Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Christmas Catch-up #2: Makin' up with the Mouse...


And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. In an effort to bring us back to even, I wanted to get out the 2nd installment of Team Taylor's time back in the states over the holidays. Let's get amongst it!

Sunday: REUNION!!!!!

So I have no lie to tell – after the evening we’d had, that was an EARLY flight on Sunday morning. And to beat it all, I’d actually set my alarm INCORRECTLY, meaning that I woke up at 6:30 instead of 7:30. This worked out well, however, as it gave me time to a) drink several cups of coffee, b) shower, and c) have Liz remind me about the last 45 minutes of the night (which I honestly still have no memory of). But to quote the legendary ADAA Dodgeball All-star Peter LeFleur: “Rough mornings usually follow good nights.” Seriously – can I just tell everyone that, once we’re back, watching that movie is pretty much THE FIRST thing I’m going to do (with a Mountain Dew in hand, of course).

The flight itself was easy, and I walked into the baggage claim to find MOMMA WAITING FOR ME!!!!! Oh man, it was just GREAT – after a SIX MONTH hiatus, I was back reunited with mom! So we hopped in the car, where Nanny (my grandmother) and Steve (my stepdad) where ready to get to the house after 2 days of driving. Before arriving at the house, however, they asked me what I wanted for lunch. Spoilt for choice, I just DROOLED as the restaurants rolled past. But then, like a beacon shining in the night, I found the spot for me.

Some folks hear the call of steak. Others…chicken. For this country boy, however, the call of “the precious” was…wait for it…wait for it…BARBEQUE, BABY!!!!!! OH YEAH!!!!!! Give me some fried pickles, a sandwich of pulled pork the size of my head, and a gallon of sweet tea, and you’ve got a recipe for success. When I think about that meal, so American in every way, my heart fills with warmth (and cholesterol).

After that, it was over to the house – talk about a FAT pad! Seriously, this place (VRBO forever, baby!!!!) was AMAZING – 5 bedrooms, pool, hot tub, plasma TV in every room, playstation, and even a GAME ROOM!!!! That’s right – we had pool, air hockey, foosball, and even a basketball net. Check out Nanny and Charlie (my 5 year old cousin) in action! And now should be noted that, despite being 78, Nanny is a FEROCIOUS air hockey player. I started out joking around with her when we played, just tapping the puck down her way. Well, that lasted until I was down 5-0, at which point I went on the offensive “bar in college” style. Seriously, I realize that I am no all-star when it comes to bar games, but I am a decent air hockey player. Nanny, however, was a natural. I barely escaped with a 10-7 victory, but I am never challenging that woman again!

The day was GREAT – tons of relaxing, catching up, and football on the TV. It was the first time I’d just sat with no agenda in what had to have been 6 months, and I must confess that it felt guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud. And what felt even better? Going to a steak house for dinner! Oh man, if this isn’t livin’ the dream, I don’t know what is.

I passed out that night around 10 PM and had THE BEST sleep of my natural life.

Monday: Sammy vs. Side-show Bob

So Monday was just EXTRA AWESOME all around. For starters, I hit my first park in a decade – UNIVERSAL STUDIOS!!!! WOO-HOO!!!! Seriously, I hadn’t been to this park since I was 14, and so this was a CRAZY stroll down memory lane.

We went to Universal with the goal of riding “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” It was only after dropping FIFTEEN BONES to park and walking to the gate, however, that we realized Harry was at Islands of Adventure, which is the all roller coaster/thrill ride park. And since I was the only member of the party who could actually ride any of the coasters, we abandoned that idea and rolled over to Universal instead.

So first off – FULL MARKS to Universal for some GREAT rides. Shrek in 4-D – GENIUS. Twister – WICKED. Terminator 2 – STILL cool after 14 years. Jaws - FUN. The Mummy Returns – FABULOUS for an indoor coaster (especially the part where the ceiling catches on fire!). I mean, it was ALL great – but then we found Krustyland.

So for those of you who’ve been to Universal, you’ll remember the “Back to the Future” ride. Well, that’s gone the way of the dodo, and it’s now been replaced by a Simpson’s ride called “Krustyland,” which basically is a motion simulator where you and the Simpsons go throughout the park while Sideshow Bob tries to Murder you. Honestly, after having ridden it, I think he really MIGHT have been trying to murder us. SHEESH…

Despite her air hockey prowess, Nanny was basically staggering coming off the ride. Steve looked like someone had dropped a sledgehammer on his back, and I think mom wanted to throw up. Add in the fact that I was queasy and this little Spanish baby was screaming for his LIFE behind me, and you have a recipe that says “let’s pack it in for the day, shall we?” But hey, did I mention this was a small price to pay to get MY TURKEY LEG, BABY!!!!!!!!! So guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud (peppy cheekies).

We rolled home before heading back to the airport, where we picked up MUFFIN PUFFIN!!!!! And then, with 2 former O-town locals in tow, we went to a Sunshine State institution – the Orlando Ale House. Everyone say it with me: “IT’S ZINGER TIME, BABY!!!!!!”

It was GREAT, and all just felt right with the world. I had “all my women,” football was on the telly, Fat Tire and wings were in front of me, and life was good. We hit the sack early again that night, as Tuesday started the run on Disney.


So Team Taylor started this day RIGHT – BREAKFAST WONTONS!!!!!! And just what the hell ARE Breakfast wontons, you ask? Well, they are a specialty of my mother (who doesn’t have a drop of Asian blood in her but knows how to make these puppies), and she went all out on this day. Throw in biscuits and gravy, fruit, bacon, and some of Steve’s sausage balls, and you are pretty much guaranteed to NOT need lunch. And so, with bellies full, we rolled to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

So I’m sure all of you know this, but I worked for Disney in 1999 and 2000. In ’99 I was a life guard, and it was pretty much the coolest job ever. Your day consisted of:

1. Swimming for an hour every morning as “training”
2. Putting on sun screen
3. Playing around with kids for 10 hours
4. Sitting around during a 2 hour rain delay
5. Staring at lots of HOT women through your glasses (but none as hot as my wife, of course)
6. Rinse-repeat

In 2000, however, I worked in their television marketing department. I won’t name any names (because Satan has enough names already), that experience couldn’t rate much higher than 1 or 2 notches above a stint in the gulags or Pol Pot’s detention camp. That experience, known as the “dark times,” was pretty much the WORST 6 months of my life, and I didn’t leave with a favorable opinion of the mouse or his minions.

However, a decade later, I have to admit – Disney is FUN. But more than that, I think Jenny said it best – it truly is a phenomenon. The smiles, the families speaking 40 languages but all queued up for Mickey’s autograph, everyone walking around with a t-shirt, the food, the fast pass, pointing with 2 fingers, you name it. Disney has it ALL figured out, and they market it to the bone.

We had a GREAT day in the park, complete with a FANTASTIC run through Kilimanjaro Safari and Countdown to Extinction (where I got another TURKEY LEG, BABY!!!!!!). After the safari and the jungle walks, the highlight was the newest ride – Expedition Everest. However, this was a highlight that almost wasn’t.

So Jenny and I have been in line about 10 minutes, and we notice the sign that says (2 hour wait from this point). 5 seconds later someone appears beside us and says to the 2 folks behind us, “We just got these 2 extra fast passes – would you like them?” Well, of course those folks say “SURE!” and run off. Now I am about to spit nails and ask “Why the hell didn’t you pick us? Look how hot my wife is!” when I hear the couple who gave away the fast passes say “Congrats on your engagement!” Okay, fair enough – they won the battle.

Given that we had limited time and wanted to see other stuff, Jenny and I decide to bail on Expedition Everest. And seriously, I am lifting the rope to walk away when a guy decked in Hokies gear from head to toe says, “I’ve got 2 free fast passes – do you two want ‘em?” Um, is a bird in hand worth 2 in the bush? (KJ – that was for you).

The lowlight happened on Kali river rapids. Let me paint the scene: It’s 4:45 PM, and the sun is setting. It’s about 55 degrees, but the sun light is weak. We have 1 ride left, and Jenny doesn’t want to go on it. However, we have fast passes, and I’ve assured her that, in ALL the times I’ve ridden it, I’ve never had a DROP of water on me. Reluctantly, she disregards her better judgment and trusts her husband. This is aided by the guy who gives her his poncho on his way out, saying, “Good luck – you’re gonna need it!” All the while, about a BILLION people stream past us soaked. Jenny is fazed. I am not.

So we get on this thing, and the FIRST THING that happens? A TIDAL WAVE of water comes over the boat, and hits only TWO seats – mine and muffin’s. 20 seconds later, we go over ANOTHER drop, and 2 people get CRUSHED – me and muffin. 10 seconds later, a jet of water blasts 2 people in the face – me and muffin. 10 seconds after that the ride is over, with 4 cats TOTALLY dry and 2 SOAKED – me and muffin. I could already tell that I was NOT going to get lucky that night.

Jenny and I spent the next TWENTY MINUTES in the bathroom with our clothes under the dryer. Why was this so important, you ask? Because as soon as we left the park, we had to go to AN OUTDOOR BARBEQUE!!!!!

That’s right, Sammy the Bull showed up COMMANDO to this shin dig, where he quickly put on all his layers and ran STRAIGHT for the beer tent. I mean, when you’re wet, you just need to put on the beer jacket, right Cath? But in truth, it was all good – I was warm, the ribs were good, the beans were EXCELLENT, and the mac n’ cheese was off the chain. Throw in 2 hours of characters dancing, Cowboy Trevor doing rope tricks, listening to some good ole’ fashioned country, and discovering a new dance called the “Hoe Down Throw Down,” and you have a recipe for another GREAT night.

Wednesday: So THIS is Parenthood…

So Wednesday was a GREAT day all around, especially because JT and I got a chance to experience Disney in a way we never had before: as “parents.” That’s right, sports fans, on this day, Team Taylor had my 5 year old cousin in tow in THE MAGIC KINGDOM. Can someone say the perfect storm?

We arrived at the Magic Kingdom around 11 or so, at which point Charlie told us, “You lost me yesterday – don’t lose me today.” (For the record – we didn’t “lose” him in the park, meaning he was wandering around on his own for 12 hours – we simply broke off from Mom and Steve who were keeping him. I mean, come on – I’m not a TOTAL ogre!). And so JT and I spent the day with “Charlie-man”, Benny, and Kay (his parents) setting a BLISTERING pace through the park. And I gotta tell you – it was a BLAST.

For starters, Charlie rode EVERY ride with us – so cute! He was always sitting between me and Jenny – you literally couldn’t have fit a greased dime between us on those rides. And when the crowds were bad, we each had a hand on him – it was pretty darn cute (if I do say so myself). Side note – the one ride JT and I went solo was “It’s a Small World.” Now granted, I know that they have no desire to change this ride, but if the PC police ever crack down on Disney, let me just confirm that there are some SERIOUS violations in there. Examples:

Japan: Dude with slits for eyes RIDING A WATER BUFFALO and doing ninja chops
Australia: Aboriginal kid holding a boomerang RIDING A KANGAROO
Africa (that’s right – no country breakdown here): 20 small black children riding a drunk elephant (although, now that I know what I know about Amarula, this might be a bit truer)

The other thing to note about this ride is that, at the end, everyone is dressed in the same clothes and all singing together. This is fine, until THE RIDE BACKS UP AND YOU’RE STUCK IN THE LAST SECTION WITH THEM SINGING OVER AND OVER. Seriously, Rice – if there is a Hell, that just might be it. All I could think of was Steven Bullion (buddy from high school) saying: “My own hell would be having Satan bolt me down to a chair and watch a high school performance of ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ over and over and over…”

The highlights of the day (since I didn’t get a Turkey leg) were definitely the Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, and Space Mountain, but I must confess that I got a REAL kick out of watching Charlie and Jenny do the shooting in “Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger.” I did the steering, and I am happy to report that we collectively vanquished Zurg from the Galaxy.

We didn’t hit everything in the Magic Kingdom, as we had to get home for Christmas dinner. However, I think we definitely pounded the pavement and made a healthy dent in the activities, including ending on a high note with Thunder Mountain. And whilst the coasters were good, they were NOTHING compared to Steve’s turkey dinner! Folks, we are talking one tender, succulent bird, and I ate at least 6 pounds of it. Pooh – this was your finest effort to date – FULL MARKS!

Thursday: Not a good night to be Jewish…

So Thursday was the big one for Team Taylor – EPCOT!!!! We hitched a ride with Benny, Kay, and Charlie to the parks, as they were stopping at the Grand Floridian first (Charlie had a “pirate’s adventure” that sailed from there, so we tagged along). JT and I’d never actually been in the Grand Floridian, and I can confirm that it is POSH PUMA. Seriously – it’s like a mini-Opryland Hotel – impressive. Mom – I know that it’s been on your list forever – I definitely think you’d dig it.

We said bye to the Wilson clan (Green Light, Benny!) before hopping the monorail (that’s right – still in action!) over to the Transportation and Ticket Center, where we changed lines and headed towards the Golf Ball (I mean Spaceship Earth). And so began an 11 hour ASSAULT on the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

The day was PERFECT – sunny skies, light wind, no clouds. And the attractions were better than ever: Figment is back, as is CAPTAIN EO!!!!! That’s right, Michael Jackson was back in 3-D, dancing his way to the liberation of Angelica Houston and her minions. And whilst Avatar shows just how much 3-D has progressed since 1986, it was still fun.

The Living Seas are gone (farewell, Seabase Alpha!), but Test Track was cooking, as was the Land (Dad – it’s better than ever – you wouldn’t BELIEVE some of those crops now). The Land Pavilion actually had the best ride in the park – Soarin’. This ride, which simulates gliding over California, was REALLY cool (especially with the fast pass!).

We met Nanny, Mom, and Steve for lunch in Italy at this AMAZING restaurant, where we ate like KINGS. Seriously – I couldn’t stop consuming food – it was SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUD. Lasagna, gnocchi, goat’s cheese – you name it – we made it COUNT. And YES – peppy cheekies were involved.

After that was a true highlight for the trip – the Candlelight Processional. This is really, REALLY neat, as a massive choir processes on stage and sings various carols whilst a celebrity reads the Christmas story. Our celebrity was Brad Garrett (the brother in “Everybody Loves Raymond”), and he was HILARIOUS. He got on stage, and the monologue was something like this:

“So it’s really great to be…hey, TURKEY LEGS!!!!” (runs off stage, is dragged back) “Sorry about that, folks. I’m a little drunk.” (mother in front of us covers daughter’s ears). “Sorry I’m reading this thing. I just found out Disney wanted me to do this last night. I wasn’t their first choice. They wanted Bill Cosby, but he’s too old to get on a plane.”

The show was a great mix of humor, reverence, and music, and we really, REALLY enjoyed it. And once it was all said and done, and the choir had finished with a big flourish on “Joy to the World,” Brad looked at the audience and said: “Wow…not a great night to be Jewish.” CLASSIC!

EPCOT has always been, and remains, our favorite park. I think we appreciate it more now that we’ve traveled a bit (the England section was BANG ON, for the record – look at the pub!). Oh, and the trolls in the Maelstrom of Norway – still priceless: “INVADERS!!!! Disappear! Disappear!”
I fully expect that JT and I will be back to EPCOT – it’s all about a) picking a Knights game that works and b) actually living back in the US…details.

The evening was wonderful, as we had a GREAT Christmas with the fam. Jenny and I hadn’t actually wrapped anything, and so we resorted to the tried and tested “male college roommates at Christmas” method of a) wheeling everything out in a suitcase, b) asking folks to close their eyes, and c) dropping it in their laps (rinse-repeat). JT and I were big winners, walking out with 3G Kindle’s, baby!!!! Woo-hoo!!!! I’ve already downloaded my first book (“One Second After” – can’t WAIT!).

In retrospect, it’s AMAZING how fast that week went by, and it was absolutely PERFECT. Mom – thanks SO MUCH for organizing it, as it was a BLAST. Jenny and I had SO much fun, and it was so great to see everyone – we just wished we had longer! Now get busy planning that Sing trip…

Okay, that’s enough for this installment. Chat tomorrow!


Sam and Jenny

No comments:

Post a Comment