sunglasses somewhere in the bowels of the ride.  A couple of seconds of frantic casting-about in the bottom of his cart thankfully turned up the missing glasses, much to everyone’s relief, but the anxiety-ridden damage was done.

So what better time to ride one more roller coaster of the evening?  And preferably one as far away as possible.  So to the very back corner of the park for one last ride on Big Thunder!  Which is the ride I spoke of before that just completely did us in.  I’m a real arms-up kind of roller coaster enthusiast – I love that feeling of gravity pulling you out of your seat.  It’s normally a very fun way to enjoy a roller coaster, but not this evening.  Should have just enjoyed the stars and the scenery!  We were both listing sideways as we made our way toward the front of the park.

Castle at Night

But not listing so much that we didn’t stop by the Haunted Mansion for one last close-er-out ride of the night.  Which was also maybe a mistake?  You know you’ve overdone it when even a Doom Buggy’s slow, stately funeral march through the Mansion is setting you off.  And that, my friends, is what you call theme park overload!

Which is what you might be feeling at this point in the tale, which…DRUMROLL, PLEASE!…is finally at an end.  What a fun time!  Such a fantastic experience, one I hope to recreate very soon. 🙂  And to everyone who was kind enough to like and comment on these posts with their own fun Disney experiences, thank you for coming by and sharing *your* Disney world with me.  May we meet up in the parks someday!

Disney World Blitz: Parklife Part IV

Rides Collage

And here we are, finally – “FINALLY!” they all cried – at the end of my Disney World travelogue (Editor’s note: Lies!) a tale that has taken longer to tell than it did to experience all that excitement and wonder in the first place.  Ah, but half the joy (or at least a solid one-third of the joy) is in the storytelling after the fact – and there’s still tons of fun fuel in that particular tank. 🙂

So, baby baby, it’s ride time!  Let’s get down to this thing.  Day two was largely spoken for by our 13 rides through the Haunted Mansion.  But on day one we worked it like the rent was due, or at least like we had 14 hours in the world’s most popular theme park – no time for dilly-dallying, we’re here to DISNEY!  And here are the attractions we enjoyed, roughly in the order in which we experienced them.

Peter Pan's Flight Collage

A fairly hard and fast rule among my little flamly growing up was if your weirdo kid didn’t drag you on the Haunted Mansion as the first run of the day, then that inaugural ride had better well be Peter Pan’s Flight.  A 1971 original (that has gone through precious few updates over the decades) Peter Pan’s Flight is a sweet, gentle lark; my mom always clapped with joy when we’d burst through the Darlings’ bedroom window and set sail over London.  And my favourite part of the ride is technically not even part of the ride – just a little table set for teddy tea tucked in a tiny nook just outside the Darlings’ bedroom.  I sighed with contentment when I glimpsed it after a 13 year hiatus.

It's a Small World Collage

The easy joke about It’s a Small World, another ’71 original, is that it’s insanity-inducing, although I’ve never found it 1/1000th as annoying as everyone says it is.  And neither did Mr. Finger Candy, on his first It’s a Small World voyage – it was closed for refurbishments when we were last down on our honeymoon.  He actually said he found it pretty tolerable.  See, that’s what happens when you get old and you cherish each and every moment you can spend sitting on your butt in a theme park, even if you have to endure thousands of vaguely demonic-looking animatronic figurines singing the world’s most relentlessly cheerful song at you in 89 different languages in order to do so.

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Out of focus?  Or did I accidentally drink the It’s a Small World Water?  No, definitely out of focus – I wasn’t arrested after tearing off all my clothes and declaring myself the Lizard Queen. 😉

Haunted Mansion Two Collage

Straight chillin’ in front of my dream home, the Haunted Mansion.  And I got as close to actually living there this time as I have any other visit – 13 rides (actually 16 over two days) took a not-insubstantial amount of time.  Gave me plenty of opportunity to choose a room, though, should the Mansion break down and, in the most likely of scenarios, I’m forced to live there until the end of time.  It’s actually behind the last door on the left as you climb the hallway of M.C. Escher-esque infinity staircases.

Pirates of the Caribbean Collage

I’m a Pirate, wikid!  Pirates of the Caribbean is never not a good time, not even when the ride breaks down and you spend 35 minutes watching the pirates yo-ho, yo-ho in static silence.  But more on that awesome experience in a bit.  Otherwise, the day’s first ride on Pirates went off without a hitch.  Unless you count the fact that Mr. Finger Candy did NOT buy that awesome tri-cornered hat, even though I begged him to because he’s wanted one his entire life.  Hey, I shouldn’t be the only one fulfilling my childhood dreams here!

I really liked the new-ish Jack Sparrow update to the end of the ride, and I was pleased as punch to see that Disney has not yet removed The Redhead (as in “We wants the redhead!”)  Pirates is long overdue for a pretty major tonal shift – the multiple references to physical and sexual violence (the pirates “wants” The Redhead because she’s the hottest piece being sold at auction) cast a perplexing, momentarily unwelcome pall across an otherwise goofily enjoyable ride.  Anyhow, I was glad to get one last glimpse of The Redhead in her native, 1973 state before she and her auction-mates are rightfully retrofitted into a girl pirate gang.  I can’t wait until they round up all the men and then sit around drunkenly speculating on their price per pound – “Shift yer cargo, dearie, show ’em your larboard side!”  Squid pro roe, pirate dudes, it’s your time to be objectified for the next 40 or so years!

Little Mermaid Collage

Journey of the Little Mermaid was a new ride for both of us, and oh, what fun!  I’ve never been the biggest Little Mermaid fan (Prince Eric is a stone cold moron, easily the dumbest guy in the Disney canon) but I love, love, LOVED this attraction, classic Disney dark ride styles.  The gigantic Under the Sea set piece was fantastic, and the even gigantic-er Ursula animatronic?  Ca c’est encroyable!  She’s mended all her ways, you know – repented, sympathized and made a switch.  True?  Yes.

Little Mermaid Collage 2

I loved Journey of the Little Mermaid so much, I even liked the lineup, which winds below Ariel and Eric’s castle in a series of underwater caves at “low tide.”  And my husband liked it so much, he…oh my.  And it’s not even Hug a Merman Day!  Well, I’ll try not to be too jealous, though they do make a pretty fetching couple.

Jungle River

Jungle River Cruise!  And I have no cute on-ride photo from this attraction, because we were too busy guffawing like a couple of hyenas at the guide’s round-the-jungle boat trip of sad trombone jokes.  I also guarantee you that on any given ride, we will be the only people laughing; nobody gets this ride!  I also think it’s one of those ones that’s totally lost in language translation – not sure how much non-English speakers would get out of “Eating zebra would be like white meat, dark meat, white meat, dark meat…” jokes.  My favourite bit, though, is when animatronic hippos attack the boat and the guide drives them off by leaning over the side and shouting things like, “I love you!  I’m ready for a commitment!  Could you possibly dress more like my mother?!”  Heh.  Also, who’s not laughing at THE BACKSIDE OF WATER?  Everybody but us, that’s who.

Big Thunder Collage

We hit up Big Thunder Mountain, a zippy coaster, twice our first day, including one incredible end-of-night ride that’s remarkable both for being unbelievably gorgeous (what a sight to see the first stars of the night just begin to pop into existence over the fake buttes of Big Thunder as all of Disney lay glittering beneath us) and also for being the straw that totally broke these camels’ backs – hot on the heels of two other pretty intense coasters (the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Space Mountain) this is the ride that did. us. in.  Not so for the little girl who plowed into us as we exited the ride, bellowing, “Sorry, sorry, but I’m on a mission!” as she entered the lineup for her seventh straight run.  I feel nauseous just typing that.

Right, so how much would you all hate me if I said it looks like I may have to split this final ride post into…two posts?  Because – everybody sing it with me now! – IT’S THE STORY THAT NEVER ENDS!  Really, by the time I finish up this tale, we’ll be due for another trip to Disney (this is an actual possibility; we are looking at another visit, and soon.)  But this only encompasses about half of the rides we rode the first day, and there’s so much more to show and tell.  So I hope to see you back here for more Disney fun, next time with the added bonus of a conclusion!

Disney World Blitz: Parklife Part I

Sick of hearing about my recent whirlwind, spur-of-the-moment anniversary trip to Disney World?  Too bad, ’cause you’re getting more!  A lot more, actually.  This was our amazingly fun trip, in a few different installments.

First, we shall never speak of the flights – both those to and from Philadelphia and then on to Orlando and home – ever again, beyond noting that my husband is really too tall for cattle class, and I’m now apparently that woman that sits there in an ice cold sweat, thousand yard stare barely registering over the edge of an at-the-ready vomit bag.  Truly one of my life’s great fears, guys, getting physically ill in public, and I was *right* on the verge of it for five-plus hours.  Je n’aime pas.

Resort Collage

But do you know what I aime‘d very much?  Our absolutely gorgeous accommodations, Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort.  I stayed on-property about 20 years ago – one of the value resorts, and it was serviceable, though nothing special – but the Port Orleans experience was something else altogether.

It goes a little something like this: Book yourself into a Disney resort, and from the moment you step off the plane in Orlando and check in with an always-friendly cast member (that’s what they’re called, cast members) Disney takes care of the rest.  You’ll be ushered aboard a waiting bus, part of the Magical Express fleet, by a relentlessly – yet somehow still genuinely – upbeat dude, who will congratulate you with high-fives on your 13th wedding anniversary.  You’ll think your face might break from grinning so hard.  You’ll take goofy (Goofy?) couple selfies that match the ones you took on your honeymoon 13 years earlier.

Then and Now Collage

Your driver will then usher you and a busload of your new! best! friends! (because you’re all goin’ to Disney, yaaaayyyyy!) to your resort, where you will stand gobsmacked beneath a gorgeous raftered cupola while your husband immediately steps off the bus and begins petting a horse, before charging over to you, declaring that you just gotta get over there and see that bucket of manure!  What the hell, man?!  You’re so weird. 🙂

Will and the Horse

The resort was stupendously gorgeous, impeccably themed and absolutely spotless.  There were something like four different restaurants on property, six pools, an early morning fishing hole, a running path and half-hourly boats to and from Disney Springs, Disney’s shopping and entertainment district.  The first night we were there we took a wonderful, albeit freezing, in-the-dark boat ride down the Sassagoula River to Disney Springs for dinner at Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming.  Snuggled together for warmth, bobbing down the river as jazz music drifted from the speakers and the resort’s sister site, the French Quarter, drifted by, it was the perfect way to kick off our little trip. 🙂

Down By the Dock

We didn’t spend a ton of time at our resort using its impressive assortment of amenities, but we popped in on the fun from time to time.  The night we arrived they were hosting a cool BBQ fest out by the sawmill and down by the docks, and when we returned from our dinner much later that evening, they were just wrapping up a Halloween dance party.  And on Halloween night itself, they had candy stations set up along the resort’s considerable network of paths for kids and old kids alike to get their mini Snickers fix.  And the candy-hunters probably cleaned up, too; the resort was absolutely massive.  Here’s the map the woman at check-in handed us with directions on how to get to our room.  Directions.  To our room!

Resort Map

I took precious few photos of the interior of our room because we were hardly ever there (we slept just 16 hours in four days) but I assure you it was as beautifully appointed as the exterior.  Our corner room featured an inviting little window seat, log frame beds, grain sack curtains, carpet printed to look like roughhewn floorboards, lantern light fixtures, two Queen beds outfitted in ultra soft and luxurious linens and 48 solid hours of Hocus Pocus on one of the innumerable Disney television channels.  Our room even came with a raccoon, a chubby little devil that saucily waddled across our porch in welcome.  It seemed quite fitting that two Canadians were being greeted in the faux Louisiana bayou by an animal that shows up in my parents’ Ontario backyard nearly every night.

Our Room Collage

Speaking of entering your room, that is done via MagicBand, Disney’s RFID-based tracker tech.  When you book a Disney vacation and stay at one of their resorts, you’ll be sent your MagicBands – which you will use for everything from getting around your resort, to entering the parks, to setting up dinner reservations and FastPasses, to paying for purchases – a few weeks before your trip.  If you plan and book your vacation with two days to spare like we did, you’ll be given your Bands at check-in!  And if you lose your MagicBand the first afternoon you’re in the park, like my husband did, they’ll give you a temporary card at Guest Services, and then a replacement MagicBand back at the hotel later that evening (the pink was Mr. Finger Candy’s stylish choice.)

Magic Bands

Visiting the Magic Kingdom’s Guest Services centre was a Disney first for me, and our minor issue was dealt with with all the efficiency and friendliness you come to expect from Disney.  We even snagged these cool celebration buttons – another Disney first! – honouring both our anniversary and our individual lifetime trips (just entered double digits, I did.)  When you wear them around the parks, random cast members will just shout out congratulations and other tidings of goodwill as you pass; it’s really cute.

Celebration Pins

Think we’ll leave things off there for this first installment.  For such a little trip – just an intense few days! – there’s so much more to discuss, including the food we ate, a very cool experience at Be Our Guest, and, of course, our two fabulous days at the Magic Kingdom.  Thank you for sharing in the fun, and I hope you’ll join me as I continue to dance down Recent Memory Lane in a cloud of post-vacation happiness. 🙂

Thirteen Rides Through the Haunted Mansion on Our 13th!

Grim Grinning Ghosts

Last Thursday evening Mr. Finger Candy came home, dropped his bag at the front door and said, “Let’s go to Disney World.  This weekend.  For our anniversary.”  And finally out of lameass excuses for why we couldn’t or shouldn’t – weight concerns, passports, finances, take your pick – I said yes.  Annnnnnddddd roughly 72 hours later we were standing in the Magic Kingdom!

‘Twas but a blitz of a trip, just a totally spontaneous handful of days, but we did manage to cross one of my LIFETIME bucket list items off the old roster in the form of 13 runs through the Haunted Mansion on Halloween, our 13th wedding anniversary.  The Mansion is rife with references to the number 13, and I’ve been taken with the notion of riding it 13 times in one day since I was about two years old; that this momentous event – yes, it was momentous! – took place on our 13th wedding anniversary, which itself falls on Halloween, was really just a matter of incredible timing.

Mansion 13 Collage

Tips for tackling such an impressive undertaking? 😉  Get there early and bang out as many runs in a row as you can.  We got to 10 before I declared a (super)nature break.  When we returned an hour or so later, we had “adorable” matching mini-strokes when we saw that the Mansion was offline, but it was just a temporary blip – the 999 happy haunts who inhabit the Mansion were up and spooking within minutes, and we were on our way to our 13th.

Another useful tip for hustling your way through the Mansion is to look for the tiny red dot along the wall in the room of stretching portraits.  This is where the panel will slide back, leading into the main queue area.  Line yourself up with this dot and you’ll be in the perfect spot to sweep through the doors and straight onto a Doom Buggy in the time it takes your room-mates to even realize a door has opened.

Mansion Outdoors Collage

Unlike virtually every other ride in the Magic Kingdom, the Haunted Mansion does not exit into a gift shop.  In fact, until about two or three years ago, the Mansion did not have a gift shop; you could find its wares set up on a Victorian era hearse just outside the gates.  Today you can find all Mansion merch around the corner at Memento Mori, the Mansion’s designated gift shop.  That’s where we snagged a few souvenirs to commemorate our trip, our anniversary and 13 completed runs through the Mansion!

Magic Band Collage

2017’s limited edition Haunted Mansion Magic Bands seemed in order.  “Okay, yeah, so they’re cool and all,” you may be saying to yourself, “but Sandra, what precisely are you two numbskulls going to do with a parks-specific RFID reader anyways?”  Well, take it back to Disney, for one.  We’re already planning another trip as early as Christmas. 🙂  If you stay on property at one of Disney’s resorts like we did – Port Orleans Riverside, and lordy, it was GORGEOUS! – you get a plain jane Magic Band that acts as your everything – room key, park admission, FastPass-getter, credit card.  It’s a nicely comprehensive little system.  Also an absolute nightmare for anyone with qualms about “governmental” oversight or the deep surveillance state.  Not sure what to say to those folks except a Disney vacation is absolutely not for you.  Your every move is being tracked and analyzed by the House of Mouse; accept this or perish (Wired published a great piece on Cyberdyne’s Mickey’s Magic Band tech here.)

Mansion Merch 1

Items that will perhaps get a bit more everyday use include a damask print tie for my husband and some cool Mansion maid socks for me.

Mansion Merch 2

And I couldn’t say no to a couple more items in the Mansion’s iconic damask-with-eyes wallpaper, including another pair of socks (can’t ever have too many) and a waterproof, super lightweight backpack that proved invaluable over our two days at the Magic Kingdom.  This sucker really fits a lot!  It also glows under black light, which is absolutely not why I purchased it in the first place (yes, it absolutely is!)

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All fun and merch aside, though, it was an amazing day – a top three-er, no hesitation!  Really, how many of us get to say we completed a pretty nutso, lifetime bucket list item, and on a special anniversary, no less?!  This happy person, that’s who. 🙂

Mansion Shot

And none of this fabulous, fantastical – phantasmical? – fun would have been possible without being married to this incredible guy.  I highly recommend it.  He’s the Jack to my Sally in that I often have to keep him from enthusiastically spinning off into another dimension, but when he pulls me along for the ride, it’s always a wild and wonderful one.  I had the bestest time with my bestest friend. 🙂  A once-in-a-lifetime experience…although we’re already relishing the possibility of making it a multiples-in-a-lifetime experience.  To the next 13!

One Determined Kitty: A Dieting Story

HK Collage

A friend recently commented, quite sweetly, that she was inspired by the determination with which I’ve thrown myself into my weight loss and exercise goals (this on the heels of my admission that I had pre-gamed my Thanksgiving dinner by taking a big, long swim the morning-of.  And actually, the really nutso part of that story, which I did not share with my friend because it made me sound (rightfully) bonkers, was that the pool heater had been out for repairs for about a week at that point, and so the temperature of the water was *maybe* 30 degrees?  Above zero, that is.  By the time I got out an hour later, I had lost most of the feeling in my left foot.  Now, tell me, is that determination or just insanity?) 😉

Anyhow, her sentiment was so lovely and made me feel like a million bucks – moi, determined, inspiring?  Why, thank you!  But also in the back of my head I was sarcastically thinking, “Bull-SHIT!” because those are both adjectives not typically used to describe yours truly.  I am the person you come to when you want to discuss the costuming of cats or Tim Burton’s use of mid-century suburban architecture or exactly how much Nickelback sucks (lots!)  But determined, inspiring?  Surely only if we’re talking determined to sit on my butt for as long as possible, potentially inspiring YOU to get off yours.

But as you know, my life has undergone a bit of a sea change in the last year – gone are the days of epic sittin’-around, as well as chips-for-11-pm-dinner and butter as a garnish.  Those bad habits have been replaced with daily exercise and mostly sensible nutrition, and for it I’ve been rewarded, as of this post, with a 70-pound weight loss, as well as a whole host of other fantastic, no-BS health bonuses (as in they actually happen if you put in the effort) such as increased energy, brighter, clearer skin, and a general (and much-needed) improvement in mood and attitude.  And no humblebragging (just outright bragging!) but I suppose those really are things to find inspiring, because yes, they took a tremendous amount of determination to achieve.

But it’s been hard.  It’s been really, really hard.  So far I haven’t harped too much on the drawbacks of sensible nutrition and increased exercise (the former being boring and the latter being both boring AND painful) because to date, I’ve been enjoying the positives far more than the negatives.  But my weight loss efforts have plateaued recently, despite my better attempts to switch things up and course correct, and I’m finding treading water – sometimes literally, provided the pool is warm enough – to be a frustrating chore.  I know one day the scale will budge; until then, I’m choosing to concentrate on the positive tangibles – that I’m nearly down another dress size, that I don’t get immediately winded climbing any more than five steps at a time, that I might actually be developing something approaching defined biceps?  The mind, it boggles!  I can also now once again do the splits (right leg forward only, but I was always crap on my left) and lay flat on the floor with my legs out to either side in a forward split.  I’ve recently even begun adding a bit of cool-down ballet barre work to my routine – nothing works the old thighs like a mess of plies, tendus and arabesques.  Tap is also fantastic cardio, although your neighbours WILL look at you as though you’re bonkers if they walk into the gym to find you really, ahem, Puttin’ On the Ritz.

But no matter where the scale is steadfastly hovering, all of the above is made easier when I look cute and feel great – somewhat non-natural states when you’re getting all red-faced and sweaty on an elliptical machine at seven in the morning, true, but nice clothes do make a difference.  A massive difference when you realize you’re now swimming in one of your favourite pairs of leggings, and a slightly smaller – though no less important – difference when you catch a glimpse of your toned legs in your new camo workout pants and vacuously, yet proudly, think to yourself, “Damn, dat ass!”  And sometimes – oftentimes – that’s enough of a boost to put some steam in your treadmill steps for many, many more workouts and self-doubts to come.  Clothes make the person and all that.

HK Workout Wear 1

Although what does it say about a person when she willingly garbs her 40-year-old bod in licensed Hello Kitty wear?  That she sees herself getting stylishly svelte in Sanrio-sanctioned spandex?  Based on that last sentence, it might say she has a problem with alliteration, but otherwise, I see no wrong here.  Whatever tickles your fancy, and if your fancy is telling you to work out whilst covered in baby pink bows, who are you to deny it?  I clearly didn’t deny MY fancy, which is how I wound up with this stupendously cute Hello Kitty workout set from Torrid.  I buy all my workout clothes from Torrid – they’re a plus size retailer (an offshoot of Hot Topic, actually, hence all the goth-type branded merch and stacks of Manic Panic.)  I’ve had a ton of stylish success with Torrid’s gear – everything fits to standard measurements, the pieces are all well constructed and feature moisture-wicking materials and reinforced seams, and as a nice little bonus, everything is available in dozens of cool styles and patterns (strappy camo, racerback galaxy print, cut-out neons, as well as tons of not-so-basic black.)  It is workout wear manna for the chubby girl set, and as stated, it has made ALL the difference.  Because if I’ve got to walk in place for half an hour with nothing more to do than listen to Weird Al and stare at my own legs in the mirror as they shush back and forth, I might as well be looking at something adorable.

HK Bra Collage

And since I also spend quite a bit of time on the treadmill with my hands up around my phone as I delete what seems like endless reams of photos (dangerous little bit of multi-tasking there, deleting photos whilst nearly breaking out into a run) it also helps if my fhalanges are looking their finest.  For these very Kitty-esque nails, I topped Whimsical Ideas by Pam’s Tutu Sweet with two basic plastic bow charms that I outlined in black polish for a starkly framed, comic book-type of look.

HK Bow Nails

Now back to the gym, this time lookin’ Hello fine. 😉