Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Holiday summary and other miscellany

Well, that's it. My big holiday trip. Overall, I have to say that I was pleased with it. While I didn't get to do everything I planned on, I did do more than I thought we would. Considering the number of people involved on this trip, I think we had about the best one we could expect.

However, I do think that there will be fewer vacations this year. There will be an anniversary trip of course(probably to D. C.), but other than that we have nothing planned. We did five last year: Chattanooga(April), Las Vegas(June), Panama City(July), Gatlinburg(October) and Disney(December). The Gatlinburg trip was originally going to be a trip to New Orleans, but was changed for obvious reasons. I'm now pretty much vacationed out.

My home computer decided to puke this morning. It was running fine last night, but this morning it booted into my user I.D., showed me my desktop for about a second, and then displayed a blue screen. After that it wouldn't boot at all. I haven't had time to investigate further, though I'm at a loss as of what to do except reload. I used a Linux live CD to browse the C: drive and make sure that files were still accessible. They seemed to be okay.

About two months ago, I bought a new camcorder. It's a Sony Handycam HC32. It uses mini-DV tapes, can take pictures to a memory stick(I haven't bought one yet), and comes with a base station for charging and downloading video to a P.C. It also does video pass-through so I can use it in lieu of my rather crappy Dell Video capture card. So far, I've used it to read in about 12 hours of analog tapes(Hi 8 and VHS) and the quality and sound synchronization are great. If you don't already have a functional video capture solution, I can't recommend this one enough.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Disney Trip: Day Five

Disney-MGM Studios day. Another tightly planned day. Got there early, got in quick, headed for the Twilite Zone Tower of Terror and the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. We sent the kids over to Voyage of the Little Mermaid, got Fast Passes for the Tower of Terror(It was not operating when we arrived), and stood in line with just about everyone else in the park for the coaster. It took a while to finish this, but it was a fairly decent coaster. We went back to the Tower after this, and I was a little disappointed. I thought the thing rose and dropped a lot further than it did, I'd say that Six Flags' Freefall is more fun.

After this, we rejoined the kids and trundled up to the Backlot tour. This is mostly a snore, but the canyon set portion (lots of fire and water) is pretty fun. After this, we wandered up to Jim Henson's MuppetVision 3D. I enjoyed this show. Exiting this, we found Buzz and Woody doing photos, so we got pics with both of them. We then trundled down to the Lights! Motors! Action! car stunt show.

It was time to eat. While everyone else was eating, my Brother-in-law and I went over and got fast passes to Star Tours. We then got the kids together and herded them to Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage! The Adults caught Star Tours and rejoined the kids. We got in line, but barely made it into the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. We then walked down to Honey I shrunk the Kids playground. After the previous days scare, I followed my son like a shadow, which meant crawling around in a fake ant hill made for people 4 foot tall and shorter. Tore up my knees pretty well. We then went and saw the Playhouse Disney - Live on Stage! show.

It was late enough in the day now that I felt we had to get into Fantasmic early because of the huge crowd. Once we were in however, we found the place fairly empty, but the park personnel discouraged us leaving. So we waited almost two hours for the show to start. This was my fault, but I had gotten paranoid after we barely made it into the Indiana Jones show. This was the final thing we saw at Disney World. I thought it was a good show, though obviously not quite worth this wait.

The best thing about this day for me was the double(two-kid) stroller I rented. As I said earlier, my endurance was pretty much gone at this point, and I needed a way to transport my son around quickly. He was fairly well behaved in this thing. His cousin sat next to him much of the day as we travelled from attraction to attraction, and they managed to get along fairly well while doing it.

Ride Summary:
Rock'n' Roller Coaster
Twilite Zone Tower of Terror
Backlot Toure
Jim Henson's MuppetVision 3D
Buzz and Woody Photo Op.
Light! Motors! Action!
Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage!
Star Tours
Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular
Honey I shrunk the Kid's Playground
Playhouse Disney - Live on Stage!

Tomorrow: Roundup on Disney World, traveling, and what's next.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Disney Trip: Day Four

Animal Kingdom day. This was probably the most heavily planned day we had. There really aren't that many attractions in this park, so we laid out a plan to see virtually everything(skipping the Kali River Rapids because no one wanted to get wet). This is definitely my least favorite park, but it's a good kid park.

So how did we start out? By scaring the hell out of the kids. I really wasn't sure what to expect on the DINOSAUR ride, but I wasn't expecting what it is: A big stupid noisy lurching bore. The ride is simply too dark and fast to follow the supposed plot(time travelling into the past to see dinosaurs just before a meteor caused extinction event), but it's definitely good at frightening small children. After about ten seconds I just put my hand over my kid's eyes and told him to wait it out.

After this we went up to catch the It's tough to be a Bug show. This is an okay 4-D show that I've seen three times. This was followed by the Kilimanjaro Safari. I actually like this one, though they still insist on throwing in the silly B.S. plot instead of just letting us look at the animals. Next, we moved down to Camp Minnie-Mickey.

Once there, we caught the Pocahontis and her Forest Friends show. Bring some insulin to see this. Fortunately, and I have to give the disney folks credit here, then end of this show was timed perfectly so that we walked out of it and right into the Festival of the Lion King. No waiting whatsoever. The Festival is about the best thing to see in this park, and if you want a copy I've got the whole thing on tape. It doesn't look that great from pictures, but it has a gymnist act, a polynesian fire-twirler act, and a trapeze artist act. It also doesn't have too much p.c. syrupy disney waffle in between these acts, though of course there is some.

It was time for lunch, so we wandered back to Dinoland U.S.A. so we could eat McDonalds' food(hoo-frikin'-ray). After this we had some time to kill before the Tarzan Rocks! show(warning! suckage ahead! warning!), so we took the kids to the boneyard playground. While there, my son got lost. This was totally my fault, and it still scares me to think of it. I was trying to get a stupid video shot of my son coming down a slide. I didn't follow him up to the top, and I didn't know there were four different directions he could turn once he got there. Needless to say, he didn't go where I was expecting, and I lost him. I got the whole family out to search, and we found him pretty quickly, but I shudder to think of what might have happened to him.

Next was Tarzan Rocks! The gayest thing I've ever seen. I mean this in both the 'gay = lame' sense plus the 'I think there's several homosexuals in the cast' sense. It's mostly a show where a band sings Phil Collin's hugely overplayed Tarzan soundrack, while roller-skating acrobatic monkeys bounce around. My teenaged neices were laughing hysterically at it. I hope to never see it again.

We caught the bird show in the Asia section after this, and my boy fell asleep during it. I had to carry him from this show to the train(to go to Rafiki's planet watch), and it was during this hideous walk that I had an epiphany. I am going to rent a stroller tomorrow! I will not spend another day carrying my son around. I haven't detailed every instance I had this boy on my shoulders, but there were a lot of them. It was good for keeping the holiday weight off, but not so good for my back.

We finished Rafiki's planet watch and headed back once again to Dinoland U.S.A. The little kids rode the TricerTop Spin, while the adults rode the Primeval Whirl(not a bad little roller coaster, kind of a combination of the whirling tea-cups with a traditional coaster.). Left the park at around 5:30 or so. Shortest day at the parks.

Ride Summary:
It's tough to be a Bug!
Kilimanjaro Safari
Pacahontis and her Forest Friends
Festival of the Lion King
The Boneyard Playground
Tarzan Rocks!
Flights of Wonder
Rafiki's planet watch train
Primeval Whirl
Triceratops Spin

Tomorrow: Disney/MGM-Studios

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Disney Trip: Day Three

And on the third day, they rested. We originally were planning for this day to be the Universal Studios day, but wisely decided to take it easy instead. After two days of non-stop walking, it was time to relax.

What a place to relax! My wife and brother-in-law(who did most of the pre-trip planning) had decided to stay out of the park this time(on my previous two visits, we stayed at Disney resorts). I thought this was a big mistake, but after I saw this place I changed my mind. We had rented a full sized(>2000 sq feet) house. Five bedrooms, which was just enough for everybody. This house had a big TV(36" flat tube, not a flat panel or anything), small TVs in each bedroom, playstation(with a couple of games), VCR, DVD player, foosball table, pool table, and air hockey table. These last three were in the garage. The price was half of what I paid to stay last time(even less really when you consider that this bill was split into three pieces).

My wife, brother-in-law, and sisters-in-law went out to shop and otherwise busy themselves. The children and I bonded with the couch, TV, and games. This was acknowledged by all as the best day of the vacation. On our next vacation I'm thinking about just staying home and using the money to buy a bigger television.

Tomorrow: Animal Kingdom

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Disney Trip: Day Two

Magic Kingdom day. The big one. The problem with this park was that every day of the week Magic Kingdom opened an hour early for people staying in the park. Since we had chosen not to(both a good and bad decision which I will get into later), we were going to have a great disadvantage with this one no matter what day we went. We chose the other parks mostly to avoid these early entry days. We decided to go on this day because we had a planned rest day the next day and we figured this would be the latest we would stay at any park.

The day didn't start well. My son decided once again that he was just too tired to walk, and I carried him to the ferry(you know, the ferry that you can take to get to the park entrance instead of the monorail). About half-way down the dock I felt something in my back go 'snick'. It hurt a whole bunch. My son had to walk after that. Once we got into the park, we lost about a half hour while folks used the john, got lost, got separated, and finally got back together again. There were no smiles until we took a photo in front of the castle. A picture is worth a thousand lies.

We finally got going and made it into Tomorrowland. Despite the crowd, it appeared that most of the rides weren't being used yet. We hopped on Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, a ride I actually enjoy a lot. We grabbed fast-passes for Space Mountain, and headed up to Mickey's Toontown.

We got a photo with Mickey, had one fit. Jumped on the The Barnstormer at Goofy's Wiseacre farm, and headed to Fantasyland. In Fantasyland, we rode the Dumbo the Flying Elephant and Cinderella's Golden Carrousel. Then we went to small world. We then headed back to ride Space Mountain. Adults rode this while kids rode the Tommorowland Transit Authority. The kids then caught a show in the pavilion. After this we all went to the carousel of progress. Then we ate lunch.

We caught the live show in front of the castle.

Next, Adventureland. The day was wearing on at this point, and the kids were tiring out. We got fast-passes for the Jungle Cruise, and went to wait in line for Pirates of the Caribbean. After pirates we took the Cruise, then caught the god-awful Enchanted Tiki Room show(no waiting, cause it sucks). From there it was up into Frontierland, where we all got separated in the crowds. After a couple of phone conversations, we managed to reassemble and move across to Tom Sawyer's island. After an hour or so of rambling around, we got off the island and headed back towards Fantasy land(No one seemed to care about the shows in Frontierland or Liberty Square, and the Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad were all backed up like a Stuckey's Toilet). We decided to get some eats and figure out how to finish the day.

It was decided that another trip to toontown was required so that some more pictures could be taken and also so that we could ride the train. After about an hour, all of this was accomplished and we resolved to leave, but foolishly decided to walk to the font entrance instead of taking the train. We got caught by the parade, and had to watch that, and decided since we had stayed that late we might as well catch the fireworks. We watched these from the front of the park, and viewed the last of them from the line to the monorail.

Approximate time at park: 14 and 1/2 hours (7:30 A.M. to 10:00 P.M.)

Ride Summary:
Buzz Lightyears Space Ranger Spin
Mickey's Country House(photos)
The Barnstormer at Goofy's Wiseacre Farm
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Cinderella's Golden Carousel
it's a small world
Space mountain
Tomorrowland Transit Authority
Carousel of Progress
Play in front of Castle(I forget the name of it)
Pirates of the Caribbean
Jungle Cruise
The Enchanted Tiki Room(Fie upon thee, Fie!)
Tom Sawyer Island
Minnie's Country House (More Photos)
Walt Disney World Railroad
Donald's Boat(while waiting for others to finish photos).
Viewed part of parade.

Tomorrow: The Day Off.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Disney Trip: Day One

A week ago today was our first day 'at Disney'. Specifically, we were at Epcot. We bought 4 day passes to the parks(these are much cheaper on a 'per day' basis, I think). We got there before the park opened. We chose Epcot first because there weren't a lot if kid rides, and we wanted a test day to see how everyone was going to handle everything. We knew it was going to be crowded.

They let us in about 10 minutes before the official opening time, and I thought 'cool!'. Then, we stopped at a rope at the edge of all of the rides. Turns out they let people in but don't let them do anything until the 'official' opening time. Oh, well.

After they dropped the rope, we ran to get on the 'test track'. This was the only major ride in 'Epcot' I hadn't ridden(besides Soarin' which is brand new), and the only thing in this park resembling a roller coaster. I got to ride it twice, and it's pretty fun. After this, we rode Mission: Space while the kids-n-moms rode the Ellen's Energy Adventure(bleah!). By the time we were all done, the park was beginning to get busy. We trekked over to 'The Land' to ride the new Soarin' ride and found a huge wait. We got fast-passes, and rode the sleepy 'Living with the land' ride. We then hoofed it over to the imagination pavilion. The 'Honey, I shrunk...' ride was backed up, and we pretty much didn't care about it anyway. We rode the Journey Into Imagination(with Eric Idle, though not terribly entertaining) ride, and played in the follow-up playroom.

At lunch time we ate at 'The Land'. The Line for Soarin' was even longer then, but we had those fast-passes. Finally, our fast-pass time came, and we glided by the humongous line. We got a 'switch-off' pass for my brother-in-law because his kid was too young to ride. This pass was good for three riders. I experienced schadenfraude as we walked by a thousand people to get in line in front of them. Rode Soarin' (which is fun, but somewhat disappointing. It's essentially an Imax movie where they lift you up and put you so close to the screen that you feel as if you are flying, but I could see the little pattern lines of the screen in the image. No way it was worth the two-plus hours most folks were waiting to ride it). We came back out, and it was time to choose who would accompany my brother-in-law with the 'threefer' pass. Turned out to be me and my niece. So I got to experience schadenfraude again as I walked by all those folks for a second time. I successfully resisted the urge to go neener-neener as I stepped up again to ride.

It was getting later in the day now, and some of the kids were pooping out. I had to carry my kid from 'The Land' to the Mexican Pavilion in the 'World Showcase'. It would not be the last time I carried my child on this trip. We rode the trimmed down Mexican 'Small World' copycat ride. We then went and camped out in front of the Chinese pavilion. I had seen the acrobats there last time, and I thought this was something everyone would enjoy. We hit the Maelstrom('Norwegian') and Reflections of China (A 360 degree movie), and it was getting really late now. We took some pics and finished walking around the big circle. We caught 'Spaceship earth' on the way out.

Ride Summary:
Test Track
Mission: Space
Ellen's Energy Adventure
Living With the Land
Circle of Life Movie
Journey Into Imagination
El Rio Del Tiempo
Reflections of China
Chinese Acrobat show
Spaceship earch

Tomorrow: Magic Kingdom.