About Me

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I'm a 30 something who loves to travel.  I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels.  I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt.  I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney.  My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Art of Animation Resort

On my September trip to Walt Disney World I stayed at the new Art of Animation Resort. This is the first is a series of 3 posts about the resort. I stayed in a Lion King family suite, a lot of room for one person, but worth it.  Disney has set a new bar for value resorts.
Lobby Animation
An Early Lightening McQueen
  When you walk into the lobby the first thing you'll notice is color. The floors, walls and furniture are colored to match an animators set of colors. It starts and grey and transitions from greens to pinks. Even the small tiles are meant to represent the pixels in the new generation of computerized animation.  This design holds true for the whole lobby except one wall, which is covered in copies of actual animations from the Lion King, Finding Nemo, Cars and Little Mermaid. These animations also represent a transition, starting at the entrance with basic black and white sketches and transitioning to colored final drawings. Even the shop uses bottle designs on the walls with colors that were actually used in films.
Lobby floor with pixeled colors
Game Room off the Lobby, spot with the best wifi

While I stayed at the resort I also did a tour, which started in the lobby and lasted about an hour.  Our guide told a little history about the resort.  It was originally supposed to be the second half of the Pop Century Resort, but they weren't quite feeling it and then 9/11 happened, halting the project.  A few years ago they decided to move ahead with the project, but as the Art of Animation instead of the depressing first half of the century.  So how were the themes chosen?  Little Mermaid, Lion King and Finding Nemo were all the top grossing films of their eras.  Cars was chosen because it's the number 2 top merchandise seller, second only to the Princesses.

The lobby has a ton of great features, I'll leave a few for you to learn on your own.  But the last one I'll tease with is the chandelier in the lobby that has images depicting the story arch of the 4 films.  This is done by posting an animation on each of the prongs, there are 14 each for Little Mermaid, Cars and Finding Nemo and 13 for the Lion King. 

From the lobby we moved on to Landscapes of Flavor, the quick service dining option for the resort.  There area  couple unique things here, it is the first food court with an all tile floor, they've used the landscape art and lower ceilings to reduce the noise level.  It's still a bit noisy, but not unbearable.  This is also the first resort to use real plates and silverware in an effort to be earth friendly, paper is available if you choose to take your food back to your room.

Food Court Area
Landscapes of Flavor is open all day for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner and it was almost always busy and it is never empty.  The menu had a great variety, I never ate anything twice there.  

Outside the lobby and Landscapes of Flavor is the Finding Nemo section, complete with the Big Blue Pool.  It's the largest pool on property.  It has a salt water filtration system, combined with a bit of chlorine.  I did swim in the pool and the water does have a slightly different taste then the typical pool. 

Big Blue Pool
The pool has speakers under the water so you can hear music and also the sounds of Nemo and his friends.  Seriously, it sounds like there are fish in the pool, fortunately it's a fake enough sound that you don't think there is an actual fish.

There is no slide at the pool, but there is a water play area and a dryish play area. There are also smaller pools in the Little Mermaid and Cars section.  The Lion King section has another play area.

Water Play Area
Water Play Area
Water Play Area
Each section of the resort is highly themed, I would put it on the level of a moderate resort, and that will be a topic of another post itself.  Additionally, the rooms are unique.  While the Little Mermaid section has typical value resort rooms, the family suites are 640 square feet, sleep 6, have 2 bathrooms and a kitchenette.  I will talk about the actual rooms in another post, but they are quite spacious and well designed.  In case you wonder where 6 people sleep, 1 queen bed in the bedroom, 1 pull out couch and the table converts into a full size bed (with a real mattress!)
The only rooms to have hidden mickeys are in the Lion King Suites

Friday, October 26, 2012

A work in Progress

As you might have noticed, I have been making some changes to the website recently.  Changing the design and layout.  I've added some pages and am working on the commenting system and sharing system.  Bare with me during this process.

In regards to the pages, I though I would create them as places to find my posts on particular topics, such as Disney and Contiki.  It's a slow process as I'm doing it in conjunction with cleaning up my labels as I recently realized I'm all over the place.

I'm also going to add a page with my favorite travel websites.

If there is anything you would like to see please let me know.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Badlands National Park

After my trip through the National Parks I had dinner with one of my Aunts, she told me how one of her nieces had gone to Badlands National Park and didn't really like it.  It turns out she had done the National Parks in the opposite order I did them.  It made me wonder what my impression would have been if I had not done Badlands as my first park.

I really liked Badlands National Park, my first impression was that it was a smaller, less dramatic and more muted (color wise) version of the Grand Canyon.  I don't mean that to put it down, it's hard to live up to the reputation of the Grand Canyon and this wasn't quite as great, but it was still spectacular.  It was also HOT!  But there were some beautiful landscapes here too.

After talking to my Aunt I thought about it in the context of having seen the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Bryce and Zion.  And of those 5 parks, Badlands was the least exciting of them all.  The colors were not as exciting as Bryce and Zion, the landscape wasn't as varied as Yellowstone and it simply wasn't as grand or majestic as the Grand Canyon.  It's still a great park, but a little lower on the list of the great parks. 

What does this mean, should you skip it?  No, I wouldn't skip it.  But I would suggest doing it before some of the other big named parks, or at least not on the same trip where the comparison is so easy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

It's Really Not So Scary

I had attended the Not So Scary Halloween party once before in 2002 when I think it was Minnie's party.  I don't remember too much of it and I didn't know what I was doing back then, it my first trip as an adult then, I didn't know much.  But after enjoying the Christmas party last December I thought I would try this, plus I wanted to get some candy and pictures of HalloWishes.
Here is what the Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party offers: Candy and lots of it, HalloWishes, Boo To You Parade, a castle show and some villain dances.

Boo To You Parade was really good.  The song, Boo To You is annoyingly infectious, it's really not so scary...  The song could stand for another verse in it, but I couldn't get it out of my head after the parade.  The general advice is to attend the second parade if you can since it's less crowded.  But, it had started to rain before the first parade so I was able to snag a good spot and I wouldn't have waited long if it wasn't for the delay of the parade.  Although the parade does have all the usual characters like Mickey and Minni, this parade has all the villains highlighted and some grave diggers too!  What more could you want?

After the parade it was time for HalloWishes, I have to say I wasn't overly impressed with this fireworks display.  The music wasn't exciting, I guess that's the issue with not so scary...  And the fireworks were a little weak, not as exciting or as explosive as other fireworks displays at Disney World.

Candy, did I mention there was a lot of candy?  There were one or two candy stations in each land, early in the party they are a bit stingy with candy, giving one or two pieces, buy the end the amount is limited by size of the hand giving you candy.  My bag was overflowing by the end of the party.  For this reason, I suggest attending the party early in your trip, then you'll be covered in the candy department for the remainder of your trip.
The Villains' Dance Mix &Mingle at the castle was fun, it featured, well, villains.  A fun little show, definitely worth stopping to see while at the party. I did not attend the Character Dance parties.

I enjoyed the Halloween party, it was fun, candy filled and entertaining.  Plus I was able to squeeze in a few rides due to the lack of lines.  I'm not sure I would go every year, but I think it's fun for every few years or for first time visitors.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Corn Palace and Wall Drug

In the state of South Dakota we managed stop and soak in some cheesy america at the Corn Palace and Wall Drug in one day, the excitement of Contiki. I know you're jealous.

I had never heard of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD of course since going there I have heard it mentioned a few times on TV.  I have to say I'm still not 100% sure how to describe the Corn Palace.  There is a museum, which we didn't visit and then there was a market inside, that's where I bought popcorn flavored lollie pops.  I don't suggest them, even my popcorn loving newphews didn't like them.  But the cool thing here was the designs they made with corn:  fantastic, artistic, inspirational!  They really were cool, but I'm not sure they're worth going out of your way to see.  But if you need a break from driving, it's better then just stopping at a Walmart, McDonalds, etc. 

Wall Drug started out as a simple drug store, when business was slow they posted a sign on the highway offering "free ice water".  It is now a cheesey american tourist trap, but a fun one.  Wall Drug actually takes up an entire block and has a restaurant, shops, and childrens play areas.  It's actually a fun place where you can spend a few hours, excercise your cranky kids and do some shopping.  We made this our lunch stop and we all had bison burgers, they were actually very tasty considering they were made in a fast food type environment.  I would say it was a step up from a McDonalds as they were each cooked to order.  I think there was also a regular restaurant, but we didn't have time for that. As a bunch of adults who had been stuck on a bus we wanted to eat, shop and explore.  The shopping varied from touristy T-shirts, and magnets to full cowboy/cowgirls outfits to fudge and everything in between.  And of course they still have free ice water.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Great Sioux Falls!

I actually know someone from the internet who lives in Sioux Falls, SD and although I don't know him well enough to visit with him, I was curious about the place.

It's a cute little town, it has that small town feel, but also was more sprawling then I pictured.  I thought it would be a main street or two with some houses coming and going from town and then kinda rural when you got a mile or two outside of the town.  I also didn't realize that it had a waterfall.  It's not Niagra Falls, but it was set in a pretty park and was a nice size. 

Other then seeing the falls we didn't do too much that is uniqe to Sioux Falls, we had mexican food, it was ok and then went to karaoke.  I did get to meet a real adult cowboy, he was just up from Dodge, ya know as in "get out of Dodge." I qualify this because he was the kind of guy you could have a converstion with about life in the midwest, he had lived in the area his whole life and knew all the good rodeos.  We had a nice chat and knew we were headed to a good rodeo in Cody, WY. 

On our drive to Sioux Falls our Contiki Tour Manager started the game of "assasin" we were all given a card with a name of someone on our tour, you had to "kill" that person, this invovled not getting caught saying "1, 2, 3 you're dead without anyone else hearing." I wasn't going to play, but after I finally figured out who the person on my card was I figured what the heck.  I killed her, as well as my roommate (the card I picked up when I killed the first girl). From there I was sucked into this game!  As cheesy as I thought the game was, I got to know a bunch of people by playing it.

After hour adventures at karaoke, which included a drunk and innapropriate cowyboy, we stopped at IHOP for pancakes.  We had the nicest waitress there who put up with several tables of drunk young people who didn't know what they wanted.  I tried the red velvet pancakes, which were just ok.  I liked the CINN A STACK pancakes much better.

So what's my point with this post.  Sioux Falls seems like a nice place to live, but avoid the drunk cowboys, eat CINN A STACK pancakes.  And, it's easier to "kill" people in loud bars full of drunk people.