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I have slain the beast erstwhile known as jet-lag (and also been working more than usual). Now, to blog!

First off, I’m going to do a quick review of Delta’s mobile app. It’s something that I’ve used before and I love it. You don’t have to worry about printing and/or losing your boarding passes anymore since it’s all on your smartphone. You can find out if your flight has been delayed and all that jazz right there. A feature that has been added since the last time I used it is the luggage tracking feature. Since I was checking luggage, I was looking forward to trying this feature out. All you have to do is scan the bar code they give you at the check-in desk (or on Droids you have to type it in). The app saves your number so you can pull it up whenever you want during your trip. Using the inflight wifi is free when you’re accessing the app or the Delta website, so once you are on your flight, just pull up your claim number and it will tell you where your luggage is. If you’re lucky enough to have your luggage on-board, it will look like the image on the right. It really did give me peace-of-mind since I packed pretty much everything into my suitcase (find me a woman who can pack for 10 days into a carry-on and you’ll find yourself a saint). My only complaint is that on a couple of legs of my trip the info on the app wasn’t updated. Granted, my bags weren’t lost at the end of the day, but the only info I got on baggage tracking was that it was checked in at the desk. Overall, it is a wonderful tool for when you’re traveling.

Now, onto the fun stuff.

My first day there, my friends took me to Cabrillo National Monument, named for the first European to set foot on the west coast of the United States. I brought crummy, cloudy weather with me, but even with the weather, the park still has a spectacular views of San Diego Bay and the city on one side of you and the Pacific Ocean on the other. There are also some tide pools, which were fun to climb around. Apparently there are sea otters around there in the kelp forests, but we didn’t see any. I love those cute little guys. There is also the original lighthouse, where you can get a little taste of history and see what life was like the those stationed there over 100 years ago while playing Angry Birds on your smartphone. Overall, it was a great place to see the city from and those tide pools were fun to climb around and watch the waves crash against.

After Cabrillo, we went down to Coronado, home of the famous Hotel del Coronado. It’s mostly home to the Navy base, which I got to visit as well (my friend’s hubby works there). The hotel is gorgeous! It was on the list in the original 1000 Places to see Before You Die before it was updated, and you can clearly see why. I wish I had taken more pictures of the lobby area, but I only took one of the chandelier. I finally can say I’ve been from sea to shining sea, as well. We walked out onto the beach and I touched the Pacific Ocean. By this point, jet lag was catching up pretty harshly, so we called it a day.

Day #2 got off to a slow start, but we made our way up to Los Angeles. Originally we were going to spend that day at Disneyland, but it didn’t end up that way since we left so late. We ended up going to Hollywood instead. And Hollywood Blvd. is the tourist trap I thought it would be. For being such a movie fanatic, you would think I would’ve been more excited. I really only had 5 goals – Grauman’s Chinese Theater, a good shot of the Hollywood sign, Johnny Depp & Marilyn Monroe’s stars and a shot glass from a souvenir shop. Well, I got all 5 in and we were only there for maybe 2 hours tops. Luckily it’s very compact right there and pretty much everything is within a few blocks – unless you really want to see all of the Walk of Fame. The mall that is right by the Kodak Theater has a great vantage point for the Hollywood sign, the Chinese Theater is right there by the Kodak Theater and luckily Johnny and Marilyn’s stars weren’t too far off. A bit of advice for those interested in the Walk of Fame – save yourself the money on Hollywood Blvd.and check out the website. They have the addresses for the stars and you can just do a quick map check on the old smartphone when you get there to find the ones you are looking for. There are also a lot of interesting characters roaming the boulevard, literally. People in costumes tend to hang out in front of Grauman’s. Figuratively, there were certainly questionable fashion choices made by some natives, and I’m sure they thought they looked fabulous. I saw one guy in neon pink skinny jeans and a leather jacket. Really? Anyways, Hollywood Blvd. was fun and good way to spend a couple hours in LA.

Next up was Disneyland. I was excited to see if my theory about great times to visit Disney World would be similar at Disneyland. I was right. It was pretty slow around Disneyland both days we were there, which was great because we had a 4 month old with us, which meant frequent stops for feedings and diaper changes. I think the longest we waited for anything was maybe 20 minutes. And as an added bonus, I got on most everything twice with the Child Swap.

The most jarring difference between Disneyland and Disney World is size. I just looked at the numbers on Wikipedia. California Adventure and Disneyland combine for a measly 152 acres, which is only 10 acres more than Magic Kingdom down in WDW! But, that’s the price you pay when you’re developing a theme park in a very urban area. Orlando pretty much sprung up around WDW and it still have lots of land to grow on. But I digress. We’re here to talk Disneyland.

They were renovating the main entrance to California Adventure to make it look like Buena Vista Street in Burbank when Disney arrived and set up shop, which will be amazing I’m sure. But, regardless, we had to take the long way into the park, which spit us out by Soarin’. Now, this is one of my favorites down at Epcot, so it was nice to see the same thing. They also have a clone of The Tower of Terror, my favorite ride from Hollywood Studios, as well as Muppetvision 3D and Toy Story Mania. My top 3 California Adventure-specific rides would be California Screamin’, the Ferris wheel and Ariel’s Undersea Adventure (she’s my favorite princess).

California Screamin’ is your typical roller coaster. It shoots you off into a track of twists, turns and a loop. Overall, it’s pretty darn enjoyable. Of the Disney coasters I’ve been on, it’d be in the top 3 behind Expedition Everest and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.

Depending on your constitution in regards to motion sickness, there are two rides on the Ferris wheel. There is the standard, boring track around the outside, but then there is a track on the inside where the cars move back and forth. If you’re like me and love pushing your limits, take the swinging cars. Between the momentum of the swinging you would get naturally and our carefully-timed rocking, we made our car go vertical a couple of times.

And how can I forget Ariel’s Undersea Adventure? It’s nothing special, just a dark ride similar to Peter Pan/Alice in Wonderland/Snow White. But as an avid Ariel fan, we had to do it. I am not ashamed to admit that I was singing along most of the time with my friend. Her husband was luckily in another car with the baby, so he didn’t have to put up with us.

Also of note in California Adventure is Grizzly River Runs. As it was barely in the 60’s when we were there, we forewent the water ride. I am sure it is great in the middle of summer, but it was too chilly to walk around with wet clothes.

There is also an attraction called Blue Sky Cellar, which is essentially a preview of things that they are constructing at California Adventure. There were models and schematics of the Buena Vista Street and Cars Land construction projects, so it was neat to see what Disney Imagineering had up their sleeves for the park. As a side note, they could certainly use something like this at WDW.

There is also an attraction called Disney Animation, which was actually a lot of fun. They brought Turtle Talk with Crush to this building, as well as a couple of other interactive exhibits centered around the Disney animated movies. The lobby of this area is great – they focus on a certain movie and project images from that movie and play some of the music. It is also home to the Animation Academy where they’ll have an animator come out and show you how to draw certain characters. We went through twice and drew Pluto and Jack Skellington. If we waited for a third time, we would’ve learned how to draw Mickey, but it was getting late at that point.

Now, onto the original – Disneyland!

In terms of layout, it is pretty much a dead ringer forMagic Kingdom aside from the size of the park. You walk in and head down Main Street, with all the shops and food. On the right is Tomorrowland, which then loops back towards Fantasyland, Mickey’s Toon Town and then into Frontierland and Adventureland on the other side. Disneyland has the added lands of Critter Country and New Orleans Square, as well.

We skipped a whole lot of Disneyland, mostly because I wanted to do things that I’d never been on since it’s not in WDW. I did go on Star Tours because I wanted to see what they had changed. Since I last did Star Tours, they’ve changed the film and it is now 3D. And not only did they change the film – there’s different adventures that you go on. I had 2 different films, but I’m not sure how many they are using now. We also did the Nemo submarine ride. It’s nothing spectacular to be honest, but I do enjoy my Nemo.

In Fantasyland we rode the tea-cups. We got it spinning so fast it took me a long time to recuperate from the dizziness. One thing I was particularly sad about was the fact that Matterhorn was down for repairs. All the more reason to go back, I suppose. Also back in Fantasyland is where you will find most of your traditional Disney princesses. We hit the jackpot and got to meet all 6 of the traditional princesses, as well as Rapunzel from Tangled. Anyways, there’s a spot called Disney Princess Fantasy Faire. Of course you won’t know who you’ll meet until you actually enter, but we lucked out. Ariel, Cinderella and Belle were there for us. My friend told me that she’s also seen Mulan and Tianna from The Princess and the Frog there as well.

Mickey’s Toon Town is alright from an adult’s perspective. If you want to meet Mickey and Minnie, this is where you’ll want to go. There’s also a Roger Rabbit ride back here that’s pretty fun. It broke down on us just as we were reaching the exit, so we had to wait, but it was still fun. I’m sure the people who got stuck behind us got an eyeful of behind-the-scenes fun.

A small Disney Princess note for those who will look for them – we found Sleeping Beauty and Snow White around the castle. If you are looking at the castle from the park entrance/Main Street USA, we found Sleeping Beauty on the left. She was pretty obvious and easy to find. On the right side of the castle there is a small niche. You’ll probably think nothing of it, but Snow White is back there with her wishing well and a waterfall with the Seven Dwarves.

Frontierland and Adventureland are also pretty much the same as their counterparts in WDW. We only did Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean back in those areas. The Indiana Jones ride is pretty awesome. It reminds me of The Mummy ride in Universal Studios Orlando – you’re in a Jeep and they take you through an adventure, in this case with Indy. Pirates of the Caribbean and Big Thunder Mountain are almost the same as the rides in WDW, but those are a couple of my favorites. New Orleans Square and Critter Country are also tucked back in this area of the park.

So, enough about Disneyland.

What else is there to do in San Diego? I’d highly recommend checking out Balboa Park, formerly the site of a couple of expositions back in 1915 and 1935. There are 16 museums which are housed in the buildings from the expositions and loads of gardens here. It’s also home of the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Time was limited so we only went to the Natural History Museum. Next time I will certainly be going to the zoo, the Museum of Man and the Museum of Art. Back in LA I’ll be wanting to hit up the rest of the places listed on the 1000 Places list, like Santa Monica and what not.

1000 Places to see Before You Die on this trip: 2 completed.

Next up: Vegas, baby!

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Curses!

For the record, I haven’t been totally slacking in my blogging duties. I got distracted by Pinterest. I’ve been working on a board over there based on the 1000 Places to See Before You Die book. Almost done, too!

Check it out here!

Has it really been 2 months since I posted something. I’m a bad blogger.

Anyways, I have triumphantly returned from my adventure to the west. I am still jet-lagged like crazy, but I will definitely do a more in-depth review when I’m not so tired.

The short review is this:

-SoCal drivers are super-crazy

-In-N-Out is good, but I like 5 Guys better

-Disneyland is great

-Hollywood isn’t as great

-Vegas is super-awesome

-Just because there’s palm trees doesn’t mean it’s warm outside

-Words cannot describe the beauty of the Grand Canyon

 

You have full details and a lot of pictures to follow when I’ve caught up on sleep. Until then, au revoir!

Harry Potter-Mania!!

I’ve returned from my conquest of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and it was phenomenal! If you were to grade it, it would definitely receive an Outstanding! So, who’s ready for a photo-intensive run-down of the park?

If you’ve read my first DW post, you’ll know that avoiding crowds and kids is all about timing. Being there the last week of September, kids were in school mostly and adults were at work mostly. The crowd levels and lines were VERY manageable. I’d been reading about people going on The Forbidden Journey and waiting a couple of hours to ride just once. The lines were so short most of the time we just walked on a few times in a row. Same for the Dragon Challenge coasters. I’ve seen pictures of Hogsmeade during peak season and the lines just to enter the shops. No such problems for us. We even waited for the Ollivander’s show a few times, hoping we’d get picked (no such luck *sigh*). We did everything (except for Flight of the Hippogriff) at least 5 times and still had time to go through the rest of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.

So, what’s the park like, you ask? The main entrance takes you to Hogsmeade Station, which is where you’ll find the Hogwarts Express. You can get your picture taken with the conductor, even. On the other side of the path is Zonko’s and Honeydukes. Zonko’s is where to go to buy Extendable Ears, Pygmy Puffs and more. Honeydukes is where you’ll go to satisfy your sweet tooth with Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott’s Beans, amongst other treats. I got a Cauldron Cake as well, and those things are delicious. It’s chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. Yum! Next door is The Three Broomsticks and The Hog’s Head pub. The Three Broomsticks is like a cafeteria – you’ll order your English-inspired meal and pick it up at the window. We had the Cornish Pasties and Shepard’s Pie, both of which were delicious. And that’s a vote of confidence from my friend since she’s a pretty picky eater. A word of warning, however – if you want sodas, bring it with you from somewhere else in the park. The only drinks they serve in Wizarding World are butterbeer, pumpkin juice, waters and teas. Butterbeer is liquid crack, let me tell you. They serve it either cold or frozen; it’s like a slushie. You can also get them in souvenir mugs, which of course I got. If you go the mug route, you do get discounted refills. The pumpkin juice is also delicious. If you don’t like pumpkin pies, however, just skip it. We killed a couple hours in The Hog’s Head to give our feet some time to recover from all the walking, and they have a specialty drink too. But it’s more adult. They have a micro-brew called Hog’s Head Brew, and it was a quite tasty Scottish ale. They of course also sell this is a souvenir mug.

Across from the food and drink is the entrance to the Dragon Challenge coasters. Fittingly, this is themed around The Goblet of Fire. Through the path are signs you’d imagine they would’ve had in the crowds at the tournament, then you enter a pavilion with the Goblet of Fire. You continue down a path and run into the Triwizard Cup and the eggs they are supposed to be retrieving from their dragons. You get to choose between the Chinese Fireball (red) and the Hungarian Horntail (blue). Personally I prefer the blue one because it has more twists, turns and loops than the red one.

Next up is the Owl Post, Dervish and Banges and Ollivander’s. The show inside Ollivander’s is quite fun. They shuffle you into a small room and Ollivander chooses someone from the crowd to find their wand. Usually it’s a child, much to the adults’ dismay. And by adults I mean those who are there that grew up reading the books, are avid HP fans and don’t have any kids. I understand they don’t want to discriminate, but it’s a real bummer when they pick someone who doesn’t speak English. There’s a lot of awkward pausing because the person doesn’t know what Ollivander wants them to do. The demonstration is pretty cool. Ollivander picks out a few wands, the person tries ringing bells and levitating objects to disastrous results. Then magically, Ollivander picks the right wand. Then you get spit out into Dervish and Banges and the Owl Post, where you can buy your own wand and other Hogwarts-related gear like robes, scarves and more. While in the Owl Post I got postcards for a lot of my friends. Outside there is a seating pavilion and a stand where you can get your postcards stamped from Hogsmeade and mail them off (they also sell collectible stamps inside).

Next up is the main attraction – Hogwarts Castle. On the right is the Flight of the Hippogriff, which is where you’ll catch a glimpse of Hagrid’s hut. Side note – for those who’ve been at Islands of Adventure before HP opened – the Dragon Challenge coasters were once Dueling Dragons and Flight of the Hippogriff was once Flying Unicorns. They retrofitted these rides to mesh with the new HP theme. You will have to store your belongings inside lockers for The Forbidden Journey and Dragon Challenge, but you’ll definitely want to keep your cameras in your pockets while in line for The Forbidden Journey. You’ll be passing through the dungeons, Herbology greenhouses, Dumbledore’s office, the Hall of Portraits, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and Gryffindor’s common room before entering the Room of Requirement to enter the ride. Take a moment to look at the ceiling before you get seated – it looks like the ceiling of the Great Hall with floating candles. The ride itself is great. Hermione transports you through the Floo network to fly and meet up with Harry and Ron on their way to the Quidditch pitch. You’re taken through a series of twists and turns while avoiding a dragon, the Whomping Willow, dementors and spiders. Overall, it was a great dark ride. One thing that bugs me though is that the staff refer to everyone as muggles – but muggles can’t see dementors, only feel their presence. So I’m not a muggle since I can see them, right? A girl can dream… The Forbidden Journey spits you out into Filch’s Emporium, which is the biggest gift shop inside HP. It’s got a really wide selection of trinkets to take home with you.

A couple of things I learned:

– Buy all souvenirs, especially chocolate, at the end of the day. You’ll avoid carrying around a lot of unnecessary weight, and in the case of chocolate, it won’t melt in the Florida sun. I got a replica of Lucius Malfoy’s pimp cane and I would have been very encumbered trying to carry that around all day.

– If going during the slow season, there’s a cut-through in line for the Dragon Challenge. As you exit the castle, there’s a path up the hill on the right that will take you back up to the castle entrance and it cuts out a lot of the line.

– Keep an eye out at all times inside the shops, you never know when you’ll see something magical in the rafters of the buildings. They even have Moaning Myrtle haunting the bathroom.

– The secondary entrance is via Jurassic Park. The bridge crossing into HP gives you a spectacular view and photo spot with Hogwarts. There’s also another butterbeer cart here that is usually not as crowded as the main one outside The Three Broomsticks. I’ve also read that this is the entrance to use during the peak seasons since most people will be taking the main entrance.

I’ve heard rumors that they’re already planning on expanding HP and completely taking over The Lost Continent, and I couldn’t be happier. They need a Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley. As it stands now, The Lost Continent seems kind of off since there’s not much to it now aside from Mythos and a few shows and shops. And I definitely will be going back at some point in the future during December because I can only imagine the Christmas decorations around the holidays.

I can’t wait until next time!!

Remembering 9/11/2001

At 8:46 AM on 9/11/2001 I was 17 years old, a senior in high school. I can barely remember my schedule from my high school years, but I do remember my second period class senior year. I was over 600 miles away in suburban Ohio, far removed from the drama unfolding in NYC.

But I remember a classmate walked into class and told the teacher to turn the TV on. We were watching when the second plane hit and it will be one of those images that will stick with me the rest of my life. We continued to watch, even after the principal got on the PA to tell those of us watching to turn it off. I wasn’t one to watch the news stations at that point in my life, but the moment I got home I turned to CNN to watch the updates. I remember being worried all day because my grandmother was supposed to be flying home that day from a trip.

The horrors from that day is not something that should ever be forgotten. But it’s a downright shame what has happened in this country since that day. Being in suburban Ohio, I didn’t have a lot of friends who weren’t black, white, Christian or Jewish. One of my best friends growing up is Hindu and I knew of only a few Muslims at that point. One of them was in my Trig class that year and I do remember her talking about the vandalism happening to the mosque in town. If anything, I can thank 9/11 for my interest in things outside my comfort zone and my evolution into who I am today. I now read everything I can about different cultures and religions. I meet many people from the Arab world through work and I am extra nice to them because I know other people in the area may not be as nice. I know it wasn’t them as a religion who attacked us. I know it is against their religion to do such heinous acts and that it was the work of extremists.

That is how I remember 9/11. By remembering those who died that day, the reprehensible Islamaphobia that followed and remembering that the acts of a few does not apply to a large group of diverse people.

Once upon a time, this park was called MGM Studios, but Disney has since cut their ties with MGM and called it Hollywood Studios. This park is probably my second favorite after Magic Kingdom. It’s home to most of the adult-targeted rides in the whole of Disney World. It’s dedicated to the movies, as it’s name implies, which as a movie geek I love.

You enter the park on Hollywood Boulevard and are greeted by this park’s hub equivalent of Cinderella’s Castle or the geodesic sphere of Epcot – Mickey’s sorcerer hat from Fantasia. I will honestly tell you that I find Hollywood Studios to have the most confusing layout of all the Disney parks, so a map will probably be your best friend. It’s not impossible to navigate, it’s just not as simple as the hub-and-spoke setup in the other parks.

On your right will be Sunset Boulevard, which is where you will find two of the biggest thrills in all of Disney World – Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. If you skip both of these I will hunt you down and kill you. No, I’m just kidding. They really are great rides, so do yourself a favor and get to them first before the lines become impossible. Tower of Terror takes you up to the top of a “haunted” hotel and drops you 13 stories a few times. I have a fear of elevators and free-falling, so this one gives me the chills on a personal level because it’s my worst nightmare come true. Despite that, it’s one of my favorite amusement park rides ever. And Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is your basic indoor roller coaster. They shoot you off at 60 mph into a series of loops and turns in a coaster car shaped like a vintage limousine, all the while having music from Aerosmith playing from speakers by your ears. Also located in this area of the park is a Beauty and the Beast stage show, which is nice if you have time to kill, but not a necessity. This is also where you’ll find Fantasmic, and I’ll come back to that later.

The next logical area is Animation Courtyard, which is dedicated to the Disney animation tradition. This is where you’ll find the stage show for The Little Mermaid. You’ll also find Toy Story Mania in the adjacent Pixar Place. This was only a couple months old when I was last there, so the lines were insane. We did a FastPass and went back and did The Great Movie Ride to bide our time. Toy Story Mania is entirely too much fun. It’s similar to the Buzz Lightyear ride at Magic Kingdom, but they added 3D to it. You board cars and play a bunch of midway games and you compete with those in your car to win. The Great Movie Ride is located inside the replica of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and is actually pretty fun. But this is also a statement coming from a movie buff. They take you through the Golden Age of the movies and show you reproduced sets from classics like Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz. Luckily Disney was able to keep the rights to do this when they split ways with MGM.

Streets of America should be your next stop in the loop around the park. You’ll find the Muppetvision 3D show, the Lights, Motors, Action Stunt Show and the Backlot Tour. Personally, I’d do all three. I grew up on the Muppets, and the show is great. The Backlot Tour is where they stash a lot of props from old movies. Since the 3rd Pirates of the Caribbean was released the year before there were loads of props from that series. As a GIGANTIC Pirates of the Caribbean fan, I squeed like a schoolgirl for quite a bit of the ride. The stunt show is a fun way to relax for a while because you’re sitting and they do a lot of really cool tricks and do a lot of explaining how they do it. Last on the loop around is Star Tours, which has gotten a facelift since I was last there. It now takes place between the old and new Star Wars trilogies. Any self-respecting nerd will not miss it, nor would they likely skip out on the Indiana Jones stunt show that’s nearby as well.

Now, back to Fantasmic. This is quite honestly the best show Disney World does. And in all seriousness, if you want good seats, you will be in the holding area before the 90 minutes they recommend getting there. There’s limited seating, so it’s obviously first-come, first-served. It’s a water/light/laser/fire spectacle. They project movie clips onto water spray, there’s floats with some of the Disney princesses and Mickey fights off the villains. It’s not to be missed.

As the smallest of the four Disney World parks, there isn’t much to it. But overall, it’s really enjoyable. If you’re only here for half of a day, do not miss Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Star Tours or Toy Story Mania. I’d recommend making it an evening half-day so that you can see the Fantasmic show.

And, now we’re onto the final park in Disney World, Animal Kingdom. Grab your safari gear!

I’m going to try and knock out the rest of the Disney World parks before I go to Wizarding World of Harry Potter in a month, so here we go for Epcot, which was the second park built. A little fun tip, instead of parking in the EPCOT parking, park at the Transportation Center and take the monorail to the park. You can do this for Magic Kingdom, as well.

Epcot is divided into 2 parts, Future World and World Showcase. Future World is really where all the rides are and World Showcase is home to little vignettes of countries. And I have one word for you: booze. If you’ve never heard of it before, you can do what is colloquially called the World Tour. This is definitely not an activity for the kiddies. But I’ll get to that later.

The park as a whole is aimed to be very educational, but fun. Future World is just chock full of learning. It’s home to Living with the Land,  The Seas with Nemo & Friends,  Ellen’s Energy Adventure and Spaceship Earth. I love The Seas. Finding Nemo is my favorite Pixar movie and Nemo and his pals are everywhere! There’s even a show with an interactive Crush. It’s also home to more thrilling rides – Test Track, Soarin’ and Mission: Space. Those three are definitely must-do’s. Test Track takes you through some basic car safety tests like handling and weather then shoots you out to do a few high speed laps. Mission Space keeps you in a tumbler that mimics the G-forces and twists and turns of a spaceship launch. And Soarin’ gives you a hang-gliding tour of California. But if you plan on doing the World Tour, it’s best to do them first to avoid vomiting while riding them.

Now, onto the adult fun stuff. World Showcase is set up around a lagoon. Anyone who drinks knows the saying “Liquor before Beer you’re in the clear, Beer before Liquor never been sicker,” right?

With that being the case, hang a left and start in Mexico and La Cava del Tequila inside San Angel Inn. As it’s name implies, it serves tequila. And any place that serves tequila also serves margaritas if you can’t handle straight tequila. There’s also Mexican beers. I’d stick with a shot of tequila or a beer as the margaritas are mostly sugar and won’t be sitting well in your stomach after a while, especially in the heat and humidity of Florida. Next up is Norway, which is also home to Maelstrom. This is another good reason to start in Mexico, which also has a ride called Gran Fiesta. While mostly gentle boat rides, it’d be safer to go on them as you’re starting to drink and not towards the end of the bingefest. Now, what do they offer in Norway? Beer and Irish coffee. Really? I know the UK is kinda close to Scandanavia, but they should’ve left the Bailey’s in England. So that leaves you with a beer, wine or a shot of Aquavit, which is a caraway-flavored liquor. I had a shot of the Aquavit, and it was actually quite tasty.

Next up is China, which was under construction last time I was there, so there wasn’t a whole lot to offer. Now that it’s back, my research has led me to find that it sells Yuengling. While delicious, it’s brewed in PA, not China. So for the sake of staying true to the goal of the World Tour, try Tsingtao in the cafe or a cocktail at the Joy of Tea stand outside. There’s also a plum wine to try, which sounds quite tasty. Following China is “Africa.” There’s not much to it besides a few stalls and kiosks, but they do sell beer, although none of it comes from Africa.

Now comes the country of my people: Germany. There is no shortage of beer in this country. I’ve been here for the lunch buffets both of the last times I was here, and it’s been great. There’s an oompa band to entertain you while you stuff your face with German food. This is definitely a good place to ask the wait staff what they’d recommend since the selection is so great. And it wouldn’t be Germany without Jagermeister and schnapps! Following Germany is Italy. Personally, I’m a limoncello fan, so that’s what I got. But they also serve plenty of Italian wine, peach bellinis and an Italian beer.

Following Italy is the US, which means beer. It also means you’ve reached the halfway point in your bingefest. And apparently beer is all they serve in the US. No Jack Daniels or wine from Napa here, which is a shame. They of course serve Bud and Sam Adams here, which between the two I prefer Sam Adams. Next up is Japan, famous for sushi and sake. This was the first place I tried sake and it is quite tasty if you’ve never had it before. If you want to stick with beer, they do serve Kirin Ichiban as well.

Next up is Morrocco. As an Islamic country, there really is no alcoholic drink that you’d associate with it. But Disney took it upon itself to invent some drinks for Morrocco. They came up with more margarita-type frozen drinks. They do serve a beer that is brewed in Morrocco as well, so that’s the extent of the offerrings in Morrocco. Coming up after Morrocco is France. It does have lots of wine and champagne like you’d expect, as well as a French beer.

You’ve hit the home stretch after France and you’re probably stumbling into England. And when you think of drinking in England, you think of having a pint in a pub. And Disney didn’t leave that out when they constructed England. This is the only real bar aside from La Cava del Tequila. You can order mixed drinks as well as pint of Guinness, Harp or Bass Ale. They also have a selection of Scotch and wines. And now you’ve reached the end – Canada. It unfortunately gets the same treatment as the US…it only serves beer. There is a full bar at the restaurant, but you need resevations to get in, so you’re left with the kiosks and beer. They do offer one mixed drink as well as a Bacardi mojito at a kiosk once you leave, though.

This is a lot of alcohol, obviously. If you stick to one drink per country, that’s a total of 12 drinks (including “Africa”). You will be properly smashed by the end. I’ve never done it the whole way around. I’ve picked and chosen – the Aquavit, a beer in Germany, a limoncello, sake and a glass of wine in France. Something to definitely keep in mind is the heat and sun: DRINK WATER! All this alcohol will leave you dehydrated, so unless you want alcohol poisoning, keep drinking water and lots of it depending on when you are travelling. A great thing to do is share drinks. If you only share with one person, that takes the 12 drinks down to 6. And if you’re there in the dead heat of summer, a beer koozie may not be a bad idea to keep everything cold.

Epcot may seem pretty boring on the surface, but there are a few thrills to be had. It’s also home to a drinker’s version of a marathon. Something I plan on doing next time I am there is starting at noon when the World Showcase opens and just taking my time and tasting a little bit of everything. A truly great way to end the night is by getting a table at the pub in England for IllumiNations, which is their nightly show that takes place in the lagoon. It’s not as spectacular as Fantasmic over at Hollywood Studios or the Main Street Electrical Parade at Magic Kingdom, but still a very nice show.

Now, that was the full-day tour. If you’re only there for a half-day, what time you go depends on what your inentions are. If you’re going for the rides and will be spending minimal time in World Showcase, go in the morning and be sure to use and abuse your FastPass. If you’re going for the drinking, the afternoon and evening work out better for you since World Showcase only opens at noon.

Now, onward to Hollywood Studios!

I have safely returned from not one, but 2 trips to Chicago. The first time was for a mini-family vacation and the second was for Lollapalooza. I was also there for a few days last summer with a girlfriend of mine and we did a whirlwind tour and hit a lot of the tourist hotspots. Time to report in, so to speak.

For anyone planning a trip to Chicago, don’t feel obligated to stay downtown. The city has an excellent transit system, so as long as you have a bus stop or El (subway) station within walking distance, you’re golden. I’ve stayed as far out as Evanston and was not more than half an hour away from the heart of the city. I’d also recommend buying an unlimited CTA pass on their website. They have 3-day and 7-day passes and are the best option if you plan on using their transit instead of driving everywhere. It’s a lot easier than trying to track down $2.25 in exact change each time you need to hop on a bus.

Now, what’s there to do in Chicago, you ask? A lot, let’s be honest. There’s Museum Campus, shopping on Michigan Ave., the Sears/Willis Tower, etc. etc. etc. When I was there last year we got CityPass, which back then got you into the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, Museum of Science of Industry, the Field Museum and either the SkyDeck at Sears/Willis Tower or the observation deck at the Hancock Building. Now apparently you get to choose between Adler and the Art Institute. And all this only costs you $76! You’re saving about $80, so it’s really the best economical choice you can make.

Here’s a quick rundown of what I thought of everything:

– Shedd Aquarium: It’s the most popular tourist attraction in Chicago. That was glaringly evident when we were there last summer. I love aquariums. If there’s one to go to where ever I am visiting, I want to go. But it was near-impossible for me to enjoy it because there were so many people there! And it wasn’t just families that were clogging it up. It was enjoyable, don’t get me wrong. I mean, there was a baby beluga! How can you not enjoy that? But the crowd level was definitely detrimental to my visit. Either be prepared for the summer tourist crowd or go during the other seasons when tourism is at lower levels.

– Adler Planetarium: Nicely done, but I wish I had the option to go to the Art Institute last year like they have now. The exhibitions are presented very well, I am just more drawn to art museums. It’s also a sad state of affairs in our educational system when a grown woman answers all the elementary-level questions in the Sky Theater show when any average kid should be able to answer it by high school. But I digress. If you’re a science geek like me, there is plenty to enjoy.

– Museum of Science and Industry (MSI): Love it! There’s so much to see and do here! There’s the Science Storms exhibit, which I loved! There’s a giant Tesla coil to simulate lightning and a wave simulator tank to demonstrate how tsunamis form. My personal favorite was a periodic table where you would place a pog onto an element, combine it with pogs placed on other elements and see what kind of reaction you would get. Examples: 1 Na pog and 1 Cl pog will give you salt, 2 H pogs and 1 O pog will give you water. For the life of me I can’t remember what gave you this reaction, but you can also get a volcanic explosion and some other explosive material. I think I spent half an hour alone just playing at this table. But that’s just scratching the surface.

– Field Museum: Whoa buddy is this museum a big one! Another one of my favorites. It’s home to Sue, the largest, most complete T-rex skeleton ever found. There’s loads of things to do here, from the Ancient Americas exhibit to Evolving Planet to the Hall of Gems.

– SkyDeck: This is the observation deck at Sears/Willis Tower. It’s technically called Willis Tower now, but it’ll always be Sears Tower for me. It’s a 60 second ride to the top and has some beautiful views of downtown Chicago. If you have the stomach for it, there are these glass boxes that extend out over the street so that you’re standing 103 stories up in the air. It’s a trip, let me tell you. I have yet to go to the observation deck at Hancock, but from what I understand there is a bar there. 🙂 It’s also on Michigan Ave. so you’re closer to the lake and can get a view of the shopping.

– Wrigley Field: Home to the Chicago Cubs! It’s not so much about the game at Wrigley, it’s an experience. Instead of building a baseball stadium and developing the area around it, Wrigley was plopped down in the middle of an already existing neighborhood. If you go during baseball season, I’d pick up some tickets and enjoy an afternoon/evening of baseball and some beers.

– The Art Institute: A wonderful way to spend a day. They have quite a collection! They’ve got pieces from all of my favorite artists…Monet, Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh. It’s also home to pop culture icons “American Gothic” and “Nighthawks.” I only got to spend a couple of hours there, but it’s easy to hit the big stuff in that time frame. I will definitely be spending more time there next time I’m in town.

– River Architecture Tour: We went on a Wendella cruise of the river and lakefront. It starts in the shadow of the Wrigley building and Trump Tower and takes you along the river. The guide will point out various buildings and rattle off some fun factoids about them. If you like pretty buildings, I’d give this a go.

Now, as far as Lollapalooza is concerned…

Wow, what a trip. It was one of the best weekends over my life by leaps and bounds. I didn’t get to see a lot of the smaller bands like I originally intended to, but I wanted kick-ass seats for the headliners – Muse, Eminem and Foo Fighters. Seeing all 3 of them made it worth the trip. Like I’ve been telling everyone now that I’m home…despite getting soaked to the bone twice, muddy, bruised, kicked by crowdsurfers and spraining an ankle, I had an excellent time. I think it’s a sign of a good weekend at a rock concert if you come back broken, bruised or remember the weekend in a haze. The whole weekend I was wondering why I haven’t been there before. I’ve even gone ahead and booked a hotel for next year! I’m ready to do it all over again already. There are some handy tips I will pass on for my sake next year and for those who plan to go in the future. A) Bring water. You’re allowed to bring 2 bottles in a day, so save yourself from paying $6 a bottle and bring your own. They also have Camelbak refill stations, so that’s another smart way to go. B) Plan for all types of weather. Bring what you need to get you through heat and rain because you’ll be going through both at some point. C) If you’re uncomfortable in crowds,  or can’t handle being outside and on your feet for hours on end, save yourself the time and money and don’t go. Also, for the women out there, please don’t think of this as an opportunity to show off your fashion sense. You will get sweaty and muddy and all-around gross. If it rains, your hair is going to get ruined and your makeup will run. Just save yourself from looking like a tool. It’s a rock concert, not a fashion show. Wear something comfortable that you don’t mind getting stinky and dirty in. I for one will think more highly of you. Believe me, I saw less and less glitz and glamour as the weekend progressed.

Now, for a bucket list of things left that I haven’t done: the gangsters tour, a Segway tour, the Lincoln Park zoo, a show at Second City, the Chicago History Museum and a Bears game at Soldier Field. Someday soon I’ll be able to knock all that off my list of things to do and see.

1000 Places to see Before You Die on these trips: 5 completed.

Up next, a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

It seems organic to go over the parks in the order they were constructed, so we’ll start with the one that started it all. When I utter the words “Magic Kingdom” Cinderella’s Castle, visions of princesses and hordes of children in Mickey Mouse ears will most likely come to mind, correct? Well, there’s a lot more to it than that, let’s be honest. This is the home of the 3 great mountains, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It’s also home to The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and much, much more.

The layout for the Magic Kingdom is extremely easy to navigate. You enter the park on Mainstreet USA, which is basically just an avenue of shops and food stalls. Dead ahead is Cinderella’s Castle in all it’s majesty. There are spokes off the hub of Cinderella’s Castle that will take you to the various “lands,” Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland & Liberty Square. It’s very easy to start off at either Adventureland or Tomorrowland, which are on opposite sides of the park, and just loop around to the different areas.

One of the best tip I can give anyone going to any of the parks is to get there right when they open at 9 AM. This is especially important at the Magic Kingdom. It’s not because there’s so much to do, it’s because the “kiddie” ride lines will take ages once the families arrive. Last time I was there we were able to walk onto most of the rides in Fantasyland – Mad Tea Party (we even got a glimpse of Alice and the Mad Hatter riding), Dumbo, It’s a Small World, etc. By beating the families with small children, you have that much more time to invest in waiting in line for other rides. If you don’t want to embrace your inner child by riding even the teacups, then by all means you can just skip ahead to where you want to go.

It also should go without saying that FastPass will quickly become your best friend. It basically grants you access to quicker lines at all of the popular rides. You can get a FastPass for Space Mountain and wait in line for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, for example. By the time you’re done over on Buzz Lightyear, it’ll almost be time to to head Space Mountain. But be careful and see what time your FastPass is for. Sometimes you’ll get a FastPass for a few hours later, so keep an eye out if you’ve got other things scheduled that night. You can only get one at a time, as well.

The past 2 times I’ve been there, I’ve had 2 different plans of attacks. The first time, we went to all 4 parks in 2 days, while the last time we spent all day. The half-day route forces you to pick what’s important to you and you have to stick with that plan of attack. We easily got through the 3 mountains, Buzz Lightyear, The Haunted Mansion & Pirates of the Caribbean. But that was about it, aside from some shopping time. However, with a full day, we got through all that and then some. We even waited an hour or so to get pictures with the Disney princesses (we hit jackpot – Cinderella, Belle & Aurora).

A couple of things that shouldn’t be missed is the Main Street Electrical Parade & the Wishes fireworks show that follows right after the parade. Arrive early for prime, curbside seats for the parade, obviously. Send out someone to grab snacks while you wait. I know while we were waiting I went to Ariel’s Grotto to get my picture with her (side note: this, along with Mickey’s Toontown is closed for construction through 2013). It is easily the best parade. All the floats are lit up with LED lights. It’s just beautiful.

OK, so here’s the Must List for the attractions, at least from my point of view. Starting from the right side of the park and looping around:

In Tomorrowland, definitely do Space Mountain, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin & Stitch’s Great Escape. Astro Orbiter & the Indy Speedways are possibilities if you have time. Tomorrowland Transit Authority & Carousel of Progress are both total snore-fests, so don’t bother with them.

In Fantasyland, definitely do Mad Tea Party and Dumbo. Depending on your ability to keep the theme music out of your head the rest of the day, It’s a Small World is a classic. Mickey’s PhilharMagic would be a good cure if you do get the theme music stuck in your head, but it’s overall a good 3D show for the audiophiles. Everything else is optional, based on your love of certain classic Disney movies, like Peter Pan or Snow White.

There isn’t much in Liberty Square in all honesty. Definitely do The Haunted Mansion. The Hall of Presidents is a snore-fest, literally. Every time I’ve been there I’ve fallen asleep during the show. I’m just not a history junkie. It bores me to death.

Frontierland is home to the last 2 mountains, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. As far as Splash Mountain is concerned, you can expect gigantic lines if it’s an especially hot and humid day. It’s best to wait till it’s either raining (an inevitability in FL, there’s always a shower that passes through each day) or towards the end of the day when it’s starting to cool off if the lines are too long for your liking. You can also expect the FastPass times to be hours and hours from the current time if it’s really hot and humid. Country Bear Jamboree & Tom Sawyer Island can also be skipped.

Adventureland is home to what I call my Mecca – Pirates of the Caribbean. I would call it blasphemy if I didn’t go through it at least once. You also have Jungle Cruise and The Magic Carpets of Aladdin here. They’re fun if you have the time. The Enchanted Tiki Hut isn’t anything special, so it’s a skip from me. There’s also a pirate street show, but Captain Jack Sparrow sadly does not pose for pictures afterwards. *sigh*

If you’re doing a half-day excursion, at least do the 3 mountains and then go from there.

There’s plenty of shopping and dining throughout the park, of course. If you’re looking for a sit-down restaurant, definitely call ahead and make reservations for your restaurant of choice.

So, there you go. Nothing overly sentimental, loads of rides and tons of fun. Next stop, Epcot.

I’ve been computer-less for about 2 months. Any posting I’ve done has been on someone else’s computer or off the clock at work.

But, that’s been remedied. I got a MacBook last week. I love it, so I can begin to A) post more and B) start posting pictures. Huzzah!