Monday Bloody Monday

Toilet Collage

Ah yes, but a better Monday than LAST Monday, because on this particular Monday Bloody Monday WE HAVE A TOILET!!!  I so jinxed myself last week talking about it, too, as I knew I would – sure enough, the plumbers went to install the thing, only to discover that the piece that connects the toilet to the pipe in the wall would not fit.  And this on a model whose specs were mandated, recommended AND approved by the condo board, individuals who presumably (?) have functioning eyes and brains, although you’d never know it.  Too busy giving me crap because the contractors left a bit of dust in the elevator to pay attention to critical matters of shared infrastructure, I guess (made all the more galling by the fact that they had the printed schematics from the manufacturer right in front of them, something we didn’t actually need to provide, but did so out of an act of woefully misguided kindness.)

Anyhow, we ran about the city sourcing a new toilet on our dime and time, returned the old guy and paid the supplier restocking fee, paid the plumbers for the first aborted install, wrote a furious e-mail to our property management company, Reid Property Management, which has gone completely ignored (edit: received a response today, one of those classic “Sorry you feel this way” non-apologies), wrote another furious letter to our condo board, put the wheels in motion to move out of this horribly mismanaged hole if this reno ever nears completion, and finally – finally! – had our new toilet installed on Friday afternoon.  The rest of our bathroom is within striking distance of being finished, but I’ve learned not to talk about this stuff too much, lest I absolutely jinx it.  So I’ll just be over here smooching my new toilet, as you do, because I’m just so happy that it’s here and it fits.

I also have a new Disney foodie video I published to our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!, all about yummy grub to grab at the Animal Kingdom, a mostly reno-friendly activity I’ve been pinning my sanity to in the absence of nail art or reading or just having two seconds to myself where I’m not besieged by filth, grumpy contractors or my own dumbass neighbours.  I love putting together these little videos.  Love how righteously ravenous they make me ever so slightly less, particularly when our kitchen is also out of commission, but the memories are nearly enough!  Enjoy!

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Down, But Not Out

Snacks Collage

Goodest of mornings, friends, from the Reno Zone, population: still my husband and I!  But against all odds, we had a lovely long weekend – thanks in large part to the great, Fishbowl-enhanced time we had at the wedding of a couple of old friends (I’ve known the bride since grade 6!) – so despite the fact that everything is still quite torn up (you try navigating a floor full of ceramic tile clips at 3 am, especially if you’ve been drinking something called a Fishbowl!) we’re feeling slightly more optimistic about the renovations.  There’s even been appreciable progress made on the bathroom, and at the risk of jinxing things further (but really, could we get more jinxed?) we may have a semi-functioning bathroom by the end of the day.  Yup, totally jinxed it!

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But I haven’t been so out of it that I haven’t had a bit of time to work on another Fave Food of Disney video for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish! – need something to occupy my time whilst tiled into my livingroom for the next five to seven hours of adhesive-setting time (I now know far too much about ceramic tile adhesive and underlay materials – wasn’t exactly an area I felt I needed a lot of edu-ma-cating in, but I suppose it’s always nice to learn something new.)

And so here’s the five-minute result of all that time-wiling!  As always, I hope you enjoy this video and don’t become too fixated on some Disney nibble that’s only available at the Magic Kingdom for Five Days in May – that’s a Blue Rodeo joke, and one of my favourite songs – because that’s totally Disney’s jam.  But these snacks are available all the time, so, you know, just a hop, skip and a jump down to central Florida, no big. 😉  Thank you – always – for watching!

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!

Literary Inspiration: The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World

Hidden Magic Collage

“Wait,” you may be saying to yourself, “you never shut up about Disney World, and I suspect from your last seven, long, incredibly detailed posts that you already know all of the out-in-the-open magic of Walt Disney World.  So what gives with the book?”  (As an aside, it’s amazing how much you sound like me when you’re calling me out!  You’re also a little rude, but I’m willing to overlook that.)

What gives with the book, The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World by Susan Veness, is that in the lead-up to our last trip to Disney, I was looking for a fun trivia book that would point me in the direction of some heretofore undiscovered Disney delights.  Turns out I really do know, like, 90 percent of the magic of Disney World, and this spare little book didn’t illuminate too many things I was not already aware of (at the Magic Kingdom, a kid’s eye view of the Sleeping Beauty fountain in Fantasyland reveals a crown atop Aurora’s head; over in the Animal Kingdom, the red, yellow and white pipes that run along the ceiling in Dinosaur bear the chemical compositions for ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise in a nod to the ride’s original sponsor, McDonald’s; Hollywood Studios’ Tower of Terror bears an exterior Mediterranean aesthetic in order to blend in with Epcot’s Morocco pavilion next door, over which it – pun intended – towers.)

Things I should have noticed before I purchased the book?  That its information only went up to the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland expansion in 2012, which means it was missing details on both 2017’s Pandora – the World of Avatar expansion at the Animal Kingdom and the opening of 2018’s Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios.  So it was really telling me nothing I didn’t already know.  It did not take me very long to blip through this wee book.

The most complete, detailed information came in the section on the Animal Kingdom, the park I am probably the least familiar with.  And I suspect that its completeness is owing to Veness securing a direct interview with Joe Rohde, Disney Imagineering legend and lead designer of the Animal Kingdom.  Ultra engaged, ultra gregarious and ultra creative (you’ve seen him; he’s the very enthused, exceptionally earnest gentleman with giant, stretched out earlobes weighted down with intricate metal rings) Rohde strikes me as the kind of man who would grant a delightful interview to anyone, from a major news outlet, to an elementary school newspaper, to an author seeking information directly from the source.

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There is just a ton of detail here about the Animal Kingdom, in particular Dinoland USA, a day-one part of the park (an incongruous mix of the serious – paleontology – with the not-so-serious – a trashy side-of-the-highway amusement park) that has never quite felt like it fit with the rest of the park’s lush, natural aesthetic.  I love the crap out of the Dinosaur ride (it might be my third favourite ride behind the Haunted Mansion and the Tower of Terror) but I’ve just never understood the Dino-Rama midway part of Dinoland USA; why the too-bright, too-loud dino carnival in the midst of the Animal Kingdom’s otherwise peaceful oasis?

Dino-Rama Collage

Rohde, who oversaw the design and implementation of Dinoland USA, has always said there’s a method to his madness, and Dino-Rama isn’t just a weird jumble of carnival shys, body-punishing wild mouse coasters and hokey dinosaur puns (“This exstincts!” proclaims one sign bearing a dino staring up in dismay at a meteorite hurtling towards his head.)  But I’ve warmed to the place considerably since reading The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World, because it finally explained that madness, and turns out, it’s really not so weird after all.

The story behind Dinoland USA is that the Dino Institute, a scientific operation where you can take tours into the past (AKA ride the Dinosaur ride, in which you travel back to the Cretaceous period to nab a dino for a morally conflicted researcher, Dr. Grant Seeker, heh), has funded a paleontology expedition in the area and sent a number of students and professors there to carry out the painstaking work of digging up old dino bones (AKA The Boneyard, a massive, incredibly fun-looking playground area for kids.)  The grad students and their professors live in the various trailers and RVs dotted throughout the area, with a number of these 1960s-style trailers converted into makeshift dining halls bearing names like Trilo Bites, the Dino Diner, Dino-Bite Snacks and Restaurantosaurus (actual dining spots you can visit and grab a – sigh – dino bite.)

Animal Kingdom Dino Diner

So the story goes, married couple Chester and Hester, carny opportunists to the core, came to the area and immediately noted the financial possibilities inherent in a place with a totally captive audience of stressed out, entertainment-starved academics.  So they moved in right next door and, cribbing off the Dino Institute’s goodwill and legitimacy, opened up Dino-Rama, a ramshackle midway competitor for the students’ attention, time and money.  This is a dig at the many, many fly-by-night attractions that sprang up directly outside Disneyland’s gates when that park opened in 1955, a “how did we not see this coming?” move that irked Walt to no end and prompted him to essentially buy up nearly all of central Florida in a move to head off a repeat performance when he opened his World of Disney in 1971.

Dino Collage

The big draw in Dino-Rama, aside from numerous looming dinosaurs and Chip and Dale strutting about in their finest dino costumes, is Primeval Whirl, a densely knitted wild mouse coaster in which your cart wildly spins, sending you plummeting downhill somehow both sideways and backwards.  It’s an incredibly rough ride – really never fails to break our old arses – and you swing about so much, you never really get a chance to appreciate the silly cartoon dinosaur artwork and sad trombone jokes that pepper the attraction in a budget imitation of the legit Dinosaur ride next door at the Dino Institute.  Here, behold!  Now with additional Triceratops Spin action!

It’s all so very petty and passive aggressive, and I really kind of love it now that I know the backstory.  The whole of Dinoland USA is actually blanketed with little bits of trivia about the two disparate groups – letters and photos and other mementos dotted about as reminders of this odd, competitive pairing.  I think it’s all quite charming!  And information I’m glad to have learned – it really made my experience that much richer this last visit to have the scoop on the funny little inside jokes and local colour of Dinoland USA.  Which is why I chose its colourful sign – at least the Dino part! – as the subject matter of this manicure, inspired by Hidden Secrets of the Magic Kingdom, which I read in service of my friends’ reading challenge for the eighteenth prompt, “a guide.”

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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

French Quarter Collage 1

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. 😉

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!