Countdown

27 June, 2014

It's on the Horizon...



When we went to Walt Disney World for our honeymoon a couple years back, I got hooked on the parks. What does that mean? A couple of things really.. First off, I read a couple of Disney Parks forums daily (sometime multiple times a day..), secondly, I am always in planning mode for our next trip, even if we don’t have one specifically planned (there is always a ‘next trip’ in the works)

I like to look at the resorts to see where we can stay next time. One of the sites I frequent has weekly WDW updates, so I can keep track of what is going on down there (updates, scheduled referbs, etc..). I read the forums to see what other fans have seen and experienced, that way, I can keep up with all the changes in the parks (like the updated MagicBand program and the newly opened 7 Dwarfs Mine Train ride).

Since we are in the Disney Vacation Club (DVC), we will be going on average every year or so. Our last trip (January) was a big one, so it used up 2 years’ worth of points, so our next trip was going to be a ways off. We had an idea of when it was going to be, but nothing firm. Well.. we have nailed it down on when we want to go. We are looking to go down with my parents the week before Thanksgiving, next year. We wanted to go when crowds are down, but we still wanted to see the parks all done up for Christmas.

I like going during the off-peak times when crowds are low, and points (to book rooms) are less. This time frame is the 2nd lowest time to go, points wise. They start with the Christmas decorations right after Halloween.

There are so many things to do, you can’t do it all in one trip, and I have been trying new things each trip--Things that would normally be out of my comfort zone. I’m not one for the ‘thrill rides’ but on recent trips, I tried Expedition Everest and the Tower of Terror. This time, I may try the Rocken’ Rollercoaster or Space Mountain. I mean, can you really say you’ve been to Disney as many times and never been on Space Mountain?

We are now inside the 15 month window, well within the acceptable window for planning a trip for normal people.. It looks like we are looking at a stay at the Boardwalk Villas, steps away from EPCOT, and a quick boat ride to Hollywood Studios.

I’ve been looking for what types of restaurants we will eat at. One thing is for sure, we will do dinner one night at the Liberty Tree Tavern. This has become our favorite place to eat. Since we will be traveling with our new addition, we will be looking mostly at all-you-can-eat places so Evy can just eat off our plates. My mom is a huge seafood lover, so it seems that a meal at Cape May will be in order.

We like to not duplicate places we have eaten before until we have been everywhere, so we will be looking to try places we haven’t been to before, but we may end up duplicating meals. We still have time to figure things out. I am always open to suggestions. Where is your favorite place to eat?    

Feel free to read my reviews from previous trip in earlier postings on this blog.


26 April, 2014

My Country 'Tis of Thee






As I have mentioned in the last few posts, I have been traveling a lot lately. One thing that I have learned looking out the window of a plane at more than 15,000 feet up is that there are a lot of softball fields in the northeast! They are all over the place.. and not just at schools either.. I have seen complexes that have 4 or 6 or more fields close together.. I saw one today that was in a clearing of trees, with nothing really close..

I love looking out the window of an airplane from the air. I love trying to pick out landmarks as I fly over them. I have seen Citi Field, the Statue of Liberty, Arthur Ashe stadium and more in New York.. The Charlotte Motor speedway in North Carolina.. the 3 sports venues in Philadelphia.. The Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, the Mall in DC.. to name a few.

I have seen countless golf courses, strip mines and quarries, big rivers, small streams, big farms and big cities.

One thing I have to say is anyone who says that this country is overpopulated, has probably never left the island of Manhattan or LA county.. There is a whole lot of nothin’ out there.

This country is beautiful. I would encourage everyone to take a drive, get on a plane, go somewhere and see what this country has to offer. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it either…

I don’t care where you fall on the political spectrum, go see Washington DC. Flights to DCA (Reagan National) are reasonable, and there is a Metro stop right there, $6 will buy you a round trip fair to the Mall where you can get lost in the Smithsonians. No matter what your interests are, there is at least 1 that will pique your interest. From the Air and Space Museum (where you can see everything from the Wright Brothers plane to the Spirit of St Louis to a rocket that went into space) to the American History (where you can see everything from one of Google’s original server towers, to the dress that Nancy Reagan wore when her husband was inaugurated to a sunken battle ship from the Civil War to Miss Piggy) or Natural History (where you can see everything from the Hope Diamond to a moon rock to a T-Rex skeleton), not to mention all the art exhibits. 
And you can’t forget about all of the national monuments. There are the ones that have been there for ever (Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson) as well as the new ones like FDR. Go honor our war dead at the Vietnam wall, the Korean War Memorial, the new WWII Memorial, and of course the rows and rows of fallen heroes at Arlington. I can’t help but wonder what the lone Marine guarding the Tomb of the Unknown is thinking as he marches back and forth.




All that, and I haven’t’ mentioned the Capital or the White House.

Did I mention that all of these are free? (well.. you pay for them every April 15th.. but you can go in them free all year)

The only thing that disappoints me about the museums is how much of the stuff for sale in the countless gift shops is made in China. You would think that in our nation’s capital, they would make a point to stock American made products.

There are some great places for photos, it is a great place to people watch. You can usually find a school group or 10 around. If you are there early, watch out for all the joggers!

Have you been to DC lately? What did you like most? Let me know in the comments!

18 April, 2014

How to Fix the Airline Industry



As I write this, I am sitting in my room in the Hampton Inn in Alexandria, VA. Why am I in Alexandria, VA? I’m glad you asked. My flight home from Reagan National airport yesterday was canceled and there were no more flights available back to Rochester, so US Air sprung for the room and put me on a flight leaving later this morning.

As part of my new job, I am doing a lot of traveling, and am on 4-6 planes a week. I also am flying on several different airlines.

I have spent the previous 15 years in one customer service role or another, so it is kind of engrained in me. I can’t help but look for high levels of customer service and notice when I’m not getting it. Most of the time, I don’t think much of it. Other times, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

In the past few months, I have been in 12 different airports on 6 different airlines. When you travel that much, it is unlikely that you won’t experience a problem. Sometimes, the airline personnel were helpful, others, left things to be desired.

For the most part, in my experience, the industry as a whole has taken on a very ‘oh well’ attitude when it comes to customer service. As with everything, there are exceptions. I know that margins are razor thin these days, and people are more careful on how they spend their money. I also understand that I am new to the industry, so I do not know all the regulations they have to deal with and the costs and expenses involved with these regulations, but good customer service is free.

It is like one airline dropped the customer satisfaction and people didn’t revolt, so the rest of the industry followed suit, and now there is no going back. It makes me wonder if someone were to come along and make an airline that had decent flight routes that concentrated on customer satisfaction, rather than on the bottom line. What would that be like? Sure, it would most likely be more expensive to fly, but would enough passengers value the higher costs in exchange for better service?

Then it hit me.. what if Disney started an airline? I’m not saying they would make it like the cruise line or the theme parks, Minny and Daisy wouldn’t be your stewardesses, but just if they took a Disney attitude to the industry. Would the other airlines follow suit? Since everything Disney does is symbiotic in nature, they could make MCO (Orlando) and SNA (John Wayne) or even LAX (Los Angeles) their main hubs. That way, most flights to Disney World or Disneyland would be direct flights on Air Disney.

Sure it would be more expensive than flying on Southwest or JetBlue. Nothing Disney does is cheap, but in my trips to Disney, you don’t feel ripped off (with the only possible exception being the quick service meals). I always felt that I was getting taken care of, and the cast members always give the impression that they are always willing to go above and beyond to make sure you have a ‘magical’ day.

There will always be the people that use cost as their primary determining factor when choosing many things, but there are also the people who are willing to spend a little extra to get that little extra experience.

12 March, 2014

My New Career



After almost 15 years in call centers, I have finally changed careers. I can’t really get into too many details because there is an element of undercover in my job, but it does involve a lot travel. I am about a week and a half into the new job and so far, I love it.

I plan on writing a little about my experiences. Places I go, restaurants I eat at, things I see etc..

Last week, I was in 8 different airports. While in the Buffalo airport, I saw a group of guys who just stepped off a plane from 1972. They were all dressed to the 9s, ready for a night at Studio 54. One guy had a powder blue puffy shirt, one had a patchwork sport coat, one had a hat. They all were different, but all were ready for a night on the town.

I took the chance to see a piece of American history, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. I walked Uptown Charlotte. I sat in the cock pit of a 767, the one that has the fold flat seats in first class the ones that make a little bed, so you can sleep on those long international flights.

I will be writing about future adventures, without going into too much detail about why I am there. I don’t want to blow my cover.

13 February, 2014

How to fix the NCAA

It comes up all the time, there are strong opinions on both sides of the issue. Should college athletes get paid?

On the one hand, major universities make millions off of these players. Everything from TV contracts to jersey sales to ticket sales and more.

On the other hand, if you pay them, who pays them? The university? Alumni? Sponsors/boosters? And if you do pay them, do they become employees of the university? If they are employees, and they get hurt in a game, do they get workers comp?

Recently, a group of football players, petitioned the court for the right to organize as a union.

First of all, let’s only consider men’s basketball and football for this. As much as you may love the women’s tennis team or the men’s lacrosse team, let’s be honest, the only sports that make money for the schools are Men’s BB and Football. The rest at best break even. The other day I saw part of an SU women’s basketball game, the stands were empty. A far cry in the Carrier Dome from when the men are playing.

Another complaint that people have about the ‘students’ that are just there as a stepping stone to the NFL or NBA. They play 1-3 years, go to class just enough to stay academically eligible. Oh sure, you hear stories about the Rhodes Scholar that played on the football team, or the point guard that graduated cum laude in engineering, but generally those are the exception, rather than the rule.

Never fear, I have the solution.

There should be a minor league set up. You can recruit or draft high school players to play in a 10-12 team league. They can play for as many as 4 years and get paid the equivalent of a college scholarship. Set up teams in mid markets, cities like Rochester, NY, Columbus, OH, Oklahoma City, OK, Amarillo, TX, etc.. once they have played in the league for 3 years, they are then eligible to be drafted into the NFL. Work with the NFL, not against it. We have seen what has happened to other organizations that tried to start a league to compete with the Shield.. (XFL, USFL, WLAF.. ). This league can also be a proving ground for coaches and coordinators.

For the basketball players, treat it more like the way MLB is set up. Let players who have the skill, go right to the NBA, for those who need a year or two, use the NBA-DL as a minor league. The players can get drafted into this league out of high school, play for as many years as they need to get ready to take the next step.

This way players who really don’t have an interest in college other than as a stepping stone to the NFL or NBA aren’t taking roster spots from real student athletes who want to have the experience of playing in college while they are working towards their real goal of a job that isn’t in professional sports.

There will be pushback from the big schools that have a lot of money tied up in the big time college athletics, but it will return the NCAA back to what it was intended to be, another activity available to the students who would like to participate, either as players or as spectators.


As always, I welcome your thoughts on this.. agree with me or tell me why I’m a moron.. or somewhere in the middle.. 

21 January, 2014

Another Week in the Most Magical Place in the World

We recently returned from another trip to Walt Disney World. When we borrowed DVC points for our last trip (see the write up for that trip here), we had enough left over for a week in a deluxe studio during the off-peak season, so we spent Kathy’s birthday at Saratoga Springs.

We wanted to go Saturday to Saturday, but due to the RunDisney events that weekend, every place we were looking at were booked up Saturday night, so we had to go Sunday to Saturday. Part of the reason we wanted to fly down on Saturday is because the Southwest flight (the only direct flight from ROC to MCO) on Saturday departs at 7.30a, whereas the flight on Sunday takes off at 2.55p. With a 2 ½ hr flight, it basically kills a whole day of your vacation.

On this trip, we were able to take advantage of the new Magic Bands and the My Disney Experience which includes pre-scheduling up to 3 Fast Pass+ (FP+) per day. We didn’t really have any issues. I was ready for there to be some glitches, especially after reading in the forums about other peoples’ snafus on their trips. The only real problem we had was that the finger that Kathy had used last time we were there to verify her fingerprint at the park entrance had a blister on it, and the scanner didn’t recognize it. When it didn’t work, the supervisor was able to reset the fingerprint and let us in. The next time we went into the park, it re-scanned the image, and we had no other issues. They had removed the legacy paper Fast Pass machines from Animal Kingdom in December, and they removed them from Magic Kingdom while we were down there this week. The plan is to remove them from Hollywood Studios and EPCOT next week.

Wishes Fireworks
We got to the hotel about 7. We dropped off our carry-on bags and headed to the Magic Kingdom. We arrived as the Wishes fireworks extravaganza was just starting. We made our way towards Main Street USA to watch the show. After the show, we headed towards Tomorrowland for something to eat. On this trip, we were looking for a low-key, (relatively) low-cost trip, so we didn’t set up any Advance Dining Reservations (ADR). We were just going to eat at the quick service places when we got hungry. Our first stop was at Cosmic Rays. This was a new place for me, I hadn’t eaten here before, and I wanted to watch Sonny Eclipse, the animatronic entertainer that sings and tells corny jokes. As we were standing in line, we found fellow Knighthawk fans! I got a cheeseburger, it was decent, but it was late in the day, so it wasn’t super fresh, it wasn’t bad.. I’ve had better burgers (and I’ve had worse). One thing I liked about this place is that they have the plastic cheese dispenser. Disney fries are good on their own, but add a healthy (?) dose of that hot gooey plastic cheese, and they are that much better!

We only had a couple hours in the park before they closed for the night, but we were able to get on a few rides, including one of my favorites, the Jungle Cruise at night. I love how the flood lights on the boat light up the jungle. We also managed to fit in the Haunted Mansion, Pirates and a couple others before the park closed at 10.

Beauty and the Beast Stage Show
Monday morning we headed over to Hollywood Studios. We had FP+ for Toy Story Midway Mania, Lights Motors Action! And the Great Movie Ride. We also caught the Indiana Jones stunt show, The One Man one dream exhibit about the life of Walt Disney, The Little Mermaid, The Beauty and the Beast Stage show and Fantasmic. This night was the extra magic hours at Hollywood, so after those not staying on property, we went on Toy Story again, a ride that during the day wait times in excess of 90 min or more are common, and only waited about 20 minutes. We ate lunch at the Backlot express, I had a cheeseburger that had onion strings and allegedly a horseradish sauce (I couldn’t taste it), but it was a good burger. Before we went into Fantasmic, I grabbed a Mickey pretzel with a cheese cup; Kathy got a Churro (and became a fan).

Tuesday took us to EPCOT. Our FP+ were for Spaceship Earth, Sorin’ and Finding Nemo. The EMH were early at EPCOT that day, so we were able to get on Sorin’ early, and I was able to get on Test Track. We tried the new flavors at Club Cool. I am a bit disappointed that they got rid of the lemon honey flavor from Israel, but am not really sad to see the rest go. There wasn’t a clear cut favorite in the new batch of international flavors, but it was cool to try Peru’s Inca Kola again. We have a new favorite snack at EPCOT, we split an order of fish and chips from the Great Britain pavilion. It would be a bit small to be a meal for someone, but it makes a nice snack for 2 people. We also tried the new Spice Road Table restaurant at the Morocco pavilion. It had just opened a couple of days prior. They will be taking reservations in the future, but since they are in the ‘soft launch’ phase, we were able to walk right in. It is a Tapas style place that serves food from all over the Mediterranean. I got a sampler plate that featured a chicken roll, a lamb slider and a sausage. It wasn’t a lot of food for $16, and I didn’t love the flavors, so we probably won’t be going back on future trips. I stayed for the Illuminations show and met a cool couple from Jersey who had honeymooned at Disney 10 years ago, and this is their first trip back. We chatted for a while waiting for the show to start.

The lions at the Kilimanjaro Safari
Wednesday took us to Animal Kingdom. In my opinion, it is a very underappreciated park. We had FP+ for the Safari Ride, Kali River, and Finding Nemo. The EMH was early that day, so we went straight for an extra run on the safari ride; it is one of my favorite things to do at Disney. I am always able to get some great shots of the wildlife, even with my phone! When it came time to do the River ride, Kathy didn’t want to ride it since it was a bit cool that day. I was still game, so I headed over. When I got to the entrance, the cast member told me not to waste a FP+ on it, since we only can have 3 per day, there was no line. I was able to walk right on and change our FP+ for a different attraction, we added the Bug’s Life show to our docket (which we didn’t need to use a FP+ for either, but you can’t use FP+ for the same ride 2x in the same day, otherwise, we would have gone on the safari ride a 3rd time).
Another attraction that I make sure to hit at least once each trip to Animal Kingdom is the Flights of Wonder bird show. It is very well done (even if it is a bit heavy on the ‘save the planet’ propaganda...). I’ve written before that I am not really a fan of roller coasters, but I wanted to try the Expedition Everest at least once, to say that I did, so I headed over by myself. The wait time wasn’t too bad, I was able to get on in about 30 min or so. The ride is very well done. The queue takes you through a travel office to board a train to the mountains, right through the sacred Yeti territory. It is a very fast, winding coaster that goes in and out of the Mt Everest, so it goes from light to dark and back very quickly. Would I ride it again? In a word, no. But I am glad I did ride it. When I
got off the ride, I needed to take a minute, so I found a spot in the shade to sit for a spell. After I recovered, we headed over to Dinoland USA for a meal at the Restaurantasorus. I wasn’t really up to the regular menu, so I ordered the corndog nugget meal. It included little corndog nuggets, fries, apple juice and grapes, all served in a plastic bucket with a shovel that you would take to the beach. It was pretty cool, and with the condition of my stomach, it worked out great! Since the park closes early (5p) in the winter, we headed back to the room to relax. We grabbed dinner at the Artist Pallet, and relaxed around the resort. We each got the Wednesday special, chicken parm. It’s tough to mess that up.. it was served with penne. I would have liked a little more pasta, but it wasn’t a bad meal. After eating, we wandered around the resort, looking at the community center, we walked by a couple of the pools on site, then back to the room to relax.

Thursday morning found us back at the Magic Kingdom. EMH were early that morning, so we
The Haunted Mansion
headed over to Peter Pan, since that ride often queues up lengthy wait times during the day. Our FP+ that day were for Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid and the Jungle Cruise. We took a leisurely day around the park, having done most of what we wanted to do. We made sure to hit up the Monsters Inc Laugh Floor, our old standby Carrousel of Progress, and of course the People Mover. Our dining choices this day took us to Gaston’s Tavern for the cinnamon roll (this has become a ‘must do’ for me, ranking right up there with the Dole whip float), we had lunch at the Village Haus (I had the chicken ceaser salad and we ate on the balcony overlooking the main dining floor) and dinner at Pecos Bills (I had the taco salad). After dinner we headed over to the Bay Lake Tower at the Contemporary for the exclusive Top of the World Lounge.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Admission to this lounge is limited to members of the DVC. I had just found out about this place a couple of weeks prior to our trip. It was Kathy’s birthday, so I wanted to do something special. The lounge was busy, but not packed. We ordered the soft pretzel and the 7 layer cake. By the time we finished eating the snacks, it was time for the fireworks to start, so we headed out to the balcony, 16 floors up, with a clear view of the Kingdom. It made for a great view of Wishes, especially since they play the music from the show over the sound system on the deck. The park was open for another couple hours after the fireworks, but we were ready to call it a night, so we headed back to the hotel. One thing we had done most days this trip is take a break in the mid afternoon and head back to the room to relax before heading back to the park. On this day, while waiting for the bus to go back to the Magic Kingdom, we decided to see if there was a table available for breakfast the next morning. Using the My Disney Experience app on my phone, I was able to secure a reservation for breakfast ‘Ohana.

We started Friday off at breakfast at ‘Ohana. We took the bus from Saratoga Springs to the Magic
Kingdom; we then boarded the Monorail to the Polynesian. We were a bit early because we wanted to make sure we allowed enough time for transit. We walked down to the lagoon and checked out the pool, beach, and the docks where the boat rentals are (something to keep in mind for future visits). By this time, it was time to check in for breakfast. They offer the chance to have your picture taken, that they will then try to sell you, we skipped that part. We didn’t want to pay $35 for a 5x7 of us. We had eaten dinner at ‘Ohana on our last trip and I didn’t love it, but I wanted to try it for breakfast, and I’m glad we did. It was a lot of fun. The format for breakfast is an all you can eat feast, served family style. It isn’t a buffet; they bring the food to you, similar to the way dinner is at the Liberty Tree Tavern. They sat us down with a basket of sweet breads and took our drink orders. Moments later, out comes a platter of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and potatoes along with a plate of fresh cut fruit (pineapple, raspberries and melon) and their special juice. It is a blend of orange, mango, guava and papaya. It was very tasty. They also bring out Mickey waffles (small Belgian waffles shaped like Mickey Mouse). They keep bringing the stuff out as much as you want. This is also a character breakfast, which normally isn’t a big deal for me, but it was fun to have pictures with Lelo and Stich as well as Mickey and Pluto. Our general rule is to not repeat a dining experience, until w
e have tried all of the ones that interest us, but we do have an exception (Liberty Tree Tavern for dinner), I think that this one will be added to the ‘no duplicate exemption’ list. After a few pictures with the Tikis and Maoris, we rolled ourselves to the Magic Kingdom for our last day in the parks for this trip.

Friday was originally scheduled to be an EPCOT day, since that is where the EMH hours were, but we figured we had done everything we wanted to do at EPCOT, so we decided to change all of our FP+ over to the Magic Kingdom. We had the Jungle Cruise, Mickey’s Philharmagic and Buzz Lightyear. Since we had such a large breakfast, we really didn’t need to eat much else until later that day. We did make sure to hit up Aloha Isle to get a Dole Whip float. It isn’t a trip to Disney without having at least 1 of those bad boys. We made sure to hit all the attractions that we wanted to, since it will be a while before we are back. Around dinner time, we hit up Pecos Bill’s again for a taco salad. After a quick run through the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, we hunkered down for the castle light show and Wishes. We picked a spot towards the end of Main Street USA inside a taped off ‘viewing’ area. We had a slightly obstructed view of the castle, so we couldn’t see the light show all that well, but it was a great spot to watch the fireworks. There were people coming and going, and a whole lot more not moving, waiting and watching. There was a single cast member trying to direct traffic and
Wishes Fireworks
fighting a losing battle. After the show ended, there was a mass exodus out of the park, despite it being open for another 2 hours. When the crowd thinned, we headed back into the park to hit those last few attractions we wanted to make sure we got in. As we were heading back into the park, they played the announcement that they were going to be starting the light show in 10 minutes. I wasn’t sure if they were really going to, or if someone hit the wrong button. Turns out, they did play it again. This time, we had a prime viewing spot and most of the people had already left for the night, so we got a great view of the show. It is a very cool effect. It really brings the castle to life. At the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, I was picked to play Sully, and was up on the big screen.

Saturday morning, we made arrangements for bell services to pick up our luggage. We checked into our airline then shopped in the gift shop for a couple of last minute souvenirs. At 10, we boarded the Magic Express back to the MCO to await our journey home. Disney provides a nice service, you can check into your airline and check your bags at your hotel, that way when you get to the airport, you just have to go through security, then to the terminal and get on your plane and go home. I do like the new videos they play on the Magic Express busses. They show parts of the park that you may not already be aware of. On our return flight, the plane was equipped with Wi-Fi. The planes that have this feature allow you to stream live TV on several channels, courtesy of Dish Network. It is a nice way to pass the time while you are in the air.

All in all, it was a good trip. We hit everything we wanted to. We got a good Disney fix. Hopefully it will be enough to hold us over until our next trip, which looks like it won’t be until the fall/winter of 2015 or the spring of 2016.

More of the pictures I took can be found here.

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