Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bandit and Sammy and Christmas morning!

The Boys checking out a box of Kong toys...just for them.

Sammy and Bandit checking to see if Mom/Grandmom might have something even better.

Sammy in his begging position. If you ignore him, he will start to move his cute!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wordless Wednesday...A Day At The Magic Kingdom

I think we will wrap up our trip to the Land that the Mouse Built with a trip tp his first home, the Magic Kingdom!

From early morning...



...until late at night. always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

A review of "The Snow Globe" [89]

The Snow Globe by Shelia Roberts
St. Martins Press, ISBN 978-0312594480
October 26, 2010, 176 pages

The holiday season is wonderful, but for those dealing with some problems, it can be difficult. As three friends gather for a 'girls' day of some pre-Christmas shopping, each is facing her own challenges.

The first, Kiley, has lost her job, which is bad enough but then she loses her her sister. Yes, the family Thanksgiving dinner is going to be a little tense. Then there is Suzanne. She seems to have it all. A handsome, sweet husband, a beautiful daughter, a successful career as a realtor, a showcase beautiful home. But below the surface, she has lost sight of what is most important perhaps. Obsessed with success, with perfect appearances, too busy for her friends or family, she may be, as her mother warns her, in danger of losing it all.
And finally there is Allison facing a lonely Christmas without her beloved grandmother, the only family member she really shared any values with.

But a little Christmas magic is about to enter each of their lives in the form of a beautiful snow globe that Kiley finds in an antique shop. Not only is it beautiful, with a scene of a lovely old toyshop in the Bavarian mountains with an angel standing outside, but it comes with a heartwarming story. Decades ago, it foretold of hope and love to a toymaker who thought happiness in his life was gone forever.
It seems that when the right person gazes into the globe what they see inside changes to hint at the path their future will take. Kiley looks into it and no longer see the old toyshop and angel inside but instead a modern toystore in her Seattle hometown. And can that man standing outside be someone who will bring new love to her life? When magic touches her life, she decides to pass the globe on to her friends, in hope that their lives too can be changed as her has been by what they see in the snow globe.

This is a sweet book, and the perfect book to read, cozily wrapped in a throw, in your favorite chair on a cold winter day. A couple of feet of snow outside, as there was when I read it, and you are all set. At 178 pages it is a quick read, but a very nice one, at least if you can suspend your disbelief and accept the idea of a little Christmas magic. Rather than a novel, it is really three interconnected short stories and my only complaint is that I did not think the third story, Allison's, and the ending, was quite up to the first two stories. Kiley's is rather predictable but I really thought that Suzanne's was the most heartwarming and the one that will stick in your mind.

So make some hot chocolate, grab the afghan and settle in for a nice cozy read with "The Snow Globe".

My thanks to St. Martins Press for a copy of this book.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wishing You All a Happy Christmas

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.
And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!"


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wordless Wednesday...Christmas at a Magical Place
 always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

A Review of "Beat" [88]

Beat by Stephen Jay Schwartz
Forge Books, ISBN 978-0765322951
September 28, 2010, 336 pages

Hayden Glass is a decorated LAPD robbery-homicide detective. He is also out on medical leave at the moment, for at least two reasons..his out of control sex addiction and the fact that he torn a man to pieces. A very bad man, but still.
"He'd been on medical leave for two months. The LAPD didn't know what to do with him after he killed Tyler Apollyon, one of the most ruthless sexual predators in L.A.'s history. If it had been a single shot fired from his service automatic, things might have been different. But Hayden had mutilated the guy. Literally torn him apart with his bare hands after trying to save the one woman he'd finally come to love."
So, he sits home and attends his Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings as ordered, but soon the voice of Rufus, as he calls the sex addicted voice in his brain, is again calling to him. Before long, Hayden is on the internet, looking for satisfaction. He meets a hooker in an on-line video chat room but as things escalate, as he believes he is falling 'in love' with her, he finds himself driving to San Francisco to meet the woman in person, spending every dollar he can get his hands on to pay to be with her. Then things take a violent and horrible turn. Two men break into the hotel room where Hayden and the hooker are 'meeting', beat Hayden terribly, steal his gun and badge and drag the girl out. Before Hayden knows what has happened, as he searches for her, he finds himself in the middle of a powerful and evil sex slave ring run by the Russian mob, protected by corrupt elements in the police department and under investigation by the FBI. Oh, what Hayden will do for "love".

First, yet me just say that this is perhaps the most un-Christmasy book I have read this year. Even if you want to pick it up, wait until after the holiday season, really.
This book is graphic, in matters of sex and in matters of violence. Quite honestly, violence in books rarely bothers me but this about reached my limit. The graphic nature of the sex was just rather creepy.

So, did I hate this book, did I dislike it? Well, no, not totally, which really says something for the rest of the book. It is a good story, with some great characters, a great setting and some good twists and turns. Personally, I think if the violence and sex had been turned down a bit, it would have been a better book. It certainly would have been one I liked more.
But the real issue for me is the character of Hayden. Yes, I get the whole anti-hero thing, but really, he is a very unlikable man. I have an issue with the whole idea of sexual addiction but his lack of ability to control himself, no matter what the consequences, just gets annoying and distasteful. He wants to paint these people in the sex trade as so very bad, so very evil, and yet he and people like him are the very reason that the business exists. But that is different in his mind..because he is an addict. Even when he finds out how very young his on-line 'girlfriend' is. Please...

A good story, a well written thriller, wrapped in a rather distasteful and troubling wrapper.

My thanks to Library Thing Early Reviewers for a copy of this book

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lighthouse Become Ice House

Now, although it has been quite awhile since I have written a lighthouse post, I saw this video and just had to share.

On a beautiful summer day, there is something very attractive about a lighthouse, but what about in the winter? Well, some lighthouses, it seems can have there own particular winter beauty, a cold and icy beauty.
It has been a bit cold along the East Coast of the US recently, but if you really want to experience cold and snow, drop by the Great Lakes. It seems the recent unusually cold temperatures and strong winds have turned one lighthouse, Cleveland's Harbor West Pierhead Lighthouse, located on Lake Erie, into a frigid but spectacular site.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bandit Sunday...with a Guest.

These fellows looked so sad, I added a few adornments.
The hats and red noses are a little photoshopping.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Weekend Cooking...Pillsbury Orange Rolls

I am sure many of us have traditions for Christmas morning. Santa hats, Christmas PJs, waking pre-dawn to see if Santa has arrived, maybe a dawn religious service. For my family it is Pillsbury Orange Rolls!

We always attend Mass on Christmas Eve..and the niece is way to old to be getting up before sunrise to check on Santa. But one is never too old for Orange Rolls.
As I remember, we had them when I was a child. I am not sure why. Were they available all year or did they only make their appearance when the weather turned cold and the decorations went up in the department stores and malls? So, like October.

But regardless, they are one of our Christmas morning food traditions to this day. I arrive at the bro and sil's early, and preheat the oven. Give the can a good whack on the edge of the counter to pop it open.
Now there is a decision to be made. You can bake them on a sheet pan, each free standing, in which case they get crispier edges. Or you can bake them in a cake pan so that most of the edges are still soft. The perfect one is the one roll in the middle that never touched the pan edge and is all soft. That one is mine if I can grab it first.

I will tell you a very scary story.
A few years ago I went off to the local supermarket to buy my can of Orange Rolls...and there were none to be found! Not even a label on the shelf. The slack jawed store employee had no idea why. So, I went to another store...and no, they had none either!! The niece and I scoured every store in the area..and went far afield to search other areas. Not a Pillsbury Orange Roll to be found. Oh, the tragedy, oh, the dilemma. Christmas would be ruined! Was there some sort of nationwide Orange Rolls shortage, maybe caused by one of those freak Florida frosts?

Now, some of you might say, "Well, you could have baked something." True, I guess that I could have, but honestly the thought never entered my mind. First, I am scared of yeast. Second, it is all about hitting the tube on the edge of the counter, taking the lid off the little can of icing. It is TRADITION!

So, I bought a can of Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls and topped them with my own orange icing, a simple mix of fresh orange juice and powered sugar. You will notice from the can in the picture above that they say they have Cinnabon cinnamon in them now. That is not something I remember from my childhood. Maybe it was so. Or is someone fooling with my Orange Rolls? But regardless, at the time I thought it was a clever solution.
And to tell you the truth, they may have been better than the original. The icing was for sure.

But the next year, the Orange Rolls were back in the store and I went back to the old favorite. Just because.
Christmas is about traditions, even if they don't make a lot of sense.

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Best Christmas Movies of all Time

I was watching TV the other morning, a cable morning show on the channel that makes Nancy Pelosi scream, and there was a fellow on there who had written The Atheist's Christmas Coloring book, because he says, just because atheists don't believe in Christ..who you might remember is the one whose birthday we are no reason they can't enjoy Christmas.
And why I might not agree, I can't blame them. Honestly, Christmas is such a great holiday. The sharing, the giving, the celebrating. The wonderful music, the lights, the decorations, the movies. Oh, so many movies.

For reasons we will not go into, I have found myself watching hour upon hour of "holiday" movies on the Hallmark Channel this year. And let me tell you, there are a great many very bad seasonal movies out there. But there are also some great ones and I thought I might share my top picks. And please add any you may think that I missed.
OK, I like sweet, touching, sappy Christmas movies. I find The Polar Express creepy, The Midnight Before Christmas scary. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, creepy and scary. I don't want anything mean spirited or cruel. Sweet, sappy, with an underlying great message is what I am looking for this time of year.

The Muppet Christmas Carol- Some people consider this as just another version of A Christmas Carol but I think it stands on its own as a classic. I love A Christmas Carol. I love the Muppets. What can I say.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer- The stop-motion animated TV special from 1964. I don't totally get the appeal of this one but OK, I am putting this one one the list just because my sister-in-law loves it so much. I always find the island of Misfit Toys a bit creepy, but you have to love that red nose! "It's a Holly, Jolly Christmas...."

A Charlie Brown Christmas- I am of an age, before VCRs and DVDs, when we would have to wait each year for the one night this would come on the TV. And wait I did. Love the the message, love the tree.

The Dead- Ok, for a complete change of pace, I will throw in this movie, staring Anjelica Houston in an adaptation of a James Joyce story, set in Dublin, Ireland at Christmastime. The story all takes place on one night, the Feast of the Epiphany, the 12th Night, to be exact, and is a rather dark, haunting movie. And again, it is a movie with an ending you must not miss, but for a very different reason than most Christmas movies. One particular highlight, the appearance of Irish tenor Frank Patterson, in a  small role that is pivotal to the story .

Elf- We watch this movie every Thanksgiving night, sort of the start of the Official Holiday Season. I will admit, I was not sold on it at first, but it has grown on me in recent times. It's funny, it's sweet, it's all about the importance of family.

It's A Wonderful Life- A great beginning and a wonderful ending...around a pretty forgettable middle part. The whole Donna Read, high school part could be cut IMHO. But the ending saves it for me, when poor George, convinced he has been a failure, is saved by all the people whose lives he has touched and he holds his little daughter by the tree, and he is crying and the bell rings...well, if you do not have a tear in your eye, you are a Scrooge!

Miracle on 34th Street- Please, the original version only. Little Natalie Wood, Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn. I will allow the colorized version, but no remakes please. OK, very Santa heavy, obviously, but sometimes you just have to believe and give up your cynical ways Caite. Another movie with a sweet ending. Where are the tissues..?

A Christmas Story- This movie seems to divide people into those that love is..and those that don't get the attraction. Why do I like it? Well, although it is set in a time a decade or two before my own childhood, it reminds me when I was a kid. The look of the town, the cars, the way they dress, their house..that scene at the department store reminds me of going with my mom downtown at Christmas, to the big Bamberger's store. A time when a Chinese restaurant was as exotic as we got and kids were bundled in snowsuits. And it confirms my long held belief that Santa can be scary.

The Bishop's Wife- Maybe not one that is as well know as some of these movies, but a great one. First of all, two words..Cary Grant. So handsome and sweet as the angel Dudley, helping a basically good man who has gotten a bit distracted about what is really important to get his priorities back in line. David Niven and Loretta Young star as well...a charming, funny movie.

A Christmas Carol- Now in my opinion, out of the many versions out there, the choice comes down to the Patrick Stewart version, the George C. Scott version and the 1951 Alastair Sim version...and the winner is Alastair. Yes, he is a bit over the top in the Christmas morning scene but still this is the classic against which all others must be measured. Redemption, a radical change in the course and purpose of your life, a realization of what is really important..I think it touches on the very heart of the real message of Christmas, so it is my winner for the best of the best!

I was aiming for a top ten, and I had to reach a bit to come up with that many.
Is there one that I am missing, that just has to be on the list? Any that should be struck off?
I am sure we all have our favorites.
Still, I think these are some winners here that you can't go wrong with.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wordless Wednesday...Epcot

...with a short side trip to the Boardwalk and Yacht Club. always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Weekend Cooking...Newark Hot Dog

Sadly, few of you are lucky enough to have been raised in picturesque Newark, New Jersey, unlike this humble blogger. Yes, there were a few minuses, like it being the car-jacking capital of the USA. Put there were pluses like..awww...well, a lovely collection of cherry blossom trees in the US, in Branch Brook Park. "More than 2,000 cherry trees that blossom during April are greater both in variety and number than the famed Washington, D.C., display the result of a 1927 gift from Mrs. Felix Fuld and the Bamberger family."

And...awww...a really big airport! And a  beautiful French Gothic Catholic cathedral.

And the Newark Hot Dog!

What is a Newark Hot Dog you ask? Well, you take what is already not a very healthy food, the hot dog, and up the damage. I have included a chart to explain the construction.

First, you need the right bread. You need a bread that can stand up to this sandwich without falling apart.  For this sandwich, the bread they used is referred to as pizza bread. It is sort of the love child of a pita and a pizza crust. A flat round loaf, maybe 10" in diameter, that is sliced in half, and then packed with the rest of the greasy goodness.

The hot dogs, either one or two, are deep fried and when the skin is crispy, placed in the bottom of the pocket. One other point here. If you cut the loaf in half, the resulting sandwich is a "whole", containing two hot dogs. If you take a quarter of the loaf, insert one hot dog, that is a "half". Clear?

Ok, let's move on. On top of the hot dog, you add a nice little pile of sauteed peppers and onions. Then, on top of the veggies, you stuff in a nice pile of deep fried chunks of potatoes. They should have to be stuffed in there. Some places, like Jimmy Buff's , lean toward thick slices, others, like my personal favorite, Dickie Dee's, use big chunks, crispy on the outside, soft and delicious inside....hmmmm.
Then the completed sandwich is topped with mustard and ketchup.
Yes, both, unless you request otherwise.
But if you say you want "the works", that will include mustard and ketchup.

There is then the issue of beverage. Some feel the sandwich calls for a grape soda. I think the chemicals help cut the grease. Many at Jimmy Buff's seem to lean toward the Yoo Hoo. Personally, I think a birch beer is the perfect compliment if available.

Now, as well as hot dogs, you can get Italian sausage given the same "Newark" treatment.  Personally, that is my favorite, with only ketchup, although for those who have an issue with making decisions, on a recent visit to Jimmy Buff's, I notice you can also get a Combo, with both a hot dog and sausage.
Is that gilding the lily?

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Review of "The Athena Project" [87]

The Athena Project by Brad Thor
Atria Books, ISBN 978-1439192955
November 23, 2010, 336 pages

There are just some jobs where you need a woman touch. Or rather, in the world of covert operations, there are some places where a man may stand out and a woman may go unnoticed. This was the idea behind the formation of a new Delta Force group, code named The Athena Project. The government would seek out and train the most talented woman they could find...great athletics, experts in all sorts of arms..and not beyond using their attractiveness to complete the mission.
"Give a woman a dog's leash, one person said, and she could wander anywhere. Put a woman in a car with a baby seat and she could sit all day surveilling a target without attracting much attention...A female operative capable of kicking in your door, shooting you in the head, or cuffing you and stuffing you in a trunk was the last thing most of the bad guys would ever expect."
When a terrorist attack takes place in Rome, the members of the Athena group are given the job of infiltrating the home of the arms dealer who supplied the explosives and taking him captive. An exciting beginning to the adventure, but only the beginning of what turns out to be a much more complicated and much more deadly conspiracy of terror.
It is a conspiracy that reaches back to the final days of the Nazi regime and reaches into a view of the future that would be truly frightening, if it comes to pass.
The woman of The Athena Project are given the job to see that it does not.

If I had to describe this book in one word it would be a "whoot".
A fun, exciting romp.
Ok, at times you have to suspend your disbelief. The science is..well, hard to believe, regardless of the comment at the beginning of the book that "All the science in this novel is based on reality." Hmmmm... And the comparisons in your mind to old episodes of Charlie's Angels may get a bit old. I kept thinking who should play the four woman in the movie, because this is a book crying out to be a movie. A movie men and teenage boys will love.
But...the story holds your attention, moves along at a 'killer' pace (pun fully intended) and the dialogue is often quite funny, and for me, funny goes a long way. Yes, there is shooting and killing and a bit of "enhanced" interrogation methods but it never gets too heavy or scary before we are off to the next adventure with the girls.
Not an earth shattering thriller, but a good, fun read.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wordless Wednesday...Disney's Animal Kingdom

The Tree of Life
from the Festival of the Lion King..sadly not a real animal

Expedition Everest

It back!...for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Weekend Cooking...Maura's Christmas Cake

My creation from a few years ago
Thanksgiving has past, and as usual, I am late in making my Christmas Cake. “But” you say, “you have weeks.”
No, because the cake must age. It must mature. It must be soaked in whiskey! I must get to work at once.

A Christmas Cake, in the Irish tradition, is a fruitcake. Not the nasty, candied fruit 'fruitcakes' you often find in the US, but a dense, fruity, nutty, rich cake, topped with a thick layer of marzipan and royal icing, to be eaten in small pieces, ideally with a nice cuppa tea. Or maybe something a bit stronger.

The best Christmas Cakes that I have ever tasted were the ones baked by my Aunt Maura. Now Maura was a force, a true force. My father, as I may have mentioned, was born in Ireland, one of a number of brothers and Maura was the wife of one of his brothers. A widow, the mother of two daughters, a dairy and then cattle farmer, she lived in the house she was born in, a very old house with a thatched roof. The house was at the Cross, the intersection of the road that goes to the market town of Mitchelstown and the road that does down to the 'town' of Ballindangen. A road she took her bike down, or walked, every day, past her fields, well into her eightys to go to daily Mass.

She played the fiddle, had taught it at one point, and, at the age of eighty, took up the concertina. She knew personally, it seemed, every musician in Ireland, a country known for it love of music and respect for musicians. The main room of her house, anchored on one end by the open fire that was the house's only source of heat (except for, in her later years, an electric heater in her bedroom), and on the other by the cupboard that contained all her dishes and cookware, was living room, kitchen and dining room. And on the very long, very dark, Irish winter nights, often the home to a gathering of her fellow musicians from the area for a 'session'. You could be there late into the evening any day and hear a knock on the door, someone just dropping in to see Maura. She always seemed to know everything that was going on...and was usually involved in it.

And oh, could she bake. When we would arrive for a visit from “the States”, she would have one of her apple tarts in the tiny oven waiting for our “tea”. I watched her make one on many occasions, a handful of this, a teacup of that, tried to copy down the ingredients and instructions, but have never been able to get it just right. But on her Christmas Cake, I really tried to pin her down, and with a figurative gun to her head, actually got her to write out the recipe. One funny point. As a girl, Maura had taken “The Pledge”, a promise not to drink alcohol and would proudly tell you she had never had a drink in her life. And yet, she always kept a bottle of Irish whiskey in the front parlour closet...”for the Christmas Cake, of course!”

As we would leave, every time, she would come to the door and hug us goodbye and get teary, saying that, “God willing”, she would still be alive to see us when we next visited. Sadly, it is not to be, as God called her home this year. I am not one to presume, at all, that everyone who dies goes to heaven, but surely Maura is there.
And I hope they have fruitcake...and great music and a good peat fire going in the fireplace in heaven and Maura will be right at home.

In her own words..
Maura's Christmas Cake

21 oz. mixed fruit 
2 1/2 oz. cherries
2 1/2 oz. almonds, ground
2 1/2 oz. mixed peel
2 'good' tbs. whiskey
7 oz. flour
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. mixed spice (an Irish mix of cloves, cinnamon, ginger, allspice...)
2 oz. whole almonds
5 oz. butter
6 oz. demerara sugar
Rind and juice of a lemon and an orange
4 eggs

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, giving each egg 5 minutes beating into creamed sugar and butter. Add flour, sifted, and then fruit, seasoning etc and last, the whiskey.
Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Put mixture in oven at that heat for 30 minutes. Lower temperature to 275 and bake for 3-3 1/2 hours. Leave in the oven to cool and then take out and sprinkle whiskey on top. 

I will admit I have made a few chances. For the mixed fruit, I use King Arthur's fruitcake blend and KAF cherries and some chopped dates. I add a grated apple or two, something I read in other recipes. I use more spice...a total of 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, fresh grated nutmeg, cloves, ginger, allspice. I soak the fruit in rum or whiskey overnight before I make the cake. Yes, I have been known to use rum instead of Irish whiskey. Recipes are living things and I think you can play with them a bit.
But in my mind, it will always be Maura's Christmas Cake.

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Review of "Fodor's Walt Disney World 2011" [86]

Fodor's Walt Disney World 2011
Fodor's; Pap/Map edition, ISBN 978-1400004614
November 16, 2010, 608 pages

You know, there are all sorts of vacations. There is, is order of complexity, sitting on a beach with a tropical drink in your hand, there is a road trip covering several states, with stops at points of interest and oddities, there is a month long tour of Europe...and then there is a trip to Disney World and the Greater Orlando Theme Park Megalopolis. 
Make no mistake, a trip to Disney is perhaps most akin to planning a military invasion.
Now, that is a bad thing.
So long as you are aware of what you are getting into.
And many people, as I can personally attest to from my latest trip, are not.

A day did not go by on my most recent trip when I did not have to assist my fellow travelers, mostly correcting misinformation. It is a complicated topic and we can not all be experts. But take the example of a Canadian women, and then her whole family, with whom I had a conversation at Sea World. They had no idea about the Disney or Sea World water parks, they had no idea about the various Disney Parks. When someone says to me "What is Epcot", my heart sinks. They had never heard of a FastPass! People, I do not do lines, and in most cases neither do you have to. I try to be helpful and guide the lost and confused...but I am only one person! :-)

I have been to Disney many times. I love Disney and regardless of what one family member, who will remain unnamed, recently said, I totally get The Magic. But the thing is, in the whole central Florida area, there are a huge number of things to do and unless you has unlimited time and unlimited money (and if you do, can I go with you next time?) you need A PLAN.
And many visitor do not have a clue, yet alone a plan.
Without one, you will waste money and time, not get the most out of your trip and end up being one of those families you see on Main Street at the end of the day, as the park is closing, the mother exhausted, the father red-faced and angry and the kids crying. Folks, this is suppose to be fun!

So please, please, before going to see the Mouse...or Harry if you swing that and read a book. A comprehensive travel guide like this very good guide. There are many, many decisions to be made and you need help. You need help just knowing how many decisions you need to make. How are you getting there? Where are you staying? In park..out of park? What will it cost? How are you going to get around? Do you want to rent a car? Where do you want to eat..and what about the Disney food plan? What do you have to see, because know, you will not see it all. Decisions must be made and this is a very fine book to assist you in doing that.

There is a huge amount of material to be covered and Fodor does about as good a job as is possible in presenting all that material without overwhelming the reader. From the very beginning of your planning, through your arrival at the parks, to how to spend your days, all the topics are covered. Whether you are traveling with little kids, or teenagers, are an older couple or even alone, the various unique issues each situation presents are covered. A huge list of hotels, in and out of WDW are covered, as are many, many restaurants, again both in the parks and resorts and outside the Mouse Empire. Each park and the must see attractions at each are discussed. A great deal of helpful information, all presented in a very clear and logical way, is at the heart of this book. And it is also presented in a very attractive format, with a very large number of very nice, full-color photographs and many helpful maps and graphics and a very nice pull out map.

About 1/2 the book is devoted to WDW, about 1/4 to Universal and Sea World, and the remaining 1/4 to the greater Central Florida region, from Tampa to the Kennedy Space Center. Yes, even my beloved Gatorland is discussed.
It is a very comprehensive book...but, like any guide, it is not perfect. The hotel I stayed at on my most recent visit, an out-of-park hotel, was not included, and at least two in-park restaurants I ate it were not there either. Understandable and not an issue really, since any one book can not contain everything. But take the fact that the very popular restaurant at Canada in Epcot, Le Cellier, was not mentioned. Things like that were a bit odd maybe.

The book is very up to date, which is refreshing. Theme parks are always changing a bit, adding and subtracting  attractions and this book is on top of what is going on in the parks. For example, the fact that Toontown is disappearing, being folded into a bigger Fantasyland is discussed, as is the changed made to the Shamu show at Sea World since the killing of a trainer by one of the whales. But that also pointed out another small issue I had with the book and that is some of the ratings. The greatly reduced Shamu show is still a Fodor Pick, whereas I think it is clear that the best show at Sea World is now the dolphin show, into which the park has poured all their best. Platform divers, acrobats, swooping tropical birds, and a large amount of trainer/animal interaction, make this, not Shamu the must see show. All ratings are subjective and while I found myself disagreeing with some one them and some of the opinions offered, for most visitors that would be a very minor issue.

For someone planning a first trip, this is a great book. For others, who have made trips, even many trips, in the past, this is still a very useful and very enjoyable book. Full of fun facts, countless things I am sure you don't know and tons of helpful information.
Strongly recommended.

Now, let me just say, as much as I like this book and recommend it, I would not let it be the only book I would read if planning a trip to Disney, especially if you are a first timer. Although I have not looked at a recent edition, [author or publisher, please note I would be happy to check out and review the 2011 editions if you would like :-) ], I have also found  The Unofficial Disney Guide by Bob Sehlinger very helpful in the past. Lets say it gives a slightly different, but no less helpful or interesting, perspective on WDW. The fact that every review on Amazon is a five star review gives you an idea of how good this book is.
Together they would make a great team to help you make you trip to Walt Disney World the funnest trip ever...A Magical Trip to a Magical Place.

My Thanks to Amazon Vine for my review copy of this book.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sammy...The Thinker

He is a very thoughtful fellow...for a dog.
Or maybe he is just watching for chipmunks!