On a Not-So Lazy Sunday Morning

I’ve been a very busy bee this morning – no day of rest for this little worker, who is already feeling anxious about tomorrow’s BIG START to our renovations.  I may have mentioned a time or 20 that I’m not the best at dealing with stress; I can turn myself into anxiety-ridden knots over things that should really be NBD (although I suppose completely gutting and renovating your bathroom – your only bathroom – and replacing all of your flooring qualifies as an actual big deal.)  So I’ve been up for many hours removing framed photos and other artwork from the walls, stashing boxes of our belongings on the balconies, and making two raspberry cream cheese pies for a celebratory, kick-off to the renos dinner we’re having this evening with my mother, who has been acting as our in-the-know general contractor (we have a contractor, actually, but my mom has a lot of experience in the area of construction and home renovations, and we couldn’t have arranged ANY of this without her invaluable assistance and oversight.)  So it’s been a bit of a busy day, and it only just turned noon!

I accidentally tore off three of my four “good hand” nails the other day pulling up the last of our flooring, so I’ve been looking for other blogging and vlogging ways to occupy my online creative energies.  Enter a couple of short videos I made for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!, all about some of the delicious food we’ve enjoyed at Disney World over our last number of trips – just try not to fall ravenously hungry looking at all this yumminess.  Happy watching, and bon appetit!

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The Director

That’s me, the Scorcese of hotel room tour videos!  You know, just with fewer brutal gangland murders, epically long tracking shots and Rolling Stones cues.

But I don’t know what to tell you – I really like putting together these room tour videos, everything from the filming to the editing to the nitpicky little adjustments that have to be made before it can see the light of streaming day.

And I positively LOVE getting the opportunity to stay in these fabulously themed Disney resorts.  I’ve always been a little enchanted by the Disney hotels.  We all know the biggies across from the Magic Kingdom, the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian and the A-frame Contemporary.  These resorts have been there since I was a kid (and in the case of the Polynesian and the Contemporary, there since my parents were just kids themselves, vacationing at the brand new World of Disney in Orlando, Florida in 1971.)  I can’t have been more than three years old, but I remember my parents taking me over to the Polynesian during the blazing heat of a July afternoon for a fortifying nap.  Before conking out with my head on my dad’s lap, I remember thinking of the palm tree-shrouded pool, “That pool is awesome and I want in there with all those kids!”

Polynesian prices being what they are (A LOT) we’ve never stayed there, even though it remains a pretty major item on my Disney accommodations bucket list.  One day, gigantic passholder discount willing.

But for now we’re quite content to work our way through the moderate resorts that also occupy space on our bucket list, like the Port Orleans French Quarter, where we recently stayed.  This is one that I’ve wanted to stay at since it was built over 20 years ago, and I’m delighted that it lived up to my admittedly pretty high expectations (that’s what happens when you dream about something for two decades!)

And our room was lovely, so I filmed a video of that for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed filming it, and also getting the opportunity to stay at the French Quarter. 🙂

Bust Out Your Jazz Hands at Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort

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During our last Disney trip (the one we took three weeks ago and which I very much wish I was enjoying right this moment instead of hiding out in my home from another weekend of Eastern Ontario Nightmare Snow) we stayed at the Port Orleans French Quarter, a resort I’ve wanted to stay at since it opened nearly 30 years ago.  A sister property to the exquisite Port Orleans Riverside, which is just on down the river bend, and at which we have stayed twice, the French Quarter shares its sibling’s incredible attention to detail in its (deeply sanitized) presentation of Louisiana, here with architecture, food, entertainment and an overall design aesthetic modeled after The Big Easy herself.

I lamented in an earlier post the unfortunate experience we had at Pop Century during our last trip.  In short, it was a gong show of noisiness, uncleanliness and general mismanagement.  We wound up cutting our stay short by four days and moving over to Coronado Springs to see out the remainder of our vacation.

No such drastic measure was required this time, because our stay at French Quarter was perfection, everything I had hoped it would be when I first spied its colourful wrought iron balconies in travel brochures many, many years ago and thought, “I want to stay THERE.”

Like both Coronado Springs and the Riverside, the French Quarter is a moderate level resort, meaning it sits at about the mid-way point in terms of room rates and offered amenities.  Being on the smaller size (1,000 rooms to both Coronado and Riverside’s 2,000) it doesn’t have its own table service restaurant, although its food court, the charmingly-named Sassagoula Float Works, named after the meandering little river that runs along the back side of the resort, is outstanding – efficient, nicely laid-out and featuring some of the best Cajun grub you’ll find outside of N’Awlins itself.  I continue to have nostalgic thoughts about the sweet-and-spicy fried chicken on a biscuit I had twice, wondering if maybe I should have replaced one of those biscuits with a steaming bowl of shrimp and grits.  Or maybe just had both.  Ahh, now we’re talkin’!  Followed up by pillowy, powdered sugar-dusted, Mickey-shaped beignets, because the French Quarter is the only place in the whole of the Walt Disney World Resort that has them.

French Quarter Collage 2

Every resort that we have stayed at (four now, three moderates and a value) seems to have prioritized one element of its service above all others.  At French Quarter, this was everything surrounding food and beverage service, from the actual food and beverage (oh, that chicken!) to the service itself, which was always prompt and friendly.  Zero complaints about the lack of a “proper” restaurant; if anything, I liked the food I had at Sassagoula Float Works better than the meal we had at the Riverside’s similarly menu’d restaurant, Boatwright’s.

French Quarter Collage 3

But there’s so much more to the French Quarter than its fluffy beignets, and thankfully, their exemplary approach to food extended to nearly all other areas of service, including maintenance and cleaning, groundskeeping and landscaping, check-in (fuss-free and speedy, a Disney resort first for us) and both boat and bus transportation.  The French Quarter just really seemed to have its act together on all fronts, and I liked it.  THIS is the Disney vacation experience I always hope we’ll enjoy – a virtually seamless one.

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Not to say there aren’t a few nit-picky little things I’d change about the French Quarter.  While I loved the free-form, Mardi Gras-themed pool featuring a giant sea serpent water slide (loved zipping down his tongue into the pool even more!) I found myself wishing for a second, smaller pool, a quieter spot for more lap-oriented swimmers to work off the last of the day’s amusement park energy.  Even with its smallish footprint, it’s odd that the French Quarter only has one pool; the Riverside has six!

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And while I really liked our recently refurbished and redecorated room (it felt solid and well-insulated, like our own little bubble amidst the low key hustle and bustle of the rest of the resort) I didn’t care for the lighting, which was all of the sallow, overhead variety.  I HATE OVERHEAD LIGHTING!!!  Always have.  I’m a real low lighting, desk lamp kind of person.  Even the shaded sconces above our beds cast an odd light (nasty little LED lightbulbs at work, I’m sure; I hate those things, too!)

But in all areas where it actually counted – and a lot where it didn’t – the French Quarter knocked it out of the park.  The architecture is gorgeous, a picture perfect recreation of the cleanest and most charming bits of New Orleans – wooden slat shutters, grand balconies, brick pillars and wrought iron everything.  The entire resort is laid out like a small city, with painted wrought iron balconies framing brick-edged streets dotted with hitching posts and streetlamps.  As you near the lobby, jazz music drifts through the air, beckoning you inside, where you can relax in the plush, chandelier’d lobby, or perhaps over by the soothingly trickling fountain, or maybe even inside Scat Cats’ lounge, something like a Sloe Gin Fizz in hand.  The pool was beautiful and overseen by some of the most attentive lifeguards I’ve ever seen.  The cast members we dealt with were friendly and helpful.  The buses ran frequently and on time.  The food was delicious.  Our room was quiet.  Again, excepting the One True Pool issue and my own hangups about overhead lighting, zero complaints!

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One morning a couple of days out from our flights home, I couldn’t sleep (side effect of being terrified of flying) so I slipped out of our room and took myself on a solo, 5 am walking tour of the resort, which I filmed!  Because of course it’s the new normal to be walking around at 5 in the morning talking to yourself through a small camera.  Weird world, man.  But I do hope you’ll check out this video, if not to see this lovely little resort for yourself in the (mostly) still and quiet of a balmy Florida morn, then to lend legitimacy to my whole, “See, I really was talking to someone and not just myself!” argument.  Thank you. 😉

Where the F*@! You Been?!: A Disney Vacation Explainer

Ah, friends, I am so sorry – I went and did the thing that annoys the ever-loving stuffing out of me when other bloggers do it, which is drop completely off the grid with nary an explanation for the prolonged absence.  And so I apologize, with the weak justification that I was at Disney, because of course I was at Disney!  Just trying to wring as much value as we possibly can from our annual passes (and at 20 in-park days, including a whole host of other little discounts, I think we’ve done quite well on our investment.)

Rainy Day Collage

We stayed at the Port Orleans Resort French Quarter, a quaint little resort styled like the very cutest and cleanest bits of New Orleans.  I’ve wanted to stay here since Disney built it and its much larger sister resort, the Riverside, nearly 30 years ago.  We somewhat recently soldiered on through a Disney accommodation debacle at Pop Century; the poor experience had actually soured me a bit on all Disney properties, so I was feeling a little nervous about what we might encounter at this smaller, older resort.

Resort Collage 1

I really needn’t have worried, because we wound up having a fantastic stay, and we loved every minute we were there.  The French Quarter’s older, meticulously maintained buildings and grounds – densely arranged, and occupying a fairly tiny geographical footprint – make the entire resort feel solid, protected and a little hidden.  I liked its sense of small city intimacy and the attendant quiet, both in terms of between-unit noise (virtually nil, but for the faint flushing of those insanely loud air toilets) and the general level of ambient hotel noise.  Plus it was just an adorable little cityscape to call our home for seven days, and the sea serpent water slide at the pool was bitchin’.  Also, powdered sugar-dusted beignets, fried chicken on a biscuit at the food court and swingin’ jazz gators in the streets.  Who wouldn’t love staying here when all that goodness abounds?

Resort Collage 2

We spent six days doing all of our favourite Disney things, and also trying out a number of fun new experiences.  We ate some incredible meals in-park, at our resort and, of course, at Disney Springs, which is basically a theme park of food, alcohol and merchandise.  We always try to hit up Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ for night one cocktails and southern vittles; our vacations never feel as though they’ve really started until we’ve cozied up out on the screened-in porch with a basket of hush puppies and a couple of moonshine cocktails.

Homecomin' Cocktail Collage

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We tried out a number of new eateries and lounges.  We ate – and mostly enjoyed? – a lot of weird snack food.  One afternoon we wiled away a couple of rainy hours in an honest to goodness tequila cave – La Cava del Tequila – in the Mexico Pavilion.  The queso and quacamole were excellent, as were the margaritas.  And yes, I do fully cop to a Disney margarita problemo – I’m powerless in the face of vacation cocktail hour; does your sanity good!

Tequila Cave Collage

Lest you think all we did was eat and drink (and that’s certainly what both our waistlines AND wallets are currently suggesting) we also rode a record best 21 rides one cold and rainy day.  We hit up the Haunted Mansion five times over two visits and improved our scores on Toy Story Midway Mania over four total rides.  We rode Slinky Dog Dash, the newest and hottest ride in any of the parks, twice, including a last-call ride that put us in the second last dog of the night.  I had a small stroke when I saw that my favourite part of the Peter Pan ride – it’s not even part of the ride, just a small teddy tea table tucked into a corner as your flying pirate ship heads out of the waiting area and into the Darlings’ bedroom – had been removed and replaced with a jumbled pile of toys.  I burst into tears at the sight of it.  I’ve been fascinated with that little table arrangement since I was a very small child; its absence was genuinely upsetting.

Rides Collage

We met a number of cool characters, including Edna Mode of The Incredibles and Mike and Sully of Monsters Inc.

Characters Collage

Our favourite meet-and-greet, though, was with Vanellope Von Schweetz and Ralph of Wreck-It-Ralph.  Vanellope was SO excited to check out my new Wreck-It-Ralph ears, and Ralph was just excited when my husband commented that he looked as though he had lost a few hundred pounds. 🙂

Ralph Collage

Hmm, let’s see, what else?  I got You’d by Darth Vader at Hollywood Studios (I was sitting by a window having a little break when I looked up, and Darth Vader was just staring in the window at me.  I threw him a nervous little wave, and he spun around and stalked off.  That entire family is so freakin’ WEIRD, man.)

One morning when I couldn’t sleep (I get frazzled about flying days out from my actual flight, making sleep in an unfamiliar place pretty much an impossibility) I got up and filmed a solo walking tour of our resort.  Look for that video on our YouTube channel sometime soon.

We watched some phenomenal stage shows (the Nemo show at the Animal Kingdom is incredible; live music, acting and puppeteering at a level that will make you question how you can be seeing something so beautifully produced and performed in a theme park) and incredible fireworks displays.  Much to Mr. Finger Candy’s delight, we played a solid 10 or more hours of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, completed two games and amassed over 20 free packs of cards.  That’s what you call dominating, kids!

Rainy Sorcerers Collage

So that’s where the f*@! I’ve been, once again with apologies for just up and disappearing on you.  I promise now that I’ve gotten that Disney out of my system for the time being, I’ll settle down and get back to the serious business of nail art, literary takes, bath, beauty and wax reviews, and of course planning for our next Disney vacation, perhaps once again at the French Quarter.  And hopefully by that point the teddy tea table will be back. 🙂

You’re a Sorcerer, Mickey!

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Here’s a fun manicure memorializing the main magical mouse, Mickey, and an even funner video I made for our YouTube channel showcasing one of our favourite related games to play when we’re at Disney, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom.

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I’ve spoken about Sorcerers before – it’s the free-to-play, card-collecting, interactive scavenger hunt you can only play at the Magic Kingdom, and Mr. Finger Candy is completely obsessed.  No trip is complete without finishing off at least a couple of games of Sorcerers, and more than a couple of visits to the Firehouse on Main Street USA.

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Sorcerers is a cute, not-so-little diversion (no joke, you will walk for MILES completing a single game) that always provides tons of fun while we’re bounding about the Magic Kingdom.  If you’d like to join in on the RFID-enabled scavengering and hunting, please watch this video I recently made for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!, featuring fun tips on making the most of your magical Mickey.  Thank you so much for watching, and happy spellcasting!

Food and Wine Time!

Food and Wine Collage

We went to Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival this year, and it was incredible – a food lover’s paradise of signature Disney dishes and lovingly crafted cocktails.  I had no patience for Epcot when I was a kid, and even when we attended the Food and Wine Festival on our honeymoon 14 years ago, we didn’t care much beyond snickering at the little boy who queried his father as they walked by the Canada booth, nearly hidden for the cloud of salmon-scented smoke belching from its sides, “Dad, is that REALLY what Canada smells like?”

But in the 14 years since then Canada has refined its offerings, and we’ve grown a little, too, right into the kind of people who love a food and alcohol festival that offers grownup fun in a gorgeous setting.  Epcot is beautiful and packed full of unique cultural and educational opportunities; you just have to be willing to look beyond the rides to see how much more there truly is.

Food and Wine 14 - Goodies

But this time we came ready to boogie, and we sampled so many scrumptious, decadent, amazing things!  That is also coincidentally the reason why my next post is going to be all about how I’ve really lost sight of my diet and exercise goals whilst living part-time in the vast fishbowl that is Disney.  You can sort of justify eating this way when you’re walking 12-plus miles a day, but in the really real world, the one where you sit on your butt for 12-plus miles a day, you cannot.  I’ve found it hard – have been finding it hard, actually, since our Labour Day trip back at the end of August – to drop the indulgent dietary habits I’ve picked up down Disney World way, and I’m feeling rather displeased with myself for it.  I exercised such discipline in the first year of my “Get your crap together” regime, and one or two blips aside, I felt wonderful, in body and mind, for well over a year and a half.

But since then, it’s been a struggle, and crash weight loss while at Disney aside (you kind of can’t help but lose weight when you’re walking that much every day, bit of shrimp scampi dip notwithstanding) I’ve not been paying much attention to my diet, I’ve hardly been exercising and I think it all sucks.  I want to do better.

But first I’d like you to watch this long-ish video I made for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!, detailing our experience at our first Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.  So pull up a chair, grab a wee glass of your preferred poison (a Bloody Mary if you’re watching this in the AM; you know it’s what we’d do!) and enjoy watching two people shove food into their faces in 90 degree heat!  We overeat for your entertainment and delight!  And then we try to rein it in for OUR betterment and delight.

Pests Be Pestin’

“Sandra,” you are most likely not thinking, “it has been an eternity since you’ve yammered in our faces about Disney.  Why so taciturn?”  Or something to that effect. 😉 Well, that’s because I’ve moved the majority of my Disney blindness over to both Instagram (find me at park_or_perish, or click on the IG link in my sidebar) and YouTube.

I’m particularly proud of our little YouTube channel, Park or Perish!, because I am notoriously tech-unfriendly.  I have accidentally destroyed more expensive electronics than my parents definitely would have preferred (on our wedding day, my dad pulled Mr. Finger Candy aside and, in his usual droll manner, said, “Well, she’s “yours” now.  But you do know she destroys electronics, right?”) and in university an emergency infusion of McDonalds was the only thing that held off a complete breakdown during the Online Editing Session From Hell, 1999 edition.  Holy crap I’m old.  Anyhow, I’m bad with tech.  Basically, if it deals with “stuff,” I will find a way of accidentally trashing that stuff and, I dunno, stapling it to myself or something.  I’m really kind of an incredible klutz for someone who took dance lessons for 20 years.

But I digress.  As always.  What I was trying to say is for someone so inept at the “business” side of blogging, and just generally anything having to do with tech, I’m super proud of myself for learning a little video editing program so I could launch our YouTube channel.  I’ve pulled off some not totally unfortunate edits, and I love to edit sound – it’s nitpicky work, but so satisfying when your timing finally snugs into place seamlessly.  YouTube also represents its very own particular little publishing quagmire; it took me more than a couple of test runs to work out the bugs.  None of this stuff comes naturally to me, so I’m really quite pleased that I’ve been able to jump in with both feet regardless.

So that’s where the Disney has scampered off to – it went off to seek adventure in the great wide somewhere known as Instagram and YouTube!  I made this video this weekend, and I thought I’d share it with you.  It’s all about the Disney nevers you know we’ll probably never actually respect; Disney has a particular knack for dulling one’s sense and reason, or at least our sense and reason.  I hope you’ll check it out, and thanks so much for being a great virtual neighbour!