It’s the Season to be Jolly and other Winter Tales

The end of the year always brings about a flurry of activities, starting with what has become my annual Yuletide trip to the Orlando theme parks.

Christmas Season

From park to park I go in search of the Christmas spirit. This year I found it inside Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure where the icky-green Grinch tried to steel Christmas from the Whos. I love this show and meeting the Grinch in person afterwards was the highlight of my visit to Universal Orlando.

To be fair, over at Universal Studios the Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s is certainly not to be dismissed.

The big wow factor here however was the new holiday show that Universal Studios projected nightly on the walls of Hogwarts castle. The show was part of the Christmas in The Wizarding World, which also included an adapted show of Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees who put the song “My Baby Gave Me a Hippogriff for Christmas” into my head for days!

Usually Epcot is my favorite theme park during the holiday season, but this year I really felt that Disney’s Hollywood Studios conveyed the holiday spirit best. You will never look at the Tower of Terror the same way and I loved to see that even umbrellas were all decked out for the season!

Back in Birmingham I enjoyed the holiday party that the homeowner association organized at my new home. It was a nice way to meet my new neighbors, who like me, enjoyed the very musical Santa that stopped by for the occasion.

Early in the month the city came to a standstill as an unusual heavy snowfall brought about a snow day. Having experienced real Northeastern living in New York I still smile when two inches of snow shut down an entire city. I do realize however that it is such rare an occasion that the city acquiring snowplows would be a waste of my tax dollars.

Soon it will be time for my annual trip to New York City. Time to get ready!

 

It’s that Time of Year Again—Revisions

Walt Disney World with Kids 2017After some intense weeks of work, and multiple revisions, my 2017 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids is finally off to the printer. The annual ritual starts in March with a research trip to Orlando and is followed by a first deadline for updates and new material by May 15th.

This year, however, there were so many changes that by the time June came, I went on a second research mission to the Kingdom of the Mouse. It was fascinating to be at Epcot the day the Frozen Forever ride opened. The ride opened at 9 a.m. on June 21st. I had made breakfast reservations at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall for 8:30 a.m. and was allowed into the park shortly after 8 a.m. that morning. It was great to enter the park early and enjoy taking pictures on my way to the Norway pavilion. And yes, it was my ticket to the front of the line once the ride was about to open.

RevisionsNeedless to say, this made all the difference in the world. I exited the ride at 9:10 a.m.; 20 minutes later, the ride broke down. The park was officially open since half an hour and the line for the ride went back all the way over the bridge to the China pavilion. Cast members held up signs indicating that the wait currently was 180 minutes. Unfortunately, the ride broke down quite often that day, and when you add to this the low loading capacity of the former Maelstrom ride, it is no surprise that the wait, at times, was 300 minutes—five hours!

I did experience the new Soarin’ Around the World flight, enjoyed all the new nighttime entertainment at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and saw Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire, the new show in front of Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom.

IMG_5666Over at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, I paid a visit to Skull Island and rode the new King Kong attraction. Skull Island: The Reign of Kong really did impress me. This multi-sensory, multi-dimensional ride is absolutely amazing.

Back in Birmingham, it was crunch time. I had to revise the revisions and submit last-minute changes to my wonderful editor Amber Henderson. Amber brings it all together, and while it looks like magic when she takes over, believe me, it is not. It is hard work. A huge research team, editors, fact checkers, indexers, and a layout and art department support the authors. These behind-the-scenes professionals make me look good and are the guarantee that a great product reaches the reader.

This Year’s Revisions Are Over—Let’s Play!

So what is next? Well, it is never too early to start collating data again, is it? In a few weeks, I will once more board a plane and visit my happy place. I am excited to stay at three different hotels, including the newly opened Loews Sapphire Falls. I want to take tons of pictures and videos. But, most of all, I look forward to having more time for friends than during my past two visits. And yes, there will be pool time!

The Importance of Memories

The last Autumn leaves slowly drift to the ground and the earth is preparing for the longest night of the year.  Memories of idyllic childhood days, and those of days not so long ago, are flooding my mind. A treasure trove of moments, some sad, others filled with laughter and joy.

Autumn on Highland Avenue

Autumn on Highland Avenue

A great quote by Burton Homes talks about travel memories. Homes says, “The only things I own which are still worth what they have cost me are my travel memories…the mind-pictures of places which I have been hoarding like a happy miser.”

Memories

With Idan and Laura in Las Vegas

And travel memories I have plenty. They are among my happiest. 2015 has been no exception. New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Las Vegas, lots of Florida (read Disney and Universal Studios), and even a cruise with The Mouse.

Memories Made in Birmingham

But not all memories are travel related. There were the memories made right here in Birmingham.

Memories

Mary Poppins with Theresa, Fran and Debra

Running my first hometown race, the Mercedes half marathon, was a wonderful experience. Seeing my colleague Tanya after she did the full marathon, dancing at race retreat, is certainly something I won’t forget.

With Tanya and Zach after the race

With Tanya and Zach after the race

Welcoming friends from out of town, celebrating holidays together, and publishing yet another edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids.

Memories

Welcoming Wendy to Birmingham

Enjoying a meal, music, or a walk with a friend: That’s the stuff memories are made of.

Walking with Annette

Walking with Annette

I believe that it is important to hang on to every memory we possibly can. It is the glue that keeps families and friends smiling, it is who we are, and it is a portal to those who are no longer with us.

Memories

With Papa and my brothers in Belgium

Ibn Battuta said, “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” May I add that it turns you into a memory maker.