Saturday, September 29, 2012

Robin Hood-A Revisitation

First off, thanks to everyone for my B-day wishes! Work made sure it was ruined, but I thank everyone anyway. Here's to hoping for a better one next year.

But the subject of this post is Robin Hood, The Series. I watched this show faithfully and absolutely loved it from it's first airing. It was an amazing show, one that gave me Richard Armitage (which, in itself is an amazing gift!).


But, and there is always a but, because of my impatience, I knew ahead of time what was going to happen at the end of series 2 and it completely ruined the series for me. I stopped watching it before the inevitable happened. Someone eventually told me how the complete series ended and it just strengthened my resolve that I had done the right thing to stop watching it. It was a major sore spot for me for a long time...the thought that they could do what they did to not only an amazing legend, but one of the greatest romances of all time!

I never bought the series on DVD past the first one, but always kept the other two in my Amazon wish list. Once I started buying from Amazon UK, it also found it's way onto that wish list as well. I never could delete it, and every so often, I would find myself checking the price, but it was always way too high on the US Amazon (as is most US versions of UK shows...Doctor Who anyone?). But I eventually forgot about it (although I never removed it from either wish list).

Every once and while, one of the guys would appear on other shows and it would start to nudge that part of me that loved Robin Hood so dearly. Watching both Jonas Armstrong and Keith Allen on The Body Farm reminded me how great they played off of each other. But Lucy Griffiths being on True Blood this season made me realize that enough time had passed and I really didn't hate her anymore, so I began watching the prices on Robin again. The Dutch version, completely packed in a three set, eventually came up at an unbelievable price on Amazon UK, and I just couldn't help myself, so I ordered it, knowing I still probably would never watch it, but I would have it "just in case".

This past week I was craving some Richard I had never seen before and this was all I had. Plus, I really haven't revisited him as Guy of Gisborne since my initial infatuation with him. Normally, once I'm hooked on an actor, I really don't like to see them play bad guys. Richard's ending on Spooks still pisses me off and I still don't believe Lucas North was bad...no matter the obvious. But, when you like an actor, it's hard to buy them as bad, Alan Rickman as Severus Snape in Harry Potter is the ultimate example...how many people can honestly say they hated Severus? You can't, no matter what he did, because it was Alan Rickman and who can hate Alan? If JK Rowling truly wanted people to hate Severus, she would have never of allowed Alan to be cast! But I digress...

So "just in case" happened this past week and I broke down and watched, from beginning to end, the entire three series of Robin Hood. I just finished literally 10 minutes ago, so my emotions are still pretty high, but wow, was I a complete idiot for finishing this series the first time around! You guys know how much I love happy endings, and this series' ending was far from a happy one, but I wasn't completely upset about it either, in fact, it ended exactly the way it should of (and you won't often hear me say that over such an ending).

I am trying to purposely not give particular information away for the sake of not ruining it for anyone else. I made that big mistake already for myself, and I wouldn't want to do the same for anyone else. All I can say is definitely give the entire series a chance. You may have to take a breather after series 2, but you will have to finish it. It is definitely one of the best series to come out in years and I would had no qualms about watching it again!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

OCD Disney Planning 101-Part 7: The Final Details

First up...HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME! Today was my big day! I never work on my Birthday, so this weekend will be when I start packing for Disney! I'm usually more organized than this and have it all done by now, but I think it's because flying takes more preparation and, since we're not flying this time, my prep brain is not working as fast. Flying is a very stressful thing for an Asper and it takes ton of mental prep and considering how work has been the past few months, I don't have the mental juju to get through a flight anyway.

But alas, enough about me, on with the show...You've made it! It's weeks or even days before your trip and you think you're ready...but you'd be wrong. There are some finite details that make the OCD'er not only feel better, but make for a better, more controlled trip.

I spend months loosing weight because my vacation clothes are a smaller size and I usually also spend that time on the treadmill, but I have done a crappy job of that this time. One very important thing you ought to know...I've talked and talked about how big Disney World is, but it never really occurs to anyone (myself included) that a big chunk of that you end up walking on. Even the Magic Kingdom, which one would think is a small park, is deceptively large in size. By day 3 of your trip, you're lucky to be walking without limping or without the aid of prescription drugs! It's painful on your feet, legs, back, your entire body, so please, if you do nothing else, prepare yourself physically!

Since I don't get to the store much, when I do in the months before we go, I always pick up little items for the trip, trial size items and ziploc bags (if we're flying, I put my clothes in them because I can't stand the thought of airport security touching my stuff). I make sure I have enough camera stuff and adequate batteries and chargers for everything (although I do keep most all that stuff from previous years in one location).

I buy coupon holders to use as storage for all the receipts from our trip. Each divider is a day and it makes it really easy to keep track of expenditures and of the resort shipping receipts that you need when you pick up your packages from the gift shop. Plus, it's a great and inexpensive way to store all of those receipts in case you might need them (and I have had to look at old receipts before, so it's not as odd as you might think).

I take all of our info, schedules, dining reservation numbers, hotel information, park hours, Food and Wine Festival information, and Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party information, put it on 4x6 cards and have them bound at Kinkos. We call it our PIB, or Personal Itinerary Book. I also add pages for logging expenditures so I don't go over budget and can tell how much cash I should have left, pages for daily notes and comments, as well as shopping lists, photo ops I don't want to miss, etc. It takes time to create a PIB, but it's just figures and dates. The hardest part is coming up with a cover.

Disney also has a thing called pressed pennies...where you put in two quarters and a penny (of course) and the penny gets pressed into a flat shape with a Disney design on the front and back. There are pressed penny machines all over the park and they are all different. It's been years since I've done this because I had most all of them at one point, but I might consider doing it again. It's a process preparing for though. You have to pick out really pretty pennies or clean up dirty ones. You need enough change (and a great way to keep change is in M&M tubes). Just remember, if you are flying, be really careful with that much change through security! Masses of metal tend to set off the metal detectors and show up on scanners, so prepare to have your bags searched (which is another reason why I quit doing it).

But there is always a monkey wrench in even the perfect schedule...never fails. I ran across mine on Sunday while preparing our PIB. I was doing the routine checks of my schedule against our ressies on the Disney site and all appeared to be fine from a dining aspect, but when I checked the park hours, I was royally screwed! At first I thought I had my dining ressies mixed up and I tried to fix them, but the more I tried to fix, the more I kept loosing, which sent me into uber panic mode. I double checked our Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party tickets and realized I had booked our second party on the wrong day from the schedule (at some point I got my schedules mixed up and have been studying the wrong one. Even OCD's get things mixed up sometimes).

I got the schedule fixed, somehow managed to get my dining ressies straightened out, and got a large chunk of the PIB done. But it was definitely a pretty hairy day! But it's all in a day's work for an OCD'er!

The closer times gets, the more details get checked and rechecked and checked again. Mental prep starts and I get short-timers at work. It's not out of character for the very grumpy pants that is my personality to be completely high-jacked by a humming, singing mutation of me. The day before leaving is crazy and very little sleep is had by anyone, but finally the day arrives, I hug and kiss my little munchkin who gets to stay at home and be babysat by his gran, and hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to Disney World we go!!

And that's how I do it...Disney Planning 101, OCD style. The important points are just research and prep. Being an obsessive planner makes for a better trip and a more prepared mind when it comes to the actual execution of the details. Plus, having something other than the actual trip to obsess about makes time fly by a bit quicker!

Once Upon A Time - Once 101

Keeping in theme with my current blog series, I thought it apropos to share with you this YouTube clip. This Sunday starts the new series of Once Upon A Time, and I, for one, can not wait! It's been a very long time since an American show has gotten (and kept) my attention, but this one certainly has because Once was practically made for me - the perfect combination of romance and drama and most importantly, Disney!

ABC.com has a great introduction to the first series with a few major exclusions(for those that haven't seen the first series...it's out on Blu-Ray and DVD now, go get it!). There is no mention of August/Pinocchio, Ruby/Red Riding Hood, Jefferson/The Mad Hatter, Ashley/Cinderella, asylum patient/Belle, or even the dragon/Maleficent (although Red, Belle, and Maleficent in dragon form do show up in the clip). Considering they are an integral part of the storyline, they definitely could have gotten their appropriate screen time if the narrator didn't ramble so much (or even spoke faster).

But without further ado, for those that don't know (and were maybe curious), I give you Once 101, the first series recap:



Series 2 will bring the introduction of my favorite princess, Sleeping Beauty, as well as my favorite prince, Phillip (although Charming is giving him a run for his money after 42 years of Phillip worship-Josh Dallas is a total hottie and you can't deny his chemistry with Ginnifer Goodwin, it's so obvious these two were gonna end up together in real life too!). But, back to the Sleeping Beauty plot, Phil's travelling companion on his quest to find Aurora happens to be none other than Mulan. Possible love triangle there maybe? They better not screw with my princess and her man!! It's been hard enough dealing with the whole Kathryn/Abigail, daughter of Midas, triangle! But the good news with this storyline is that Maleficent is coming back and more Maleficent is always good! Plus, I'd love to see her Storybrooke counterpart!

On other character fronts, Captain Hook arrives to put a kink in Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin's plans (as well as a love/hate interest for Regina/The Evil Queen-and a possible intro to Peter maybe?), but old Rumple might just be too distracted to care now that he has his Belle back! Jefferson/The Mad Hatter is back for a little Emma interaction (I'm still waiting for the promised return of Graham/The Huntsman, but considering Jennifer Morrison and Sebastian Stan are a rumored real life couple as well, bet we see that relationship blossom, if she can get past his loony side that is!).

Then there will be the introduction of other fairy tale characters like Jack and the Giant, Sir Lancelot, and promised others. And finally, toward the end of the series we are promised Ariel and Jasmine (which also means Jafar and considering how much they kept showing the genie lamp in Mr. Gold's shop, it was apparent that it had more of an importance than Sidney/the Genie/Magic Mirror guy's home away from home!). I've also heard rumors of Chernabog! Wonder what he'd look like in human form!

Supposedly we are gonna learn who Henry's biological dad is (anyone want to put money on Baelfire, Rumple's son?), or maybe it's another character (maybe Peter Pan?), but you can almost bet, it will be a fairy tale character. And speaking of Rumple and Bael, we might just find out who/where Bael is (which makes him the perfect candidate for Henry's dad...he arrived in some world - probably ours - before the curse was even created, so he should be able to leave Storybrooke like August/Pinocchio and Emma, ergo, Emma could have met him anywhere else she ever lived). But then again, she described Henry's dad as immature and fickle...perfect Peter Pan territory...could the secret wife of her baby-daddy be Wendy?).

I'm really hoping for more villains (OK, I'm REALLY hoping for more Maleficent), but I'd like to see Regina/The Evil Queen not be so prevalent, give someone else a chance to be bad! Disney has an enormous bulk of villains to choose from (Hades, Hades, Hades, did I mention Hades?)!

I don't mind the mixing of other fairy tales, but the whole Lancelot storyline bugs me and I'm not sure why yet. Probably like the whole Midas and Siren storylines. For some reason Ruby/Red fits in, but Kathryn/Abigail was always the odd man out. We'll just have to see on that one.

There were storylines left hanging, namely the whole what happened to Ashley/Cinderella's prince/Sean? Who took him by the wishing well? Is he in Regina/The Evil Queen's asylum/dungeon as well? Has the Blue Fairy/Mother Superior known all along who she was, and if so, why didn't she help? Who is Dr. Whale? What happened to Jefferson/The Mad Hatter after Mary Margaret/Snow White pushed him out the window? Did the hat work, and if it did, does that mean that Emma is magical? Will Belle really be able to love Mr. Gold/Rumple or when he does finally find Baelfire, will she fall for Bael instead? Will Kathryn/Abigail get together with her true love now that everyone is awake? How did Snow and Charming overthrow King George and the Evil Queen back in fairy tale land? Now that magic is back, what about August/Pinocchio? Will he go back to being a hunk of live man, a living puppet or is he still a "hunk" of wood in his room at Granny's Inn?

But the biggest question/twist of all...how will Emma deal with the fact that Snow White and Prince Charming are her parents? Will her friendship with Mary Margaret and David be enough to make her forget her horrible parentless upbringing in foster care? And what about Mary Margaret and David? They not only have a daughter the same age they are, but also a 10 year old grandson! And will Emma be able to forgive August/Pinocchio for leaving her in the orphanage in the first place instead of keeping his promise to take care of her?

Confused yet? Trust me, if you've never seen it, the pieces won't start to fall together until the final few episodes, so be prepared for a wild ride and the occasional amazing kiss between Mary Margaret/Snow and David/Charming (Charming sounds so much better than James! Who came up with the prince's names anyway? James for Charming and Thomas for Ella's? Seriously?).

But I do have one major suggestion, bring in Rapunzel and Flynn, but just make sure Zachary Levi plays the Storybrooke Flynn...how cool will that be! And please, oh please, give me some Hades (have I mentioned Hades yet?)!!! Maybe even a touch of Meg (my second favorite Disney "princess") and Hercules! And what about some sidekicks? Almost every villain had a sidekick! Give us Pain and Panic and Iago and Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed!!

Enough for now, I stayed up too late and tomorrow/today is my B-day and I'm gonna do squat all day long! Besides, I could obsess about this show forever! Maybe another Once Upon A Time marathon is in order! Who's with me?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

OCD Disney Planning 101-Part 6: Scheduling

So you've booked your resort package...picked your hotel, ticket and dining options as well as planned your transportation, now you have to sort out a schedule. Disney is not a "fly by the seat of your pants" kind of place (not that any place is so for an OCD).

Parks are open at different times on different days, there is the Extra Magic Hours to consider, if it's during a party night the Magic Kingdom closes at 7 (Mickey's Not So Scary or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas), during the Food and Wine Festival there are special events on specific days. Then there are events in the parks every day, parades, stage shows, and fireworks that happen at specific times. You need to know these things before booking your dining reservations.

The window between when you have to fix your schedule and book your 180 plus 10 dining ressies is very small...the park schedule is released only days before your dining window comes up. This is why the scheduling time is the most stressful part of trip planning. You can use the previous years schedule as a guide until the new hours are released, but you can't count on it. And even when you plan the perfect schedule, booking your dining plans can completely screw you.

There are plenty of online sources that provide menus of the Disney restaurants, so by the time scheduling comes around, you should have a good handle on where you want to eat. Disney is not the kind of place you decide that day where you want to eat, or you will definitely be eating counter service and NOT in a restaurant, they book up months in advance. I don't get it when people say "I won't know what I want to eat until that day, so how can I book 180 + 10 days ahead of schedule?". I don't think of it that way, I think of it as, "Yea! We get to eat at Le Cellier on Tuesday!". It's not like your day to day life where you can get into your local Red Lobster after a 30 minute wait. You have to think of it as you're planning to eat at the most exclusive restaurant that you've waited months to get into.

Thankfully, Disney no longer allows you to book more than one reservation for a particular time slot, they make you cancel one before you book another (and if you somehow manage to sneak under the radar, they will catch it and cancel both). They used to have a very lax system when it came to ressies. People would book two or three ressies for the same time under that same ole pretense, "I don't know where I want to eat that far in advance" with the added moniker of "so I book several places so I have options". Thing about that is, double or triple booking prevents someone else from getting in since there is a limited amount of ressies for any given time. To say this is unfair and rude is an understatement and I'm so glad it's done!

You've done your research, so you know what is going on in every park on every day of your trip, you've picked out your restaurants, and you've bought your party tickets. Your personal schedule WILL fall into place. I usually end up with three or four workable schedules and the outcome of the dining ressies determines which one becomes "the one".

But you still have to keep an eye out on everything, park schedules change, EMH change, and you have to be ready to adapt. Certain dining ressies can be adjusted, but plan carefully and make sure there is an opening before you cancel your current ressie or you might loose both.

Next is just to wait it out till time arrives! There are a couple of pre-trip things that have to be taken care of, but I'll safe that for part 7, the final chapter in this series!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

OCD Disney Planning 101-Part 5: On-site vs Off

I've been saving this post until the end of the initial planning stage for one very particular reason - it encompasses all aspects of the initial planning phase, booking, dining, and transportation.

I'm not a fan of staying off-site. There are way too many perks to on-site guests (which I'll get to shortly). It drives me nuts when people say they stay off-site because it's cheaper. That couldn't be further from the truth! Yes, your actual hotel stay might be cheaper, but the benefits to staying on-site save you so much money, it all works out in the wash. Most people only see the initial costs and don't factor in all the little expenses that occur once you get there, which leads me to these infamous benefits I keep mentioning.

You can safely assume that ticket prices and your meals will be cheaper if you get a resort package, simply because Magic Your Way Packages and dining plans aren't available to non-resort guests (although you can book dining reservations, just not at the 180 plus 10 window that I mentioned before). But it's all the other perks that make it worthwhile.

First up, free parking for resort guests. Parking costs are $14 per day, a 7 night trip, which is 8 days of park time, makes a total of $112 for parking alone! If you haven't driven your own vehicle, then odds are if you're paying parking fees, then you've rented a car. Car rental fees alone are enough to make up the difference in cost for the resorts. Then you have gas, which is always expensive in vacation spots, as well as the fact that most all the major thoroughfares in Orlando are toll roads, and I've just answered my argument!

Automobiles bring up yet another costly topic...time. The time you spend from your hotel on to property and then to the parks is enormous. And oh, the traffic! Let's just say you are not going back to your hotel for lunch or an afternoon nap.

Disney transportation is only for resort guests (although they don't strictly enforce it, like I mentioned before, I have seen people get turned away for not having a resort ID). Besides, riding buses are stressful enough, it makes them down-right murder when they are filled with non-resort guests who shouldn't get the perk and you're either crowded in or forced to wait for the next bus because of it.

Next up, extra magic hours...resort guests get either an extra hour in the morning or an extra three hours in the evening (about to be knocked down to two) in selected parks on selected days. So while the general population is performing a mass exodus from the park, you're still in line for the Haunted Mansion! EMH is one of the best perks for entertainment value! I've seen it play out a hundred times, there is always a non-resort guest demanding to stay in the parks and causing a scene - it's hilarious! At first, Disney set up barricades where you can't get into certain parts of the park without the EMH wristband (which is where most of the non-resort guests get caught) and then, once they are assured the masses have cleared, they really only check it when you're trying to get on rides, but by that point, all the non-resort guests have gone. In Animal Kingdom, three extra hours is the only time you'll ever be able to see the park in darkness, or for Magic Kingdom or Epcot, be there into the next day!

My most favorite perk, package delivery service! We buy a lot of stuff in Disney, in the parks, the stores, other resorts other than our own, and if we had to carry all of it around, our days would be short. But resort guests can have their purchases delivered directly to their resort gift shop the next day (or directly to the park entrance the same day). Oh what a blessing this is! Although the resort gift shop CM's (Cast Members are the official name of Disney employees), might disagree - by the end of our trip, they run like cockroaches in the daylight when they see us coming because of the quantity of packages they have to dig out!

Speaking of shopping, resort guests can also use their room card/park ticket (called a Keys To The World Card) to charge purchases back to their resort...it could be your purchases in a store or even your meal, anything you can purchase, you can charge provided you've allowed charging privileges. Different resort levels also determine how much a day you can charge, with the deluxes (of course) providing the highest level of charging.

There are times when the parks fill up to capacity and have to close. For those still outside waiting to get in, that's a royal pain. But resort guests (although not guaranteed entrance into the park they are in line for) are granted admission to "a" park, whether they have a hopper or not. Non-resort guests are just stuck out.

There are other perks, least of which is being immersed in Disney magic 24/7 or having the quality of service that Disney provides. Only Disney guarantees magic and only they can deliver it. Disney goes above and beyond in every aspect, and like I always say, "if you have a bad time at Disney, it's more than likely your fault and not theirs!".

Once you've booked, scheduling your days comes into play next, because you can't make your dining ressies without it! But that's a post for another day!

Monday, September 24, 2012

OCD Disney Planning 101-Part 4: Transportation

This is gonna be the easiest part of your planning...transportation. How far away you live or how quickly you want to get there will determine your arrival method, be it planes, trains, or automobiles (yeah, I know, that joke is getting old). We usually fly, but this time we are driving. But however you get there, transportation while you're on property is easy...Disney takes care of that for you!

We book airfare pretty early, just because flights to Orlando fill up fast and I want to be guaranteed a seat. I don't do well with the unknown. But, for those more adventurous people, you might get better fares by waiting (or you might end up having to drive).

If you do fly, transportation from the airport comes pretty straight forward as well. You can either rent a car, use a car service, use a taxi (the most expensive option) ,or use Disney's Magical Express, a free (yes, I said free) bus service provided by Disney for resort guests only. They not only deliver you to your resort door, but get your bags from the airport for you and deliver them to your resort by the end of the day.

We don't rent a car because driving in Orlando can be tricky. We don't use the bus service for a completely different reason: I just spent two hours on a plane enclosed in with screaming kids and annoying adults, I sure as heck don't want to be in an enclosed bus with them! At least in Disney it's a wide-open enclosed space!

We use a car service because it's the easiest for someone with my problems. You get off the plane and they are waiting for you at the bottom of the escalator. You grab your bags, sit in your own private environment, and 30 minutes later..."WELCOME HOME!" (what they always say to you when you arrive at Disney). I can't think of a more relaxing way to detox from a plane ride!

Even though we're driving this time, once we get there, it's still Disney transportation. You don't want to be driving yourself around on vacation! On site Disney transportation consists of buses, boats, and monorails, but is only available to resort guests (yes, lots of people use the transportation service that aren't resort guests, but I have seen bus drivers ask for resort passes and seen people turned away because they didn't have one). The monorail system is the only Disney transport not restricted (well, except for the resort line unless you have dining reservations at one of those particular resorts, but they only really enforce this at peak or heavily crowded times).

Transportation is pretty straight forward if you're a resort guest, but if you're not...well, the next post is for you!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

OCD Disney Planning 101-Part 3: Dining

After the last post, you should have a good handle on resorts and tickets (or completely confused by my ramblings, either is a possibility). But this post deals with the subject of the Dining plan and dining reservations, the most nerve racking and exciting part of the booking process!

As the same with the ticket options, there are different levels of dining plans as well, but I'm really only going to discuss two of them (for the simple reason I only have experience with these two); the quick service dining plan and the basic dining plan.

I guess I should first describe the different meal levels (yes, Disney does so love their levels). Snacks, which, believe it or not, consist of a lot of choices from rice crispy treats to Disney cookies (my personal favorite, they are huge and thick and doughy in the middle-perfection!) to Mickey head ice cream treats to chips to soda to donuts to turkey legs, to fresh fruit, to well, you get the point. Then there is quick or counter service, which basically functions like your local fast food joint, but definitely different where the food is concerned! And finally, the table service, which is a sit-down meal in a restaurant.

With the quick service dining plan you get one snack and two counter service meals consisting of an entree or a combo meal, a dessert, and a non-alcoholic drink for each day of your package. The basic dining plan is one snack, one counter service (with the same choices as the quick service) and one table service (buffets are also included in this category) consisting of an entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic drink. Any alcohol or appetizers are out of pocket expenses. Appetizers used to part of the dining plan, but no longer. Frankly, I'd rather have an appetizer than a dessert or have the option to choose one or the other, but it really doesn't affect us...if we want appetizers, we get them and we definitely get the alcohol (ICE WINE!!).

Both plans also include a refillable mug...one of my favorite collectibles from trips and something we always get. For the entire length of your stay, you can use your refillable mug in the food court at your resort (but only there, not in the parks) and get unlimited drink refills. This is also a very controversial item. Originally, the cup was valid forever, but Disney soon changed that and it became only valid for the length of your stay. Some people bring back their mug on their next visit and reuse it (their expired cups, not the forever ones), but we don't nor ever will do since it's stealing and just plain uncool (and Disney can actually ban you for life and that's a stupid reason to be banned). There have been rumors of barcoded cups that you have to scan to fill, and I personally can't wait until this practice comes into play!

But people will be people and, not only do they continue to bring their non-valid cups, but I've heard of them filling bread bags with coke (and I've personally seen someone filling a small milk container). Come on...you've just paid a small fortune to come to WDW, if you didn't get the dining plan, spend the extra $12 and buy a new cup. After a couple of days, the bloody thing has paid for itself! Every single time I hear, "we're paying a fortune for this trip, it doesn't hurt Disney if we do...blaa", it makes me cringe. OK, yes, you are paying a fortune to be there, but there is no place in the world like Disney, so you are definitely getting your money's worth.

But more importantly, what lessons are you teaching your kids? "Honey, mommy and daddy say it's OK to steal soda because we've given Disney enough money already". Yeah, and when your kid gets nicked for stealing candy bars from the grocery store because "you've given the grocery enough money already" by buying a ton of groceries, don't go blaming anybody but yourself! While I'm on the rant, same goes with cutting line on rides, pushing people out of the way who have been waiting a lot longer than you for the parades just because you have a kid and they don't (little Johnny can look at the back the entire parade, I paid my money just like you did and just because he's a kid doesn't make him more entitled to see Donald than me - Disney isn't just for kids and saying so might just get you hit, get their earlier next time and wait like the rest of us), leaving your trash all over the tables when you're done eating for someone else to clean up, or just basically being rude all 'round. People wonder why their kids are satan spawn...hmm, don't look in the mirror much?

But alas, I'm digressing...normally, we choose the basic plan, but the quick service plan comes into play for one very specific reason - time restraints. Dining reservations are made 180 days before your trip arrival. Disney resort guests get to book an additional 10 days early (one of the many perks to staying on site, which I'll address in the next post). But there is one major caveat to table service meals...getting reservations. Some table service restaurants are very hard to get into, even if you are either online or on the phone exactly at opening time. If I don't have the time to book reservations, then I always go for the counter service plan. Table service without LeCellier just isn't worth it!

There are certain times of the year that Disney offers free dining and it definitely can save you lots of money, but keep in mind that it also tends to fill WDW up with tons of people, even in the off seasons. People do so love free food!

Now, when you choose a plan, you get credits for each night of your stay, so if you're staying 7 nights, that's 7 snacks and 14 counter service credits for the quick service plan and 7 snacks, 7 counter service, and 7 table service credits on the basic plan. But some table service restaurants are what is called a "Signature Dining Experience" basically meaning they take two credits instead of one. For example, at least three of the restaurants we are eating at next month are Signatures, leaving us with only 1 credit a piece if we use them all up on the Signatures, but there are ways around this (quite legal, I assure you). Disney doesn't restrict what time of day you use what credits, so making a Signature for lunch and not using the credits for that meal at all means you have two additional credits for another day. A table service at lunch time is always cheaper than dinner time and basically has most of the same food choices. Using it for lunch often makes it affordable to just pay for it with cash. You can use your counter service credit for dinner time, which in the case of Magic Kingdom, works out brilliantly (taco salad from Pecos Bills anyone?). Plus, there is always one night we don't eat a table service meal, so it all works out with very little out of pocket expense.

But, in the end, not getting the dining plan is also one of those big mistakes that can cost you. Although it goes up in cost every year, right now the quick service plan is about $35 and the basic plan is about $52. Considering the average counter service meal is about $15-$20 and the average table service is $60-$120, having the plan pays for itself very quickly! There are no limitations to menu choices using the dining plan, so if the restaurant has lobster, then it's covered! You could have lobster and your table-mate can have a salad and you've both paid the same price, one credit!

Once your trip is booked, the next big step before actually making your reservations is making your schedule, which determines what meals you eat where on what days, but there is one more booking step ahead before we can get to scheduling...transportation. But that's for part 4!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

OCD Disney Planning 101-Part 2: Booking

Here we go with part 2 of my Disney planning series...
Once you’ve got your dates in mind, the next step is to book your trip. First step is your Disney World package, then depending on where you live, you have to decide how to get there, either by planes, trains, or automobiles which will also affect how you get around not only Orlando, but also inside WDW. But one step at a time…let’s start with the WDW portion of your trip.

There are several ways you can go about booking a Disney trip, either online, through the phone to Disney central reservations, or through a travel agent (although I don’t get using a travel agent…why pay extra to have someone do the same job you can do yourself with a bit of research-Disney doesn’t offer very many discounts privately that they don’t offer publically, the travel agents just know what they all are (as could you with that magical tool called research!). And what are websites like Travelocity or Expedia but online travel agents?

We book directly through Disney because it makes it very easy for an OCD to go online several times a day to check to make sure everything is OK (well, except for the two hours a night that Disney’s website is down for maintenance that is). You can also buy special event tickets and book your dining reservations online (again, which we’ll discuss later) and they are all tied to your package reservation (making it even easier to stalk your booking).

You can book either a package or book the individual components separately (your resort, park tickets, and dining options). Frankly, unless you’re a Florida passholder or an annual passholder, I don’t know why you’d want to book separately, and even they have package options. It would be almost insane not to book everything ahead, the longer you stay the cheaper it gets and if you buy your tickets on a day to day basis at the park gates you're paying full price, and that's just plain silly! The base park ticket for one day is $95, after 7 days you've hit $665 (more expensive than the price of an annual pass), but for a 7 day package ticket it's about $307, that's a savings of $358 (at least 30 pins or a big fig or 10 to 15 T-shirts...in other words, major shopping dough!).

The first thing you'll need to do is to pick is the level of resort. I’ve discussed the different levels and quantity of resorts before (oh, BTW, resorts are what WDW calls their hotels and motels because they are so much more – they are worlds upon themselves). But I’ll give a short recap – you have five levels of resort and each has their own theming: the deluxes (10 in all) with theming based on the lodges of the Pacific Northwest (hmm, wonder why I started with that one) or Hawaii with all it’s flora and fauna (and don’t forget Merriweather-take your time on that one), and the list goes on and on; then there are the moderates (5 of these including the cabins at Fort Wilderness), with their islands of the Caribbean and the French Quarter of New Orleans; the next level is the DVC’s (Disney's answer to timeshares) and are located adjacent to the deluxes sharing their themes, but some have their own theming like the old town of Key West; the values with their very scary over-sized outdoor theming based on movies, music, or sports or pop culture through the decades, or even the newest resort based on the new classics of Disney/Pixar movies; and finally, you have the campground at Fort Wilderness.

We do typically stay deluxe for many different reasons, the least of which being the fact that there are fewer children there. Yes, I know it's inevitable to run into children at Disney, but you don't have to swim in them! Plus, deluxes are hotels instead of motels like moderates or values, so there is that whole comfort level of being indoors (and not having to hear tons of little feet running up and down the walkways outside at all hours of the night screaming and hollering - which always happens!). I'd rather pay for a higher level of resort and go less, than deal with the chaos that is the values! Moderates are tolerable, less kids than values, more than the deluxes, but there is still that walkway issue. I may be poor, but I do have social issues and first and foremost is making sure I can deal with my surroundings, or the trip is ruined, and money wasted anyway, so best to just be on the safe side. Besides, I have been by myself a couple of times, and I feel that the indoors of the deluxes makes for a safer environment than the outdoor resorts (which is why I choose Wilderness Lodge since it's one single building and no external ones to half to walk to and fro from - not including the fact that I have a horrible sense of direction and always get lost trying to find my building at the other resorts).

Next up will be ticket levels. The Base Magic Your Way ticket is where you start. Then you’ve got to decide the add-ons. The first choice is the Park Hopper option, which is really the most important. The ability to go to the Magic Kingdom in the morning and Epcot for dinner in the evening is almost a must (frankly because the table service restaurants in MK are all pretty much character meals), but that is not the only reason to get a hopper...Animal Kingdom is not a full day park, and even if you manage to stay all day long, it still closes at 5 pm, you need to be able to hop to another park or you’re wasting an entire evening of your trip (although you could spend the night shopping at Downtown Disney-but I don't recommend going there at night unless you like tons of people (it's always better to go Downtown in the morning). Or if you don’t finish in Epcot one day (well, actually you need at least 2 to 3 days for Epcot as you do in the Magic Kingdom), you can go the next morning and then finish up the day in another park like the Disney Studios (which really isn’t a full day park either, but you definitely want to be there in the evening…a reason we’ll discuss later in another post).

The other add-on is the Water Park Fun and More option. We personally don’t go to the water parks and the “more” part is golfing, Disney Quest (the worst example of Disney not taking care of their property), and Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex (where certain major league ball teams do their spring training, and even sometimes, someone’s favorite footie team!). We don’t use this option and we never add it. Unless you are planning to spend half your trip in the water parks, it's just cheaper to buy a one day ticket to them, Disney Quest is best left alone, and the Wide World of Sports are usually only frequented by those on specific reasons, like training or competitions.

After the ticket options, is the dining add-on, but let’s save that for another post because it's a life onto itself!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

OCD Disney Planning 101-Part 1: When

Hopefully with this series I will be giving you an idea of what it's like to plan a Disney trip in the only way I know how, with gift of OCD. There are many levels of OCD, my particular brand leans very heavily on the obsessive side and not so much on the compulsive side (although I do have my moments), but needless to say, it makes for great planning! But my social issues wreak havoc and play a huge part in planning as well. But as Buck from the Country Bears says, "hey Henry, lets get on with the show"!

It never ceases to amaze me how people don't do research on this particular vacation destination. You wouldn't go to Europe or even new York without planning. I've discussed in the past how huge Disney World (or WDW for short) actually is, and considering it's twice the size of Manhattan, one would think a little bit of planning would be in order. But a lot of newbies make the mistake of thinking of Disney as their local amusement park, in need of no prethought, and it certainly is NOT an amusement park. One visit will cure that misconception, but for a lot of folks, that first goof is enough to keep them from trying again (and I've known several).

I've heard it all from "certain rides were closed" - which happens for refurbishment and are almost always announced months or weeks in advance. WDW is one of the few places I've been to that actually takes care of their "show" and keeping the rides in working order and the exteriors looking new and freshly painted are a priority. Plus, drop a piece of paper on the ground and see how quickly someone shows up to pick it up...it's kind of freaky!

"There were way too many people there and the lines were too long", well, yeah, if you go in the middle of July or at Christmas, expect wall to wall people anywhere, not just WDW. And it's sister complaint, "it was way too hot to have any fun". Yeah, go in the middle of August through September and see how hot "hot" actually is. It's central Florida and they are not immune to hurricane season. Plus the humidity can be high even in February (even if the mornings are freezing).

One of my faves, "we couldn't get in any restaurants to eat and had to eat hamburgers for a week". Well, if they had planned, they'd know you have to make your ressies 180 days out and even then, some restaurants are extremely difficult to get into. Which brings up another sister point, "everything was just so expensive!". Yes, you may pay $10 for a hamburger, but it's a big frickin burger! I will say this a lot, you get what you pay for at WDW.

The first decision to be made is when to go. Preferably, I need almost a year to plan and we pretty much prefer to go at Halloween time anyway. That makes planning pretty cut and dry for us. But for those that haven't been, it's a lot more complicated than that. Each season has a different event; spring has the Epcot Flower And Garden Festival, early summer has Star Wars Weekends, late summer has the Sounds Like Summer Concert series, fall brings the Epcot Food And Wine Festival and Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, and then the holidays brings Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party and the Osborne Festival Of Lights. Those are just the main events, but there are numerous others, from golf tournaments to concerts to marathons to spring training for certain big-name teams...you name it, WDW has it! You just have to decide what you're interested in and plan around that.

Or, if none of these appeal to you, you can always plan during an off-season...but planning is a definite must, because while by Disney standards it's an off-season, it doesn't mean that it's off-season for other groups who like to go in the slower seasons, from the "notorious" foreign tour groups (known for all kinds of hijinx-I've witnessed it myself and I avoid them like the plague) to the numerous band, cheerleading, and sports groups (encountered those too-too many teenagers together is never a good thing), to Gay Days (which never ceases to frighten the homophobes into coming out in droves to complain online-had they've planned, they'd known). You need to be aware of what is happening during the time you are planning and schedule accordingly...the fate of a happy trip rests on it! Decide what you can tolerate and move on from there.

Play around with your dates a bit, you could get cheaper packages from Disney or airfare by just adjusting your dates by one day. WDW weekend rates are higher than weekday rates. Holiday or peak season rates are also higher than lower season rates or off months like January or February. Sunday is typically the most expensive day to fly with Monday, Friday, and Saturday being the busiest. We typically start our trip on a Tuesday or Wednesday and end on a Thursday...best way to avoid the rush and only allows for one weekend of higher rates.

You can use the Disney World website to get some ideas of potential dates and even save offers for several days until you make your decision. Airline websites will pretty much do the same. Sites like Travelocity or Expedia won't really give you a good offer off the bat unless you are willing to book right then, and you have to put up with the tons of pushing they do.

But I can't stress enough...RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH! There are numerous Disney websites out there - AllEars, WDW Magic, Orlando Theme Park News, mousesavers.com, to even the official Disney blog itself is gonna give you tons of information. I have a love/hate relationship with the DisBoards, and I'm always a bit hesitant to direct people there, but in the short term, you can find out tons of info (just don't get yourself caught up in all their drama). There are tons of other websites, some less accurate than others, but you'll soon be navigating through them like a pro!

Then there are the books...I don't buy them anymore, other than the precious Birbaum's Official Walt Disney World Guide (which is more of a collectors item than a true learning tool), but the best book is The Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World.

You've also got tons of podcasts, from WDW Today - with Len Testa (a co-author of the Unofficial Guide) to Mike Newell of MouseWorld Radio (to get you in the Disney mood) to Mike Scopa, a blog writer for allears.net, and Matt Hochberg, from Studios Central and brilliant host (as well as a total hottie!). Then there is the genius that is Lou Mongello at WDW Radio, who is also a co-author of an absolutely gorgeous Disney magazine called "Celebrations", as well as the author of The Walt Disney World Trivia books.

But that's about it for the first stage. Next up, what to do once you know when you wanna go.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Updates, IHSW, & TUSAL

Here we go with a combo post, frankly because I'm too lazy to split these up.

I'm two weeks into my new job and I have yet to work less than a 12 hour day (so NOT according to plan). But boy has EVERYTHING changed! I'm even more stressed out now, but it is such a good kind of stress! I leave everyday with such a sense of accomplishment! I also haven't had a headache in two weeks (and yes, I'm sure I just jinxed myself).

It hasn't been all wine and roses though. My old co-worker took on the transcription part of my job, she's doing it all by herself now. Problem with that is, when she's off, I still have to cover her. Needless to say, she was off last Thursday and Friday and it made for some incredibly hairy moments. It was even way too much for me and I snapped at people who kept bothering me (alot apparently, I heard my name and "bitch" mentioned in the same sentence quite a few times...gotta love the supersonic hearing and heightened senses that comes with Asperger's!).

But all the trauma of the past couple of days managed to scale me over a giant wall I've been ramming my head against for the past couple of weeks. I've been bogged down by this feeling of something akin to guilt by the fact that the docs didn't hire someone to try to replace me, they just divided all my other work up between several others. I've watched these people becoming more and more stressed as the days have gone by, especially since they keep insisting on coming into my new pretty office to dump their crap about how horrible work is for them now, how A is doing more work than B, it's all my fault because I took on too much responsibility in the first place, yada yada yada...blaa blaa blaa.

I may have been "rude" (someone else's word, not mine) to people both Thursday and Friday (but that's nothing new so why it was surprising I have no clue), but the utter lack of respect I was shown just made me see that all this "emotion" I've been feeling (be it guilt or something else) has been wasted on those that don't deserve it. They whine and bitch and blame, but still expect me to do the double-load and manage their lives at the same time. Suck it up and take it people...you are many, I was one and I handled everything just fine all by myself for not only the past two work days, but for the past 17 years. The only thing I feel now is sorry for the next co-worker that comes into my office to whine!

Oh, and P.S., when you piss me off, don't come into my office 10 minutes later to tell me how mean I was and expect me to be all calm and rational and apologize. I won't be over it in 10 days, let alone 10 minutes and, after all this time, these people should know that. What part of "leave me the fuck alone so I can get this mountain of work done" wasn't clear the first 5 times I told them? Expect on time 6 to get a new asshole chewed! If you don't respect me, how in the hell do you expect me to respect you by being civil?

On the diet front, I also really haven't lost any more weight in the past couple of weeks, but we've had all kinds of food events at work and I still haven't had the time to exercise. Come hell or high water tho, tomorrow I'm gettin on the bloody treadmill!!

On the International Hermit And Stitch weekend front...gosh am I completely ashamed! I stitched through about two episodes of Downton Abbey tonight and that's all! It's definitely my worst IHSW yet. But when you are working on a project you're not really into (especially one you have already done once), it's hard to keep at it. I'd like to say I accomplished a ton of other stuff instead, but that would be a lie. I played apps all day Saturday while finishing up series 3 of the Vampire Diaries, and today T and I went and saw Nemo in 3-D. But here is the sad fruits of my non-productive labor:
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As far as my Tusal goes, I can't remember what last month's looked like, so if this one was different, I would be surprised. But here it is anyway, placed on the free framed pin set I got from buying a Disney gift card:
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I have managed to get caught up on everyone's blogs (although I didn't post comments because I have been reading for several hours and I'm a pooped pup). These new work hours suck! Normally this time of night I'd normally still be at work, only to come home in a couple of hours and stitch like crazy till the sun came up. Now, I'm nodding off as I'm typing. How people get up in the morning to go to work will always baffle me. Give me a night shift anytime!

And that's about it for now! I am determined to start my new Disney OCD planning series next week (along with my own preparations for my October trip, which I am ashamedly behind on). We'll see how it all goes! Let's just hope I managed to make enough people hate me last week that I'm finally left alone this week! Hate is an emotion they can throw at me all day long, I can just put up the walls and shut them down completely. It's the easiest energy to block (love being the hardest). They are just spoiling their own vibe by filling it with useless negativity.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Book review

It's been forever since I've done a book review, probably because it's been forever since I've actually had a chance to read a book, but I really wanted to review this one because it really left an impression on me and that is no small feat!


I've read dozens of Jane Austen fan fiction-type books and absolutely love them, particularly either the modern day retellings or the ones where the modern people get transported to the Austen era (although not so much the so-called sequels...those tend to tread too much on the original novels toes).

There is a TV miniseries that I absolutely love called Lost In Austen which is the story of a girl completely obsessed with Pride & Prejudice and ends up swapping places with Elizabeth Bennet (not really Amanda's choice and she tries numerous times to get back only to be thwarted by a very quickly-adapting to modern times Lizzie). Although Amanda tries not to mess the storyline up, she ends up completely altering everything...Jane ends up married to Collins, Bingley runs off with Lydia, Wickham is a misunderstood hero (and pretty darn hot too), and, worst of all, she not only ends up falling for Darcy, but he ends up falling for her as well (after he gets over hating her that is).

But I never knew there were fictions about North & South, let alone bothered to even look for them. I ran across What You Wish For from Catherine Winchester and knew I just had to have it...a North & South version of Lost In Austen, what's not to love! The quality of the actual book wasn't so great, it almost looks self-published and the editing was atrocious, but that didn't seem to matter much. And I really wonder if they got Richard Armitage's permission to use his likeness on the cover (it's pretty obvious it's him, even with the artistic effects).

The basic premise is a girl named Carrie gets left a magical pair of earrings from her deceased aunt. In a "woe is me" moment, while wearing the earrings, she ends up wishing she could find a guy like Thornton, only to wake up the next morning transported to the Hale's door in Helston a couple of weeks before they leave for Milton. Carrie also tries to keep from messing up the story, but ends up falling for Thornton just as he does her, but their ending isn't as quickly a happy one (although she finally does stop fighting her feelings). Instead of swapping places with Margaret, they become like sisters, and Carrie actually follows in Margaret's footsteps from the original novel.

Because of this book, I'm definitely gonna start looking for more North & South fictions! I'd really like to see this in film as well, but unlike Darcy, there is only one John Thorton and that is Richard Armitage, so unless they can cast him, I think I'll have to pass!

I survived day 1!

I had a solid working day (although it was a day of reorganizing instead of actual projects) and came home totally pooped!! I still cleared a good 10 hours and I'm having a lot of trouble controlling myself from running everything. Don't even get me started on the guilt I'm feeling about all my old jobs being dumped on others - but I've really got to learn to let things go. But, oh my Donald Duck! How lovely it is to have my own quiet private office!!!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Good news, bad news

First off, thanks so much everyone for your kind words about my blogoversary! And everyone watch Kate's blogs, because her blogoversary is very soon!

Well, on to the news...I am the new IT Manager of my lab! Not bad for an art major drop-out! I opened a bottle of wine to celebrate, but I didn't open a good one because the celebration is not a big one.

My predecessor is gone, I've moved offices and I am settled enough to start work on Tuesday at...ugh...9 am. At least I'm not sharing an office anymore and I have complete control of my own world instead of dipping my toe in every other department. For the first time in my entire career there, I actually feel like I'm making a difference, and it's a pretty good feeling!

But, and there is always a but, they put me on salary, so even though I got a little raise, I will be making a lot less money because I won't be getting the massive overtime or shift diff, and I have to go to the training course in December instead of waiting until next year.

On the plus side of the negative, I won't be working as many hours (hopefully, or we're gonna have to have a discussion about the salary situation) and I got to pick the location of the training course (so you can only guess which city I picked...Orlando, of course!).

I did my last transcription tonight (hopefully for a while, but I still have to cover my co-worker when she's off, so that could be an issue), I also did my last cytology prep ever, and I never have to cover histology at night again (not to mention the nine million duties I do that no one even realizes...they just think that house gnomes come in at night and do them I guess). They haven't decided on adequate cover for any of my old jobs, but that's not my problem anymore. I've made myself sick enough worrying about it and I just can't do it anymore. I have a new job and new responsibilities to worry about now (and I will keep repeating that until I believe it!).

On the subject of the training course, I am more than a bit freaked out. Sure, I've been to Disney by myself before, but I have never rented a car or driven from the airport to the resort on my own (or with anyone else for that matter, we always use a car service and use Disney transportation once we get there). Unfortunately, Orlando is a pretty spread out city and the distance from the airport to the resort to the training college are just way too far apart to count on taxis or a car service (not to mention the large quantity of toll roads). I had already planned to up my tickets in October to an annual pass so that I could start making long weekend trips after I got my new vehicle and that will cover the park ticket part of the trip. The lab is paying for airfare, car rental, hotel, and meals for the course dates, so if I stay any longer, any extra expenses come out of my pocket (which will be painful so soon after the October trip), but I can't imagine not doing so. I have to do a lot of research this weekend to at least come up with a base schedule.

They said we could re-evaluate the salary situation in 3 to 6 months, so you can bet I'll be asking for a big raise (especially after the training course!). I wish I could say that I have been spending the extra money I have been making wisely (or even saving it), but I can't...it's just not in my nature! I come from shoppin-type folk, we are all the same. Sometimes I wish I had a significant other to share the burden of the living expenses (not to mention to share my life with), but I never was the sharing type! Besides, I can't take it with me when I go, so I might as well enjoy it now!

I'm just really looking forward to just having more time to enjoy life. I just hope I'm not making a huge mistake!!