Religious Orders

Random Reflections of Disney

Posted: Saturday December 19 2009 @ 2:42pm

Religious Order: Travel

Just got back from a few days at Disney World. Here are a bunch of random thoughts in mostly random order:

There's a ton of cleavage on display at the parks. I'm not talking skimpy, per se. (One bonus of going to Busch Gardens in the hot Virginia summer is seeing all the teenage girls in short-shorts and skimpy tops.) I'm talking plunging necklines. And not just on teens. Women of all ages, and I do mean all ages, are pushing those puppies out for public view. I don't mind this, of course. Who doesn't love boobs? I just think it's weird that many women decide to show off that much boobage at a family-oriented park.

There are also a number of folks with religious-themed shirts. And they're free to do that, of course. But I actually take some care to avoid wearing anything controversial to family parks. We're all there to enjoy the park, not to make statements. I guess part of it is that religious folks are particularly bad at viewing their beliefs as ever being controversial.

Tangentially related, jeez, we're become a fat nation. And I say that as a fat person. We're heading towards a health crisis of Biblical proportions. I always wonder when I see really fat folks on scooters whether they got hurt, couldn't walk, and then got fat due to inactivity, or whether they just got so fat they couldn't walk.

I have 30 pounds to go to my goal weight. I bought myself my favorite Norwegian chocolate bar at Epcot. Its expiration date is 6 months away. So I have 6 months to drop the 30 or I'll have to toss that luscious luscious Firklover. It's called incentive.

There were an unusual number of ride breakdowns. Space Mountain had a car stuck on the lift hill. Pirates of the Caribbean was down for part of a morning. Spaceship Earth similarly was down for part of a morning. The Tower of Terror was down to one elevator for an evening. Sure, rides are going to break down, but this seemed like an unusually large number for a short visit. On the plus side, we scored a glimpse inside Space Mountain with the lights on.

Space Mountain with the lights on is both intriguing and disappointing. On one hand, it's neat to see behind the scenes. On the other hand, Space Mountain is really just a mad-mouse-style coaster in a big-ass building with fancy lights.

Food in the Magic Kingdom is simply awful. Like everything in the parks, it's hideously expensive. But it's also just plain awful. It's all fried crap.

Disney's Magical Express is indeed pretty damn magical. You check your bags at your departing airport and they just show up in your room. At the end of the trip, you check them at the resort early in the day and they just show up at the airport when your land. If you don't plan on leaving Disney property, it's great.

The Osborne Family Xmas light show at Hollywood Studios is an exercise in quantity over quality.

If they don't want you to rock the gliders in Soarin', then why do they rock? At least put up a sign instead of waiting until after I have it rocking to scold me over the PA system. That just makes me feel bad. (I'm talking about after the ride is loaded but before it starts. And, yes, my wife warned me to stop mere moments before the announcement.)

Why is the Haunted Mansion soundtrack CD only available outside the attraction, where it sits in the sun each day, introducing errors due to expansion/contraction cycles?

Why doesn't the Norway Pavilion list waffles on the menu? They're shown in the case, but not on the displayed menu. If you ever go, order the waffles. They're delicious and more ubiquitous in Norway than lefse.

Speaking of Norway, are they ever going to update the movie? Canada updated its movie. Granted France and China are showing old movies, too. But their movies are big-ass Circle-Vision movies and Norway's is just a plain old movie. Honestly, I could just make them a new one using photos from our trip last summer.

What is the deal with idiots and flash photography? First of all, they tell you on every goddamn dark ride to not do it. Second, the photos probably won't turn out anyway. Third, even if they turn out, the photo won't look cool because the stuff only looks cool when properly lit. Finally, you're fucking with my ride experience! I think it should be fully legal to grab the cameras off these idiots and smash them to pieces. (I'm not yet certain whether the them being smashed refers to the cameras or the idiots themselves.)

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Posted: Thursday June 11 2009 @ 12:41pm

Religious Order: Travel

Just got back from a short trip to Ottawa, the capital of Canada. It's a nice place.

Things I Liked About Ottawa

  1. Ottawa is in that part of Canada that takes bilingualism seriously. (As opposed to the aggressive monolingualism distressingly common in the US.) Everything is in both English and French. It's just cool to see and lets me brush up a little on my French. (My French is even worse than my Norwegian, but better than my Hungarian.) And it's not just for show. About a third of the folks with which I dealt were French speakers. (Of course, they spoke in English for my benefit.)
  2. Ottawa's architecture for their main government buildings is a nice contrast to Washington DC. Instead of big-ass granite buildings fronted by ranks of phallic columns, Ottawa's buildings are done in a Gothic Revival style. They're impressive without being imposing. Granted, the Peace Tower juts up phallically, but it has nothing on our National Phallus, phallically speaking. (I'll be interested in the ads generated by the frequent use of phallus-related terminology. At least I didn't say penis. PENIS PENIS PENIS! (That's an in-joke for anyone in my High School health class.))
  3. I can get to Ottawa in about 4 hours, including layover time. Hell, it takes me nearly that long to drive to DC.
  4. When you return to the US, you go through Customs and Passport Control in Ottawa. I was really worried before I found that out. I switched planes in Dulles, but had only 90 minutes between the flights. Judging from the time it took us to get through Customs and Passport Control in Dulles after we returned from Norway last year, I wasn't optimistic about making my second flight. But, ah ha, you don't have to go through it in Dulles. You do it in Ottawa with no lines!
  5. Canada, like most countries, has pretty money. US money is just butt-ugly. It was okay when it was all green. But then we decided to add some color to it. And we just screwed it up. Now our money looks like puke. Really. It's that sickly yellow color. Have we no artists?
  6. The weather was gorgeous. I'm already sick of Virginia heat and humidity. (The folks there assured me that it gets hot and humid in August. Yeah, I'm sure it does. The difference is that Virginia is that way from May through October.)

Things I Disliked About Ottawa

I was panhandled more times than I expected, about six times over the course of three days. That's more than I usually see in DC. But less than I've experienced in San Francisco. The odd thing was that most of the folks approaching me were young white guys. I sorta wanted to yell at them What's your fucking excuse!

It's not that I'm cheap. I once gave $20 to a guy on the street because he was friendly, helped me find my hotel, and seemed genuinely down on his luck. But it's not usually that clear-cut.

I never know what to do about panhandlers. Will they blow it on booze? (Whereas I'll just blow it on toys.) Are they scamming me? (The guy outside the Baltimore Convention Center is scamming you. He didn't get beat up and he doesn't need bus fare. Trust me on this one.) Are they genuinely in need? Even so, is giving them a buck or two the best way to help?

One approach I thought of was counting the number of times I'm approached and then send $5 per approach to some charity in the area. That seems like a way to address the issue in a constructive way.

But, of course, I haven't actually done that yet. To be honest, I first thought of it in San Francisco. The sheer size of the resulting required donation frankly made me just, well, not do it.

I suppose I ought to send off a check for $30 to an Ottawa charity.

Yeah, that's it. I really liked Ottawa. Oh, well, maybe you don't need three Irish/Scottish pub/restaurants in two blocks. There! That's two things!

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Lessons About Updates

Posted: Friday April 10 2009 @ 7:09pm

Religious Order: Travel

So, we were at Disney World last week. It had been several years since our previous visit and many rides had been updated. Sometimes, the updates were nice. Sometimes not. Sometimes neither. Let me bore you with my observations:

Good update: Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth is a long-time favorite of mine. I'm a sucker for old Disney rides that stick you in a car or boat and run you by dioramas. It recently underwent a major refurbishment. And the results are great. Some of the dioramas are brand new. Others are modifications to old ones. Others are basically unchanged. But it all melds together smoothly. It's not at all obvious where the updates were made. There's a new narration by 'M' as well. But the best addition is at the end.

The way the ride works is that they slowly pull the lines of cars uphill past several dioramas until they reach the top of the big sphere. The top is where they show you Earth from afar. Then they drag you back down to the bottom, in pretty much a short straight line. In days of old, there wasn't a whole lot to see of do during the descent. But now, there's an interactive screen in your car.

At the beginning of the ride, they snap your photo. During the descent, you're presented with some options about your interests. Once you've done that, you get to watch a short video showing you your life in the future. The video is customized along several lines based on your earlier selections. But the best part is that they cut out your faces from the earlier snapshot and stick them on top of animated bodies in the video. Sometimes this works really well and the resulting video is hilarious. Sometimes the head cropping is really bad. It helps to not tilt your head to the side. It also helps if your hair color clashes with the darkness behind you.

Also, after the ride is an area where you can send the video to yourself via email. (Actually, you send yourself a link to the video page.) The video itself is just a Quicktime file, easily downloaded by those with a modicum of web skillz.

Oddly, the video they provide online is not exactly the same as the one you see in the ride. In one case, our heads swapped places. In other cases, the head crop changed entirely.

Meh Update: Pirates of the Caribbean

Due to the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the ride is now themed more along the lines of the movie. It now includes audio-animatronics characters from the movie, including many instances of Captain Jack Sparrow. Dialog of other pre-existing characters has also been changed to reflect the inclusion of the new characters.

The additions don't ruin the ride, but they don't really add much to it either. I suppose it makes the ride more interesting to kids that grew up with the films first and ride second. I still love the ride. But I really don't have strong feelings on the changes.

Ruined Ride: El Rio Del Tiempo (now known as Gran Fiesta Tour Starring theThree Caballeros)

El Rio Del Tiempo was a sleepy little ride at EPCOT. It was part of the Mexico pavilion. It's your basic slow boat ride past stuff kind of ride. You would see some little kids straight out of It's a Small World. You would see some films loops of Mexico. And then you would be done. It's was simple and relaxing.

But now there's a new version. And it sucks. To update this simple ride, they decided to add a story-line of Donald Duck getting lost in Mexico. How did they incorporate this idea? By overlaying the existing Mexican film loops with animation. Donald and two other characters are superimposed over the existing footage. It's loud. It's garish. It just looks bad. It totally ruins the ride.

Finally, in closing, I'd just like to mention that I still sorely miss Horizons.

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Good Idea Turned Into a Rip-Off

Posted: Wednesday April 01 2009 @ 4:42pm

Religious Order: Travel

Don't you hate it when someone has a great idea, then totally ruins it by charging way too damn much?

Here's Disney's idea: Let's give each guest a Disney PhotoPass card with a UPC code on it. And let's station staff members with high-end digicams around the park at nice picturesque locations. The staff can take photos of people, scan their PhotoPass card, and wirelessly transmit the photos to a centralized server. Guests can then log into an account and print out the photos or create books and other personalized products.

It's a genius idea! And then they screwed it all up by charging loony-toon prices!

Here's the pricing structure for prints:

Thirteen bucks for a 5x7 print? SnapFish charges just 79 cents. And a pair of 4x6 prints is just 18 cents.

And the pricing just gets worse from there. The only advantage Disney offers is the ability to add cartoon borders on the prints. That's it.

You can make a book online. It's only $74.95 for 20 pages. Holy crap! At that rate, the 432 page, sub-$200, Norway book we printed via Blurb would have cost nearly $800. And their book-builder has a measly 7 themes and only 3 photo layouts, each nearly identical.

Well, maybe it's better in the digital world? Let's see, how much to download a copy of one of the photos? Holy shit! It's $14.95 for a digital download! Per image!

Well, they do cut you a break if you get all your photos sent to you on a CD. For all 53 of the photos they took of us on a CD, it's a mere $129.95.

Now, I know Disney's response. They'll claim that the high prices are due to them providing professional photography services. But that's just bullshit. These folks were taking decent photos, but they're not gonna be doing it for a living outside of Disney any time soon. While most had tripods for night shots, not a single one used a remote shutter release. Composition was generally okay, but not creative and sometimes just plain bad. (Yeah, having Cinderella Castle jutting out of the top of my head is a great idea!)

The Disney staff would also take photos of you using your own digicam, which was very nice of them. (I would actually expect Disney to crack down on that in the future.) Of course, unless you're really an avid photog, your digicam isn't as good and won't produce as nice an image as the Disney-supplied ones.

Actually, that was another giveaway that these folks weren't pros. We saw more than one hold a guest's digicam in portrait mode by the bottom end only. That's not how you hold a camera. Either they were doing a crap job on purpose or they just didn't know any better.

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Disney Magical Express?

Posted: Wednesday April 01 2009 @ 12:39pm

Religious Order: Travel

We decided to stay on Disney property for our visit this year. Disney hotels are definitely more expensive than a similar hotel off-property. But, overall, I think it was worth it. There are a number of extra benefits you get that make up for the price:

1) Disney Magical Express is an included transportation option. When you head to Orlando, you put special yellow bag tags on your checked baggage. In Orlando, Disney grabs your bags at the airport, directly from baggage handling, and transports them to your room. Meanwhile, you take a nice bus to the resort. Later in the day, your bags arrive. And I'll be damned if it didn't work just as advertised. It's really nice to not have to schlep bags. The downside is that it can take up to an hour to wait in the needed lines to get on the bus. It took nearly an hour for my wife, from touchdown to the bus leaving the airport. For me, it took about 15 minutes to get on the bus, mainly because the stupid shuttle driver from my business hotel dropped me off at the wrong terminal. (The business hotel is right next to the airport. So I took their shuttle to the airport, then used Disney to get to the resort.) Of course, once on the bus, we waited 15 minutes to get more folks on. In the additional 15 minutes, we added one whole rider.

2) The service works in reverse as well. We were able to get our boarding passes and check our bags at the hotel and the bags just magically showed up in Richmond. Magical isn't really that far off the mark.

3) Once you're on-property, you can also ride Disney busses from your hotel to the parks. (And between some parks.) This worked really well. The longest I think we ever waited for a bus was 15 minutes. And, if you're heading to the Magic Kingdom, they drop you off near the door, not on the other side of that fake lake. The only downside here is that they pack the busses really full and we occasionally had to stand. Oh, and when waiting at the hotel, we would inevitably see busses for the three parks to which we weren't heading before our own showed up. Still, overall, the bus system worked great.

4) If you're staying on-property, you also get extended hours at the parks. Basically, each day one park either opens early or stays open late just for on-property guests. That's really nice. We managed to pack in a few extra rides each day during those extra hours and their shorter lines.

There are, however, some downsides to staying on property:

1) The rooms are expensive. Not Norway expensive, but not a whole lot less, either.

2) The food is really expensive and pretty much sucks. But, you don't have a choice, because you don't have a car and can't drive anywhere. (Unless you rented a car. But not needing a rental is one of the things that offsets the high Disney room prices.)

3) You can't get to non-Disney parks. No Universal parks. No SeaWorld. (Unless, of course, you rented a car.)

But if you're willing to live in Mickey's all-encompassing embrace for the duration, staying on-property works out really well.

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Back Home

Posted: Wednesday April 01 2009 @ 10:41am

Religious Order: Travel

I'm back home after a business trip combined with 4 full days and 2 half days at Walt Disney World.

We had a great time, so there will probably be a bunch of Disney-themed posts in the next several days.

The big question right now is how many more piles of cat barf are left to be to found (stepped in)?

(The thing is, we have someone come by to feed them daily. But some of the cats are a bit dog-like in that they'll eat as much as they can if the food is available. And then they barf it up. Still beats changing diapers. I'll clean up cat barf daily for the rest of my natural life before I voluntarily change a diaper.)

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Posted: Sunday March 01 2009 @ 7:50pm

Religious Order: Travel

AirTran is my new favorite airline. I flew them recently on a trip to Denver. It was weird, almost like a trip back in time.

First of all, the tickets were cheap. $300 to Denver? That's pretty damn good. They do charge $15 for your bag. But they'll waive that if you upgrade to first class, which costs $49 or $99, depending on the length of the flight.

Second, the staff are nice. They're friendly and happy to help and actually seem to like having you on board.

Third, the flights weren't full. I had empty seats next to me on both legs of my flights out to Denver.

And, as an extra bonus, they have XM Radio on board. Just plug in your headphones and listen away. The best part was that I was able to listen to Friday's Twins/Yankees game live. Sweet, even if the Twins got their asses kicked.

Well, I'm typing this on the plane. They're getting kicked right now. Maybe they'll come back. That's the fun thing about Spring Training; there's a new pitcher pretty much every inning. It's also the debut as Crede as a Twin. The move of Crede from the ChiSox to the Twins is a potential game-changer for the AL Central, even if he did just hit into an inning-ending double-play.

The only problem I had was that my rainbow luggage strap was lost on the trip out to Denver. It always gives me piece of mind that my luggage will stay shut as well as making it stand out at baggage claim.

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Reflections on Vegas

Posted: Monday December 15 2008 @ 6:40pm

Religious Order: Travel

Just got back from Vegas. Well, I got back last Thursday. And I started this post on my iPod touch on the plane home. But I started feeling car-sick. Air-sick. Whatever. So I'm finishing it now, at home. Here are some reflections of Vegas:

First off, it isn't as much fun as it used to be. The noise and lights are less entrancing, more annoying. It doesn't help that they've bled out much of the aesthetic appeal it used to hold for me. No clanking coins anymore. Many machines lack a pull-handle. (Some one-armed bandits they are.) More and more machines are purely video. I miss handling coins. I miss yanking on levers. I miss physically spinning reels. I know I can't win. I'm too good at math to think otherwise. All I really have is an aesthetic experience.

Craps has a lot of aesthetic appeal, but honestly, there's only one bet to make. Don't pass, take the full odds, rinse, repeat.

I was out taking multi-exposure photos. I had my tripod set up by one of the many statues of nekkid women by Caesar's Palace when three kids walked by and started saying that it would be fun to pose with the statue. So I offered to take their photo.

I figured I'd take it with their camera, but no, they wanted me to use mine. So I did. Then I took one with their cell phone. (Which didn't turn out at all.) They seemed surprised when I told them that they could find their photo on Flickr. I'm not sure they knew what Flickr was. Well, the girls were cute and they were nice kids. So here are the photos of them, with flash and without.

If you accept every escort trading card handed to you on the street, you'll collect a two-inch-high stack in the course of a few blocks. (More on these in another post.)

Continental is the last decent airline. The flights were on time. The staff were all nice. The snacks were actually good. It's like I was flying 10 years in the past. (The worst? Northwest. It's bad enough that the airline itself sucks. But you nearly always have to fly through O'Hare. O'Hare sucks, too.)

Apple stores are great. Since everyone has the same toys as you, they can quickly point you to the correct Mini-DVI-to-VGA dongle that you left at home. The insufferable smugness is just an added bonus.

Getting nearly 400 people to sing a modified version of Y.M.C.A. is a load of fun.

The Ellis Island Casino and Brewery raised their prices on their ribs, but they're still a good deal.

Joe's is not a good steakhouse.

Cab drivers will take you to your hotel via the highway if you're not careful. This is a rip-off. Taking the normal roads is faster. They also won't let you share a cab from the airport with a stranger. Really. They'll refuse. I guess they're just trying to protect their business. If they ever extend the monorail to the airport, gonna be some cabbies out of work.

The new Mirage Volcano only blows its top once an hour. But there are no signs telling you that.

Ummm, I guess that's it. I thought I had more to say. Guess not!

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Idiots At TSA

Posted: Wednesday August 20 2008 @ 7:51am

Religious Order: Travel

Normally, I don't have much of a problem, personally, with TSA folks. I'm polite to them and they're polite to me. (Being white and male helps an awful lot, too.) But last week I was in Dallas. On the way home, I was behind behind a non-English-speaking visitor from Italy. And I got just a peek at how ugly TSA folks can get.

The guy made two mistakes. First, he jammed both his laptop and laptop bag into a single bin, so the laptop was angled partially out of the bin. Well, one TSA guy caught it before it went through. He basically yelled at the poor guy "I goes like this!" while rearranging it correctly, slamming the laptop down into the bin.

Now, I could understand getting stern if there was a big line. But this is Dallas, where there are separate security lines every half dozen gates. I was the only one in line. (I do love how Dallas is set up. You walk out your gate and baggage claim is right there. You step out of baggage claim and you're outside. Even the Newport News airport makes you walk further than that.)

The visitor's second mistake was to leave his boarding pass in his bag. While most of the TSA agents shouted at him to produce his boarding pass (although none thought to actually show him what they were talking about), another simply muttered "why'd ya come here if ya didn't speak English."

I was this close (fingers held 1 cm apart) to saying something like "Fuck you, you provincial asshole." But since this was Texas, I didn't raise a fuss. (Didn't want to get shot. No, really.)

But I did wait around at the end to make sure he got through okay.

In other idiots-at-TSA news:

TSA puts commercial pilots on no-fly and terrorist watch lists. Note that one of the folks is, at the same time, cleared to carry a gun on board.

Commuter Flights Grounded Thanks To Bumbling TSA Inspector (via Boing Boing, of course)

In the second story, an idiot at TSA decides to climb up the side of airplanes using external instruments as hand-holds, breaking them in the process. The hand-hold is called a TAT probe. And, yeah, breaking it endangers the plane. Forty planes had to be grounded and checked out. Forty!

Holy crap! Scrap the TSA. I'll take my chances with the terrorists. Seriously. Look at the odds:

Airplanes endangered by terrorists: 3 (4 if you count the shoe bomber)
Airplanes endangered by idiot at TSA: 40

Keep in mind that there are a crap-load more idiots at TSA then there are terrorists boarding planes in the US.

I mean, honestly, think about it. When TSA tested their own security, they were able to smuggle in bomb materials 60% of the time. (It's in a USA Today story from last week.) Frankly, if someone wants to blow up a plane, they'll manage to do it. There just aren't that many people trying to do it.

And the final kicker? TSA spent boatloads testing their own security, but didn't keep track of why various smuggling attempts worked. So they know they suck, but they don't know why they suck. So they can't fix the problems and stop sucking. Idiots!

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Posted: Sunday August 17 2008 @ 12:41pm

Religious Order: Travel

I returned from a trip to Dallas on Friday. And I forgot to bring tons of things with me. What sorts of things?

I forgot my oatmeal. I usually bring oatmeal packets with me and make it in the morning using the coffee-maker.

I forgot tea. I had even picked up some tea-bags specifically to bring along. Forgot them. Had to scrounge through my backpack. Managed to find three.

I forgot my MacBook power supply. Had to buy a new one. Of course, being a Mac, I had to buy an Apple power supply. (Apple has a patent on the connector.) That was a cool $80. On the other hand, I was meaning on picking up an extra one to just keep in my travel bag. (I already do this with my cell phone power supply.)

I forgot my MacBook to VGA display adapter. The sucky thing was I didn't realize the fact until later in the week, after I had already been out shopping for a power supply. I don't use the adapter at home, so it's usually just left in my travel bag. But we had cleaned out the travel bag for our trip to Norway.

I forgot to bring chocolate for a friend.

I think there's more, but I'm forgetful.

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