Lotsa Lights. And possibly Gandhi.

I only had the 50mm on the cropped sensor camera… so getting the full scope of these lights was a challenge.  The Osbourne family made themselves supremely unpopular with their neighbors for the abundant light displays they put up each holiday season… so Disney brought it down to Hollywood Studios.  And added a few gazillion more lights, just cuz.

The overwhelming exhibit was pretty cool.  Also?  It snows.  Resist the urge to taste it.

But one question.  That last picture.  Who are those figures?  Best we could come up with was Gandhi, providing sage advice to the Power Rangers.

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Walt Disney World 101, The Introduction.

I grew up going to Disney by virtue of having employees of The Mouse in my immediate family, so I have no idea what it is like to not have had the experience of the Walt Disney World parks.  I can imagine that without the foundational knowledge and memories of The World that I would be hesitant to try it out.  For one, it’s expensive.  For another, the ‘classic’ stories irk me a bit (although after seeing “Enchanted,” I now adore Snow White because she is so utterly ridiculous.)  But mostly, I would have guessed that the environment was too perky, that it reflected some strange 1950s family perfection, and was just too American white-bread for me to handle.

Ultimately, this would have be a shame because I would have let my impressions rule my judgment.  I would have missed out on quite a lot.  Disney is a wonderful, amazing experience… even for cranky academic curmudgeons who have suburban allergies and an affinity for bargain travel in lesser-developed countries.

Here’s the deal.  Disney does entertainment – parades, fireworks, attractions, special effects, you name it – better than anyone.  Going to one of the Disney parks isn’t like going to a mid-way carnival or amusement park.  It’s a theme park – and excellently and uniquely themed – so that each and every experience is distinct.  It sounds completely cheesy, so very cheesy that it hurts to say it, but there is a magic to being here.  And with small children?  Well, it’s even more magical.

That said, unless you’ve got money to burn, time to waste, and absolutely no care in the world – you are going to need some help to visit this place.  It’s unfortunate because Walt Disney adored families and envisioned these parks as places that celebrated them.   But the reality is that travel and entertainment are a considerable expense and as a result, can be stressful for families.  Planning is the way to mediate that stress and expense.

I’ve given advice about the parks for years, but will start posting more specifically here.  Please feel free to send questions.  As much as I love the entertainment potential in public melt-downs, we do use some tricks to keep things… like costs, time, and tempers… under control.  Stay tuned.


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New Orleans Inspiration …

… parade, riverboat, friends, food and fun …

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View. And notes.

View of EPCOT Illuminations, from Boardwalk Villas, at 1/2 second exposure because I didn’t set up the tripod.  I came inside to check on the kids before the finale.  MENTAL NOTE: have tripod ready before 9pm and WAIT!


And notes.  So I don’t forget.

– Boardwalk is an incredibly short walk from EPCOT International Entrance, which is very very very uncrowded, uncomplicated, and easy.  Walk to Hollywood Studios is further… we’ll check it out later in the week.

– The boat ride is fun and quick, but it’s faster to walk if you need to wait for the boat.  The walk is wonderfully scenic and peaceful, too.

– There are no stroller rentals at this entrance.

– Self-parking is in Georgia.  Best option is to use bell hop to bring up your bags when the room is ready.  NOTE: you must be in the room to receive the bags, they won’t just put them in the room for you, like they do with Magical Express.

– If it’s during a peak season, you probably won’t get your room before 4pm.

– Renting points for DVC is simply unbeatable.

– Only rent an actual Disney stroller on days when you’re getting them first thing in the morning.  Otherwise, find someone about to return theirs and offer them a few bucks for it.  It makes them some money and saves you money for the best strollers on the planet.  If you need a stroller outside of the park, consider www.magicalstrollers.com

– If you have a boardwalk view, the further from the Epcot entrance you are, the better your view of Illuminations will be.

– There is no zero entry in the Luna Park pool.

– Jiko is an absolutely fantastic dining experience.  The Cauliflower Soup was surprising and full of great flavor.  We’re so proud that the kids tried different African foods.  BONUS: staff signed a birthday card for Will in several different languages common in Southern African countries — Afrikaans, Swahili, and others (Oshiwambo, Khoekhoe, German) reflecting the nationality of the staff (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa).

– Jambo House at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is like a museum with a fantastic collection of African art and history.

We are having a fantastic time!


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Decompressing. Visiting my happy place.

Today ended a long string of events that spanned over our lives since September.  Conferences, weekend workshops, meetings, travel, presentations, deadlines.  Today’s event was a Children’s Health Fair at the Louisiana Children’s Museum that was coordinated by the New Orleans Schweitzer Fellows.  This incredible group of allied health graduate students organized nearly 20 local agencies to attend — and had everything from dental health games to human body education dolls (think learning about how we’re all the same *inside*) to therapeutic miniature horses used in treatment with the chronically ill.  They did this while continuing community service projects (the core focus of their Fellowship responsibilities) and their ‘normal’ course/rotation/lab schedule.  It was a good way to end this string of non-stop events because it was inspiring and encouraging.

Things aren’t stopping here.  I’ve got a weekend meeting retreat to plan, sites to visit, reports to review and comment on, photography exhibit layout work, and nonprofit management type business to attend to.   Once I get ahead on these things, I’ll be able to turn back to the dissertation.  But this all seems more feasible with the ‘big’ dates behind us.

I’m catching my breath.  And enjoying the memory of how happy the kids were this morning at the Crystal Palace.

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Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

When I was a kid and my Grandparents worked for Disney, we were incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to spend summers with them.  In the many, many times I’ve visited the parks, I had never been there for the fall and winter holidays.

When we went last spring during Mardi Gras, we decided to try to go during the kids’ fall break.  Lucky for us, the break coordinated with the Magic Kingdom’s Halloween celebration.  The park was beautifully decorated.  Even cast member costumes held subtle changes to reflect the fall season.

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The party is after-hours — and features special parade, fireworks, character greetings, dance parties, and trick-or-treating.  Costumes are encouraged.

Like we could say no to that!

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Take a moment of pause at my 5-year old sweetheart above, who DRESSED AS A WHITE RABBIT to support his sister’s costume.  Also?  He made his own clock.  And?  Let me draw a nose and whiskers.  I couldn’t stop looking at him all night, thinking that this is probably the last time he’ll willing put ears on his head.

Kate was over the moon.

It took a few seconds for folks in the crowd to take in our whole ensemble.  But when they did, we heard many, many compliments.  The kids were thrilled.

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We took a prime spot in the front of Cinderella’s castle for the Villian’s show (they take over the night) parade (featuring the Villians taking over Main Street) and then the Fireworks!

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See Paul and the kids below?

For the record, Disney parades are truly a spectacle.

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The fireworks, too, are amazing.  Some of the best (if not the best) I’ve ever seen.  (Including the 4th of July fireworks on the Mall in DC.)  I thought that this display was outstanding.  I loved the images flying up the castle, the music, and surprises of fireworks not only behind the castle, but coming up around Main Street — lighting up the entire park for a few seconds.

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We rode a few rides, too — including Alice’s Tea Cups (of course).  When we stumbled off the tea cups (the kids went crazy on that spinning), we ran smack into our dopplegangers!

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The Tweedles spent quite a bit of time playing with our caps, spinning the propellers, and straightening our ties before insisting on several different posed shots with us.  Cute, very very cute.

What a fantastic time to visit the Magic Kingdom!

Happy Halloween!

Family Photos

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In the WORLD.

As if we couldn’t find enough to do with the bazillion jobs, conferences, deadlines, dissertation drafts, broken bones, lingering illnesses, and all the rest… we decided to hold true to our intents from last spring and go to THE WORLD for the kids fall break (6 school days off).

We are having such a fantastic time that we may never come back. Maybe I’m spending too much time with princesses, but I’m beginning to believe reality is over-rated.

Just ask Will. He is SOOOO not ready for reality.

Twenty bucks says that by the time we go home, this 25 second encounter with Darth Vader will have morphed into 3 hours of non-stop battling, include a few hundred more storm troopers, and occur in some remote frozen land. But really, who can blame him?

Mi Familia
Special Family Moments

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