Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bad, bad blogger

Let's not even really say I'm a blogger, ok? I mean, technically, I seem to have, well, I guess you can call this a blog, but to call one's self a blogger, one has to, well, blog. (How many commas were in one sentence?)

And since according to this, I haven't posted since Aug. 31, I think I should have my license revoked or something. I AM posting some - but mostly about the topic at hand as it relates to school stuff - on the blog for my class this semester. ( I guess that doesn't really count.

Besides, folks, any of you guys who are reading me already know everything that's going on, right?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Relaxing at the beach - is there anything better?

OK, so I can't say enough about how much fun we had on our beach vacation. Trip report to come.

In the meantime, here's the view from our porch! I mean, seriously, I took this with a point and shoot camera.

More to come with pictures - and hopefully pictures from my kayaking trip, too, if I can get the pictures from the waterproof camera processed in a reasonable amount of time.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Beach trip ahoy!

So this is my last Saturday at work before our beach trip! I can't wait! We're staying at a house on Emerald Isle, right on the Bogue sound, facing the sunset - so it should be beautiful.

We're hoping to relax, read, beach, eat great seafood, visit aquariums, play board games, etc. And I really, really want to go kayaking - perhaps around Cape Lookout. Jay will get some good runs in, and I can't wait to do some sun salutations out in the backyard.

Then it's full steam ahead planning the trip to Disney for Holly's birthday!

Also, I think I really need to be a better blogger. Only one post a month doesn't really create a following, does it? :)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

School and work and busy, oh, my!

So, the dog days of Summer are supposed to be laid back and easy - but for some reason, my July has been uber busy. My global economics class is crammed into five weeks, I've got a big project at work coming to a head, and (this is fun and good) I've had lots of social things with friends.

But boy, am I gonna crash out tired the first weekend of August. Luckily a trip to the beach is only three weeks after that. Whew.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Planning trips is fun!

So the thing that keeps me sane at work is looking forward to new vacations.

For a long time, I was thinking I would have to wait until August for our super fun beach trip with friends. I'm really looking forward to it - and thank goodness it's only two months away.

But now, Jay and I are thinking about a three-day weekend, with a drive down to the lake house. Ahhhhh... That would be relaxing.

We're also full steam ahead planning our September Disney trip for birthday celebrations for a friend who has NEVER been! Where do I start? I want to show her everything! But don't want her or her husband to find out what a true Disney dork I really am. No matter - I'm trying to plan a great, relaxing time - and that relaxes me! Good all around.

Now, what shall we plan for October???:)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Our first DVC trip to AKLV: Disney in the rain is better than work - Final installment

Postscript, final thoughts and magical memories
Best thing about our trip: Spending time together at our new vacation home – and knowing that we'll get to do it for the next 49 years!
Worst thing about our trip: Being soggy

So we finally got our luggage delivered from AirTran. But not without a rigamarole. I called the dispatcher at 11:30 a.m. Friday morning, and they told me it had come in on the first flight of the day, and would be here within four hours. I hadn't heard anything by 4, so I called and got an answering machine. Shortly after, I got a call from the delivery service, saying that they'd be leaving Raleigh just before 5. Sigh. He finally delivered it around 7 p.m. By the time I got it upstairs to take the laundry out, I realized that the bag was also pretty badly damaged. The supports that hold up the handle from the inside were completely snapped in two. Great.

So we're still working that out.

But overall, we had such a wonderful vacation. Kidani Village is still growing into itself, and I think it will get even better with age – as the flowers and trees get settled and more people discover how wonderful it is.

The cast member at check in said they were 90 percent booked (but only 2/3 of the resort is open so far.) Still, with that being the case, we never had to wait in line for anything, and no public spaces ever seemed very crowded – even with the rain that kept some people in.

The details like the artifacts and proverbs on the walls and the carvings on the walls into the library are classic Disney.

There were lots of quiet spaces, too, like the library and the porches with rocking chairs overlooking the savanna.

The attention to detail greets you as soon as you walk in the front entry.

There were little things about the rooms that might need a tweak for future designers – the fans in the bathroom turn on and off based on motion, which is great, except at night, when they took a while to cycle off. The room in the bathroom with just the water closet needs a picture or something. It's like a jail cell. An extra hook or towel bar would be handy in the studio bathroom. There needs to be a nightstand on both sides of the bed. And mostly, we need a covering for the path to the buses.

The service was top-notch Disney, and nearly every cast member we encountered – both at AKLV and other places – lived up to our expectations. It's one reason we return again and again, much to the bewilderment of many of our friends and family. But it truly is an escape, and the people who work there really do go out of their way to fulfill any reasonable request that you have. They know you're dropping a lot of money there, and they want you to come back. We certainly will.

And we wish we had bought into DVC much sooner. The advertised rack rate for the room we stayed in for four nights was $450! So that's worth $1800. Now, would we ever have actually stayed in a room that cost that much? No way. But even assuming that we would have likely stayed in a moderate resort, that would have been $150 a night. ($600). We each got $100 off of annual passes, and got several discounts on some restaurants. So using conservative estimates, this trip would have cost $1000. Not too bad when you consider this will be around for 50 years, and it will have paid for itself in five or so years. We'll have enough points to take another trip in the fall, too.

Anyway, for those of you who actually read this much, congratulations. Trip reports really do give me ideas for future trips and psych me up to go, so I wanted to offer the same for y'all. Thanks! See ya real soon!
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Our first DVC trip to AKLV: Disney in the rain is better than work - Part VII

Thursday, May 19: The long journey home
Miles walked today: 7.1 miles
Best thing today: Soarin'
Worst thing today: Leaving WDW

One final wake-up call from Mickey and Stitch and it was time to start packing. We looked out the window and saw a tiny patch of blue sky, but it was still mostly cloudy.

We left a credit card on file, so there was no need to check out. We went to check our luggage in, they tagged it and gave us our boarding passes. The idea was that we wouldn't have to deal with them again until we reached our final destination.

Then we checked our carry-on bags with bell services who would hold them while we played in the parks.

It was the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot, but with the cloudy/rainy weather, I knew we wouldn't get a chance to explore most of the exhibits. The real reason we were headed over was to ride Soarin'. After arriving and passing under the world's largest silver golf ball, we checked the tip board and saw that fast passes WERE still available for it. Score! So we headed over there, and discovered that the fastpass time was 3:35-4:35, and our shuttle from the hotel was leaving at 4:30. No way we'd make it.

So we decided to have lunch, and then come wait standby. The rain held off long enough for us to head over to England for some Harry Ramsden fish and chips at the Yorkshire Fish House. Not healthy or gourmet, but very fresh, hot and delicious.

We also added to our growing pin collection by getting the 2009 Flower and Garden pin as we walked over. (Did anyone else start collecting pins, thinking it would be a "cheap" way to collect souvenirs? I bet our pin collection would buy another 25 DVC points! )

We pondered this year's poster, but the colors didn't go with our house. What was neat, though, is that the artist who did this year's poster had a booth set up with her other work. Clever.

We trekked back to the land for our 60 minute standby wait at Soarin'. It ended up being about that, but again, we met some nice people in line to pass the time with, and Disney had group interactive games set up in part of the queue, which made the time go by quickly. After an exhilarating hangglide ride over California's majestic landscape, filled with sounds, smells and wind, we landed safely on the ground.

We still had just a little bit of time left before it was time to go, so we visited with the dolphins, sea turtles, spotted rays and manatees over at the Seas with Nemo and Friends. We also saw Turtle Talk with Crush, which was super fun. How do they do it?

When we have a rental car, it's also our tradition to go to Ghirardelli at Downtown Disney for a going-away ice cream. Call it softening the blow of driving away. Since we knew that wouldn't be possible, we stopped for a Mickey Bar on the way out to the bus back to the hotel.

We got back to the resort at about 4 p.m., took some final pictures and chatted with another lovely cast member working out on the savanna. Goodbye, animals!

Here are some final images - the rain held off long enough to get some of these:

The bus rolled up exactly at 4:30, and we were the only ones from Kidani. Another several families joined us at Jambo House, but by then the bus was only about ¼ full. That changed when we made a final pickup at Pop Century. We were glad that the bus picked us up three hours before our flight, as loading took a while. Finally, at about 5:15, we were on our way to Orlando International.

They showed a cute movie about going through security, and things to do to kill time, including getting that last minute Mickey doll. (Or, as Donald suggested, a Donald Duck toy, instead.)

A quick bite for dinner and we boarded our flight to Atlanta. We called the hotel in Raleigh to let them know that we'd need a pickup later that night, at about 11:30. They told us the service stopped at 11 p.m. Doh! I had been told they'd pick us up! Oh well. At least we knew at that point that we'd have to take a cab from the airport.

The connection to Raleigh was uneventful, and we headed to the baggage carousel. Our first bag was one of the first off the plane. Hooray, we thought, magical express worked great! But then the other bag never came.

Turns out, it wasn't Disney's mistake – AirTran tracked it down, and it was still in Atlanta. Sigh. Luckily, that was the bag with all of the dirty laundry, and nothing valuable. The clerk wasn't amused when I suggested that they could deliver it to us after doing the laundry. Nothing we could do, so we filed a claim, and they said they'd deliver it on Friday. Luckily, I had taken the day off off work for some appointments and to do laundry, unpack, etc.

We called a cab, which took us back to the hotel. Loaded up the car and drove the hour and a half to our warm, cozy home, and were greeted by our two kitties. Tired from a day of travel, we fell asleep pretty quickly that night.

Coming next: Final reflections
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Our first DVC trip to AKLV: Disney in the rain is better than work - Part VI

Wednesday, May 20: Hidden treasures and old favorites
Miles walked today: 5.2 miles
Best thing today: California Grill and cab rides
Worst thing today: Obnoxious bus people

(Sorry - no pictures from today)

It was a day for Jay to run – so he went and did that while I did some yoga and straightened up the room. We knew we would never make our 11 a.m reservation at Kona Cafe at the Polynesian, so I cancelled that. The only thing left on our schedule today was a reservation at California Grill at 9 p.m. for our last night in town. (Another tradition for us). We feared that the 9 p.m fireworks show would be rained out, but we were crossing our fingers.

After an uneventful ride over to the Magic Kingdom around noon, we walked in and noticed that The Castle looked especially pretty. The blues on the tops of the turrets were especially blue – maybe because the sun was out and grey sky was the background. We headed to Jungle Cruise to get a fast pass, figuring that that outdoor ride was one we wanted to do early on.

We were hungry, and on our way to Pecos Bill, we stumbled upon El Pirata y El Perico, across the street from Pirates of the Caribbean. We usually come in the winter season, and this place isn't always open, so we decided to try it based on the raving recommendations we had from friends. There were literally three things on the menu: beef tacos, vegetarian tacos and a taco salad. Jay had the veggie tacos and I got the taco salad. You basically get the shell and whatever your base is, and then you head to the toppings bar for all of the tomato, lettuce, salsa, cheese you want. It was simple, it was cheap, it was fast and it was DELICIOUS!

After lunch, we still had a few minutes before our fast pass time, so we stayed in the neighborhood to ride Pirates. Short wait for the old classic.

Then it was time to turn in our fast passes for Jungle Cruise. It's a good thing we used them when they did, 'cause it was starting to drizzle, and you could hear thunder in the distance. As we left the dock, there was an announcement to those waiting in line that the ride could be shut down at any time for thunder and lightning storms. A GREAT skipper, with some new corny jokes we hadn't hear before. As we went into the tunnel part, he started whistling the Raiders of the Lost Ark theme song, followed by It's a Small World. Very funny.

By the time we reached the docks, it really did resemble the rain forest. We jumped off, threw on our ponchos and headed to one of my must-dos – Haunted Mansion. On the way, we passed the Hall of Presidents, which has a huge scaffolding with a facade around it. I'm guessing as they install President Obama in the attracton, the building itself must be getting a facelift.

The line at the mansion is underneath a covered awning, so there was a little bit longer of a wait than usual, but before long, we were hanging out with the grim grinning ghosts. The tall, skinny one joined us in the Doom Buggy to follow us home.

The rain was just not letting up at all. So we headed for another indoor attraction that has become one of our favorites – Mickey's Philharmagic. There was also some sort of fake wall up around Small World, but with the rain, we didn't stop to investigate.

We hit philharmagic just right, with very little wait and had a blast. My favorite part is the apple pie scent. It's just so well done. As we left, the rain was so heavy, and had been for so long, that almost all of the sidewalks were just flooded. In some places, the water was up to our shins – so we knew that our day was winding down. It just wasn't fun any more. We decided to do Buzz Lightyear and maybe Laugh Floor and call it a day.

So we swam over to Buzz Lightyear and rode it twice in a row, 'cause there was no line. The first time, I beat Jay handily, but the second time, he found the mother of all targets – and ended with 999,999 points!!! Yikes. We rounded the corner to Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor and saw another interactive show. I love some of the new ways they've incorporated technology into attractions. By this time, the rain had slowed a little, and there was just one objective for the day that we hadn't accomplished – going to Aloha Isle for some Dole Whips.

So we scurried across the hub to Adventureland, and I had a Pineapple Dole Whip float and Jay had a straight up Dole Whip swirl. The blend of the pineapple and vanilla ice cream soft serve just can't be beat. We found shelter next door and sat down and ate our treats. Then, as if we had angered the tiki gods next door, the thunder, the lighting and the rain intensified to an almost frightening pace. It was time to make our exit, stage left.

A small break in the deluge, and we headed toward Main Street's emporiums – as did everyone else in the park. Most people were just using the stores as shelter, but along the way, people were making small purchases. We walked back out to main street near the fire house, took a final look back at The Castle, and headed out to the buses.

We're so glad that we had been there before – we felt so bad for the families who had never been here before and were having to go through this weather for their whole vacation. Thanks to DVC, we know we'll be back, and since we've been so many times, before, we really can pick and choose without disappointment. We feel so lucky to have had these chances to get away to this magical place.

A quick bus ride home to get ready for our dinner. I also paid the bag fees to Disney, who would then pay them to Air Tran for our Magical Express service when we checked out on Thursday. You have to do this the day before your fly – something good to remember.

Thanks to the cab voucher, we made great time to the Contemporary and got there about 8 p.m. - about an hour before our reservation. We decided to take a 'round the world ride on the monorail, and took in the sights around bay lake. Only about 20 minutes later, we pulled back into the station and killed some time in the shops on the fourth floor. Finally, we checked in at about 8:45 and were taken right up on the elevator. We waited in the lounge for a few minutes, and were seated just as the lights dimmed in the restaurant. We took our seats and watched Wishes. As always, the fireworks were amazing. But not as amazing as the meal!

Jay and I don't drink a whole lot (though it seems I did have a mixed drink on most nights of this trip), but the California Grill is a place where I want to have a glass of wine – after all, it's what they're known for. Our waiter heard my request for a sweet, light, white wine, and brought me a glass from a California vineyard. I think it was called “Conundrum.” It was exactly what I wanted. Then we began ordering the main event.

We wanted to split an appetizer and a sushi dish. Jay and I never really liked sushi until we had it at California Grill several years ago, and now it is a must when we go. The Spicy Kazan Roll is amazing! Crab, shrimp, bay scallops, tuna and fireball sauce. We split a Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli with sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, shiitake mushrooms and basil. Yum.

Then Jay had the filet of beef with cheesy Idaho potato mash, buttered asparagus and teriyaki barbecue sauce. Fantastic. My seared pork tenderloin with goat cheese polenta, button mushrooms and zinfindel glaze ranks in the top 10 meals of my life. Seriously. Good stuff. It's a good thing we walk so much at the parks (and to get back and forth from the lobby). It's also a good thing we save money all year.

As a complete side note, I "blame" my parents for my expensive taste in meals and fine dining. As an only child, I was lucky enough to be able to travel with them - and when I was a kid, they brought me to places like "The Top of the World" (the predecessor to The California Grill) and "The Empress Lily" (It was on the same boat that Fulton's Crab House is now on, but it was much like Victoria and Albert's. They basically raised me so that if I was well behaved, I'd be able to come to fancy dinners. Seems like a no brainer.

We left at about 10:45, begrudgingly, and headed downstairs. Unfortunately, our cab voucher was only good for one way, so we knew we'd be a while getting home with bus service. But we had no idea what we were about to encounter. We walked toward the bus stop, and there must have been 50 people there – 35 of them were kids between the ages of 4 and 16. And they were climbing up the poles, beating each other up and screaming. It was a seriously scary scene. The adults were either oblivious to the fact that other people were around, or just didn't care. It was so bad that when a bus DID come after a long wait, we didn't get on, figuring we'd just wait for the second bus. As it turns out, they couldn't all fit on the bus, so there were about 10 people left from group, but with fewer numbers, the obnoxious factor dropped slightly. We just stayed to ourselves along with two other parties that kept our distance as we boarded the bus.

We finally made it home after switching buses at Downtown Disney at about 12:30. After some reading and prepacking for our departure on Thursday, we finally went to bed around 2. It may cost more money, but because we like to go to other resorts - especially for fine dining, I think we may be renting a car from now on.

Coming next: Disney's Magical Express IS magical. AirTran, not so much.

Our first DVC trip to AKLV: Disney in the rain is better than work - Part V

Tuesday, May 19: The biggest water ride ever at DHS
Miles walked today: 7.94 miles
Best thing today: Great meals
Worst thing today: Transportation glitches

Waking up, stretchhiiinnnggg.... walking over to the curtain to see the animals and the bright, sunny Florida weather? Yeah. No. Very threatening clouds and a drizzle were the appetizer to the weather buffet we would take part in today. But we'd make the very best of it – after all, we were very lucky to be together on vacation, in a wonderful resort. Who can complain?

We dodged the raindrops over to a 10:45 breakfast reservation at Boma. Now, as previously mentioned, we love the place for dinner – but had never been there for breakfast. Boy, was that a mistake. It might have literally been the best breakfast buffet we've ever been to. Everything was super fresh, and had been made in small batches. Their “signature” juice, called West African Frunch, was a blend of lemonade, pineapple juice, guava juice and papaya juice. Refreshing and delicious. I highly recommend the Brioche (sort of like french toast with a cinnamon raisin bread?). Other not-to-be missed items? Chocolate chip muffins. Those, my friends, are the zebra domes of breakfast. MMMmmm.

Full from breakfast, we headed back over to the resort, took a tiny nap (yes, we took a nap after breakfast. It's vacation!). Then we got ready - and there's tons of room to get ready in the bathroom, and lots of nice details - even in the studio.

Though it's only a single sink in the studio, there's lots of counter space and plenty of storage space.

The shower curtain is colorful and the water pressure was pretty good, too.

Fun animal print details in the tile, too:

Then we got it in to gear to head to Disney's Hollywood Studios. (As a side note, I will only call it DHS because that's the official name now. In my heart, it will always be MGM Studios, trademarks be darned!)

On the way in, we met a familiar face – a former cast members at the Adventurer's Club, who was transferred when the club closed. Many are working in other shows, but some are working “streetmosphere” at DHS. It's obvious that we had been there too much, as when he recognized us, he shouted “Kungaloosh” and gave the official club salute.

(For those of you who never had the pleasure, you put your hand above your belly button, shake it like a fish, act like you're taking a swig and then raise your hand to the heavens and say, “Kungaloosh”).

We talked briefly about his new gig, (that was now outside, during the day, in the rain or heat, and without many of the folks he'd worked with for years.) But he really was having a good time interacting with the guests.

The rain was coming down pretty steadily now, making us wonder if we were on a real film set with a rain machine. We checked out the tip board and saw, with great sadness, that all of the fast passes for Toy Story Mania had already been given out!

We decided to go get fast passes for Rock N' Roller Coaster and check out the line for standby at Toy Story. We passed by, and it was more than an hour, and much of the queue was outside. In the pouring rain, by this time. We decided to head on to our next destination – MuppetVision 3D. Very fun as always. Kermit was inspirational, because by then, were were starting to feel like amphibians. We backtracked, saw the line had gotten even longer for Toy Story Mania, and then it was time to rock and roll with Aerosmith. We grabbed fast passes for Tower of Terror on the way and then blasted off into a great coaster. Amazing as always!

There were three things left we wanted to do - Tower, The American Idol Experience and Toy Story Mania. And still, then rain poured down, more than any water dump at Kali River Rapids or Catastrophe Canyon. Figuring that sitting in the hotel room would be a waste of our time, we decided to motor on. It was time to enter the Twilight Zone. Wheee!!!!

To kill time before the next Idol show, we caught the Indiana Jones show – at least it would be a dry place to wait. We always expect this show to be more exciting than it is – and are almost always disappointed. But like I said, it was dry, and vaguely entertaining. Next, I begrudgingly went with Jay to the American Idol Experience. We had watched the show years ago, but not lately (Though I will say that Chris Daughtry IS from Greensboro!). But I was kind of over the show, and feared the attraction would be hokey. I've got to say – Disney did it right. The casting of the judges, the Ryan Seacrest character, the lighting, the music, the interview segments, were all just right. And the three singers we saw weren't half bad.

We didn't stay to see if the guy who won our show made it through the final at the end of the day, but it is a neat concept. Whoever wins the day's competition gets a “dream ticket” to bypass the big audition lines for next season's shows, and goes straight in to audition for the judges.

By then it was about 5 p.m., and we hoped the rain had driven people away -- and it had – so the line for Toy Story Mania was only posted at about 50 minutes. It only took us about 35 or 40, and in the meantime, we had a lovely chat with a family from Iowa. After a fun ride, we headed back to the resort to get ready for our reservation at Flying Fish.

Before we had left DHS, we checked at the dining services kiosk to get our time pushed back from 8:00 to 8:50, as I feared we wouldn't make the earlier one with all of the bus switching. It's a good thing- as it took an hour and 45 minutes to get from AKLV to Boardwalk! Our bus had to stop at Jambo House, then both stops at Downtown Disney. Luckily, there was a Boardwalk bus there waiting, but first it had to stop at Yacht Club, Beach Club, Swan AND Dolphin. Yikes! We got there at about 9:15, but they were very gracious about seating us anyway, as the restaurant wasn't busy.

Once we got settled in, dried off, and de-stressed from our harried travels, we had a lovely meal, with a wonderful server. Jay and I split the “Flying Fish Cafe Crisp Peekytoe Crab Cake with savory vegetable slaw, roasted red pepper coulis and ancho chile remoulade.” I also got one of their yummy “adult” beverages. Something pineapply and girly. Yum!

For his entree, he had “Our Chefs' Fish Thunder Special: Grilled Florida Orange Swordfish with rock shrimp and lemongrass basmati fried rice, a stir fry of seasonal vegetables in a brown butter-yuzu emulsion and sweet soy drizzle.” (When I went to write this trip report several days later, we couldn't remember what Jay's dish was called, so he called Disney. What the heck. After going through main dining, they transferred him to the restaurant, and the greeter at the Flying Fish podium transferred him to the kitchen to talk to one of the chefs! Turns out, the chef he talked to was the same one who was working the night we visited. Mike described the dish to Jay, asked how he liked it, and said he hoped we'd be back! How funny is that? Where else in the world would that happen? -- P.S. I have since found that menu, so I've included the full menu description.)

I had the Oak-grilled hand-harvested Maine scallops with English pea, pecorino, basil and mascarpone-laced risotto di carnarolli, with proscuitto di parma cracklins. Oh. My. Gosh. MAG-I-CAL.

We were full, but were also thinking about our favorite ice cream shop next door, so we got the check, made the mortgage payment on it, and thanked them for a great meal. Once next door at Seashore Sweets, we began planning our “salads.”

The first time we were there, the cast member told us that building a sundae there was just like being at the salad bar, and we could take as many toppings as we wanted. Salad=ice cream base, dressing=hot fudge, croutons=sprinkles, etc. But they have LOTS of toppings to choose from and use Edy's ice cream.
We usually love to sit out on the boardwalk with our “salads” and relax and people-watch, but with the pouring rain, we made our way upstairs to a lounge with empty tables, and the barkeep said he'd be happy to have us use a table – to make ourselves at home. Nice. We meandered around Boardwalk, making a mental note of how much we liked this place, and that next time we made a DVC ressie, it should be there.

Then we had to take the long trip home. Luckily, a Downtown Disney bus came pretty quickly, and an AKLV bus was nearly waiting for us at the hub. The rain had also slowed to a sprinkle at the times we were transferring. Finally warm and dry in our room, we tuned into the news channels, and got hooked on the local stations that were covering the weather like a hurricane.

Turns out, an actual tornado had touched down in the town of Casselberry, the sewers were WAY overflowing in much of the area, and they were predicting many more inches of rain over the next few days. The weather anchors were using their super double magic doppler technology like kids playing with Legos. Luckily, no one had been seriously injured in the storms. Finally, after being reassured by two weather teams that Lake Buena Vista would be spared that night, we drifted off to sleep around 2:30 a.m.

Coming next: Why we'll always rent a car from now on.
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Our first DVC trip to AKLV: Disney in the rain is better than work - Part IV

Monday, May 18: Nice surprises
Miles walked today: 5.38 miles
Best thing today: Lots of animals
Worst thing today: Everest shutting down

I apologize that we don't have a whole lot of photos from the parks - with the rain, we didn't take our camera.

It was a "running day" for Jay, so as he started with a run in the fitness center, I tidied up our hotel room, showered and got ready for our day at Animal Kingdom. (Seriously, he runs every other day, without fail, since December. Amazing.)

We had gotten up a little later than planned, so I called over to Tusker House to see if they had a later lunch reservation – and they did. I took it, so we wouldn't be so rushed.

We had packed ponchos, but it was the kind of day that an umbrella would work for small showers – but of course, I hadn't packed one. Luckily, the Johari Treasures store at the lodge had one (only $10).

We walked out, and a bus to the AK came right away. We had good and bad bus karma on the trip overall – today, it was good. We met a mom and her daughter who were on their way to meet the rest of the family – as it turns out, we also ran into them at the restaurant, and on the bus on the way home. A lovely family with three kids from Atlanta, who had also recently bought into DVC. They were also really happy with their purchase. It's great the nice people you meet waiting in lines, riding on buses, etc.

We got to AK, turned in our annual pass vouchers (DVC members get a $100 discount on each pass, so it's a great value for us. We know we're going back in September to take some friends, and in January for Jay's race.) The cast member was great and we walked into the park under dark clouds and a drizzle. We kept our ponchos on or umbrella up most of the day, but we were inside or under cover for the main downpours.

As Jay checked us in for lunch at Tusker House, I went and got us fast passes for the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. Turns out the fastpass time would be about an hour from them – perfect for after lunch.

We were seated shortly thereafter, and headed toward the several stations of food. We hadn't been there since it was converted from a quick service to a sit-down buffet, and we thought this was much improved. Lots to choose from, great sirloin and pork from carving stations, plenty of veggies and salads, and the most amazing lemon bars in the world. Two of us, with drinks and tip (and a $4 DVC discount) cost about $45. Not terrible pricing for Disney standards.

Then on to a cloudy, but wonderful safari ride. Many of the cast members we talked to said that because the weather was a little cooler, many of the animals would be more active. On this safari, that was certainly true. We saw more hippos than ever, lots of crocodiles that were actually moving, okapis, birds, an elephant, giraffes, lions and lots of other critters.

The rain was still just a drizzle, so we walked through Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and lingered with the hippo and the gorillas. Then we went to Expedition Everest and got a fast pass on our way to see the Finding Nemo show. It is still amazing what they can do with these stage productions. Very enjoyable.

Back to Everest to use our fast pass. There was a family behind us taking their first ride, and we were trying to tell them it was fun - not scary. Unfortunately, they never got the chance to find out because the ride was shut down just before we got on. Don't know if it was weather related or not, but they gave us a fastpass good for anytime before the end of May. (We never did get to use it – and forgot to give it to someone else. Next time.)

We then walked through Maharajah Jungle Trek and noticed how much the Komodo Dragon had grown since our last visit. The cool weather had the Malayan Tapir up and around and much more active than he had been on past visits. The fruit bats and flying foxes were mostly sleeping, but also trying to stay dry and wrap themselves under their wings. Only one tiger was out and about, but we did see the Elds deers standing straight up on their hind legs to get the leaves from the trees.

We also spoke to a cast member in the bird sanctuary who told us about one breed of ducks that were there – the male had a blue bill – but only when it was mating season. Interesting. Another set of birds just had a full nest hatch, and AK has an agreement with other Zoos across the country for mating programs. Very interesting stuff.

The rain started to come down a little harder, and it was getting close to closing time by then. We tried to get on “Tough to be a bug” but we just missed the last show. We meandered through some of the shops, and had to exchange the umbrella we purchased that morning, because the carrying strap had already broken. But they exchanged it with no questions. We headed back to the bus depot and met back up with the family from Atlanta to ride back to the lodge.

I don't know about other DVC owners at AKLV, but I'll pay an extra $25 in dues this year if they'd build an awning or some other kind of shelter from the hotel out to the bus stops. Every other DVC has a covered walkway to the buses – can we get one, too?

We went back to the room to read out on the balcony, relax and check out some more animals. (I'm ashamed to admit it, but my girlfriends finally got me to read Twilight, and it made for great trashy vacation reading).

Our balcony:

When we got back to the room, there was a lovely tray of Zebra Domes and a nice “Celebrate Today” card from Brandon Howell, the resort's private dining manager, wishing us a happy 9th anniversary. There was also a nice message waiting for us from Judy Kaufman, one of the first DVC consultants we ever spoke to.

The card went nicely with the flowers in our room:

Jay went down and rented us a board game from the community hall (it was the new, electronic version of LIFE-Twists and Turns) so we'd have an option later in the evening. Before Pleasure Island closed, we would have been heading to the Adventurer's Club almost every night, so we're glad that DVC offers lots of alternate options. It also means we're making later dinner reservations, which usually works out, because it's easier to get a table, and the restaurants are sometimes quieter.

While he did that, I went to the Concierge desk to ask about estimated cab ride costs to get to Boardwalk and/or the Contemporary, as we were dining at those places the next two nights. Noting my “Happy Anniversary” button, the cast member quoted me the prices, and also told me about how to take which busses to get to Flying Fish, but she gave us a cab voucher for The Contemporary the next night so we didn't have to slop around the world in fancy clothes in the rain. What a considerate gesture! Unexpected, unnecessary, but so much appreciated!

I also took a walk back through the library, which is beautiful.

It was almost time for our reservation at Sanaa (pronounced sah-NAA), on the ground floor of our resort. It was raining antelopes and zebras, so it was nice to not have to go out into the elements. A short wait after we checked in, and we were escorted into the restaurant with intimate lighting, cozy nooks and lots of artwork. Our server said that she and the rest of “team Sanaa” had been training there for a month before opening, learning all about African spices, cooking techniques, etc.

It paid off. She was very knowledgeable and made great suggestions. A treated myself to a Malawi Mango Margarita- yummy. We split an appetizer of Mustard Seed Crusted Scallops - with a coconut cream sauce. Jay's entree was Tandoori Shrimp with basmati rice, and I tried one of the “slow cooked, simple and well seasoned” combos of beef short ribs and chicken with red curry sauce. Both of our meals were fantastic.

After a DVC discount and using a Christmas gift card from my cousin and her husband (Thanks, Jen and Dave!), dinner only cost about $44. Nice!

We played some air hockey and driving games on the way back at the arcade, got some drinks for our refillable mugs, and headed up to the room. We enjoyed a midnight snack of our Zebra domes from the afternoon that chilled nicely in our fridge, and played LIFE – probably staying up too late to do so. Lights out around 2/2:30 a.m., after a fun, soggy day.

Coming next: Is is supposed to rain this much? Are those animals pairing up near that boat over there? Are those weather guys using super-double doppler?

Also, thanks, y'all, for all of your nice comments. I figure you guys are the only ones who will actually read all of this.
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