Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Keanu's Reaction to Paula's American Idol Blunder: Whoa.

How can I NOT comment on last night's American Idol, especially since I reminisced about the better, simpler (yet equally as confused) Paula Abdul of 1991 only yesterday?

I am so glad I rallied around 11 Pm last night to forward quickly through the final five's Neil Diamond performances. Typically I don't even watch the songs in their entirety, I just want to get a taste of each one and then hear the judges' comments. So I'm really pleased I didn't skip through the "blunder heard 'round the country"... Paula critiquing TWO performances by Jason Castro, when in fact he had only sang once at that point.

You can bet your sweet bippy that conspiracy theorists have run amok across the Internet this morning. Had the producers written Paula's notes in advance for her? Was Paula going from her take on the dress rehearsals (which she's admitted before to watching)? What in the heck happened? Does this incident undermine the show's credibility?

Writers who were actually on the scene can comment on the chaos better than I ever could, so I encourage you to read Entertainment Weekly's account of the mayhem here. Even on TV you could tell that Simon was internally freaking out... I can't imagine the producers' reactions!
I wish I could've witnessed it myself.

Rest assured that they're going to address Paula's goof tonight--they pretty much have to or the rumors are going to spiral out of control that the show is either rigged or the judges have canned responses that aren't even based on the contestants' actual performances.

I will throw one theory out there that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere: What if Paula can actually time-travel? We cannot possibly know what she's capable of... this is a woman who danced with a cartoon cat and made it look effortless! She probably went to the future, saw Jason's second act, and then jotted down notes to save herself the effort later. If I could time-travel, I would've done the exact same thing.

A few other comments on the show last night... Brooke picked the ultimate worst song ever: "I Am, I Said."

Consider these lyrics:
"I am," I said.
To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair.

NOT EVEN THE CHAIR?!?! Are you kidding me?? Neil Diamond couldn't have taken 5 seconds to brainstorm other words that rhyme with "there"? (For the record, there are many!) Awful.

I do wonder if Neil is going to perform tonight (I'm assuming he is, but didn't watch the end of the show so I'm not sure if Ryan gave us a teaser or not). If he does, what's he going to sing? If he does "Heartlight," another awful song because it's based on frickin' E.T., then I will be cheering. Because it will be so bad that it will rock.

I hope Jason Castro goes home. The weird faces he makes when he sings (and his eyebrows) are freaking me out too much. We shall soon see... But as far as I'm concerned, David Cook has already won. At least Paula got one thing right last night when she said she felt like she was looking at the American Idol after his performance.

- e

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

e's Favorite Things: Keanu Reeves in the "Rush, Rush" Video

I've been meaning to mention this for a while... perhaps the anticipation for tonight's installment of American Idol reminded me... but I recently downloaded Paula Abdul's 1991 song "Rush, Rush" from iTunes. Yeah, I said it! I paid 99 cents for it and I'm not ashamed.

First off, I like the song, but secondly, the video is one of my favorites of all time. Because my boy Keanu Reeves is in it. I have always loved Keanu (long live Bill & Ted!), but he is at his best in "Rush, Rush." Like most of what Paula says on AI, this video makes no sense. What year is it supposed to be? Why are they jumping around in time? Why is everyone hating on my man? It doesn't matter, I guess... because, as Keanu says, "It just reminds you that we're all alone, that's all."

You know you want to see it again! Around 3 minutes and 10 seconds is where they have their nonsensical conversation.


After watching this, I found it really striking how neither Paula nor Keanu has aged... and I honest to God don't think either has had any (if much) work done (at least on their faces).

Perhaps now is the time I should tell you that I actually saw Paula Abdul in concert. It was "The Club MTV Tour" and she was with the likes of Tone Loc and Milli Vanilli (who I saw a second time in concert with Nerdy P). And yes, the show did rock and I know you are jealous.

I really think that when Paula releases the second single off of her new album that she MUST reunite with Keanu for the video. Do you think he would do it?
Or would he just say: "Whoa. No."

- e

Monday, April 28, 2008

Animal Kingdom and Day Two at Disney

On our final full day in Orlando, my husband and I spent six hours at Animal Kingdom and the next eight hours back at the Magic Kingdom. Yes, my friends, that equals FOURTEEN hours straight of theme park madness.

We also went to Animal Kingdom in 2000 and 2006 and really enjoyed it... they've done a great job with this park. My husband especially likes the "Expedition Everest" rollercoaster that is fairly new. I dig it because I totally believe in Bigfoot (also known as the Yeti) and they have a pretty lifelike one that jumps out at you. Some crazy dude videotaped the entire ride from his front-row seat, if you're interested... the parts that are all dark are where the ride is actually going backward. It is crazy.

Other attractions I would recommend at Animal Kingdom are:
Please do yourself and everyone around you a favor and do NOT take any small kids on this ride. Every time I've gone on it, someone ignores all of the signs which state that it's really scary for little children, and some poor kid ends up hyperventilating. The ride is intense, but it totally rocks. You can see a short clip of it here.
- It's Tough to Be a Bug
This is another one of those interactive 3-D movies. It also scares the bejeezus out of little kids... seriously, people bail out of that theater left and right. Maybe it has something to do with the thousands of fake spiders that drop from the sky? Anyway, I still like it.
- The Finding Nemo musical.
This one is new and very well done.
- The Safari
They do a very good job with simulating the experience while also throwing in some education about poachers.

Once over at Disney, we went on just about every ride and attraction there was... including the Liberty Belle Steamboat (I have been to Disney countless times and have NEVER gone on this) and the Hall of Presidents?!?! I was worried that the park would be more crowded than it was when I had gone on Thursday, but it was actually much less packed. Look, no line for Pirates of the Caribbean!

Yes, I did run around all day wearing the Pirate Mickey Ears that my friend Nerdy P got me. I was not the only one there with such accessories. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I also got a skull and crossbones ring, which you can see in this picture of me and my Mickey Waffle.

Do you have a new respect for how patient my husband must be to put up with me?

At 10 PM they have a fireworks show, and we got a primo seat on this bench right on the bridge in front of Cinderella's Castle. The fireworks are great, but the best part is at the very beginning. There's this chick who is all lit up to look like Tinkerbell, and she zooms down this invisible wire from the top of the castle over to the roof of a building across the pond... it is really cool.

It was certainly a long day, but we had a lot of fun. I wanted to end my write-ups on Orlando by clarifying something from my post about Islands of Adventure. I do think that park is overall the best for attention to detail throughout its grounds and I think it has some of the coolest rides. But the Magic Kingdom will always be my favorite... even when the Harry Potter Wizarding World is built a few years from now over at IOA. You just can't beat the original Disney park, what can I say? Don't mess with Mickey!

- e

Friday, April 25, 2008

No Pudge Brownies... The Perfect Food?

If you've been reading my blog for even a short amount of time, you may have gotten the sense that I like sweets. If you got that impression, then you are correct. Chocolate in particular is my weakness... or do I actually get strength from chocolate? I think it's the latter.

Anyway, yesterday I baked up a batch of No Pudge brownies, and thought I should tell you about the wonder of this brand, just in case you weren't aware. I was introduced to No Pudge in grad school, where the closest grocery store was a Whole Foods (before they started popping up everywhere). I've been getting them ever since, going on seven years now. As you may have figured out from the brand name, they are no-fat, low-calorie brownies--a true miracle if I've ever heard of one.

Since I pretty much never cook or bake anything, they had to be reaaaalllly easy in order for me to attempt to make them. And they are. You just pour the bag of mix into a bowl and stir it up with a cup of yogurt. Even I can handle that.

My personal favorite is the "Raspberry," but I've also mixed in flavored yogurts and small fruit chunks to the "Original" mix and they turn out well, too. If you've never tried them before, see if they are at a grocery store near you here.

Even though it is breakfast time right now, I think I'm going to go have one from the batch I made last night just to start this day off on the right note!

- e

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Solo at Disney

I've decided I'm going to need to break my time at Disney into two posts because I have too many pictures I want to share. So I'll start with the day that I spent by myself at EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom... I was at EPCOT for about 4 hours, and then spent the next 8 hours running around Disney. Yes, I spent 12 hours in total at Disney that day... and yes, I'm crazy.

When you are alone at these parks, it's amazing how much you can get through. Often times they will call single riders to the front of the line to fill in empty seats, but beyond that, you just can make it across the park much more quickly when you don't have anyone else to worry about. Therefore, I'm proud to say that in those 8 hours, I went on every ride I wanted to and then some. The funny thing was, several people felt the need to inquire whether I was alone. Be it someone who I asked to take a picture for me, or another visitor by me in a line or next to me on a ride, people kept staring at me like I was insane. I guess it is a pretty unusual thing to see--someone flying solo at Disney. When I did this in 2006, I was asked the same question back then, too: "Are you by yourself here?!?!"

Anyway, since I am the absolute master of the "Fastpass" system which allows you to bypass long lines in exchange for waiting to return to the ride hours later, I whipped around the grounds and even had time to watch the Country Bear Jamboree and take the train ride around the perimeter of the park. The longest wait was for my favorite ride, Peter Pan's Flight (80 minutes!), so I got a Fastpass for that at around 3 PM and came back to ride it at 8:30 PM.

While the 2008 theme at Disney is "The year of a million dreams," they are also touting their "Pirates and Princesses Party," which, believe you me, I considered going to. But you have to buy a separate ticket for it, and it really is for kids, so I decided I had to draw the line somewhere. I did enjoy this Pirate Mickey sculpture at the park's entrance, though.

My one regret is that I didn't get my picture with this guy who was walking around as Captain Jack Sparrow. He looked EXACTLY LIKE Johnny Depp--it was amazing.

The highlight of the day came in the form of a picture I bought after riding Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. I went on this ride in 2006 and bought the picture that was secretly snapped of me at a particularly intense part of the ride (you shoot at alien targets with a blaster that is connected to your moving ride-pod-thingy). This is one of my all-time favorite pictures of myself, and still hangs on my fridge (click to enlarge and get the full effect for both of the Buzz pictures below).

I still laugh whenever I see it. I don't think I've ever looked as serious as I do in that picture about anything else in my life. I was so focused on ridding the universe of evil aliens--someone had to save the world!

So here I am on the same ride this year (they've added a bunch of effects surrounding the picture now, so I cropped it to make it more comparable). As soon as I saw a bright flash after the climactic part of the ride, I thought, "Ahhh, CRAP! My lips were pulled over my teeth like a freak."

Indeed they were.

Two days later, I returned to the Magic Kingdom with my husband in tow. He had wanted me to get all of the "lame rides" out of my system when I was there by myself so that we could concentrate on the attractions that were more worthy of his time. He didn't really want to go on, say, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (which I'm still mad about, as they destroyed one of my favorites, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, to build Pooh in its place). Now all that can be found of Mr. Toad is a statue of him in the pet cemetery outside of the Haunted Mansion. Boo!

I threw in the towel around 9:30 that night, as I knew I had two more full days of theme park mayhem still ahead of me. I had a great time at EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom by myself, and I highly recommend a solo trip to Disney to anyone who loves the park and can get away with doing it.

When you're alone, there's no one to yell at you for eating Mickey-shaped ice cream bars, funnel cakes, popcorn and waffle cones all day! Not like I did that or anything...

- e

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Lucky Jackson Band and Dave Matthews Ba-, er, Trippin' Billies

This past weekend I was invited to the House of Blues to see Trippin' Billies, a Dave Matthews Band tribute band. I've seen DMB in concert several times across multiple states since the early 90s, so I was excited to see how well Trippin' Billies could replicate their sound.

We had been under the impression that the main act started around 9, but they actually didn't go on until 10:30, so we caught most of the opening group, The Lucky Jackson Band. I knew nothing about them, and for the first few songs I actually thought that they were a Bruce Springsteen tribute band or something--the lead singer sounded EXACTLY like The Boss, it was freaky! If you don't believe me, click here and play song #8, Too Many Love Songs. Their CD is now on iTunes, if you're interested...

To be clear, they are NOT a Bruce Springsteen cover band, they are just their own band with their own songs and they were pretty fun to watch. I think unfortunately for them they may sound a little too much like Bruce and the E-Street Band, which could turn people off--like they're trying to be copycats or something. But I personally thought they put on a good show. For those of you in Chicago, they have a song called Lincoln Park Trixie which is pretty funny and can be accessed from the same link above.

When the time came for Trippin' Billies to perform, I was ready to hear some songs that I could sing along with. While they didn't play all of my favorites (or if they did, they played them after I left at midnight), they played several that I knew, including Dream Girl, Grey Street, Everyday, Satellite and #41.

What kind of threw me was that the lead singer looked nothing like Dave Matthews, but he sounded just like him. So I basically didn't want to look at the stage or it would ruin the illusion for me. I think the band sounded closer to the "real" band than the singer sounded like Dave, though.

You can see a video of them playing Ants Marching here. The lead singer I saw looked nothing like the guy in this video... it's either now a different guy, or he grew his hair out to look like that floppy-haired kid Erik (the "ice cream scooper") from the current season of Survivor. Anyway, I thought the lead singer I saw sounded a lot more like Dave than the guy in the linked video.

All of this has inspired me to list my Top Six Favorite Dave Matthews Band songs. Here they are, in no particular order:

Grace is Gone
Say Goodbye
Crash Into Me
Long Black Veil (some may cry "Blasphemy!" but I like his version (I don't think the band was with him on this one) better than Johnny Cash's)

If you've never seen or heard it, here it is:

As for the songs I don't like from DMB... there aren't too many, but the one that comes to mind right away is Proudest Monkey. I don't even like the title. Proudest Monkey?!?

- e

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Pop Century Resort

After spending four nights at the largest Marriott in the world, my husband and I packed up and moved over to Disney's Pop Century Resort for our remaining two days in Orlando. I wanted to be on Disney's grounds, but I didn't want to pay an arm and a leg for a room we would only be sleeping in.

A friend had clued me in to Disney's line of (currently four) "value resorts": comparatively cheap hotels that are close to the parks and that give guests access to free Disney transportation (not only to the parks, but also to and from the airport) and "extra magic hours" (extended park hours at one theme park per day).

When I was researching where to stay, I saw that the value resorts ranged from $89 (off-season) to $109 a night, whereas the next-cheapest hotel on Disney grounds (at least for the time we were there) was $300 a night! So I figured I really couldn't justify paying an extra $400 or so over the course of two nights for a room we just wanted to crash in for 8 hours each day.

That being said, I can't lie and say that my husband and I didn't feel out of place at the Pop Century. It is definitely geared at families... not couples in their mid-30s with no kids (who had just come from a business conference surrounded by guys in suits for the past four days). Disney poured all of its money for this location into the common areas... as you can see from my pictures, they had absolutely incredible decorations and bigger-than-life statues all around that were extremely cool. There were buildings for each decade from the 1950s through the '90s, all with corresponding decor. But they couldn't really hide the fact that the place was still essentially a motel. I'm pretty sure the area must have been where they used to house the summer interns or something--that's the kind of feel the buildings had.

We were in the '60s area, and the first thing my husband said when he entered our room was, "I think they actually built and decorated this room IN the '60s." It was clean, but the amenities were definitely bare bones.

There was a huge core building where you check in that also housed an arcade, a shopping area and a large cafeteria with a wide variety of food options. But I think we were literally the only people there without kids, and so therefore we were not desensitized to everything that comes with a ton of small children running around.

Two sets of friends of mine have stayed at the Pop Century with children ranging from 2 - 5 years old, and they have liked it. Kids dig the common areas, and the pools and playgrounds are extremely nice. And once you start adding up the $80 a day or so for park tickets for each person (which doesn't include meals or flights to Orlando, et cetera), I think that having four resorts on Disney grounds that are around $100-a-night is essential.

Here is a picture of the "hippy dippy pool," which has flowers spraying down water in the shallow areas. And parents take note: there IS a bar near this pool!

I really liked the pool near the 50s area... you may not be able to tell from this picture, but it is shaped like a bowling pin.

My friends thought I would get a kick out of all of the pop culture references throughout the grounds, and they were correct. I made my husband traipse all around with me to ensure I saw absolutely everything. In addition to the decorations on the buildings, the statues and the pools, there were little signs on the walkway that surrounded the resort that listed the dates of some notable events in pop culture. In the area where you check in, they have a ton of memorabilia from the '50s through the '90s. And everywhere you went, they played EXCELLENT music, which I always appreciate!

Here are two more of my favorite pictures from Pop Century. You can tell how big the replicas are in the Big Wheel picture, where there is a person walking next to it in the bottom-right of the frame.

So in short, I would recommend Pop Century, or any of the Disney value resorts, to families. A trip to Orlando is already going to run you thousands of dollars between flights and/or gas for a road trip, park tickets, food, and all of the inevitable Disney crap your kids will make you buy for them. Why pay hundreds more for a hotel? If all you need is a clean place and don't mind not having a luxurious room, then I think you would be happy to save some money by staying at Pop Century. While we didn't make use of the free Disney transportation to/from the airport and the parks (we had a rental car, but we did get to park at the parks for free because we stayed at Pop Century), I would think that would also be extremely helpful for a family trying to juggle a few kids and carry-on luggage (Pop Century will check bags for you and deliver them to and from your room).

For those of you who dare go to Disney World without kids, then it really comes down to what you care about most. If you can deal with a simple room in exchange for a low price and proximity to the theme parks, the go with the value resorts. If you would be bothered by spartan amenities and lots of little kids running around, then don't.

The best part is, with the money we saved by staying at Pop Century, I could totally justify buying myself several pirate-related Christmas ornaments, a skull and crossbones ring, and a huge Princess mug. But you'll have to wait for a later post to see those!

- e

Friday, April 18, 2008

Say It Ain't So!

Does it make me an awful person for not wanting certain people to procreate?

The latest pregnancy rumor that has me all riled up is about Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz. reports that she's expecting, my latest issue of Us Weekly has a spotlight about this same story on its cover, and Ashlee didn't exactly deny the rumors in an interview on MTV. Noooooo!!!!! I can't deal with "bump watch" for her for the next nine months. Seriously, I can't deal with it. I will have to stop reading all of my magazines and visiting all of my gossip web sites. I refuse to put myself through the agony.

I simply cannot stand these two. First off, he is a dork--plain and simple. And not in a good way. He looks exactly the same in every single picture I've ever seen of him... he's sporting some stupid hat or hoodie, is wearing mostly black clothes, and his stringy hair is combed down over his forehead and eyeliner-rimmed eyes, He is NOT cute, but has somehow fooled a bunch of young girls who like his band, Fall Out Boy, into thinking that he is.

And as for her? I seriously don't even know where to begin. Oh, wait, yes I do... just read my rant about Jessica Simpson, because it pretty much all applies to her sister as well. The only difference between Ashlee and Jessica is that Ashlee had a nose job and thinks she's a "rocker chick" because she dates a wimpy guy in a poser band. That entire family just needs to GO AWAY. Stop torturing the rest of us!

And if the rumors are true... then there's going to be yet ANOTHER annoying Simpson offspring to grate on the nerves of generations to come.

I weep for the future.

- e

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reunited with The Mummy at Universal Studios

After resting up in Margaritaville last Friday, my husband and I headed over to Universal Studios. We had been to Universal in 2000 and in 2006 and had gone on all of the attractions, so we only intended to go back to our favorites this time around.

Therefore, we made a beeline for the Revenge of the Mummy ride. I haven't even seen this movie (and thought that the original Mummy was one of the worst films ever--I seriously almost walked out of the theater), but the ride rocks the hiz-ouse. It's one of my favorite rides across all theme parks I've been to; in 2006 we went on it four times in a row! It's very much an indoor rollercoaster, but there are several unique aspects to it that are hard for me to describe--you just have to go on it to understand. If you've ever been on the new Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland (in L.A.), it's kind of like that, only much better. The only annoying part is that they force you to put any bags you have with you in a free locker before you get in line, and it seems kind of unnecessary, but whatever.

Then we walked to the opposite end of the park to see if the new Simpsons Ride was open. Alas, it was not. I had read online that they were doing a "soft launch" the week we were there, but if they did, we missed it. It is still scheduled to open sometime soon, but the exact date hasn't been announced. Whoever goes on it must tell me about it! I have never consistently watched The Simpsons, but I am familiar with most of the characters, so I'm very curious about what this ride through "Krustyland" will be like. Here is a picture of the under-construction entrance:

Even though we had seen it before, we went to Shrek-4D again because neither of us could remember it (getting old...). It's one of these new "interactive movies" where not only is the show in 3-D, but the seats move and wind blows at you and water spits out at you and whatnot. They have great movies like this at the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, too, which I'll write about at another time.

Then we left. We just couldn't hang in the 87-degree weather--we were outta there by 4 PM--only 6.5 hours of theme park fun that day. But the next day we lasted FOURTEEN HOURS--so there!

- e

P.S. If you do ever visit Universal Studios, I would highly recommend the Terminator 2:3D attraction--it rocks. We have seen it several times and just didn't have the energy to wait in line again for it this year, but it is pretty incredible (unless you have small children, who would be scarred for life).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Moved by Young@Heart

(Sorry to those to whom this post was emailed twice... it disappeared from my site and I had to re-write it. Blogger treats that as a new post.)

Let's take a break from Theme Park Mania for a day, shall we?

Last week I read an article (warning, the linked article contains a major spoiler that I wish I hadn't read before I saw the movie) about a new documentary coming out called Young@Heart. It follows a group of seniors (their average age is 80) who travel around singing songs by the likes of Sonic Youth, The Ramones and Coldplay. I looked into the movie a little bit more and read nothing but absolutely glowing reviews. And then I happened upon passes for a free screening that was being held in Chicago last night... so I went.

I seriously contemplated writing only one line for this post... something like: "Young@Heart--just go see it, trust me." I strongly believe that everyone should try and catch this movie one way or the other, even if it means waiting for it to come out on DVD. But the reason that I decided to write a full post about it is that I'm going to go against the grain and criticize the film just a tad. Yes, I thought it was great and I do recommend it highly to everyone, no matter what your tastes are... but the movie could've been awesome, and I blame the director Stephen Walker for its shortcomings.

First off, I think that documentaries are much stronger if they "show, don't tell." I'm not a fan of narration in these types of films, and Young@Heart had a lot of narration, most of which was totally unnecessary. I got the sense that the director (who was also the narrator) just wanted to hear his own voice. For example, why did he have to include a voice-over that explained that the group had three weeks to go until their big show and that practices were therefore being more frequently scheduled? Just have "Three weeks before the show" in text over the beginning of the scene and get on with it. Or have some of the people in the choir explain their schedule.

Secondly, there should have been much more focus on the individuals in the group than there was. The audience learned hardly anything about the lives of the spotlighted chorus members... we only knew about their most recent health issues and what their current living situation was. But I would've loved to have heard about what they all did in their careers and other interesting tidbits about their long lives. Instead, there were only brief snippets with some of the group members and way too much time spent on the practices leading up to the big show.

Finally, I didn't like the inclusion of "music videos" that were spaced throughout the film (such as 'Stayin' Alive' and 'I Wanna Be Sedated'). They gave the documentary a cheesy vibe that it wouldn't have had otherwise. Those videos would have been great as DVD extras, or maybe one of them could've been played over the end credits, but to have included them in the actual film used up time that would've been better spent on getting to know the individual members of Young@Heart better.

All that being said, the vast majority of the 107 minutes you'll spend watching this movie are enjoyable. I'm not going to lie and say that there aren't some sad parts--my eyes and nose were red for a good hour after the movie because I was crying so hard (as was almost everyone seated around me--I looked). There are also some scenes that are literally hard to watch. One of the main singers, Stan, has a debilitating spinal condition and you know he must be in great pain just to stand up and walk over to the microphone (even though he never complained or voiced any discomfort, and is the one in the picture above with his hands up!). And it is tough to see some of the members struggling to remember just one or two lines of a song.

But the reason I highly recommend Young@Heart to absolutely everyone is because of the message it sends, which greatly overpowers all of my nit-picks. You may remember the soft spot I have for the elderly from a previous post on this subject. My Grandma R and Grandpa O are two of the coolest people in the world, are in their 80s, and are a huge inspiration to me. And that's how I felt about the seniors in Young@Heart, many of whom are convinced that they would not still be around if they weren't singing. Their drive and motivation to perform with the group was absolutely amazing. They all had great personalities; my favorite was Fred, who has a deep, deep voice like Johnny Cash and who loved to get a rise out of people with his goofy one-liners. "You don't make it out of this world alive, that's for damn sure," was his best one.

When I rode home from the theater last night, I definitely had a different attitude and perspective on all of the lame little things that I worry about or complain about. When you see people in their 90s rallying for a sold-out theater performance and singing to prisoners and spending hours practicing on a weekly basis, it makes you feel a little bit sheepish about the sore legs you have from running around Orlando for 3 days.

And please don't be scared off by the fact that I bawled my head off during this movie... I would not lie to you--there is happiness in the sadness that is filmed, and I personally believe that the world would be a much better place if everyone paused now and then and thought about what they want out of their lives and what kind of legacy they're going to leave. Young@Heart will make you do just that, and you'll have fun in the process.

I promise.

Here is a trailer for the movie below (I wouldn't watch any other clips from the movie if I were you, as the other ones I've seen all contain spoilers). Unfortunately, since Young@Heart is a documentary, it's a little bit hard to find in theaters. The list of cities and dates it is playing is here (scroll down a bit on the page that opens).

If you are able to catch it, please let me know if I was right-on with my comments. And if you have ever actually been lucky enough to have seen the group perform live, by all means let the rest of us know!

- e

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Islands of Adventure: Best Theme Park Ever?

After my EPCOT adventure, I ran around the Magic Kingdom (what most people would call "Disney World") by myself for several hours. However, I will write about my experience there later, as I went back again on Saturday with my husband in tow; I plan to combine the two visits into one big debrief in a single post.

Before we went back to the Disney parks on Saturday, we spent the majority of the day at Islands of Adventure on Friday. This is a theme park that is close in location to (and owned by) Universal Studios Orlando, but is completely separate... you can pay more for a "park hopper" ticket (which we did) that gives you access to both places within the same day. We went to IOA two years ago and absolutely loved it, so I was anxious to go back again this year. As I mentioned previously, the Harry Potter theme park is going to be located within Islands of Adventure and is slated to open in 2010. I was happy with that decision when I heard the news last summer, and am even happier after going back to the park a few days ago. They have done an absolutely incredible job with Islands of Adventure... truly carrying through the themes for each area (Seuss Landing and Toon Lagoon are two examples) in painstaking detail.

In the Marvel Comics Super Hero area, we went on The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, which was fantastic. They've combined just about every type of ride technology there is for this attraction: you're wearing 3-D glasses as you move in a small car through a city where Spidey is battling villains. He pounces down right in front of you, catches the car in his web after you free-fall from the top of a building, and saves you from multiple attacks by the bad guys. Highly recommended.

When we went to IOA in 2006, a lot of the Seuss Landing area wasn't completed yet. So we made it a point to go on the Seuss Trolley--a slow-moving train that rides above that part of the park while re-telling the story of The Sneetches. We also went on The Cat in the Hat, in which you move and spin through scenes from that famous book. I even got to meet The Cat!

I really enjoyed this area of the park because I've always loved the Dr. Seuss collection of stories, and I got a kick out of the design of everything from the buildings to the trashcans. Here are a handful of pictures from Seuss Landing (clicking on them will enlarge the shot)...

Because of my love for all things magical, fantastical (that IS a word!) and imaginary, I also greatly enjoyed the Jurassic Park area and The Lost Continent. Here are some pictures from those parts of the park...

Needless to say, we had a lot of fun at Islands of Adventure. I'll cover Universal Studios in another post, but I'll end today with the break we took at lunchtime.

We went to Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, which is located right outside of the entrance to Islands of Adventure. This one was a little different than what I could remember from the one in Vegas... it actually had a volcano that would erupt every once in awhile (after "Volcano" would play over the loudspeakers, of course... you can see the volcano to the left of the pole in the upper-left of the shot).

After eating, we rested a while in the sun on the lounge chairs they had outside... gathering up our strength for the rest of the day.

But MOST importantly, as some of you may remember from my Vegas trip to Margaritaville last summer, I finally bought the pirate plaque I had regretted not getting back then. One day when I have a home office I will hang it proudly on the wall... but for now it's just propped up against my laptop stand.

It makes me very happy, so I'm glad I got it!

- e

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Future Looks Like the Past at EPCOT

Despite the fact that I flew on American Airlines, I amazingly made it back from Orlando yesterday--we even landed twenty minutes early. Some of that Disney magic must have still been with us.

We went down to the sunshine state because my husband had some business down there for The Man, so I took it as an opportunity to tag along and get a change of scenery and weather. After chilling for two days at our resort, I headed out on Thursday for eleven hours of theme park madness on my own. I spent half of the day at EPCOT and the other half at the Magic Kingdom.

The last time I was at EPCOT was in the year 2000, and it hasn't changed a heck of a lot since then. I remember when the park was first built in the early 80s, and then renamed EPCOT in the early 90s--it was supposed to be a futuristic place that spotlighted new technologies and innovations. (EPCOT stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow... Walt Disney had originally envisioned it as an actual town where people would live and where businesses could be based. That didn't quite work out.) When I visited this park as a kid, it did seem kind of cool. But now it just seems dated.

I went there this time for one reason and one reason only: to ride the new Finding Nemo ride. I have a sneaking suspicion that they placed this ride in EPCOT, instead of where it more logically would fit in the Magic Kingdom, to keep people coming to the park. I made a beeline for the ride as soon as I got there (which was shortly after the park opened at 9 AM) and was happy to find that there was hardly any line at all.

The ride was short and sweet... and quite honestly, meant for the 3-6 year old set. But hey, I still liked it. You're in this little clam shell thingy that moves slowly through scenes from the movie, and at one point it looks like Nemo and some of the other characters are swimming around with real fish, so that was cool. Here are some pictures of the entrance to the ride...

The seagulls above move and shout "Mine!" like in the movie.

I barely made it out of the ride alive!

Since I got through Nemo so quickly, I decided to keep going and tried the new Soarin' ride. Basically it's like you're in a hang glider and you're flying over all of these scenic landscapes. You're in front of a gigantic movie screen and your feet are dangling down as they raise all of the seats into the air, so it does feel pretty real. However, I kept being distracted by little flecks on the film, and I thought they cut between scenes too quickly, which ruined the illusion that you were actually soaring. You can't just go from being over the ocean to being over the mountains in a split second!

I actually liked waiting in line (about 40 minutes) for Soarin' better than the ride itself. They had this giant screen that projected outlines of everyone standing in line, and then you could move things on the screen with your hands--it was wild. I am the figure a little bit to the right of the center of the picture below, with a bag over my shoulder. The blue spots are where peoples' hands are moving the rows of "mountains" projected onto the screen. It really does not take much to amuse me.

After Soarin', I got a kiddie meal for lunch. My husband said that this picture made him ill. What? Chocolate pudding and carrots don't mix?

I then went on Imagination! and Maelstrom (the ride located within the Norway exhibit). There were some teenagers in the boat with me for Maelstrom, and they kept yelling, "Help me Lord JEEEEESSSSSSUS!" I actually found it pretty funny because it is not a scary ride, at least not if you're above the age of 5.

That was pretty much it for me at EPCOT. By 1 PM I headed over to the Magic Kingdom, though I did really enjoy the International Flower and Garden Show displays that were out throughout the park at EPCOT on my way out.

Here are a bunch of them for your viewing pleasure...

- e