Disneyworld & an 18th Birthday

To be sure, we celebrate every trip to Disneyworld. And we certainly celebrate every birthday trip to the happiest place on earth. But this particular trip (the birthday boy’s 61st trip, to be exact) is best known as “the Galaxy’s Edge trip.”
If you don’t belong to the Star Wars fandom, then that phrase has no meaning whatsoever. So for those barbarians, I will explain that Galaxy’s Edge is the new Star Wars land, located in Hollywood Studios in Disneyworld. There is currently only one ride there, known as Millenium Falcon: Smugglers’ Run where you are the pilot/gunner/engineer for the Millenium Falcon. Anything else I said would spoil the surprise and be inadequately descriptive of the ride. But let me repeat the key takeaway here: you are ON BOARD the Millenium Falcon. There are no other words necessary.
The theming of Galaxy’s Edge is pretty amazing, even by Disney standards. Kylo Ren and his stormtroopers make unscheduled but frequent visits. Chewbacca and Rey also appear (and I’m told that there are stories of people who try and hide Chewbacca when the stormtroopers appear). You can play an online game assuming the role of a supporter of the First Order, the Resistance, or an ordinary scoundrel. (I was most displeased when our daughter decided to install surveillance equipment on behalf of the First Order. She will do anything for Kylo Ren.)
Despite her inadequate moral framework, we all had a memorable time exploring Galaxy’s Edge and the rest of Disneyworld, of course, as part of the oh-my-gosh-the-boy-is-legal birthday celebration.

entering Galaxy’s Edge!
blue milk or green milk? (blue is better)
the Millenium Falcon!
on board the Millenium Falcon
waiting to board the ship
Galaxy’s Edge

Summer trip 2019: Hong Kong & Tokyo

Well, more accurately, the 2nd summer trip, this time to Hong Kong and Tokyo—a quick trip as we were gone just over a week. Jade has been in Hong Kong this summer on an internship where she is developing a curriculum to teach disadvantaged Hong Kong kids how to code. (As a math/computer science social conscience Chinese-speaking person, this checks all of her boxes.). She’s had a great substantive summer and also has a great first-hand experience in how democracy should work (i.e. the importance of the right of assembly under the 1st Amendment). The first items the organizers hand the protesters are a mask (to defeat the excellent facial recognition software China has) and a bilingual sign asking the police to stay calm.

sign handed to protesters
bird’s eye view of protesters

It was all quite civilized and British until the Chinese raised the stakes. It still is very safe as long as you avoid the areas where the protesters are (which are generally published ahead of time—did I mention that this was all very civilized?). However, with 10,000 Chinese troops garrisoned in Hong Kong, there is a very real risk of all of this going sideways quite quickly. In fact, I kind of feel like Dr. Strange in Avengers: Infinity Wars when he says he’s looked at 14+ million futures and only sees 1 where Thanos is defeated. I can’t picture that many scenarios, of course, but I don’t see one where it ends well for Hong Kong.


That being said, we had a lovely several days wandering around Hong Kong, including a trip to Hong Kong Disney with the four of us.

Hong Kong Disney
Festival of the Lion King at Hong Kong Disney

There is nothing quite like Disney to restore one’s faith in human nature. Perhaps our family chronicles can be marked solely by meals, trips to a Disney park, and trips to Hawaii.


Tokyo was our next stop. This year is the 20th anniversary of the US-Japan Leadership Program and the last year of George Packard’s leadership of the US-Japan Foundation. The celebration was festive and filled with gratitude and appreciation. Jim and I saw people we hadn’t seen in years as people came from all around the globe to help celebrate this milestone. There were people from every year of the program in attendance. It truly was an amazing experience.

Tokyo
Tokyo with USJLP

Our First 10K

Before you get the idea that we’re runners or anything, understand that we don’t run races, we run/walk them (4 minutes running, 1 minute walking). That method pretty much rules us out of any runners of the year type of awards.
That being said, in the winter, Jim needs a motivating exercise event. When the weather is nice, he can play tennis forever. But he hates exercising for the sake of exercising. (Exercise relaxes me and gives me peace of mind—I like it.) So we came up with the idea of signing up for a race.
There were multiple factors in deciding where and what to enter. First, wherever it was, the weather had to be pleasant—not too hot, not too cold, not too humid. (Yes, we are high maintenance runners.) Second, while we ran a half-marathon several years ago, it wasn’t an ideal distance. Mentally, you’re done when you hit the 10 mile mark, and you still have 3.1 miles to go. And, third, the destination had to be one of the rewards for doing the run.
We found one race that fits all of the criteria—the Disney Princess Enchanted 10K. First, Orlando in February is usually lovely (it wasn’t this time, but more on that later). Second, a 10K is perfect as it requires training but not a lot. And, third, what better place to go to race than Disneyworld? (I know, I know—reasonable minds disagree on that last point.)
In the end, it was unseasonably hot in Orlando last weekend, but, fortunately, the race was held at 5:30 in the morning, and there was a breeze, so the temperature wasn’t a problem. (What was a problem was that we had to get up at 3:00 am to get to the race on time—it was not this non-morning person’s favorite part of the race.)
The 10K is also a great distance because it’s not considered a “real” distance by serious runners, which means the bulk of the runners were doing it for fun and not taking it too seriously. There was wonderful camaraderie on the shuttle bus as we were waiting for the start.
And the Princess Marathon weekend itself is a hoot. For those of you familiar with the Bay-to-Breakers race, think costumes along those lines but without the sexually inappropriate ones. For those of you who are not familiar with Bay-to-Breakers, a large number of the runners are dressed in variety of elaborate princess outfits, tutus, tiaras, and other Disney costumes.
The race itself included live music and characters along the route, and many runners stopped to take photos with the characters. We were more concerned about being able to finish so did not succumb to the distractions as we wended our way through Epcot.
We both finished in 1:14.42 and are quite happy with our time and finishing the race without any trips to the emergency room (my threshold for a successful trip of any kind!). It was so much fun that we might even do it again next year!

Jim motivated to run!
running (actually, walking) together
enjoying the sunrise

Disneyworld September 2018

To celebrate someone’s 17th(!) birthday, we jaunted off to Disneyworld for the weekend. The weather was hot and humid (welcome to Orlando in September!), but the weekend was glorious. We tried to do this last year, but Hurricane Isabel decided to make an appearance, and we had to reschedule our trip.
Making the trip in early September meant that our daughter could come with us as well before she left for her sophomore year in college. She was beyond excited, as it was 15 months since she last was at a Disney theme park.
I was always certain that when the kids turned into teenagers, they would turn their noses up at spending time at a Disney park. I am delighted that it is still one of their favorite places (Hawaii being a close second). We have so much fun riding the rides, but our enjoyment in Disneyworld is more than that. It is one of the places where we are a family and family-focused. The kids have grown up there, we have celebrated birthdays and other special occasions there, and everyone has pushed their fear boundaries there. (Although the daughter still will not ride Rock-n-Roller Coaster.)
Disneyworld is where we celebrate the present, reminisce about the past, and create memories for the future. We have delighted in Walt Disney’s optimism, reveled in his belief that humans are capable of endless innovation and creativity, and criticized the parks/Disney where we thought it was merited. It is a place where we are forever children, looking with wide-eyed wonder on the future. It is, truly, the happiest place on earth.

I LOVE the Little Green Men!

To infinity and beyond!

the new Toy Story Land

Alien Swirling Saucers in Toy Story Land

birthday dinner

a birthday cupcake

true birthday wishes 😉

Disneyworld (Take 56)

It was officially the 16 year old’s 56th visit to the happiest place on earth. (He’s catching up with his sister who has been there 57 times.) We also dragged along our former exchange student, Yinan, who is staying with us for a couple of months while she does an internship this summer. (Little did she know what price she had to pay.)
There were a couple of highlights on this trip (and one major lowlight, which is that the 19 year old daughter wasn’t with us). It’s times like these when we’re accustomed to going places together as a family that I miss her the most.

Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom

one of our favorite rides!

March of the First Order at Hollywood Studios

Nonetheless, it was a fun trip. The newest ride—Flight of Passage—based on the “Avatar” movie in Animal Kingdom remains a highlight. I thought the ride couldn’t possibly live up to my memory of it from October, but it does and then some. It’s a difficult ride to describe—it’s as if Soarin’ and Star Tours had a baby who emerged as a prodigy. Even if you haven’t seen the “Avatar” movie or aren’t a fan, the ride is still mind blowing in its visual impact and ride experience.
Another highlight of the trip was the “giraffic jam” we experienced. We were on the Safari ride at Animal Kingdom when two adolescent giraffes proceeded to bicker (the human term for their behavior) in the middle of the road by swinging their heads at each other, using them as battering rams. It held up the ride for about 20 minutes and was hilarious for each and every minute, especially if you’ve ever had teenage children in the house.
I’ve included a 4 minute video of it, courtesy of the 16 year old son. Bribes of lettuce and orders to move were tried to no avail. One of the park rangers finally convinced the giraffes to move off the road by nudging his truck slowly and carefully closer to them. (The safari ride trucks have to keep their distance.) Knowing the giraffes, I have no doubts that once we were safely by, they would be back at it. Teenagers!

the giraffic jam

We were also guinea pigs for test runs of the “Minnie van.” Get it? The vehicle is painted in Minnie Mouse polka dots and bows and supplied with Minnie Mouse water bottles. Playlists of all four parks and each Disney hotel are available for your listening pleasure. It was traveling in (Disney) style!

the Minnie van!

complete with Minnie water

It was a wonderful opportunity to relax and enjoy the wonders of Disney before the end of school pressure cooker begins. The Disney magic definitely worked itself on us!

Disneyworld Redux (thanks to Hurricane Irma)

Disneyworld!! We have not been since last September. We were planning to go again this September, as a combination birthday/going off to college trip, but Hurricane Irma vetoed that idea. :(. So we rescheduled the trip to last weekend, when Marcus had a 3 day weekend. He brought a friend, Matthew, along for the trip. It was Matthew’s first trip, and it reminded us that there are certain rides we love because of the memories that don’t necessarily appeal as much to a teenage boy going for the very first time (can anyone say “It’s a Small World?”)


Because we had to reschedule the trip, the only place available for us to stay was the Four Seasons (it’s a hardship, but someone had to do it!). The rooms at the Four Seasons are much nicer and roomier than at even the high end Disney resorts, but there is, obviously, much less Disney theming and the system is not as tied in as at the Disney resorts. For example, while you can get Magic Bands at the Disney desk at the hotel, you cannot put park charges on it, and they don’t serve as keys to the room either. All of which makes perfect sense. And it’s a great add for Disney because there are certainly folks who would come and stay at the Four Seasons who would not stay at a Disney hotel. (We are not one of them, as you might have guessed.)
The new Pandora ride—“Flight of Passage”—the more popular of the two Pandora rides—is amazing. It’s a cross between Soarin’ and Star Tours and is an order of magnitude better than either. The premise is that you are flying on a banshee through the world of Pandora, so there’s a big screen like Soarin’, but you are on a contraption that mimics being on a banshee (a kind of giant flying bird). The banshee even breathes as it sits between your legs. It’s pretty mind-boggling and definitely a fantastic addition to the park. (Time to update the Disney tome!)

in the world of Pandora

We also visited Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney), which we have not been to for years. It, too, has grown and improved and is a nice place to visit in the evenings or whenever you want a little down time from the parks (as difficult a concept as that is to imagine).

Disney Springs

With the older one off to college, it gives the younger one an opportunity to catch up on the number of trips to Disneyworld count. This is Marcus’s 55th trip, so he has only a few more before he ties his sister. (Not that this is a competition or anything!)

Disneyworld and an 18th Birthday

In the category of “How to Make Me Feel Really Old” falls the 18th birthday of our daughter (I assume our son’s 18th birthday will fall into the category of “How to Make Me Feel Really Really Old.”)
Our daughter elected to celebrate this momentous occasion of being able to sign legally binding contracts by spending it in Disneyworld.  Fortunately, her birthday coincided with a school 3 day weekend, which made it perfect.
We managed to spend time in all 4 parks, although Magic Kingdom received the brunt of our attention.  It makes me feel all warm and gushy inside to know that this now 18 year old young woman still loves Disney and still loves the Magic Kingdom.  (She may still turn out to be a serial killer, but at least she’ll be a serial killer who loves Disney.)
We stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, so we woke up each morning to the sight of giraffes, zebras, and other wildlife right outside our balcony.
High points of the trip include:
— being at Magic Kingdom when the park opened at 7:00 am

early morning at the Magic Kingdom

early morning at the Magic Kingdom

— getting a how-to-be-a-warrior lesson from Mulan in the China pavilion at Epcot

— being entertained by Dara Vamp at The Brown Derby

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— seeing the parks decorated for Christmas

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Happy 18th birthday, sweetie!!

Movie review: Finding Dory

We were fortunate enough to be able to attend an advance screening of the latest Pixar movie, “Finding Dory.” (Thank you to Disney for donating the item to a Children’s National fundraising event!)

Jim and I are both fans of “Finding Nemo” and actually thought the emotional resonance of that movie was one of its many strengths. (But our son was born with a club foot, so we could definitely relate to Nemo’s bad fin.)

Thirteen years later, “Finding Dory” is Dory’s quest to find her parents. There are a few cameo appearances by Crush and the other sea turtles and a nice introduction/summary of “Finding Nemo” for those who haven’t seen it, but this is definitely Dory’s movie. Marvin and Nemo play strong supporting roles. But Hank, a mimic septupus, steals the movie. Voiced by Ed O’Neill (from “Modern Family” and “Married with Children”), he once again plays the curmudgeonly character with the heart of gold. Even more impressive is the animation that was required to give life to Hank. As the Disney representative explained to us, octopuses have no joints, which makes animation extremely difficult because there’s no joint to hang the motion off of. (They slither more than they move.) It took two years before the animators figured out a way to animate that movement. And each scene where you see Hank with all seven legs took months to animate. As a mimic septupus, Hank has to blend into his surroundings but still be obviously him—a tricky feat at the best of times and an added complexity to the animation.

All of this is fascinating, of course, but has nothing to do with Pixar’s real strength, which is storytelling. I think anyone who knows a parent of or a child with special needs will relate to this movie, as Dory’s parents worry about her future, as Dory copes with her limitations and moves forward despite them, and as Dory’s friends appreciate her very real strengths. The movie ends happily, of course (it is a Pixar movie, after all!) but not without plenty of obstacles, tears, and emotionally fraught moments. It is a worthy member of the Pixar family.

This movie received an enthusiastic thumbs up from all of us, and we are definitely going to go see it again!

P.S. Two notes: the short before the movie, “Piper,” is a definite must-see, so don’t be late when you go see the movie. And, second, the actor who originally voiced Nemo has a cameo role in this movie. (He obviously couldn’t voice Nemo again because in the 13 years between movies, his voice changed!)

Disneyworld & the Osborne Family Lights

We haven’t been to Disneyworld for the Christmas season in years, but when we learned that this would be the last year of the Osborne Family Lights at Hollywood Studios, a visit was a must do and off to Orlando we went on the first weekend of December.

We landed on Friday evening and headed straight for the lights. They were even more spectacular than I had remembered.

Osborne lights

Osborne lights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IMG_1562Saturday morning was the Wild Animal Trek, something we had never done before. (Shock!) It takes place at Animal Kingdom, and half the trek is done with a harness so that you go over bridges and look at hippos and crocodiles up close and personal. The other half of the trek is essentially a VIP version of the Safari ride. The ride was particularly memorable for two reasons: first, there was a baby rhino out and about and feeling particularly frisky, chasing zebras and running around (so adorable!); and two, we had a (successful) proposal in the group when we broke for lunch (also adorable).

baby rhino!

baby rhino!

wild animal trek

wild animal trek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the trek, we resumed our normal Disney activities with multiple rides of various rollercoasters and other rides at the parks. We returned to Hollywood Studios, had dinner, and headed for the lights one last time on Saturday. <sad face>

It was a spectacular trip. We had forgotten how festive Disneyworld is for the holiday season, and it was a good reminder. As our daughter said, “I really wasn’t in the Christmas spirit until I saw the lights again.”

Tokyo and the US-Japan Leadership Program

We traveled to Tokyo in late July to participate in the US-Japan Leadership Program alumni weekend but arrived a few days early so that we could do the important things in Tokyo—Tokyo DisneySea and Tokyo Disneyland. 🙂

(Our son came with us on the trip, but our daughter was doing her community service project and wasn’t able to make it.)

We had never been to DisneySea, and it was a really fabulous experience to visit a Disney park where everything was new. Our favorite rides there were Journey to the Center of the Earth and the Indiana Jones ride (which is based on the horrible Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull movie). There is a Stormrider ride that is somewhat similar to the Star Tours simulator ride that is also very well done.

Tokyo DisneySea

Tokyo DisneySea

We had only been to Tokyo Disneyland once before. Once again, the Winnie-the-Pooh ride was our favorite (and it’s the best version of the ride in all of the Disney parks, hands down). We also loved the Buzz Lightyear and Monsters, Inc. rides there. And we are continually fascinated by the different flavors of popcorn available in the Tokyo Disneyland park—honey, chocolate, curry, teriyaki, and regular. Curry popcorn was the Ms’ favorite flavor, but Jim was NOT a fan.

Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland

It was also fun to compare the design and rides with all of the other Disney parks. Yes, I know we are hopeless Disney addicts!

We ate at a one Michelin star teppanyaki restaurant called Ukai-tei. It was an interesting combination of classically trained teppanyaki and classically trained French chefs in one restaurant (and chef). The food was fabulous, and it was a great experience.

The USJLP alumni weekend was a tremendous amount of fun. There were over 70 Fellows who attended, and many more Americans than typical. The nice thing about having a critical mass of Fellows is that you don’t feel as much like you’re intruding on the delegates’ fun and bonding. It was really lovely to see all the Fellows, catch up on their news, and meet the delegates (some of whom I already knew from DC gatherings). There was even a bonding amongst what we hope to be the future generation of USJLP-ers!

future USJLPLers

future USJLPLers

Oh, and I can’t forget that only in Japan can you find square watermelons!

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