Saturday, November 27, 2010

That place with the big silver ball

It is called Apricot. According to Leif.

At the Will Call window the attendant (coincidentally from Walla Walla, so she knew that Washington is a state and that SE Washington state is dry) said to Leif, "are you ready to go to Epcot?"

"No, I am going to a place called Apricot," he said matter of factly and continued to call Epcot, Apricot for the entire trip.
We hit a few rides - Spaceship Earth (the big silver ball), Skadi's favorite was the Finding Nemo ride and then we got hungry and headed to the pavillions for some lunch. After fish and chips at the British pavillion we walked out and much to our surprise, there was someone waiting to meet Skadi!
Skadi went right up to her and told her she had seen her movie. Or actually, she said (as I have been corrected a number of times now) "I saw the movie you were in!" Mary Poppins was super, very sweet and very in character.
Since AB and Leif weren't terribly interested they headed across the way to the French pavillion as chocolate mousse and fluffy pastries seemed much more interesting to them!
Skadi and I followed and had a photo op on the bridge...
When we crossed the bridge we were met by...
Actually I have no idea who she is, I think an Aristocat. Skadi was still excited to pose with her.
After some pastries and feeling absolutely stuffed, we headed back to the rides for AB and Leif to hit the Mission Mars ride and Skadi and I thought we would go on the Finding Nemo ride again.
That was the plan until we saw through a window something else going on...
And then the big one...
We had a relatively non-busy day at Epcot. As we were still figuring out how Disney worked, we could have been far more effective in hitting the big things.
After meeting up with friends to talk to Crush (the turtle) and getting our picture taken in front of the big silver ball with them, we headed back to the hotel for some pool time and "relaxation" before the big evening... dinner with the Princesses at Akershus.
Our room was pirate themed - who can resist a picture of sleeping kids in a pirate ship bed?

Dolphins and Whales and Manatees oh my!

AB and the kids arrived in Orlando at about midnight Thursday night. They crashed hard after a long day of travel and then got up and headed to SeaWorld. I joined them mid-day after my conference ended.

Before I got to SeaWorld - AB and the kids took in the Shamu show and raved about the 400 lb "baby".

However, they really raved about the Dolphin show, and since Skadi loved it so, and I hadn't seen it, we hit it again.

See how close we are? AB set us in the "splash zone", where I kept saying, "are you sure we want to sit here?" Yes, he assured us. We won't get *that* wet, plus look how close we are!
This is where I should learn not to implicitely trust my well meaning husband. Yes, this time we didn't get *that* wet... days later though at Animal Kingdom the definition of soaked comes in.
We left the show and Skadi whined, "I want to do it now!" And since I am a sucker for my daughter loving animals. We went over and fed the dolphins.

Hello there!

That night we shuttled over to our new hotel - The Caribbean Beach Resort - a Disney Resort.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The happiest (and busiest) place on earth

I went to a conference in Orlando last week. Back when I was contemplating the conference we decided that we would transform it into a family vacation! Orlando for the family! Yay! So when the day arrived, I kissed my family goodbye and got on the plane, anxious to see them 5 nights later.

Disneyworld. What an institution. We had a good time. The kids enjoyed it. But no, we don't have intentions of going back, maybe ever! Part of this is probably that as I stated before and now I can confirm that it just isn't our type of vacation. I thought I might be proved wrong and that we would all fall in love. But even the kids aren't chomping at the bit to go back. We are very happy we have gone, and very happy we did it when we did (Skadi being 3.5 and Leif being 6). But nobody was crying about leaving.

Should you decide to go... here are my suggestions. Subsequent posts will serve as my travelogue and you will be subjected to vacation photos and details!

1. Plan. In the world of Disney vacations, you can't plan enough. Flying by the seat of your pants isn't really going to work here. I planned a bit - as much time as I could afford as I have been so busy the past few months - but I could have planned substantially more. And I AM a planner. Things to plan outside of your arrival and departure? Where you are going each day, what restaurants you will eat at (you need reservations well in advance for many), what additional activities you might want to do (we did a Pirate fireworks cruise). Once you decide the days you are going to be there start getting your reservations. You can always cancel reservations - or at least many of them you can - but reservations can be hard to come by the closer you get.

2. Prepare. Learn as much as humanly possible about what to expect. Spend time just reading those Disney vacation websites and discussion boards. I didn't do this, that whole lack of time thing. I checked it out if I had an occasional question in advance, but I could have never anticipated the number of questions that I would have once there.

3. When I was on the plane the woman next to me called this our "learning trip" and suggested I not expect a lot because of the learning curve, no matter how you prepare. She wasn't kidding. Those first two days we were on our learning curve and could have been so much more effective had I prepared mentally for it.

4. Know your vacation style. AB and I aren't the type of people to hang out at a hotel room or at a pool. We get out and get things done. While it would have been absolutely fantastic to be at the Contemporary directly next to the Magic Kingdom, it is a fair bit of money and we were nearly never at the hotel to do much other than rest or squeeze in a swim (if we could) for an hour in the afternoon or to sleep. Decide where you want to spend your money in advance. A nice hotel? Or in the parks? Dining maybe?

5. Money. Have lots. This place is freaky expensive. $2.50 for a bottle of water.

6. Consider shopping in advance. I was lucky and had a car for the week prior and took one lunchtime to run to Whole Foods and stock up since the hotels have fridges in the rooms. I bought yogurt sticks, water (I didn't buy enough), granola bars, juice boxes, cheese sticks (which my kids devoured in two days), bananas and a few other snacks. I had heard that the resorts have "grocery stores" and so I didn't buy a ton. Mistake. I should have bought more. Keep in mind that what the "grocery stores" stock are the popular things that the general public like and IMO, not terribly healthy options. If you are particular about this type of thing, like I am - yes, I know we are on vacation - then shop in advance as best as you can. We plowed through everything we had and the "grocery stores" stock individual things that are freaky expensive. If you don't have the luxury of a car rental to go buy food, consider a cab on day one to a local grocery store to stock up. I should also caveat this with the fact that we ate breakfast in our rooms all but one day. Just one place we were willing to cut corners to save a bit of money.

7. Consider your level of foodie and adjust your vacation accordingly. AB and I are foodies. I had read a number of places about the fabulous food at Disney, everywhere. Yeah, we weren't impressed for the most part. AB and I covet our yummy home breakfasts and knew that nothing could live up, so we planned low key breakfasts in our rooms. Lunches (save for one) were on the fly. (Pinnochio's Grill in Fantasyland had a great meatball sandwich.) And dinners were all reservations. Now that said, the best meal we had was at The Tusker House in Animal Kingdom - for lunch. The only lunch reservation I grabbed. The other meals were decent - Boma was good and our second favorite. But by our foodie standards, the meals were lacking. Plan according to your love (or not) of food.

8. Prepare mentally for lines! There are lines for everything. Obviously for the rides - get Fast Passes EVEN if you arrive and the ride is "only 30 minutes of wait". Get your Fast Pass and go do something/anything with less wait. That is the only way to maximize your time. There are also lines even when you have reservations. Also know that it takes awhile for the "wait times" to update. There were a few rides that boasted 15 minute wait times and we were in line for 45 mins (Peter Pan) and others that stated a 50 minute wait and we waited for 20 minutes. It takes A LOT of time to update those wait times. How they do it? I was picked to hold a tag when we got in line for the Astro Orbiter and when I handed it to the agent on the other end, they timed how long it took me to get there. So their new wait time took a good 45 minutes to update.

9. Figure out in advance how to get places. We were late for only one reservation - Boatwright's at Port Orleans. We were told to shuttle to Downtown Disney, get on the boat and go to Port Orleans. Wrong. Shuttle to Downtown Disney - find the one of three boats that will take you to Port Orleans, ride the boat (which was gorgeous), get off at Port Orleans RIVERSIDE, not the French Quarter. We were 20 minutes late at a half full restaurant and were treated as though we had completely screwed their entire night. It should have been one of our best meals, but it wasn't simply because of our service (they brought all our food - appetizers and main dish at once, and then packaged up our dessert to go - since they were trying to keep their schedule... in their half filled restaurant.)

10. Build in flex time. Don't schedule tightly. You will spend more time everywhere than you anticipate.

I read through this and realize it sounds as though I didn't have a great time. We did have a great time - the rides were good - and neither AB nor I are ride people at all and we learned that Leif has a tolerance at about our same level. Seeing Skadi encounter the characters was great. And seeing Leif in Hogsmeade (which we ventured in a cab off property for at Universal Studios) was truly spectacular. More about all that later!

Happy Thanksgiving all. We are recovering today, hosting my mother in law this weekend (she flies in this afternoon) and we will have our Thanksgiving meal tomorrow once we recover.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Leading the conference life

It seems that nearly every profession holds conferences. Opportunities for people within the industry to get together, tell about what they are doing, shake hands, exchange business cards and hear about the cutting edge technology. It seems we always hear about medical conferences, but conferences penetrate many, many areas. On Sunday when I was flying down to Orlando a group of guys next to me were coming down for their conference, with their company, John Deere. My company doesn't host conferences in neat areas...

AB's does. Well, I suppose if you can call Baltimore neat. But last summer we compared notes about his conference and my - albeit limited - conference experiences. At his conference there was free flowing alcohol and bars that were opened with the purpose of partying at the hotels.

You can't do this for my organization.

It's called bribes and kick backs and we learn all about it on an annual basis in our required ethics training.

I am not a common fixture on the conference circuit. This past year I have travelled seven times and only one was for an open (as in nearly anyone can attend) conference. I attend client meetings and program reviews routinely. But conferences? Not really.

In the past few years I have obtained a new client who likes a lot for us to share all the great and wonderful things we have done on the projects and so when this conference came onto my radar - coincidentally about the same time I had been discussing Disneyland and Disneyworld with my friends - I jumped.

Ok, I will admit that being a bit out of the loop on the public conference circuit, that I wasn't quite sure what to expect. And like all walks of life, you get all types of people. Ok, so with scientists - maybe you get a bit more of a certain type of people... those people that may or may not look like Einstein and are absolutely brilliant, but a bit lacking in the social sense.

I have had the pleasure of hanging out with my good friend R, this week. I think she is a bit more versed in the conference routine and so it has been nice to have her here. Oh and while she is brilliant, she isn't one of the socially awkward ones and in fact is a bit outgoing. (Which I am not.) I suck at walking up and introducing myself.

The conference has been nice - the food has been mostly hit, with a few misses. Truly, the fact that they are feeding us at all is nice and unexpected.

We both had posters to present. For those of you unfamiliar with the routine, a poster session is where you are given a few hours to stand in an approximately 4' x 8' x 2' piece of real estate and answer questions presented to you by anyone who walks up and inquires about your research. Poster... this is your prop. It's what shows the project or projects you are presenting and displays your groundbreaking (or not) research.

This is also the opportunity for all those socially awkward people to purchase alcohol at the end of the long day.

Given my introverted nature, I am not terribly fond of poster sessions. I would actually rather stand up in front of a crowd and at a podium for 20 minutes and present my research to people than stand for 2 hours and be one on one with people. Just my preference.

This may go back to my first ever poster sessions as a grad student.

One of them I was scooped. My very first poster session I talked at length to a group of guys from Stanford about my research who then published my research 6-9 months later. Scooped.

The second poster session I had a leach of a Japanese professor who wouldn't leave me alone. He smelled of alcohol, patted my butt and then offered me a post-doc position in his lab in Japan and suggested I come back to his room to discuss "opportunities". I quickly grabbed the older male Chinese post-doc in my group and with some difficulty (he spoke little English) managed to convey to him to not leave my side.

No such experiences at this conference. One man (who was slurring his words a fair bit) thought my research would make for a fascinating CSI episode and suggested I should write a screenplay and sell it. My two hours went by fairly quickly, thankfully.

We are halfway through the conference and I would call it a success. I met one of the reviewers for the proposals I have out currently who smiled, told me he thought he recognized my name, but he was very sorry he could not speak to me anymore about my research once I told him I had these two proposals pending.

I have shaken hands, exchanged business cards, tried not to act too naive or inexperienced. I have stood at grad students posters and smiled while they eagerly explained their research to me while it dawned on me that I am at least 15 years their senior and wasn't it just yesterday that I was doing this? I met up with current and former coworkers and even a parent of one of the students working on one of my projects - who looked amazingly young and once again reminded me that maybe I am not as young as I think I am.

It's been a good week. But frankly, I am counting the hours until AB arrives with the kids and the Disney and Harry Potter fun begins.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why gymnasts don't wear shoes.

Skadi is a story teller. And what is a bit scary, is that she is surprisingly convincing. I am not a great storyteller. Neither is Leif. I am absolutely convinced that Skadi would make a great lawyer. The girl argues her point till you give up in frustration, she has the quickest comebacks, and she can spin a yarn like nobody.

She told me all about what happened to her gymnastics teacher the other day.

Skadi: “My teacher was on the edge of the foam pit, and I threw a foam block at her, and she fell all the way down the stairs. THEN she rolled all the way down a mountain and when she got to the bottom of the mountain, she rolled into a very deep lake. Then a snake swam up and bit her, but the snake didn’t think she tasted good and spit her right out! When he spit her out she flew on to the top of a house and she landed on her feet. But it was so hard that her shoes broke! And that is why she doesn’t wear shoes to gymnastics. Isn’t that silly?”

Me: “Wow. That is crazy silly.”

Monday, November 08, 2010

Adding to the list...

Remember when you were 13 years old and you found out that Michael Jackson was coming to town? Ok, so it was to the city 6 hours away, but your dad agreed to take you if you stood in line and got tickets? And there was only a small block of tickets sent to the sporting goods store at the mall in your tiny town, because it was, well, a tiny town comparatively. And so you stood in line, shaking with anticipation! Would you get the tickets?? Would you? Would you be holding Michael Jackson tickets? Or would it all just have been for naught?

Ok, so flash forward 25 years. Technology may be different. But I sat on the computer after the kids were in bed trying to pick up dinner reservations.

Not for the French Laundry. Or Chez Pannise.

Nope. I sat there trying to get reservations for dinner with princesses.

At Disneyworld.

Because I know my daughter would flip.

Yes, I had lunch reservations, but good friends we will be traveling with had coveted dinner reservations they were looking to unload in favor of other options they lucked into. Making the princess dinner my coveted goal. We timed it all. We sat on the phone. And I hit "Search for a Table" over and over and over and over.

Then it happened.

And we cheered.

Thanks for sharing that experience with me. (And yes, when I was 13 I did see Michael Jackson in concert. All five of the Jacksons appeared to be less than an inch tall from our nosebleed seats reserved for the Casper, Wyoming block at the top of Mile High Stadium in Denver. I don't normally readily admit to this. It's your special day.)


I have this huge list of things that before I had kids I swore I would never do... and it seems I just keep adding to that list. I mentioned a few months ago the main one of recent... Disneyworld.

We are well onto our countdown to liftoff. There was a little trauma last week when I realized I had miscounted the days way back when we were on something like 47 sleeps until DisneyWorld. Then last week the numbers got smaller and I realized I was off by a day.

Me: "Sorry Leif, we are really 15 days to DisneyWorld, not 14."

Leif: "WHAT! NO! You are wrong! We counted all this time!"

It was a rough day, with a bit of arguing. Yes, mommy makes mistakes on occasion.

I suppose it could be said that I have embraced this vacation completely.

In typical NM ding dong fashion, I realized last week when I was mapping my hotel that "oh, look, it looks like it is pretty close to SeaWorld." Then I found my hotel online to see if they happened to have shuttle buses and found out that I am actually staying at the Fairfield Inn AT SEAWORLD.

Ok, so that Friday that I have to work a bit, AB and the kids will have an easy source of entertainment at their toes. Love how that works.

I have the hotel booked, park tickets bought. You might think that sounds about normal... but then the list continues... and this is where those lists of things I would never do comes back to haunt me. Covet the reservations. What reservations can I score?

Dinner with the Princesses on Saturday
Pirates and Pals Firework cruise booked
Animal Kingdom Tusker House lunch booked
Finding Nemo musical reserved seating booked
Dinner with friends at Boma booked
Harry Potter Land all scouted out
Dinner at Boatwrights (the old boat making shop) is the special treat for AB.

Leif in typical OCD fashion has become all obsessed with Harry Potter Land and the website. He plans to go to Olivanders first to get his wand (with his own money) and has asked that we bring the special pencil (an eyeliner pencil) to draw his lightning bolt scar on his forehead (or two-head if you are Skadi).

It will be quite an adventure for the family!