Halloween at Three Disney Parks, worldwide: Paris, Tokyo, & Orlando

Every year, all of the Disney parks celebrate a selection of the major ‘western’ holidays, and this includes Halloween. As no two parks are exactly alike, neither do any of them do the Halloween festivities alike. As such, I’ve decided to dedicate a blog post to those differences — As I experienced them. So far I’ve been lucky enough to be in three of the six Disneyland parks during Halloween: Paris in 2008, Tokyo in 2013, and Orlando in 2015 (the only one called the Magic Kingdom instead of Disneyland).

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So for instance, while Disney bounding (wearing modern street clothes that echo Disney characters) is something you’ll see year round at the US parks (if you know what you’re looking for)

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The girl on the left is Disney Bounding Snow White, the other girl is doing Minnie mouse

full-out costumes/Cosplay for anyone above the age of 14 are not allowed at any of the parks, in order to protect the brand and more importantly for fear of people confusing staff with visitors; except, that is, during the Halloween festivities (although even that is regulated, and the rules –often as reflection of security concerns — vary by park). That said, the extent to which the regular customers embrace that varies wildly both individually and culturally. That said, each of the parks has a very different ‘flavor’ as to how Halloween is done.

 

Paris Disney: where Spooky and eerie Halloweens rule

On October 29, 2008 I was in Disneyland Paris; this was back when it was still called Euro Disney Resort, and controlled not by the US Disney corporation but rather by local interests, and as such, much may have changed in the last 10 years in how Halloween is celebrated. To be honest … my experience of the park at that time was that, as a whole sucked rocks so bad that I was not at all surprised when a few years later I heard that Disney US had suspended any expansion plans, and initiated a take-back of control of the park; it was a process that began with the aforementioned name change, and that was completed just last year — so that they have only recently announced plans to begin the expansion that had been intended from when the park first opened in 1992. When I visited, it had been open about 16 years, was managed still by a subsidiary, (created I think in order to make the French feel like they were in control of the thing…) and well, like I said it sucked… BAD. The staff was impressively lazy and rude (oh have I got stories!!), the bathrooms was offensively dirty and smelly, and well… a far cry from “The happiest place on earth.”

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All of the Disney parks are intentionally designed to provide similar yet unique experiences, as a draw for folks like me to visit all of them, and Paris has some really good rides. For example, while I think EVER park has a variation of the “Haunted Mansion,” most of these rides tend to be more fun and quirky then they are spooky or scary, with the exception of the Paris version. Called “Phantom Manor,” this ride dark to the point of being down right creepy; unlike the other versions it includes a cohesive story line that is intentionally eerie. (Read this story synopsis to see just how much).
(Also watch this ‘ride-through’ YouTube video shot in 2015, and even if you don’t speak French you’ll note that music is also a heck of a lot spookier than at the other rides.)

Here’s also an interesting hour-long documentary on YouTube about what the Imagineers where going for when they developed the Disneyland Paris’ Phantom Manor, if you’re so inclined.

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The Phantom Manor decorated for Halloween, complete with the cast member in the green gown, with a pumpkin head, standing on its balcony behaving ghoulishly towards the crowds

ANYWAY, back to the topic at hand…. the same way that Disneyland Paris does a creepier haunted mansion, it also has a much creepier Halloween than the other parks do. Rather than the normal array of Disney characters posing for photos with the guests, you’re more likely to see staffers dressed as happy Jack-o-lantern and smiling ghouls were everywhere. As are Pumpkins, ghoulish decorations and the almost constant presence of orange paint, so that from the moment you walk into Main street, you are CLEAR that Halloween is being celebrated at Disney.

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Note the orange paint on the ground in he upper right corner

For the kids there were bright red candy apples (ala the poison apple from Snow White), and face-painting

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Halloween themed gifts and collectables

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And pumpkin themed decorations, both to look at and to have one’s picture taken with

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All of these is relatively normal, although the more you looked at the decorations, the more they became dark, grotesque and marginally perverted.

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Children posing with burial vaults?
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There’s something vaguely “Little Shop of Horrors“-esq about this decoration
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I’m not sure what is going on with this skull, but I surely didn’t expect to see something like this at a Disney park
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Is it me, or is this dark-o-lantern eating the brains of character below her?

So yes,Halloween at Disneyland Paris’ like it’s haunted mansion ride, is a good deal darker and more ghoulish than what one would expect from a Disney attraction.

 

Tokyo Disney: subtlety and nuances of Japanese culture

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On October 24th, 2013, while working in Seoul, South Korea as a professor, during one of the school holidays I had a chance to visit Tokyo, mostly with the intention of going to Tokyo Disneyland (YES, when I go to Tokyo I want to go to Disney, what’s your point?). This was actually my 2nd, or possibly third visit. The first time(s?) I went was back in the mid 1990’s while I was doing a summer internship with Eisai Pharmaceuticals in Tokyo. This (third?) visit in 2013 was my first chance to see the adjacent DisneySea park, which opened it’s doors in 2001. While there are things about the Tokyo Disney parks that frustrate me the Tokyo parks are among my favorites, in large part because they offer some of the best people watching opportunities. (Among the annoyances: the ATM’s in the park do NOT accept foreign bank cards — the mind boggles, especially since the food carts are cash only. For the restaurants you need a preexisting reservation, or you have to stand in line, literally — and sometimes for over an hour. There is no ‘come back at around 2:00’ with a txt messaging system if something opens up earlier, like in the states. And unlike the US parks there’s no service that allows you to spend your money at will and have all your purchases sent to the front gate for later pick up.)

The major reason the people watching is so good is that the Japanese love all things ‘Kawaii, aka, cute‘ to the point of a national obsession, and when the Japanese go to Disneyland they embrace that element of all things Disney with childlike abandon. As a result, wearable for sale items, like Disney ears, hats etc., exist in a much larger variety than in the USA, and they are pretty much ALL gender neutral. Unlike the USA where almost everything is Minnie Mouse (with the requisite bow), since men and boys are as likely to want to wear these things as women, Disney provides. So, not surprisingly, when they celebrate Halloween, they want to embrace the cute (and not the scary, like in Paris), and Disney delivers on that end as well.

That and, as the Japanese also appreciate subtlety in aesthetic (Shibui),  the holiday is a lot less, “in your face’ than it was in Paris.

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The above image for instance is Disney Main street during the Halloween period, compares it to the pictures of the same local in Paris that I posted and you’ll noticed a distinct difference. In fact but for the orange flowers on the lamp-post there really isn’t much in the way of Halloween happening. A little further into the park, just past main street, and you begin to see decorations,

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but again the decorations are no where as near in your face as in Paris ones, in fact its as though you’re being eased into Halloween. As there are bigger ones to come, behind the castle. Think of the parks this way, you enter the park through World Bazar (otherwise known as Main street USA) at 6:00 (where there was almost nothing in the way of holiday decorations), while it is possible to exit from there directly to AdventureLand, MOST people keep going straight, towards the castle, which is at the center of the clock.

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Once they’ve reached central park, most people will then go left to Adventureland which in Tokyo has New Orleans theme/Pirates of the Caribbean, 7:00 on the map, but it really isn’t till you hit

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Westernland (9:00) that you start to see decorations, and these are for the most part, up on top of building, rather than down at ground level (i.e., in your face)

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Note how the decorations mimic actual carved pumpkins, and are fun, rather than something out of child’s nightmare, like in they were in Paris… also older Japanese women will often use an outing to Disney as an excuse to wear their Kimono.

Even those decorations are not the garish bright orange that we saw in Paris, but a more subdued naturalistic looking pumpkin type decorations that could almost pass for real.

When you leave Westernland (10:00), heading towards where Crittercountry and Fantasyland meet — where the haunted mansion is located, the decorations get much more vibrant, but still cute, and with a lot of pumpkins that almost look real.

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Note all the people politely lined up in order to have a staff member take their pictures with the decorations. (In Japan this is done with the customer’s cameras, I was just there a few weeks ago, and they still don’t have the photo services with professional photographers at the ready, that you see at the Magic Kingdom.

And then of course, there are more of them around the Haunted Mansion (please forgive the poor quality of the photos), if anything, the tree of jack-o-lanterns that sat before it is probably the scarriest decoration in the whole park

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Forgive the poor quality of these photos, my old iphone 4s wasn’t up to the job

When you get into Fantasyland at 9:00, that is where you the colors and decorations become intense, but by this point you’ve been eased into it, so it not in any way shocking to the sensibilities, like in Paris. (If you DO go to Tokyo Disneyland I strongly suggest going on the Winnie the Pooh ride, there’s nothing like it in any of the other parks — it does NOT ride on tracks — see this video.)

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And then, if you enter Toontown section of the Disney park, which is designed for young children, that is when the decorations become their most extreme, but EVERYTHING in that section of the park is oversized and cartoonish, so it’s in keeping…

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A common thing at the park is to see girls in pairs who have gone to extreme lengths to dress alike, like these girls have… also note the little girl in the duck costume

After Toontown, Tomorrowland didn’t have much going on in the way of Halloween decorations, so that the total effect is of the most extreme decorations all being towards the back of the park (10:00 to 2:00, if viewing the map as a clock)

In addition to decorations, Tokyo Disney had some Halloween/orange themed eats (had all of them, they weren’t bad… although I remember wondering why the cream in the doughnut was orange flavored instead of pumpkin).

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One of the “big things” at Tokyo Disney is there are popcorn carts everywhere, but (unlike in the states where they’re pretty much either buttered or caramel, with the most distinctive thing about the carts being each has a different character spinning the wheel)

in Japan (sort of like their obsession for flavored Kit Kat bars) there’s a WIDE variety of flavors come of which change seasonally, and some of those can get a bit wacky… the curry smells better than it tastes (in my opinion), and I strongly suggest avoiding the shrimp flavored popcorn.  (And here’s a few different videos I found on YouTube of people taste testing various flavors)

That said, just like at the popcorn places in the US parks, Tokyo Disneyland sells collectible popcorn cases that vary with the themes of the rides, or major holidays like Halloween. The major difference I’ve found between the two is that the US ones seem to be intended for single use and hence fall-apart quickly — I purchased a vampire Mickey at DisneyWorld’s Halloween party and it fell apart as soon as I got it home — the Japanese popcorn cases are impressively durable; in Japan if you bring it back on subsequent visits you will get a small discount on the cost of a refill, so they are built with that in mind; after I purchased the one pictured below, I gave it to the 7-year-old daughter of the friends I was staying with, she and it was reported to me that she continued to use it for about a year afterwards as a purse, in addition to bringing it with her to Disney for popcorn refills. That is how strong these suckers are.

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Flavored popcorns at Tokyo DisneyLand and DisneySea, and the special Halloween case being offered

And of course there is a special Halloween influence to the parades

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But as I said, some of my favorite aspects of Tokyo Disney is the people watching, because just as the whole Cosplay movement began in Japan, the Japanese are far more likely ‘enthusiastically’ embrace the opportunity to show up to the parks in FULL costume (this article was posted 2015 two years after my visit —  at which point it had gotten so extreme, seriously check out the article, that in 2016 I heard that Disney had finally reeled them back in a bit) than other folks do. Back when I went in 2013, the trend was still a bit more laid back, but still impressive. Then, as I noted below the picture above, one of common trends was seeing girls coordinating their outfits, and the other is men who are unabashed in wearing cute stuff alongside the women (something you’d almost never see in the states).

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Two middle-aged Japanese housewives embracing the orange: standing up they were also coordinated, but in a much more subtle way than younger girls

That said, what really blew my mind was I saw a few different couples (men with their girlfriends and or wives) where the wife was dressed normally, but man was dressed in what the Japanese refer to as “Lolita Fashion” a trend that’s been going on in Japan for about as long as I can remember (so at least 30 years — I remember buying some of this back when I was in my 20’s and Japanese sizes still fit me). Think of it as a MUCH cuter version of Goth fashion.

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Don’t be confused, the person in the purplish dress is most definitively a male, the one in the Alice in Wonderland influenced baby-doll outfit I’m also pretty sure is a guy (look at the hands), but in this case not entirely

Like I said, the Lolita style is a very big deal in Japan, people will invest thousands of dollars in these outfits (they are definitely NOT cheap), and there are malls in trendy places like Harajuku and also Shinjuku that have whole floors of department stores devoted to the devotees of these styles. I even once spotted a Japanese girl at Epcot in Florida who showed up wearing Lolita fashion (the moment I saw the dress, she was ahead of me in line at one of the Epcot food festivals, I started chatting with her in my limited Japanese).

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This Japanese girl was at Epcot in 2017 with her boyfriend, she is also dressed in a Lolita Fashion; She’s wearing a Beauty and the Beast inspired outfit — note her dress’ fringe pattern
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Minishops in a Mall in Shinjuku that has a full floor devoted to the style

 

 

So while these styles are a thing in Japan, and some of them are highly influenced by Disney characters, such as Lewis Carol’s Alice… it’s a questionable line of are they Cosplay or fashion. As such, individuals who show up wearing it other than during Halloween may face some problems with the costume police at Tokyo Disneyland’s front gates. That said, what amazed me was not people were wearing it, but that Japanese MEN were wearing it… and wearing what was decidedly and clearly women’s fashions.

One of the things about Japanese culture is that there’s a time and a place for everything. Japan has had a long history of cross dressing, and, apparently, Disney’s Halloween has become one of the times and places where it is now acceptable for the growing trend of Japanese men with cross dressing tendencies, which the Japanese refer to as Otokonoko, to embrace their inner princess. So if you’re there during Halloween, make sure to keep an eye out.

As I mentioned before, there are currently two parks at Tokyo Disney, the Land (which is essentially Disneyland like in Los Angelus, or the The Magic Kingdom) which is a family oriented park, and DisneySea, which has a distinct nautical theme (although with touches of Epcot, as it offers a chance to “travel” to places like Venice, the Arabian Coast, Cape Cod & historic New York, Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island, a lost river delta in South America (which has the AWESOME Raiders of the Lost Ark Ride), and an area for smaller children (that you really HAVE to see, it’s awesome) aimed directly at the Little Mermaid — you get to essentially go “under the sea.” DisneySea is considered the more “adult” park, and was intentionally designed to be suitable for taking your girlfriend on a romantic date.

Here while there are Halloween decorations they are kept subtle throughout the park, when you first enter the park, there’s a venetian styled banner above the doorway that if you look very closely, says Halloween 2013… and has a bit more orange in it that usual, but that’s about it…

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And then when you pass the gate and enter the central lake — effectively the design replacement of garden at the center of the Magic kingdom — again more orange has been added to color pallet, but that’s about it.

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This statue had a carved pumpkin hanging by a cord around his neck (??, no I don’t get it either)

When you enter American section again there are orange banners that say happy Halloween

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Note the couple (boyfriend/girlfriend) off to the side dressed alike, this tends to be more of a Korean trend than a Japanese one, based on what I’ve seen. (So there’s a good chance those two are in fact Korean,

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and the decorations that were at ground level were so naturalistic that I remember thinking they might have even been using real pumpkins, trying to replicate what it would look like in the states, but I wasn’t sure. IMG_0942

And of course there were girls dressed alike, and men embracing the cute, just like across the park at Tokyo Disneyland.

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Besides the decorations I showed, I found very little else (in the non-European sections of DisneySea that were celebrating the holiday. For instance, while you might think this is a Halloween decoration,

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in fact it’s a “Día de Muertos” decoration that’s a permanent fixture in the South American section of the park.

Disney in the DisneyWorld:

In the US while there are a nice selection of Halloween decorations scattered throughout the park, MOST of them can be found near the entrance and in the main street area

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Other than that, really not so much… Instead Disney has used it as yet another opportunity to separate you from your money. I.e., if you want to really experience Halloween at the US parks, you’ll need to buy a special ticket (pass holders only get a tiny discount, and only on low attendance nights) to”Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party,” (which was a counter bid to Universal Studio‘s far more popular “Horror Nights/Fright Nights” events. (I think I’ve noticed a pattern, in that the discounted nights at Disney seem to be the ones that are scheduled directly against a Horror night, so that tells you something. Personally I HATED Horror Nights, but I’m 50, it’s not designed for me, even the Wikipedia page admits as much.)

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The special even essentially consists of three additional aspects, which even though I had a top of the line season pass with no block out dates, etc., I had to pay an extra $69 for… 1) access to trick or treating from various spots around the park (the candy was pretty run of the mill);

2) The ability to watch a special show called the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular:

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then 3) a special parade, called Mickey’s “Boo-to-You” Halloween Parade

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The coolest parts I got photos of, the headless horseman, especially when he pops up in a very dark spot, like where I was sitting is very cool…

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And then if you’re sitting in a dark place the ghosts from the haunted mansion dance by, and they’re slightly glow in the dark

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And then finally, 4) what I feel is the REAL draw for hard-core Disney fans, is the ability to stand in some VERY long lines… I’m talking like well over an hour in some cases, to have you picture taken with character that are never otherwise available to have your picture taken with, which includes ALL of the dwarves at one time, some of the Disney villains:

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Found a YouTube video where a woman goes through all the things to do at the party, and since unlike me she wasn’t on a diet, she ate all special party only deserts they were selling (yah, you paid $69+ to get in, and you have to pay to buy these special deserts)

So that said, one of my favorite things to do is people watch, and since Halloween is one of the few times the parks allow adults to come in costume, it can get interesting.

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The bottom left group was really creative, they’re the emotions from the Pixar movie “Inside out”
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This family, the adults came dressed as the Orcs from Frozen while the children came dressed as Anna, Elsa and Kristoff (how brilliant is that?)

Some suggestions on how to do a Disney World vacation and not go broke

I’ve had a one year Disney world pass now for two years now, and I’ve sort of gotten it down.

Where to stay:
Pretty much all of the areas that are just off of the DW campus, where the hotels are, are also ‘cheek to jowl’ with Airbnb rentals that are often nicer, and for less money than what the hotels have to offer. ALSO, if you’re someone who cares about a good reliable wifi connection, the reality is that I’ve NEVER found Wifi at a hotel to be anywhere as good as the wifi in a private home, particularly if it’s one where they’re renting you a room in their own home — rather than a property they rent out entirely.

When I first got to Orlando this year I was renting an Airbnb space from a perfectly nice divorced elderly guy. The “home” was actually a double wide/trailer (but from the inside you can’t REALLY tell that) located just south west of the park. I was paying about $34/night for a HUGE air conditioned bedroom with a ceiling fan, that has a walk in closet, an ensuite bathroom that has a shower and a jacuzzi tub, free parking in his driveway, full usage of the kitchen, and located in a gated development with a guard that has a pool and a weight room. My host offers up free coffee from his Keurig (most Airbnb hosts do). Now granted, I could stay at a flea bag motel for around $45 a night, but why would I want to?

For Thanksgiving I drove up to Georgia to stay with my friends up in Dalton, and then came back to Orlando a 2nd time, and am now staying at a different Airbnb in the newly developing (I remember 20 years ago when this whole area was NOTHING but orange groves) west side of campus… in a home that can’t be more than a year or so old. I have a beautiful and comfortable room in the home of a young Brazilian couple again for about $34/night.

Additionally, if wifi is important to you, my experience is the wifi at Airbnb’s where the owner is living in the same space with you are almost always way better than what is offered from the hotels. (AVOID the ones where the owner seems to have 4 or 5 spaces to rent in different locations… I want my owner living IN my house, this may mean a bit less privacy but it USUALLY, emphasis on the usually, assures a much higher standard of customer service, in my experience.)

This year, I’m going to be headed to my friend in GA for Thanksgiving holidays, and then moving to a different Airbnb that’s again just at the edge of the park, but this time a bit north west of it in an area that was all orange groves in 2002 (the first time I came to Disney for an extended stay) but is now housing developments and strip malls … again for about $34/night. And around Disney there’s very little new home building that isn’t part of a development, and all of those include pools and weight rooms, some of the more expensive ones even have golf courses — but those Airbnb’s in those, when they exist, are much pricer as a result, although still less than at a hotel resort with a golf course.

I think Disney is aware of the problem (for them) and is as such upping their hotel game. Currently the ONLY Disney hotels that call to me ‘enough’ for me to be willing to pay their rates, is 1) the infinitely long Wilderness Lodge next to animal kingdom, where every single room overlooks a sort of zoo like area, so you can look out of your bedroom window and see giraffes and wildebeests; and 2) the currently in development star wars themed hotel where apparently the “windows” will make you feel like your on a space ship, your assigned a story line upon arrival that you’re supposed to play out, and all the staff are in costume and character at all times (including some aliens) … THAT would be worth $300/night — but even then I would want to find friends to share the room with.

Shopping:
Disney is impressively expensive. As a rule, I do NOT BUY ANYTHING on campus until I have had a chance to visit the two (and you should go to both) outlet shops that sell discontinued Disney merchandise, and Disney discontinues stuff every few weeks. These shops ONLY carry things that were either available ONLY at DisneyWorld shops (not the Disney stores in malls), or are left over from various Disney Cruises. To give you an idea of the prices, T-shirts that sold for $36.99 on campus are $12.99 at these stores, stuff that was $39.99 sell for $14.99, and items that were $14.99 are marked down to $2.99…. and unless marked “as is” or “all sales final” (in which case the discounts will be steeper, because the merchandise is damaged), all items come with a full refund 30 day guarantee. SO, you can grab that Mickey Mouse jacket that they only had one size too large for you at one store, and then return it to the other one if that branch has it in your size.

While the selection is much smaller, odds are you’ll find at least a handful of items you like, and at those prices, well, the items seem to get cuter. So where allow yourself only one item, (because if you look the prices are essentially 1/3 of what they’d be in the park) here you can get three items for the same price. AND if you think about how much you’d have paid for that “reasonably priced” hotel room located equidistant from DW as your Airbnb — which would currently be between between $70 and $150 night…  (although there are flea bag places going for $45 a night just a bit father off) well…

Like I said there are TWO of these stores, both are in outlet malls in shops adjacent to the food courts (so ask folks where the food court is, as to my experience the teenagers working in those places often don’t know the Disney stores are even there):

One is in the ‘Premium Outlet on Vineland Ave’, located just a bit east of DisneyWorld:

while the other is about 20 minutes north in the ‘Orlando International Premium Outlets’ that are just east of the Universal Amusement parks Campus:

Once I have “satiated” my need for cute Disney stuff…. I currently have six new really cute Disney T-shirts that I picked up last night, as well as some new luggage tags (star wars themed), that’s when I start shopping the parks in earnest…. usually finding I can’t justify their prices, especially having just purchased six new T-shirts.

Food:
Firstly, you CAN of course always bring your own snacks to the park, or eat a good breakfast at home, limit yourself to a light lunch, and then wait to get off campus to eat dinner… There’s no shortage of Denny’s, Ihops, etc., not to mention there are a few Bahama Breeze restaurants scattered just outside the edges of the park, that offer a late night happy hour from 9pm to midnight where they have really good/tasty half price appetizers, where the calorie hit is listed on the menu (I like the fresh crab, shrimp, mango and avocado stack, for about $7.50  @300 calories ).

BUT assuming you don’t want to… one of the best held food secrets of Disney world is that firstly, there are Macdonald’s scattered around the parks, but of course this means getting in your car and driving over there because none of the DW rapid transit goes there.

AND the gas station food: You know that gas station that’s one right near Magic Kingdom? Pretty much every park has one not TOO far outside the parking area, if you willing to walk it. The one next to the Magic Kingdom is the one where they have actual mechanics available to fix flat tires, or swap out dead batteries so that you can at least get home. It, and all the other ones, actually have REALLY tasty hot food for sale, not kidding. These stations on the Disney property (all of them) are NOT offering up your normal gas station food, which you’d have to be a little desperate to eat… nope, these are the same sort of fare at the same sort of prices, but at MUCH higher quality. The wings for instance, are REALLY good, and their nice big pieces of chicken like at a restaurant (my mouth is actually watering as I write this). So, don’t be surprised to see Disney staffers at these places, dressed up in the outfits they wear working for on site restaurants, all of them buying pizza, subs and wings from these places during their lunch and dinner breaks.

Kid’s portions:
While Disney’s sit down restaurants won’t let you do this, the fact of the matter is that if you approach a fast food location and as an adult ask for the child’s portion, the staff will never question you about it… they’ll just assume the child is with a different adult already seated at a table. Even at Hollywood’s canteen, where waiters bring the food to the table, no one has ever made an issue that I opted for the child’s $7 half portion of grilled salmon rather than paying $15 for the adult sized portion.

 

 

 

Dapper Day at the Magic Kingdom

It’s Nov 17th, 2017 (well, 2am in the morning on the 18th) and today Dapper Day held one of its multiyear events at the Magic Kingdom in Florida, i.e., people watching extraordinaire — which is a good thing because the park was so ridiculously full that I could forget about doing anything else (the thanksgiving schools vacation period has started).

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While the Dapper organization co-ordinates with Disney, and works hard to stay on their good side, and is best known for their regular Disney outings, the Dapper organization isn’t actually part of Disney, nor is it promoted by them. However, since the events celebrate fashion, and are not a form of Cosplay (and their website STRONGLY discourages anyone from showing up in any sort of full costume), as long as none of the attendees to their events show up in anything that could be considered “a costume” they are not, technically, affected by the Disney rules against costumes.

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Dapper Days currently happen in both of the U.S. Parks, and the Paris park, and according to their website, “All sophisticated attire is encouraged from vintage-inspired classics to chic, contemporary looks. Active and retired military are encouraged to wear their dress blues or service uniforms if they like.”

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In honor of dapper day, I got new ears… when I got it home I snipped away the black veil that was attached to it…

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Eating Healthy at Disneyworld: Low fat & Low carb eating strategies

How to spend 2 months in Disney-world, without breaking your diet, and even LOOSING weight. It can be done, but it will cost you — literally.

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That said, I honestly don’t think it’s possible to do it without straining your pocket book (unless you make all your own meals), and even if you try, you’re going to be eating grilled salmon or a salad for pretty much every meal — and there’s only so much salmon a girl can eat.

Most of what’s available at Disney “fast food” places isn’t all that healthy … excepting the obligatory grilled salmon, salads, and small bags of snacking tomatoes and/or apple slices the menus are geared far more towards the palates of children than the concerns of parents. A lot of self control WILL be required on your part, and you’ll have to INSIST on sit down restaurants, and speaking with the chef when ordering. No really, ask to see the chef. One of the fabulous things about Disney is that if you start off the conversation with your waiter with THESE words… “I have health issues that restrict my diet” they have been TRAINED to not pass go, to not collect $200, and just go get the chef.

So for instance, a few days ago I went to eat at Tiffen’s, one of the two sit down restaurants at Animal Kingdom:
Waitress: “I’ll give you a few minutes to make up your mind”
me: “let me preface this with I have health issues….” and before I could finish my sentence she said:
“Would you like me to send out the chef?”
Me: “Yes please “– happy smile…
He came out and we talked, he has decided to grill the red snapper that they usually deep fry, and is making all sorts of other alterations to the accompanying items, 100% Forbidden/black Rice instead of the Jade blend they would normally use — no oil or carrots added to the (cole)slawed green papaya (carrots are a very HIGH sugar veggie), and no black bean sauce (cause he said that had oil in it too), etc.

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Animal Kingdom/Tiffen’s: Intended for two people, I had enough left over for a 2nd meal.

Normally: This dish would be Crispy Sustainable Fish served with Som Tam (green papaya salad) and Black Bean Sauce served with Jade Blend Rice  — and  I was expecting to pay about $43, based on the price of a similar entree (this dish was from the prix fixe menu), but after a 20% discount they’re giving to all yearly pass holders at certain restaurants, it only cost me $36.64 including tip… so about $18.32 per meal.. not bad.

Where rice in general is a VERY bad idea, and should be avoided… seriously… ONE rice bowl of white rice has as much sugar in it as FOUR crispy cream doughnuts!!!!! Me, I would MUCH rather have the doughnuts.

Black rice, sometimes known as ‘forbidden rice’, while still carbohydrate heavy, is at least a better option — even though it too should be eaten sparingly, as it it contains protein and other nutritional goodies. For those not familiar with it, a one-half cup serving of cooked black rice, contains about:

  1. 160 calories
  2. 1.5 grams of fat
  3. 34 grams of carbohydrates (which is my per meal maximum)
  4. 2 grams of fiber (double the fiber of brown rice)
  5. 5 grams of protein  (the highest amount of protein of all the rices)
  6. 4% DV for iron

P.S., Black rice is LOADED with antioxidants… more than blueberries

Initially I had come in to the restaurant thinking I would get the grilled octopus appetizer, but he immediately vetoed that, informing me that they pouch it in olive oil before grilling it — which makes now think I should be asking about that cooking technique from now on before ever ordering it again.

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So, while there are certain fast food dishes that Disney does pretty well, and going that way will save you money… for the most part they’re not really healthy options from the standpoint of an adult whose only growing in the wrong direction. Their mac and cheese is really tasty, and you can find it topped with lobster, shrimp, and even beef brisket (@Magic Kingdom next to the Carousel, limited hours, usually closed by 8pm even if the park is open till 1am) … And while there’s chicken pretty much everywhere, it’s pretty much either rotisserie or fried; and for those who don’t know… fried is actually the healthier option, assuming you remove the skin. Rotisserie chicken is cooked in such a way that the fat saturates the meat rather than dropping down off the chicken, making the chicken moister but also MUCH fattier. Disney also does REALLY good tomato soup, in any variation of the sort, but again it’s NOT low fat… and last year I gained a good 20 pounds in two months eating all of it…

As many of you know, about this time last year, Jan/Feb of 2016 (after many months expanding sizes but of just not wanting to know the truth), I weighed myself on one of those massive scales outside of a Publix Supermarket (the dominant chain in Florida), and clocked in at 200lb… SHOCK!!! The cause was simple, I tend to eat my feelings and the death of my father, who was also my best friend, shook me hard; and then, the process of going through probate was so emotionally stressful that, as I like to put it, I developed a deep and intimate relationship with both Ben AND Jerry. (Insert laugh) However, after seeing that my weight was almost DOUBLE what it had been in my 20’s was enough to motivate me to start making better food choices.  Then at my checkup in May of 2016, I weighed in at 187 lb (better), but I learned that, rather like a goose being prepared for Foie Gras, I’d managed to eat myself into Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.  I discussed this at length, previously, in my blog post called: A matter of health (feel free to follow the link).

For those who would rather not: brief review, my doctor informed me that my liver numbers were HORRIBLE, and that if I didn’t seriously make some changes they’d have to find me a new one. *GASP* … suffice it to say I was scared, and fear of death is a much stronger motivator than mere vanity. The doctor put me on a LOW fat and low carb diet (the latter being something I’d been mostly doing anyway, because I have been pre-diebetic for maybe 15 or more YEARS), and suggested I give up red meat entirely, and focus on just eating fish. Three months later (after traveling through Canada) I came back for more extensive testing, where I weighed in at 149lb, and the doctors were SO happy with me (and my liver numbers were so improved) that they just said, “you don’t NEED to loose more weight at this point, your BMI is healthy, but keep doing what you’re doing and we won’t need to put you on any medication.” (Normal weight for a woman my age (not considering frame) is 107.8 – 145.6 lbs

BUT, my weight in my 20’s had been about 110 to 115, and everything I’ve read the ideal weight range a woman in her 50’s with my height AND frame is 114-127, so I might not NEED to loose more weight, but as long as I’m not feeling like I’ve been denying myself, and I don’t… I want to lose that last 10. So, after that I returned back to Orlando, where I continued to drop weight until today, albeit at a slower rate (of maybe half a pound a week); at least until about a week ago when I made the mistake of buying my own digital scale, rather than relying on that of whatever Airbnb I happened to be staying with at to time, Murphy’s law. However, that too was good, since having realized I was not only no longer dropping, but actually starting to gain, I did a review of my eating habits and realized I’d been slowly adding a lot of fruit to my diet. I removed that, and quickly went back to loosing weight again.

Currently, I’m at 133.8 lb. I figure I have 10 more lbs to lose to get back to my happy weight — and hopefully ALL my old clothes will then fit again. I’m 5’4″ and have a very slender frame — tiny wrists, and should have a 28″ circumference to my rib cage, but am currently still at 30 inches, so that essentially, right now, I’m still two inches too big in all my measurements. (And as you can tell from the pictures below, there is such a thing as having breasts that are too big.)

So, that said, here are before and after shots of me a year ago, and me a few weeks ago (I have since gotten rid of the oil-slick hair, and am now sporting a pixy short haircut)

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Before and after shots; I tried to find similar angles, and used the size of my head as a point of reference for sizing the photos

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(They might not be the most flattering pants, but tourism I prefer cargo pants where I can load up my pockets rather than lug around a backpack or purse. In those pockets are a full set of keys, an iPhone, a man’s wallet, a backup iPhone battery with all the obligatory cables, and ear phones, and hanging from my belt look one of those microfiber clothes for cleaning my glasses.

So, as to my qualifications to speak about loosing weight while at the parks, the proof is in the pudding and I know of what I speak….

The first rule, while the most obvious, is the hardest to obey… USE SELF CONTROL!

If you’re at epcot for the Arts and food festival and you see options like this, SAY NO!

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It doesn’t matter that you can rationalize that  the serving size is small, the answer is NO! ‘Cause I promise you, at these events you’ll not eat just one… and there’s always the next booth selling something delectable, and the next… and you’ll walk out of there having gorged yourself on a lot of small servings …  I know this from experience.

And of course, the corollary to this rule is that when you see things like, that slice of chocolate cake at Hollywood Studios that’s almost as big as your head,  or that cinnamon bun in the Belle Section of Magic Kingdom, which is about the same size… for those items as well the answer is still a resounding NO!

— and honestly, having had the pleasure of eating both items, I can honestly testify that they’re OK, but really NOT worth the calories… I think that cinnabon at 880 calories actually IS a tastier cinnamon bun.

BUT, and this is a big one, DO NOT DENY YOURSELF EITHER!!!

As a general rule, from day one on this diet I have not denied myself. While it’s pricey, it’s hard to feel your sacrificing your pleasure of food to your diet when you are eating things like Lobster, fresh oysters, shrimp, salmon, crab, etc.

So while I’m saying DON’T buy those deserts, I am not saying don’t have desert. My suggestion is to hold out till you pass a Starbucks on your way OUT of the park (there’s one in EVERY park, usually near the entrance — Animal kingdom being the exception) and buy yourself a cup of plain coffee or tea (decaf) and ONE (and JUST one) of their cake pops — I LOVE the chocolate one with pink sprinkles, as it is by far the chocolatiest of the bunch.

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While for some reason the Starbucks in the parks do NOT include any dietary information, here is a pic of the comparable item sold outside of the parks (and remember to eat it slowly, nibble at it.. savor it). Now think about it, if that TINY (but oh so tasty) pop of gooey fudgey chocolate cake is around 200 calories at $2.25, what would that massive slice of cake have run you?

Now granted, if you have a group of about 6 people you could buy that slice of cake and cut it up into portions for about the same calories… but I travel alone….

I’ll be honest, Last year when I was at Disney, and posting all my food choices to the internet, my friends were making comments like, “do they even HAVE vegetables at Disney?” and “would it kill you to eat a vegetable?

So it’s ultimately about choices… that and asking to talk to the chef.

Epcot’s Restaurants: 

Last year I went to Le Cellier Steakhouse in Epcot’s Canada, and I ordered their Filet Mignon a AAA Canadian Beef Tenderloin, with mushroom risotto, asparagus-tomato relish, sitting on a truffle-butter sauce, with a side of their signature Poutin (french fries, Gruyere, caramelized onions, french onion gravy), and the Crème brûlée for desert.

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Quite tasty, but probably not the healthiest of choices.

This year I did it differently… I ordered the Venison.

Ladies and Gents, if you have a choice between game meats or normal things like beef or chicken, go for the game! Seriously..  Three ounces of venison has 140 calories and less than 1 gram of fat, while the same sized serving of beef tenderloin (offering the same amount of protein), has 179 calories and 7.6 grams of fat, three of which are saturated!!!

Bison steaks are actually a healthier bet even then Venison and I argue tastier than beef steak– but so far I have yet to find it offered in any of the in park restaurants (one of the on site hotels apparently has it); Do NOT however be fooled, the same can not really be said of Bison burgers. Those should be avoided. While they ARE better than beef burgers, they are NOT lower in fat than chicken, which the bison steak is pound per pound. Burgers NEED the fat to bind the bits of meat into the patty shape, so manufacturers will throw in EXTRA fat from the bison, or add in ground beef, into the mix.

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Epcot: Canada: Le Cellier Steakhouse

Also, per normal I SPOKE WITH THE CHEF, and was told that the Venison was supposed to be sitting on this creamy pasta thing; so I asked him if they could switch out that fatty carb for something in the way of green vegetables, and was given a massive plate full of grilled asparagus, mushrooms and Brussels sprouts instead.

Also, as a rule, start off eating the veggies, filled up on them and then get started in on the meat after you’ve taken the edge off your hunger. Again, having filled up on high fiber veggies, I was only able to eat half of the meat portion (and had enough veggies left over) that I was able to get two meals out of it.

Sadly, Canada is one of the few places that has game meat… at pretty much every other restaurant you’re going to have to turn your eyes to either an appetizer (again, talk to the chefs about how they’re prepared)

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Epcot: Italy, Tutto Italia Ristorante: Pasta Fagoli (Pasta and bean soup), a filling nutritious snack to sip slowly while your group is snarfing down pasta

Or, most likely, you’ll have to settle on nice piece of fish with side of green vegetables

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Epcot China: Nine Dragon’s Restaurant, sustainable fish of the day was Orange Roughy

This fish was pan fried and hence probably a little more oil then I prefer. I warned them ahead of time about my issues, and they replaced the rice with broccoli …. Apparently they do NOT have Chinese cabbage here (very sad)

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Epcot France: Monsieur Paul, Black cod (my favorite fish) sauce on the side, refused the bread and the rice

There are a few places around the park where I found Black Cod being served (TRY the on at Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs)… if you have not tried it (otherwise known as Sablefish in the USA, but has different names world wide) it’s light and flaky with a very high Omega 3 fat content. My favorite preparation is the Asian way, marinated in miso for 24 hours or more… but the way Chef Paul did it was also tasty.

And even if you are Epcot for one of the various tasting festivals that draw locals in during the off season, there are “better choices.” Again, ALWAYS look to the fish option, but pay attention to the details…

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Believe it or not even at these food booths you CAN ask them to please NOT add the Lemon-Thyme Beurre Blanc — otherwise known as butter — but make sure you make the request to the person who calls out the orders when you hand them your receipt, and then make sure to repeat it AFTER they say it, LOUD … the chefs are so remote controlled back there that you sort of have to wake them up.

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I’m not going to bother going through EVERY park and talking about food options at each, because basically the same rules hold true.

Opt for a sit down restaurant unless you want to be eating nothing but grilled salmon and salads for your whole stay, and ask to speak to the chef and choose a seafood or game meat (if available), and work with the chef on how they can modify what’s available to meet your dietary needs.

For snacks, there are apple slices and bags of cherry tomatoes at every park sold either at stands or behind fast food counters.

Remember to have ONE serving of FULL FAT dairy a day… while this may sound counter intuitive, there’s a slew of studies that have found that folks who maintain dairy fat in their blood stream actually loose weight faster — I guess our metabolisms have evolved to figure if there’s milk, we can’t be starving, and there’s no need to slow the metabolism even though calorie intake has decreased. Also, studies are finding that from a cholesterol standpoint our bodies process that sort of fat differently, and if you too are a woman you need the dairy for bone health. I STRONGLY suggest ONE full fat cheese stick a day as a late night snack after returning from the parks … I opt for a nice sharp cheddar.

Oh, and least I forget!!!!
DO NOT DRINK YOUR CALORIES!!!! And for G-d’s sake, stay away from artificial sweeteners (no really, if you don’t know about WHY you should NEVER consume these things, read this!)!!!  Get used to drinking unsweetened teas and coffee — its difficult at first, but I promise you after a few weeks your palates will adjust and you’ll grow to prefer it, or of course water is always the best option.

A stroll and a Cruise (Homes of the rich and famous, Miami style)

After having to head into the city to do some business: targetless wanderings through Miami’s downtown area, musings on her public transit system, and cruise …

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Today I had some errands to run in Miami proper that required I drag my ass out of bed obscenely early (for me) and get into town by 9:30 am. I wasn’t able to do what I needed (I showed up to the office without an appointment) but I was able to get a promise that they’d deal with me on Friday at 10am… so I’ll be heading there again then. However, since I was already downtown, I took to wandering.

First, I walked to the seashore (a block away), and then south along the coast; and, for the first time in my life saw a dolphin in the wild! Till now I’ve only ever seen them either in aquariums, or in caged up “swim with the dolphins” type things, which I find horrific, as they’re good for us and definitely not so great for them. This dolphin was getting jiggy with a seagull, they seemed to be almost playing with each other, and the dolphin practically swam right up to the walkway in the process. I was so stunned that I was slow to pull out my iPhone, and missed the interplay, but was able to get some pics of the dolphin as it swam away.

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Because of the recently concluded Art Basel Miami, essentially a viewing forum/event that lasts about a week where the world’s top art galleries can present their best wares to potential buyers (essentially the top 1% of income earners, and museums, etc.)  — it began shortly after I arrived on Nov. 28th and was pretty much over by Dec. 4th, there are still a whole slew of temporary outdoor art available for viewing along Miami’s ocean front.

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I had not known about the event before I arrived (the timing was completely coincidental) but I learned about it from my host, because a German couple (both artists) who were renting one of the downstairs rooms were both working it. (They both worked for one of the galleries that was showing work, although he’s apparently somewhat successful as a struggling painter in his own right — I don’t remember his name. When I went, it was mostly because I was in town that day anyway — more paperwork, although in sum it was rather like going to a very good but insanely expensive museum … $45 for one day’s entry — and there wasn’t even free wine and cheese.)

The next thing I discovered was that the downtown train system in Miami is free (BOGGLE!!). I had taken a Lyft/Uber type taxi into town, so I figured I would try out the rapid transit system which I had heard was pretty decent by US standards (in other words, lousy). I entered the system looking for where I was supposed to pay… kept looking, and still not finding, and then when the doors of a train opened I stuck my head in thinking “maybe there’s a conductor?” (the Metra system in Chicago still has old fashioned conductors)…  but there wasn’t. So I asked a woman siting on one of the few seats (only four per car), “is this free?” and she responded, “yup.” So I got in and road around, and… I’ll admit, I was using the ride to pick up some much needed balls from Pokémon stops — yup, still addicted to the game.

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After a while the train came to a halt at a station, and the loudspeaker informed us the system had broken down and please be patient… so I waited, and waited… and finally decided to just get out and walk. I found myself at what the city intends to be a museum park (like what we’ve already got in Chicago). They have an Modern Art museum … and they are in the process of building a (what I later learned was a new home for a) science museum — that had formerly been located in Coconut Grove across the street from Vizcaya Museum & Gardens; apparently, when it’s done, it is ultimately going to house the world largest shark tank (I have some thoughts on that, but they’re particularly cynical).

I had not yet had lunch (or any coffee for that matter), and according to my Yelp app, the Pérez Art Museum — which has very modern art, not really to my taste so I didn’t go in) also had fairly highly rated cafe, described as good enough so as to be worth eating at even if you weren’t going to see the art…I had Ceviche with pomegranate seeds, and iced coffee — and they were nice enough to give me a large plastic to-go cup of the iced coffee for my ‘refill’.

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Not long after, as I was walking along the shore line… one of my best friends, Carmi, who lives in Florida, called to chat, and when I told him about the train he said that it was considered by many Floridians to be an economic debacle. According to him, it cost so much and so few people actually ever use it, that the city could have instead offered free taxi fares within the same covered area – for life – to anyone who wanted one, and it would have been cheaper (and more likely to be utilized).

In fact, the city also put up a bicycle rental system scattered around the city, which is NOT free, and cost them a pittance by comparison to set up… which IS from what I could see taken full advantage of.

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Although I’ve seen similar systems in other places where the bikes are less to do with tourists and more to do lowering traffic on the roads and/or smog levels (China for instance)… and in those cases the first 15 or 20 minutes are usually free — like the train — only better because if you plan it right you have free access to a bike 24/hours a day with no worries about it being stolen.

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The yellow building is called The Freedom Tower (and should not be confused with the one in New York City which replaced the Twin Towers that were destroyed on 9/11) because it was used, at one point, as the processing facility for refugees from Castro‘s Cuba. Before that it was the offices of a newspaper, and now.. since we’re opening up normal relations with Cuba, it has become a museum — but ironically, not a history museum — instead it’s yet another modern art museum.

Next I headed towards the Bayside Marketplace, which my tripadvisor app was listing it as #12 of the best things to do in Miami (it’s sad how for a lot of towns in the USA the best thing to do is to go to the mall).  And as I walked through the stores that were NOT national chains — most of them were — I was like, “HEY, the 1970’s are back!”

Back when I was a kid my dad (a professor) had this one graduate student who was the consummate Hippie type. He and his wife were both these laid back granola types, and I used to love hanging out at their house. They loved, but couldn’t have, any kids of their own (this was before in vitro fertilization) and they weren’t stable enough economically to be allowed to to adopt —  back then they didn’t allow cross ethnic adoptions… so they set up their place up so that all the kids on their street would want come over there to hang out there. They had all these board games, and toys and cool stuff (like door handles with roses embedded in them). At one point, he and my dad were both presenting a paper at an academic conference in London, and the wife’s sister (who was her exact opposite) had flown over to hang out in London with us. Unlike the wife, who had married a Hippie, this sister had married a VERY rich guy from Beverly Hills, and was living THAT 70’s lifestyle; firstly, her husband apparently had NEVER seen her without her full face makeup applied, and — even in the cold of winter (or London summers) — she wore outfits so low cut that at least 1/2 of each breast was always exposed. My English male cousins, goggle eyed, would just stared at her with their jaws hanging open waiting for something to fall out. Walking around the Marketplace, half of the dresses there (in the locally owned shops) had neck lines that cut a deep V all the way down to the belly button, just like her outfits all used to do, so that if your wore them you’d risk your breasts being are completely exposed. Since then, the only time I’ve seen this sort of thing were on formal dresses at… like the Oscars, being worn by stars like JLo who are very proud of their bodies, but apparently in Miami these are now considered appropriate for daily wear.

However, one of the good things I found at the Market place was that there were like a few different cruise companies offering hour and a half tours of the bay for the VERY affordable price of $20 (I’m guessing this may have been due to it being a weekday during the off season) and 10% off of any drink from the bar.

So, I got myself a diet breaking virgin Mojito (normally I’m very careful to only drink black coffee or water) because this is Miami and I haven’t had once since I arrived…

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………….and then I’m went to go on a Bay side-cruise of the Port of Miami….

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…………that included what’s was described as a tour of millionaires row.

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This is apparently the Miami home of the singer Enrique Martín Morales, formerly of the boy band Menudo —  better known as, Ricky Martin

img_7614According to the tour guide, this rental property is popular with rappers and other stars who don’t already own homes in the area, as a place to throw parties.
—– It rents out for the low, low price of $30,000……. a WEEK!!!

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A great view of the Miami coastline, described by some as the third nicest in the U.S.A.  (after NYC and Chicago, of course) … we were all instructed to grab our camera’s for it

Then They took us to tour around Star Island.

img_7627And this is the home, supposedly (Wikipedia claims that some of the tour guides, including possibly my own, fib about who does or does not live in these homes) of one of the best selling artists of all time,  a singer/songwriter who with over 120 million records to his name worldwide; he has recorded in 14 languages, and has more than 400 gold and platinum records…..  Julio José Iglesias de la Cueva, better known as Julio Iglesias.

img_7631This estate is over 6 acres with a reported 31,615 sq ft of house and is lined with imported (and VERY erect) African Palm Trees is worth $122,000,000 and is (actually) the home of Dr Phillip Frost, who is on the Forbes wealthiest humans lists.
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Born of an observant Jewish family and served as the lieutenant commander for the U.S. Public Health Service at the National Cancer Institute, from 1963 to 1965… …..who, according to our tour guide used to own Pfizer — she called it the house Viagra built

img_7644And this comparatively modest home, apparently, belongs to Beckham’s David and Victoria… he being considered one of the greatest soccer players in the world, and she a former member of the Spice Girls.

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Everglades National Park: Shark Valley area Tram

Because Miami is nice, but the EVERGLADES!!!! The Tram is the lazy way of traversing the 25 mile biking and walking path through the marshy freshwater slough. Apparently it’s called the shark valley because its where the Shark River begins it’s flow to the ocean… not because there are any sharks in the valley. However, when the river approaches the Bay of Ponce de Leon Bay and becomes brackish (mixture of fresh water and salt), that is where you will find the sharks.
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The drive from Miami to the tram ride is about an hour, in light traffic. A housemate of mine at the Airbnb warned me that he had gone there previously, during the Xmas vacation period (which begins this weekend) and he and his parents were stuck in traffic for much longer than that, which I can believe as the road, which is one of the main ones through the Everglades is in spite of that, only one lane in each direction.

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The cost to enter the park is $25.00 per car, $20.00 per motorcycle, or $8.00 per hiker/biker — and that gives you access to any of the Everglades entrances for a full week… or like me you just show your trusty $80 one year pass.

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The Tram however while sponsored by the parks, is a separate thing, and costs $24 for adults, $12.75 for kids (3-12), and $19 for seniors ($62+ with ID). You buy the ticket at the park office which is split into two sides, the private store and the park office, and you can’t pay for an item you picked up on one side on the other sides cash register. In the building you’ll find some food (snacks and cold sandwiches, nothing fancy) and there’s a drink machine that accepts credit cards as well as cash, and a bathroom… but no WiFi (although they said they were working on getting that brought in).

I sat right behind the woman narrating the tour, which I discovered was a strategic error; I should have sat behind the driver, who seems to be the one who determines when the tram slows down (go figure) …

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While clearly, there are equal numbers of animals on both sides, the tram stops — that allow you to take the best pictures — are based on what the driver sees, not the narrator… (who was facing us the whole time)…  and as such, I was forced to take most of my pictures over the laps of the other people in my row.

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In spite of that, every once in a while I got lucky….. but the tram never stopped for what was on my side

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The trail takes visitors out to a viewing tower, which is at about the 1/2 way mark, where we’re given about 20 minutes to do some exploring (and there are bathrooms there).

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and then we head back to the starting point.

One of the plants that the narrator pointed out to us was this tiny nondescript yellow flower on a bed of muddy green leaves that is very common in the waters. Apparently it EATS mosquitoes, as in actually eats them, and is part of what helps to control their population throughout the glades.

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When we finally got back to the starting point I was disconcertingly exhausted — I think it was all the sun and wind — so much so that I was staggering around a bit when I first stepped off the tram. Now as it turned out, this can be a bit dangerous because the alligators seem to LOVE hanging out there… it’s like they’re camera fiends. There are a lot of signs about not feeding them, and sharp eyed park staff to levy massive fines on you if you do, so it’s not that they’re expecting to be fed.

img_7778There were like 3 of them just laying out and not moving… a lot of people got way closer than I was willing to … … the lady who worked there said the only time in the whole history of the park that anyone got bit was a kid riding on a bicycle lost control, went right into the trench and landed right on top of one.

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This is not to say they’re safe, just if you leave them alone they’ll leave you alone… She said it was kind of amazing considering the really stupid shit she’s seen people do… for example, one lady didn’t believe they were real and sat her 4 year old on top of one for a photo (according to the staffer)

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By the way, these photos have convinced me that tucking my shirt in just makes me look fatter… so I’ll stop… That, and I’m not a fan of how my hair is looking, the last dye job did not make me happy. When I get to Orlando I’ll probably change it again.

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Hello From Miami, FL

Am in Miami, have been here since Nov, 28th and will stay here through Dec., 22nd. I’m not going to bother you guys with pictures of the place much, because Miami is so well photographed (no end of TV shows and movies filmed here)… and it looks pretty much like you imagine. In fact the only impression I got was that it was far more run down looking than I had thought it would be, other than in places like Miami Beach where the ultra rich own homes.

I’m at an Airbnb in a neighborhood south of the city proper, walking distance from more than a few decent restaurants; that said, I’m finding it incredibly difficult to find a decent bit of fish. You’d think, since I’m maybe a 15 minute walk from the ocean the fish here would be really good, really fresh, and cheap … like it was in Victoria, B.C., but it’s not. Not only that, the fish here is really expensive. Honestly I don’t get it. … oh, and dolphin is a common dish on menus here. It’s a bit disturbing when you first see it, but relax, it isn’t Flipper, it’s Mahi-mahi (aka, the dolphin fish).

The only REALLY good fish I’ve had so far was after walking the length of Miami Beach Island I rewarded myself with a piece of Black Cod marinated in Miso from Nobu’s — but that’s been marinated is miso and sake for a full two days before it’s served, which is sort of cheating.

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That said, I got there at 5:30 pm only to discover that the restaurant wasn’t going to be open until 7pm, and did I want to make a reservation? Like I said, I’d walked the length of the island and I have a feeling the girl expected me to go to my hotel room, and shower and change before they’d seat me.  But, she also suggested that if I didn’t want to wait I could get a lot of the same food at the patio bar, whose menu includes the restaurants best sellers. So that’s what I did, sitting out by the back patio’s fountain.

Anyway, anytime I DO anything of note regarding Miami, I’ll post about it. So far I’ve just been walking around the neighborhood, getting situated, running erands, and escaping the 80 degree weather with 70% humidity… it’s supposed to cool down this week.

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Art Miami/Art Basel Weekend; Miami FL

A yearly gallery ‘convention (?)’ where the rich and famous can come together to buy art for their copious homes and offices. To my shock, it was $45 to enter for 1 day …. but once I saw what was actually going on inside I understood (actual ‘collectors’ were all comped VIP tickets, obviously).

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Source: http://www.artmiamifair.com  Dec

I came to Miami primarily in order to get some legal paperwork done at a consulate here. I had tried to do it back in Chicago but they had a month and a 1/2 wait for a reservation with no first come first serve option, while in Miami I could get reservations a few days in advance. The appointment I got was for 10:30 am (which is super early for me). After I completed my visit, and had FedEx’ed out the documents, I stopped at a random restaurant that looked cute (and had decent Yelp reviews) for lunch. When I asked for suggestions of what I should do, now that I was ‘in town’, the chef at the restaurant STRONGLY suggested that I come to this event (he had initially assumed it’s why I was in town). Also, according to my Airbnb host (although incorrectly) one his other guests was in town to show his own work at this thing (turns out he wasn’t, he just worked for a German gallery that whose art was available for sale) … so I came.

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I have to say that for the most part I was highly impressed. All the art on show were the “best of” pieces each of the individual galleries had for sale, and ranged from modern work, to pieces by famous artists whose style I could recognize from across a room (I was an art history minor as an undergrad)

One stall had a Calder, some Chagalls, a Picasso…. etc, as did the next, and the next (the galleries that were selling pieces from the ‘masters’ seemed to have been bunched together) and then after seeing a bunch of modern works that were clearly odes to Andy Warhol, I started seeing a bunch that looked suspiciously like the real thing… and sure enough they were…. there were also a bunch by Miró & Dali, etc., for sale… as well as no shortage of modern works that homages to classic ones:

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There is one piece that consisted of a Asian guy sitting in the hot tub, as an actual hot tub with an actual guy in it, and I was wondering, since the premise of the show was supposed to be art that people can buy…  “if you buy the piece do you get the guy?”

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You’ve got to love the fact that oriental carpets have gotten so cheap that artists are now willing to use them as canvas — I say this with a touch of sarcasm as I inherited 16 of these things (hand-made Persian carpets) from my dad when he died. To put this in perspective, one of his best rugs (which my brother called dibs on) had been appraised or about $10,000 back in the 1970’s, but was only worth about $1,500 after he died.

After having walked through two of the buildings (the ones in displayed in the image at the beginning of this post) I began to take issue with choices of the galleries… Now, granted, they had not coordinated this amongst themselves, but ultimately, there was a predominance of images that glorified violence against women, as well as the objectification of naked women.

Now I have nothing against the naked human form, but I had not seen even one penis so far to offer some balance…. At best I saw ONE solitary scrotum … Honestly, I THOUGHT we were past this! I’d have expected in this day an age at least parity of exploitation.

There were in fact a lot of “high tech” art pieces that had me fascinated as to how they were accomplished… I’ve clearly been out of the art scene a bit too long.

This one I could have seen having in my own home… its just pretty.

And then there were a whole mass of 2D & 3D sculptures utilizing alternative media that I found fascinating, including one artist who used only bullets in order to create almost life size images of wild animals (wrap your brain around that one).

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And then this artist’s work, where the shadow of the images is as if not more important than the images themselves…

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After seeing the two exhibitions located downtown I took the free shuttle to the exhibition that was supposed to be happening in Miami Beach (for those who don’t know, it’s effectively an Island along side Miami linked only by man made roadways) only to discover that it’s not open to the public today, just the VIPs (so my $45 ticket which was supposed to be good for all three shows was only good for two… BOO!!!)

Anh Hong Restaurant; Orlando, FL

Great and affordable Vietnamese food!

Initially I found this restaurant on a Orlando Newspaper’s list of “things you must do in Orlando before you die” which was aimed at locals rather than tourists. It said you HAD to try the Bánh mì at Anh Hong’s restaurant (otherwise known as,’Vietnamese sandwich,’).  These sorts of subs, hoagies or po’boys (depending on what part of the US you come from) have become all the rage recently, and have resulted in mom and pop joints springing up in major cities that have been giving the chains Subway and Jimmy Johns a run for their money nationwide.


There are MANY vietnamese places in Orlando’s ChinaTown area (which is essentially all along Colonial Drive), this would be the one that the Vietnamese go to (I had this on the authority of theVietnamese guy who runs a  grocery store there).
I went there maybe three or four different times, even though it was no where near where I was staying, and took along friends who were locals (who have kept going). The food there is highly affordable, tasty, fresh, and like I said, not geared towards western pallets. The menu extends far beyond the sandwiches to include all of your Vietnamese favorites, such as Pho, etc.,.

Boggy Creek Airboat Tours, near Orlando, FL

A must do: I paid $28 for a 30 minute airboat ride, but since business was slow the pilot kept us out there for over 45min.

Anyone going to central Florida or further south down the peninsula, into the Everglades proper, really HAS to do at least one Airboat ride, it’s obligatory. I did this as sort of a last minute trip before heading north out of the land of Amusement parks (aka Orlando). I had intended to do it since arriving in June, but weather was unseasonably warm this year, and it wasn’t till January that it was finally cool enough for me to be willing to spend a full day in the sun — they were finally having a cold snap that demanded a sweater. I have to say it was very pleasant ride.

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Perhaps it was the location (near Orlando which I opted for over driving an hour away from town) but the ride was more about being out in the sun and the wind, and enjoying the view, than about seeing wildlife — although we did seem some. In the picture below, if you put your nose right up to the screen and look to the left of my shoulder — just to the right of the chain — you can see a  large grey spot which is a smallish alligator (although its easier to see in the bottom right image). I think we MAYBE saw two alligators the whole trip.

The bird in the image to the bottom left is one that is almost extinct (I forget the name). The driver told us that they seeded the swamp with a type of snails that these birds like to eat, and because the boat kicks up the snails from the bottom the birds have learned to follow the boats. All in all a highly enjoyable trip. Personally I think a 45min trip was long enough.IMG_6872