The wonderful world of Walt Disney - Day 2: Magic Kingdom

Let me tell you right now, no matter how old you are or how old you may think you've gotten, once you step foot on the Disney grounds all of that melts away. Being at Disney immediately transports you back to your childhood and all those wonderful memories of your favourite Disney characters and the experience of the magical. You become 5 years old again. I can see why people like this place! After being at Disney for a solid four days the best way I can describe it is that Disney isn't a theme park, it's an experience. Every inch of Disney is well maintained and completely considered and thought of as to how it fits into the environment around it. Incredible.

Going to Disney I had two things on my to do list: get as many autographs as possible and meet Mary Poppins. For the autographs I realize I'm older and this is for kids, but I saw this as my chance to catch up on my childhood and no matter how embarrassing it would be, I decided to be brave and stand in the line ups and get the autographs. I was determined. As for Mary Poppins, she is the extreme ultimate Disney character for me. When I was a kid, that was the movie I watched over-and-over-and-over again. I loooooved Mary Poppins. This one was number one on my list, hands down. I was so afraid we'd miss her that we prebooked a Disney breakfast for later in the week because it mentioned she could be there. For our first day though, we had prepaid for the Disney fireworks dessert buffet on the Tomorrowland terrace. I hear this one fills up quick and has to be prepaid so we literally booked months in advance of coming.

That morning we got up really early and grabbed breakfast and the shuttle to Magic Kingdom. When we first got there we had to take a water ferry across the river at Disney to get to the park. When you enter the park you're on a remake of main street USA in the 40's or 50's I'd say. There's a city hall for guest services. I'd suggest stopping by here if it's your first visit or if you're celebrating an event because they will give you a button! :) There's an old style theatre front and a bunch of quaint looking shops. Lots of shops. (I love shopping)! Walking down a bit further there's a roundabout area then Cinderella's castle sits behind the roundabout. Sort of like Buckingham Palace does! We pretty much leisurely made our way through the park because we got there when it opened at 9:00am and our fireworks dessert buffet wasn't scheduled until 9:10pm that night.

When we first got in the park we seen snow white right away. I tried to get in her lineup but it was closed. So we kept walking and I seen Donald duck. I got in his line and he signed my autograph book and made a "call me" motion and blew me a kiss when I was walking away! My first autograph, and potential celeb date! We walked around the castle a bit more and seen the fairy godmother from Cinderella so I got in her lineup. She asked who my favorite character was and I said "you of course...and Cinderella". She goes "have you had a chance to meet her yet dear.....she'll be at the blah blah blah at 10 o'clock.". Pretty funny stuff. The actors stay so much in character; they are amazing at what they do.

After, we headed over to the merry go round ride. When we were on our horses mom caught the tail end of Mary Poppins going around a corner! Holy crap! In a very discreet rush we bailed off the ride and went to see if we could find her. I turned the corner in a flurry and there she was! She was signing autographs and I was able to get in her line - I couldn't believe my luck! For the kids in front of us she was asking them "do you know what you want to be when you grow up? You don't?!! Well do you like dogs?" and she would carry on the conversation from there. When they were getting in line for their picture with her she said "now all stand up straight, don't slouch. Spit spot". Just like Mary Poppins! When I got up to her I said you're my favorite Disney character and this is my first time here. Then all of a sudden this peter pan character comes up to her and starts asking if she's seen someone. The boy who flies or something.
And then he was like "well maybe you can get your sidewalk drawing friend to draw a map of never never land and then perhaps we can find him". Then Mary Poppins told him "if you see him please tell him I'm expecting him for tea later". So funny! I'm sure I stood there with my mouth open the whole time looking dumbfounded. Then she apologized and turned around to me and said "I'm sorry dear, you were saying...". Then I told her again what I had said and she replied "well then I guess you're well versed on the subject of me" and I said yes and she said "well good. That's my favorite subject too". Hilarious! Then she said "what's your favorite thing about me" and I said because you're practically perfect in every way (I have no idea where that answer came from but I was impressed I came up with it on the spot especially considering how distracted I was at the moment). And she said "well then you've quite turned out well yourself I see". It was so funny. Then she wished me a good day at the park. Mom got this picture of me talking to her and I look like I'm six and in awe of her. It's pretty funny. This totally made my day!

Then we set off for the rest of the park although I was pretty distracted at this point because of my amazing Mary Poppins encounter. We ate lunch at Pinocchio's something Haus. We wandered through frontier land and saw the Country Bears performance. One of the bears looked and sounded like Carroll Baker and another sounded like Kitty Wells. We went on the scary White ride which was like a roller coaster car that drove us through a fun house basically. Although I hear that's no longer there. We rode Aladdin's magic carpets in Fantasyland which was fun. The entire day was completely magical and felt like I was writing a new chapter in my childhood.

At the end of the day I remembered we had missed the it's a small world ride so we went on that. That was extremely 70's and looked like something Walt Disney himself had made. It was cute and extremely nostalgic. After I came home I researched that ride a bit. It has quite a history, originally built for the first Walt Disney Land in California and one of the most popular rides because of what it represents. Apparently Walt Disney didn't live to see the opening of Walt Disney World in Florida, he passed while it was being built. Which is a shame but his essence and thumbprint is all over in every detail. Quite a visionary.

Randomly throughout the day they have street parades and shoot fireworks off at the castle. There's always something happening. We caught a bit of both of those. Before going to our dessert party we wandered back to the front of the park quite exhausted. We desperately wanted to sit down in air conditioning so we thought we'd catch a show at the Disney theatre. Sitting down to watch a show is the best way to cool off and have a rest. We went in the princesses line and it ended up being a meet and greet with the princesses! In air conditioning! We met Cinderella, Aurora the sleeping beauty, and Belle! Now that we understood what this was (I don't think a lot of people realized the characters were in there) we went back out and came in the Mickey line. We met Mickey and Minnie mouse! The two characters you most want to meet at Disney. And the two hardest to see!

Finally it was time for our dessert party. There were probably 30-40 people in line. We had an awesome table at the front of the terrace in Tomorrowland. I filled my plate with desserts and we had juice and coffee. We watched the electric parade before the show started. They did a light show on the castle that showed a hundred different art treatments. All of them were cool - I really loved that part. Then they did these amazing fireworks over the castle. They kept getting bigger and bigger. They did one that looked like a shooting star while playing "When You Wish Upon a Star" and it was so bright. We were so exhausted but it was so worth it to wait for the fireworks! Pretty awesome day. But Mary Poppins was definitely the highlight.

The wonderful world of Walt Disney - Day 1: Our journey to Orlando

I have never been to Disney before this trip. I'd never been to Florida or anywhere in the southeast region of the United States before this year. And I was never a crazy Disney fan - I had favourite movies going up like Mary Poppins, Pete's Dragon, Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, but I was in no way fanatical about any of it. Although doing Disney was on my bucket list and when mom suggested doing a trip there the year before I thought it would be a fun, different adventure to what we normally do.

Our plan was to hit Disney and Universal Studios. Mom had been to Universal Studios before in California many moons ago and brought back cool pics of movie memorabilia there. Like the KITT car from Knight Rider - which I was a little obsessed about when I was younger (...but that's a different blog post :) so I really was looking forward to going. And I was looking forward to the Harry Potter experience which I also am a big fan of. We purchased an Air Canada Vacations package which turned out to be an amazing deal! For a little over $600 dollars we each had flights from Toronto to Orlando return on Air Canada (my favourite airline), and a week in an Embassy Suites hotel. This hotel was perfect.

The rooms were huge with separate dining and living spaces with a full kitchenette. Outside our door was a large outdoor pool that featured movies by the pool every night - Disney movies of course (great for the kids), and for the adults there was a happy hour every afternoon with free unlimited alcoholic beverage of the day and munchies like popcorn, chips, salsa, etc. They also have a free shuttle that runs multiple times during the day to all the Disney parks. This was so handy!

My experience with Florida airports is that once you step off the plane, the decor is like stepping into an episode to Miami Vice. Maybe it's the graphic designer in me but I'm very aware of my decorated surroundings. It was a funny moment seeing all the geometric shapes and vibrant colours that lined the airport walls.

The airport had its share of Disney stores and memorabilia around as well. There was a Universal and Harry Potter store which I got quite excited about but quickly got out of because I didn't want to ruin our Harry Potter experience. Once mom found the wands I was like "uh, we have to go" and ran out of the store.

The cab ride to our hotel from the airport was about $50 dollars but it put us right near Disney. Once we checked in mom and I walked down the street to get something to eat at Katie O'Sheas. A beaten pub with interesting triangle-shaped fish. It was pretty good though and the girl was nice. Everyone in Orlando is really friendly, which is always great and makes for a nicer vacation. It was sooo sooo hot though on this day. I think it was 32 degrees Celsius. It wiped us out pretty quick. Our weather forecast for the week ahead was supposed to be rain so we were praying pretty heavy for good weather.

We went back to the hotel and checked out the weather network where we saw tornadoes everywhere all across the states. Erie PA had warnings. Nashville, Mississippi. California, who also had snow!!!! It was nuts. Our weather forecast was starting to look better though with sun the next day and more sun on the way. Only sun thoughts. We weren't going to dwell on the other stuff. Only sun, only sun, only sun. Tomorrow we'd be getting up bright and early for Disney. A whole day planned at Magic Kingdom. I couldn't wait!

Plane Spotting? No Problem! An Impromptu Trip and Travelodge Review

Today included an unplanned trip to Toronto. And a surprising stay in a rather sweet hotel! The trip to Toronto was on my radar but I didn't think I'd be going along. My sister is in Calgary and would be flying home today. Mom had suggested going to the airport with her the night before. She was going to work her travel agent magic and get us a free hotel to spend the night near the airport, and pick my sister up in the morning. Sounds fun!

I was at work on Friday when I literally found out at the last minute that we'd be going and needed to leave soon to try and miss the upcoming snowstorm. I was actually quite excited because it meant I'd get to use my new Samsonite overnight luggage! (It has spinner wheels so it's all fun to tow around.). I went home and threw everything into my suitcase as fast as I could and we were off.

Before I get to the hotel part, I have to say that when it comes to hotels I'm a Westin/Marriott kinda girl while mom is more of a Super 8 kinda girl (not that there's anything wrong with a Super 8, I've stayed there many times before) but I think you can see the difference. :). This time she got us a room at the Travelodge down on Dixon Road in Toronto. Pulling up I was surprised to see there was more than one level to this hotel. I was ribbing her

pretty bad on the way up. Walking in, the lobby was gorgeous. At least two story ceilings, fireplace, sitting area, a typical gift shop over to the side and a beautiful high end restaurant and bar attached to the hotel.

When we got up to the desk and were checking in, the desk clerk was rambling on about needing a key card for this, a key card for that, continental breakfast on your floor, use your key card for that, yadda yadda. We walked away going 'do you know what he said?'. We didn't know. We were on the 17th floor. Hmm, 17 floors eh? Okay this place is nice, I'll admit.

We step on the elevator and go to press floor 17 and realize: we're on the executive floor and the elevator has a key card entry slot that you need to use in order to access the 17th floor! Whoa mom, way to go! Our floor is literally on the roof of the hotel. When we get off the elevator there's about 10 rooms total. Our room is really nice. Not overly big but there's a 40" flat screen tv and a fantastic view of the Air Canada terminal runway! Our private lounge area where our breakfast will be is also huge and really nice. There's tables and a sitting area with a tv and free pop, water, coffee and tea. There's a living room area separate from the main area with a few desks and a computer station. Although the hotel already has open wi-fi which is great (love that - most high end hotels lock down their Internet to an Ethernet cord or password protected access which is the worst).

Mom and I flocked to the window and watched the planes landing for a while. We're huge plane spotters. Then we walked across the road to Lone Star for some delicious margaritas and chips and salsa. The night was relaxing and we had fun hanging out together. In the morning we went to check out our free breakfast which was really nice. It's continental but there was a good selection of pastries, cereals, breads, juice, yogurt, coffee and tea. The usual stuff. We did some more tail spotting because the view of the runway on this side of the hotel is stellar! My sister's flight is set to touch down at 12:45pm so after we chill for a bit we'll head over to the airport and check out some more planes while we wait for her and perhaps grab some lunch too.

Overall I'm super impressed with this hotel! The rates are pretty decent, just over $100+ a night. It's clean, modern, and has all needed amenities. The exercise room overlooks the indoor pool area which is a generous size. There's plenty of restaurants close by including Casey's which is attached to the hotel and something that's definitely on my list to try next time I'm there. The desk clerk mentioned that the other hotel across the road charges $6.00 dollars for the airport shuttle, but our hotel offers it for free. They also provide complimentary parking at the park and fly across the road if the hotel lot is full. I highly recommend this hotel for anyone flying out of Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

Look them up if you're in town:

What a fun weekend! :)

West Jet – the other Canadian Airline

Don’t you think it’s the most fascinating thing how an aircraft comprised of tons and tons of steel (with wings like a bird that don’t really flap) can lift all that weight, all those lives, way up into the air? Fly at incredible speeds and take you far away from your starting point to reach a destination that’s always more magical than the one you left from?

Commercial aviation is one of the most amazing things to me. I find it so fascinating – most people think I’m nuts and simply say ‘Hey, it’s an airplane. That’s what it does’. That may be true but the ability it has to transform our lives pretty quickly is something that calls for appreciation.

In Canada the main airline is Air Canada. Hands down. They’re the giant, the leader of commercial aviation in our country and they’re great. Not everyone loves them, but from my perspective they’re solid, safe, structured, all business. And I love to fly with them. They’re my first choice amongst anything else. So when I found out we’d be flying West Jet (the ‘other’ Canadian airline) I started asking questions. I’m sort of crazy like that. :)

I spent a lot of time checking them out, asking questions, getting opinions from others who’d flown with them before. To summarize – I didn’t find anyone that had anything bad or remotely negative to say about West Jet. Everyone was happy with their experience with them! Here’s the basics…

Their fleet is mainly comprised of Boeing 737 aircraft. Not really a fleet that’s going to take you across the Atlantic anymore but definitely reliable. And I have a small bit of adulation for Boeing anyways, so plus one for that. Although the equipment wasn’t up to par on our flight, the TV in the back of our seats were out, the flight attendant offered to find us a seat with a TV that was working, and he did. He was very nice about it and made sure we were comfortable.

The commercials are out there – West Jet owners love what they do because they don’t only work for West Jet, they’re owners as well. The atmosphere is definitely more relaxed on West Jet than it is on Air Canada. Not to say one is bad over the other, but West Jet employees absolutely seem as though they love their job. They’re very candid on board, joking and being sincere. It’s refreshing and helps ease anyone with jittery nerves about flying for sure.

The perception is that the price of flying anything BUT Air Canada will be cheaper. While my costs were covered for my West Jet flight, I tried doing a random search between Toronto and Fort Lauderdale with both airlines, and found Air Canada to be $60 dollars cheaper after taxes. Not to say this is indicative of all their pricing, but both airlines are on par with each other.

Would They Take Care of You?
Perhaps it’s just my perception but West Jet feels as though they would extend an olive branch if you did have a bad experience. Their Twitter staff is great and always engaging with their passengers. They have incredible seat sales once a week. Overall they seem to care about your experience with them. Who wouldn’t want that in a large corporate company that you’re dishing out your money to, and trusting your life with?

After flying with them I have to say I’m really impressed! In comparison to Air Canada their staff is more relaxed and laid back. Less ‘official’ and more in line with ‘your friendly flying companion’. And the best part? On the way back, I was able to watch LIVE TV. Air Canada doesn’t offer that! Yes, I was able to catch the NBC Game of the Week. Philly and the New York Rangers. At least it was hockey, and live hockey.

So West Jet is definitely an option I’d consider again. I do have a rewards card and rewards credit card with Air Canada (saving points for my big European trip) so I would look at their flights and prices first. But within North America, West Jet is fantastic!

Holland America Port of Call: Costa Maya, Mexico

What an incredible day we had in Costa Maya, Mexico. The ship was able to dock at this port which is always better than having to tender in, because you have
freedom to come and go off the ship as you like. Costa Maya itself is really beautiful. The shore is modern, colourful and vibrant, and very welcoming. You can swim with the dolphins right near the port entrance, and there's plenty of shopping, swimming, and deck chairs for sun soaking with food and drink options close by. For our visit to Costa Maya, we decided to visit the Chochoben Mayan Ruins (definitely one of my bucket list items), and we had some time to kill before our tour started so we decided to grab a drink and some munchies.

I remember this day was SCORCHING HOT! One of those days where doing absolutely nothing, not moving an ounce, can cause you to break out in a crazy sweat. The only other time I've ever experienced weather this hot was on an abnormally warm day in Venice, Italy. Because I'm fair-skinned and the sun loves to burn me to a crisp, these are not my favourite kind of days but the excursion ended up being one of the highlights of our trip!

For all of the shore excursions, you meet your tour guide right at the end of the dock before entering in the port. Our tour was around $80-90 dollars, and was set to be 4 hours. We boarded a coach bus with no air conditioning (eek). The drive was about a half hour to 45 minutes, but along the way we had to stop and wait for another coach bus to pick us up because the speaker for the microphone wasn't working on ours. That was a bit of a killer in the heat but we tried
to keep positive in anticipation of what we'd be seeing later on that day!

Our tour guide Manuel was amazing! You could tell he was very proud of the Ruins and of being from the area. He was full of knowledge about the Ruins and had even offered paintings to show us of what he perceived the Ruins to look like in their hey day based on his historic knowledge of studying their past. Even though the day was sweltering hot, he answered all our questions and provided an incredible amount of information. Which for me is great because I'm a total sponge when it comes to exploring and learning new things. I

was impressed that there were quite a few more Ruins at this site than I expected. We learned that at one point it's believed the Ruins were originally covered in red stucco and claimed a bustling city home to 20-30 thousand people! The steps of the Ruins are tall, so when you walk them you have to look down to watch your step, which also puts you in the position of praying to the gods (which we got to try!). Climbing down the Ruins, you were supposed to side-step in their day as to not turn your back on the gods. We learned this location is actually quite new, only discovered in the past
10-15 years. The location was found because someone was flying over the area and noticed the land was quite mountainous, where normally it should be quite flat. As we were walking along, Manuel showed us random hills of dirt that he mentioned are pyramids that have yet to be unearthed. Because the terrain should all be flat, they know these random hills hide more secrets of the past so they are still working at uncovering them all. The area itself contains very large trees that are
hundreds of years old. It's all very beautiful!

At the end of our tour, we were offered a free beer or beverage. Free. Beer. Seriously! Nice touch, Costa Maya! We actually opted for pop because the day was sooo hot. On the ride back we melted from heat and exhaustion but we were also pleasantly and completely overwhelmed and mesmerized by the incredible history lesson we'd just experienced.

This day was incredible.