We need healing crystals here, stat! Aquamarine quartz!

Proponents of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM – though I tend to add the word “So-called” at the beginning because that acronym is a little more accurate) rarely say “Never go to a doctor” or “you should always use naturopathic medicine”. They know that this could turn many people off of CAM, so they try to state their case as a preference. If you want to go to your doctor that’s fine, but if you prefer to go to a naturopath, that should be your right and your insurance provider (and the health care system in general) should be accepting of that, i.e. should support it and pay for it. This is, in my opinion, a false equivalency – they are implying that “traditional” medicine and CAM are equally valid and equally effective when in reality CAM consists entirely of “treatments” that either have never been proven effective or have been proven ineffective.

That’s the official CAM literature, anyway: it’s a choice. But in the real world, the CAM community is full of people who talk all the time about the medical conspiracy and how doctors are withholding cures for diseases and how you should never go to a doctor practicing “Western medicine” or allow them to pump you full of man-made chemicals. Alternative medicines are the only way to go. This is not 100% of all CAM supporters, but a very vocal subset.

CAM people want the right to use homeopathic “vaccines” instead of regular ones. They want the right for the healthcare system to pay for their reiki or acupuncture or other pretend magic remedies. But there’s one thing that I’ve never heard a CAM supporter fight for.

Why aren’t CAM supporters demanding the right to have ambulance workers provide CAM instead of “traditional” medicine when they call 911?

If you don’t trust Western medicine and you believe that doctors are all part of a conspiracy to keep people sick and that natural medicine is your best option, why do you accept the possibility of being taken to a traditional hospital to be treated by Western doctors after an accident? What if some medical emergency happens to you and you can’t communicate your beliefs? Hopefully someone will call 911 but then without asking, they’ll take you to a traditional hospital. They might even start Western treatment right there in the ambulance. How awful!

What we need is the CAMbulance. You call 911 (or possibly a different number so you don’t get a traditional Western ambulance by mistake), describe the problem to the operator, and say you want the CAMbulance, and they’ll send out a different vehicle to take you to a local acupuncturist or homeopath or faith healer or something. That way you won’t get horrible things like painkillers or penicillin, which are of course made up entirely of CHEMICALS. I’m sure your acupuncturist can repair the internal bleeding and the homeopath can give you something that will clean up the plaque in your arteries that caused that heart attack. Your faith healer can re-attach that severed arm and if he can’t, well God must not have wanted you to have it anyway.

Even better – CAM people should sell Medic Alert-type bracelets saying “if in an accident, take me to a naturopath, not a hospital”. That way even if you’re incapacitated, your feelings can be made clear. Or perhaps they could just take you straight to the funeral home and skip the middleman. The CAMbulance is really a hearse.

Or perhaps the CAMbulance would take you to a place like this:

(Note “A&E” stands for “Accidents & Emergencies” which is the British term for what we in North America would call the ER.)

Opting out

March 4, 2015

To whom it may concern,

I would like to opt out of your diabetes program.

I was first accepted into your program a little over two years ago, in January 2013. I don’t remember actually volunteering for this program; I think it must have happened when I was in the hospital with pancreatitis five years ago. I did spent a lot of time on painkillers then so who knows what I signed up for. Anyway, I went on the medication and cut down on sugary stuff, and it really wasn’t that big a deal. My wife had been in your program for three years already, and she’s doing just fine. She doesn’t even test her blood all that often anymore since her sugar numbers are under control. For a while, mine were too, but then near the end of 2014 I noticed them going up again. I attributed that to Christmas and a couple of weeks of less-than-healthy eating. I started eating better in January but the numbers didn’t come back down, so I went to see my doctor and she advanced me to level two of your program.

I first injected myself with insulin on January 23, 2015. I started with 5 units per day and was told to keep testing my blood 4-5 times a day, increasing the dosage by one unit every two days until the blood sugar numbers were where they were supposed to be. Six weeks later, my fingers are all bruised from pricking them with needles before and after almost every meal, and I’m at 22 units per day. The numbers have come down a fair bit but they’re still not quite in the range they need to be.

I miss you.I lost 10 pounds at the beginning and I’ve been maintaining the new weight ever since, but I’m getting tired of feeling hungry all the time. I’m tired of deciding between oatmeal or eggs for breakfast every day because they’re the only things that don’t spike my blood sugar. Luckily, the turkey sausage breakfast sandwich from Tim Horton’s isn’t bad either so I treat myself now and again. But what I wouldn’t give for a bagel or a regular old bowl of cereal, which I’ve lived on for breakfast for the last 45 years. I was never a Froot Loops or Cap’n Crunch kind of guy, but even a bowl of Cheerios shot my blood sugar up over 6 points. When the acceptable range is 4 to 7 and you generally start your day around 9, adding another 6 is not helpful.

Oddly, the insulin injections aren’t that big a deal but I’m tired of having to have a bedtime snack that contains protein, carbs and fat. I know that helps slow down the insulin absorption, which helps it to last all the next day, but sometimes I just want to go to bed and not think about what would be an appropriate snack. I suppose if I thought about it 20 minutes before I want to go to bed that would work, but it’s not part of my routine yet.

I’m tired of looking at everything I eat and wondering how it will affect my blood sugar. I’m tired of my eyesight getting worse and hoping it’s because I’m 45 and not because diabetes is making me blind. I’m tired of being scared with any change in my body, wondering if it’s caused by the diabetes or if it’s the beginning of another round of hospital visits. Or worse.

And of course, I’m tired of skipping desserts and cookies and anything that has sugar in it. We had to throw some cupcakes out the other day because they got stale; that would never have happened a year ago.

It’s not like it’s all bad, I do want to acknowledge the perks. The free annual eye exam is nice, and the fact that I can seemingly eat all the crackers and cheese, eggs, and peanut butter I want and not gain weight is OK too. But the bit about “eat a cookie now, and we’ll wait 20 years before chopping some toes off ” is a little harsh.

In conclusion, I appreciate your interest in having me in this program, but I would really like to opt out and resume my previous lifestyle. Thanks for your attention in this matter, and please let me know how we proceed from here.


Graeme Perrow

This “letter” was written with tongue firmly in cheek. Sure this whole diabetes thing is a drag but quite honestly, I’m managing it fine. This was kind of fun to write and allowed me to whine about aspects of having diabetes that that bug me, but if it sounds like I’m moping around the house all the time thinking “woe is me, it’s so hard“, I’m really not.

I know full well that there are many people that have it far worse than I do. There are type 1 diabetics who have it worse. There are people with things like colitis and lupus and depression and cancer and a hundred other things, and those people have it worse. I have a wonderful wife who I adore, two great kids who I am very proud of, family, friends, a career I enjoy, and other than the diabetes, my health is pretty good. At the end of the day, my bed is very comfortable. I really do love my life.

In which I admit to myself who I really am

It’s time for me to come clean and admit it. I’ve been fighting this for years, but it’s getting harder and harder to hide it and pretend that I’m something I’m not. I just can’t go on living this lie. The irony is that I’ve become that which I have been making fun of for years. I suppose the easiest way would be just to come out and say it.

I am a fair-weather fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whew, I feel better already, just having gotten that off my chest.

I was never one to watch EVERY SINGLE Leafs game on TV, but I would watch as often as I could. I paid attention to where they were in the standings. I knew most of the players’ names, where they played, and how they were doing. If they made a trade, I at least had some clue whether it was a good one or a bad one. But none of these things are true anymore. I know they’re having a terrible season and have decided to begin the rebuilding process, but not much more than that. I hang my head in shame.

Way to go Dion! And, um, #42!I blame lacrosse. I started watching the National Lacrosse League in 2001 and have gotten deeper and deeper into it every year since. I started blogging about it in 2005, and have since written for three lacrosse blogs (including what are probably the two most popular indoor lacrosse blogs anywhere) and started my own. I wouldn’t call myself a lacrosse expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I am reasonably knowledgeable about the NLL teams and players. But paying that much attention to lacrosse has taken up all of my sports-related free time in the winter, and hasn’t left me much time for hockey. The rest of my free time is spent with my family and none of them are hockey fans. If I have to choose between watching the Leafs lose play and watching Elementary with my wife, well, the Leafs lose (pun intended). But if there’s a Rock game on, sorry honey.

It’s also easy to blame the fact that the team has been anywhere from not very good to terrible for the last decade.

I still pay some attention to the Leafs. Though I may not know all the players, I know Dion Kessel and Phil van Reimsdyk and such, the big names. And I have watched bits of games here and there, just not as much as, say, 10 years ago. But I know that if the Leafs were to go on some crazy winning streak, I’d be right back there, watching the games, talking about them on social media, and maybe even blogging about them.

Don’t get me wrong: I have been a Leafs fan all my life, and that will not change. When they win the Cup in 2021, I will watch every game of the playoffs and I’ll be as excited as everyone else. I know there are people who lose their passion and are all “I used to be a Leafs fan, but now I don’t care if they win or lose” and I can’t imagine saying that, especially if the team starts doing really well. I do still care, I just don’t have the time to pay as much attention as I used to. But given the way the team has been playing this season (so I hear) and the fact that they’re rebuilding, I imagine I’ve got several more years of suckage before they have a chance of really contending. And that’s assuming the rebuild is actually successful. So it seems unlikely that I’ll be watching much hockey until then but when they’re good again, boy, I’ll be right there. As long as the weather remains fair.

Not a word of a lie: There’s a Leafs game on right now, and I’m going to watch it.

Update: Watched it. They lost. Sigh.

Guest post from both Nicky and Shadow

For several months now, I’ve had an idea sitting in my list of “blog post ideas”. The idea was a “guest post” written by my cat Shadow, where I would write about his life with us from his own point of view. I thought this would be fun but I never got around to actually writing it.

Then last week, Nicky said that he had a project to do for school where he had to write a short story from an unusual point of view. There were some suggestions given:

  • Tell a story about yourself but in the third-person. Graeme hates this kind of stuff. It really bugs him.
  • Pretend you told a story about yourself to a friend. Tell the story as the friend who’s now re-telling it to someone else.
  • Tell a story from the point of view of an animal or an inanimate object which is involved in the story.
  • etc.

Nicky said he was having trouble coming up with ideas, and so we brainstormed for a while. I mentioned telling a story from Shadow’s point of view, and he immediately thought of telling the story of how we found him. Nicky ran with it. He talked about how we found him and he spent most of the day in my sister’s garage, how they took him to the vet to see if he was microchipped, how we brought him home, and even how we took him to our vet to get him microchipped, though he left out the part about being neutered. That’s probably for the best.

Anyway I thought Nicky did such a good job on the story, I’m reposting it here. He even gave me his permission:

I, Nicky Perrow, give my formal consent to my daddy, Graeme Perrow, to use this story in his Blogs, Facebooks, Tweets, Etc. as much as he may wish.

For posterity, Nicky is 12 and in grade seven.

How I found my cat, Shadow

I was walking around outside for a while, freezing my tail off, when I saw a red van pull up and some friendly-­looking people stepped out. “Salvation!” I purred loudly. I started to wrap myself around their legs and purring as heavily as I could. Soon they were petting me and one even picked me up! Then they put me down and walked away, “MEOW!” I cried. They turned around and gestured for me to follow so I did and I trailed behind them until we got to a door, the door opened and we went inside. It was massive! Some older friendly people came and started petting me. After that, we went down some stairs to a cold room. Not as cold as outside but still a bit chilly. I was left there with one of the smaller friendly people petting me and playing with me. After a while, the other nice people came back with a bed, food, water, and a strange light that is very bright but when I got close to it then I got all warm and fuzzy. Then everyone left and I realized how hungry I was so I started munching away at the food that they had brought me. Then I lay down in the bed and fell asleep right away.

When I woke up, I ate a little bit but my breakfast was interrupted by the older people coming and putting me in a small box with a nice little cloth. Then they started swinging me around! Who did they think they were?! All of a sudden I was in a big vibrating thing. It looked a lot like the red van from earlier but it was black. Birds and trees were racing past me, but then it all stopped. I was taken into a room and let out. A man walked up and waved a small box over me, nothing happened. Next thing I knew, I was zipping by the birds and trees again! Once we got back in the door, I saw the people from the red van! Then they put me in a more comfortable box with a fluffy towel! I was in there for a very long time. I even had a little nap! I awoke to my box being carried through a door into a house that was even more massive than the one before! They let me out and I explored a bit. After a long time I went back into the box and into the red van. I decided to have a bath but it was cut short by me getting carried into another room where I got poked. It hurt a lot! Then a small box was waved over where I got poked, it looked similar to the one that did nothing so I wasn’t worried but just then it beeped loudly causing me to jump back. After that, I went back into the van. I went home.

The people take good care of me and it’s a lot better that living on the street! I’ve been here ever since.

by Nicky Perrow

Nicky And Shadow

Florida 2014: Disney vs. Universal

In August 2014, we spent two weeks on vacation in Florida, which included 4 days at the Universal Studios theme parks and 8 days at Disney World. I’ve summarized our vacation in some detail already (planning, Universal, Disney), but here I’m going to look at the similarities and differences between Universal and Disney. I’m skipping the rides, shows, and food, mainly because they’re so varied and you can find ride reviews anywhere. I wanted to focus on other parts of the experience that may not get talked about as much. Primarily, I want to look at the difference between their two “line-skipping” technologies, Disney’s Fastpass+ and Universal Express.

First I’ll describe each one, and then compare them.


Disney’s Fastpass has been around for a while (it was there when we went in 2002), and it recently got changed and renamed to Fastpass+. It allows you to sign up for a ride hours or days in advance and then skip the line. It’s basically a “reservation” for a ride; you are assigned a time range (usually 15 minutes) and as long as you arrive within that time range, you can go into the Fastpass+ line rather than the regular line, and your wait is significantly decreased. For some rides, this is the only way to get on the ride without waiting an hour or more. You can also get Fastpasses for non-ride things like shows, character greetings, and even some restaurants. However not every ride accepts Fastpasses, and for those that do the number they have is limited so you generally have to get them in advance.

Fastpass+You can only have one FastPass+ per ride at a time, so you can’t get a bunch of Fastpasses for Mission: Space and ride it all day. You can get Fastpasses online or through the Disney app, and there are even stations throughout the parks where you can get them.

Fastpass+ is free for all Disney guests.

Universal Express

Universal Express is similar to Fastpass+ but not quite the same. While Fastpass+ is essentially a reservation system, Universal Express is simply a way of paying extra for the privilege of bypassing the normal lines to wait in much shorter lines. It’s not available on every ride, but almost all of the rides that didn’t offer it were the ones where the lines were short anyway. The big exceptions were the Hogwarts Express and Escape from Gringotts.

Multiple lines at The HulkIf you are a guest at one of the Universal hotels, you get Express for “free” (considering the price of tickets and hotels, it’s hard to use the word “free”. Let’s say it doesn’t cost any extra). But if you’re staying off-site, it’s rather expensive. The Express costs anywhere from $34.99 (with restrictions) up to $149.99 (with none, peak time), and that’s per day per ticket. Express is an add-on, so this cost is on top of your regular ticket price.

Compare and contrast

Both Fastpass+ and Express provided lines that were much shorter than the regular lines and in some cases we just walked straight onto the ride, feeling a bit like a VIP. “Sorry, regular people, these people want to ride now, so you’ll all have to wait.”

There are two big advantages to Fastpass+. The first is that you know when you will be riding certain rides, and you can plan your day around that. This is also the big disadvantage – if you decide to change your plans, you either lose your Fastpass or you can try to change it online. But we found that changing it was generally not possible because the times booked up very quickly. You can also only have one Fastpass for a ride at a time, so if you loved a ride, you can’t just turn around and bypass the line again. You can do that with Universal Express.

The second big advantage is that Fastpass+ doesn’t cost any extra and everyone can use it. For those staying onsite, Universal Express is included but otherwise, it ranges from a bit of a pricey add-on to “holy crap, are you kidding?” expensive. There were stations around Universal advertising “Buy your Express pass here!”, and when we were there the cost was around $89.99 (per day per ticket). Since we went to Universal for four days, that would have cost us over $1400. That’s insane.

The biggest advantages for Universal Express is that it’s available on the majority of rides and it’s very flexible – you just walk onto the ride. You don’t need to plan ahead and you don’t need an app on your phone. If you get the cheaper version you can’t use it more than once for the same ride in a day, but the “Universal unlimited” pass (that we had) allows you to use it as many times as you want.

Since we did stay on-site, the price wasn’t an issue for us and so overall I preferred Universal Express to Fastpass+. it was so much easier to simply walk in the Express line rather than booking the time in advance. Having said that, if I had to pay several hundred bucks per day for the four of us to get the Express tickets, that opinion would change very quickly.

In a nutshell, Universal Express was easier and more flexible than Fastpass+, but unless you’re staying on-site, it’s not worth the crazy amount of money.

I originally thought the price was unrealistically high – who’s going to pay that? Why would Universal charge that much? But I figured out why. Having this feature free for hotel guests may push people to stay at a Universal hotel rather than off-site. The hotel may be a little more expensive, but if you save $1000+ by not having to buy Express for everyone in your family, you may decide that the higher hotel price is worth it. If I were going back to Universal again, I’d certainly consider it.

A few other comparisons:

  • Magic BandsAt Universal, your ticket is a small card (like a credit card) with your name on it and a mag stripe, which you swipe to get into the park and hotel room. Universal Express was a different ticket (WHY?!), and we bought lanyards to keep both tickets easily reachable. For the cost of the vacation, I think Universal could have thrown in four lanyards. Disney used a “magic band” (see right), which is a plastic bracelet with an RFID chip in it. The bracelet was your park ticket (with a fingerprint), Fastpass+ ticket, meal plan ticket, hotel key, and identification for the Disney photographers. You could even use it to charge things to your room (with a PIN). As I said in an earlier article, the only thing it didn’t work for was the in-room safe (which used a large metal key – WHY?!). Advantage: Disney.
  • At a number of rides, there were lockers nearby since they don’t want you bringing cameras and backpacks and such on the rides. At Universal (and at Kennedy Space Center too), there were fingerprint scanners near each bank of lockers. You scanned your finger and it would open an empty locker for you to use. When you came back later, you scanned your finger again and it opened the locker. If you were gone less than 20 minutes or so (the time varied with the general lineup length for the ride), the locker rental was free, otherwise you had to pay to get your stuff back. The boys thought that using the fingerprint scanner was pretty cool, though personally I wasn’t as impressed – I wrote fingerprint scanning software two decades ago. Disney had no such lockers. Advantage: Universal.
  • Both resorts had free wifi throughout the parks and hotels but Universal’s was much spottier. In the hotel, you had to agree to some terms and conditions before it would let you surf, and I had to agree to those terms and conditions a number of times because it seemed to forget. There were a number of places throughout Universal where the wifi signal dropped to nothing. At Disney, the wifi covered just about everywhere (you might say it was universal) and had a much stronger signal. Advantage: Disney.

One other difference was the staff. The Disney staff seemed to truly enjoy being there, and there were quite a few that went above and beyond. While waiting for the boys and I to finish a ride at Epcot, Gail saw an impromptu “concert” by some of the cleaning staff, who put a bunch of upside-down garbage cans and buckets together and started drumming on them. They called themselves the “Jammitors”. Also at Epcot, we saw another member of the cleaning staff “painting” surprisingly good pictures of Goofy and Donald Duck on the ground with a wet broom. This was very shortly after the park opened, and he knew full well that the pictures would only last minutes because of the heat, but it was fun for him and guests liked it. It’s not that we had any negative experiences with the Universal staff, and some of the people in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley did get quite into character, but more often we felt the Disney staff just went that little bit extra.

Florida 2014: By the numbers

Total nights away from home: 15 (1 Buffalo, 2 Titusville, 4 Universal, 8 Disney)

Border wait time going to Buffalo: ~3 minutes

Border wait time coming back from Buffalo: ~45 minutes

Total flying distance: 2064 miles (3321 km)

Total driving distance: 375 miles (603 km) – this does not include driving to and from Buffalo

Total walking distance (Ryan): 178.05 km

Total walking distance (Nicky): 179.17 km (298,702 steps), though we missed counting a day

Total pictures and videos taken: 2292 (9.03 GB). About half were on the actual camera, the other half on our phones. We actually filled the camera’s CF card and had to delete a few before we could continue. Should really get a second card.

Phone pictures taken:

  • Gail: 568 (3.19 GB)
  • Nicky: 411 (573 MB)
  • Graeme: 264 (1.54 GB)
  • Ryan: 1 (291 KB) – he actually took two pictures of the same thing (Bob and Dale)

Temperature: roughly 32-35°C every day, slightly cooler first thing in the morning and in the evening, especially after a thunderstorm

These little guys were everywhereHumidity: roughly 50000% every day. It turns out “humidex” is strictly a Canadian thing, but the American weather reports did have something similar, which I think they called “real feel”. We didn’t check these values often but they were in the low-mid 40’s whenever we did. Apparently the humidex numbers would be slightly higher than this.

Number of pounds gained (Graeme): Astonishingly, 0. In fact, a week after we got back I weighed 1.5 pounds less than a week before we left.

Number of pounds gained (Gail): Yeah, right.

Number of alligators we saw: 1

Number of armadillos: 1

Number of live armadillos: 0

Number of salamanders: many

Number of American white ibises: countless

Florida 2014: Disney

This is part 3 of a multi-part travelogue on our 2014 trip to Florida. Part one described some of the planning of the trip. In part two, we spent a day at Kennedy Space Center and four days at Universal, and Gail spent two days in bed. In this instalment, we travel down the road from Universal to Disney World.

August 21: Early entry at Magic Kingdom today. We tried to get to the Seven Dwarves coaster first since the line-ups on that ride get insane quickly, but it was closed so we rode Buzz Lightyear instead. Since there were no lines, we actually rode it twice. After that, it was over to the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, which I expected to be a short movie with the Monsters Inc. characters, but it was different. It was actually a “live” comedy show featuring a monster. They must have had a comedian in a motion capture suit backstage with cameras on the audience, and the character on screen interacted in real time with audience members. It was very well done and pretty funny.

Obligatory Mickey pictureAfter that, we did more rides: Big Thunder Mountain, Mickey’s Philharmagic, Peter Pan, Under the Sea, Tomorrowland Speedway, Haunted Mansion, Country Bear Jamboree, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Jungle Cruise. Sounds like a pretty busy day but most of that was before lunch.

Lunch was at a Beauty and the Beast-themed restaurant called Be Our Guest (note that we tried the gray stuff, and it was indeed delicious). During our entire Disney vacation, something we kept coming back to was “Disney does things right”. We were impressed countless times with how efficient or easy things were, from making dinner reservations online to free wifi throughout all of the parks. Lunch at Be Our Guest was one of the very few times that I was surprised at how this was not the case. First off, we did have lunch reservations (which we had made months in advance), and even placed our food orders to speed things up. But we still had to wait in a line for at least 20 minutes before getting inside. This was around noon and there was no shade anywhere near the line. It was around 35° outside so we were melting by the time we got inside, but I felt worse for the family in front of us, with two much younger kids. Once inside, we found that our reservation was there but the lunch order had been lost, so we had to go through the ordering process, which was not very efficient at all. We were sent to a room with terminals where an attendant would enter our food order. But while we were waiting for the group ahead of us to finish, people in line behind us were redirected to other stations and finished far earlier. It seemed very haphazard and slow.

Eventually we got seated and things were fine after that. The food arrived very quickly and it was really good so while the overall experience had some problems, the end result was happy people with full bellies. And some desserts to take back to the hotel.

After a few more rides, we headed back to the hotel around 3:30. The boys and I went for a swim while Gail napped. For dinner, we tried the Pepper Market, a cafeteria-type place within our hotel complex. Coronado Springs is a huge place and since it’s all two-storey buildings spread out around a lake, we actually drove to the front of the hotel for dinner. Let me say that another way: we went to a restaurant within the hotel complex in which we were staying, and we still drove to get there. Anyway, the market had lots of variety and the food was very good. I had enchiladas with green chilies made by a guy from Mexico City. Turns out that Taco Bell is not the best example of Mexican food you can find!

After dinner, we went back to the Magic Kingdom. We were hoping to get a good position for the evening’s parade, but while looking for a spot, some pretty dark clouds started to move in. We were walking by It’s a Small World and Gail suggested we duck inside there to avoid the rain. We rode that and once we came out, the ground was pretty wet but we were not. But the clouds were still there and the parade had been cancelled so we decided to call it a day. On the way out, we stopped by a place near the front gate called Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. This was a scavenger hunt kind of game involving cards and video monitors hidden throughout the Magic Kingdom. It was free to play, so we signed up and found a couple of the easy ones in that area. But it was getting late and the boys were tired so we decided to continue another day.

Ryan: 21.03 km
Nicky: 12.90 km, 21506 steps

August 22: Another early entry day, this time to Hollywood Studios. The first ride was the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, which was very fast and loud. I really enjoyed this one, as did the boys. Gail’s back was feeling much better by this point, but she was taking no chances so she skipped this one, and all of the other intense rides for the rest of the trip. Tower of Terror was right next door so we did that next. I am totally not a fan of this kind of dropping ride, but I remember this one (from when Gail and I went in 1996) as not being all that bad. I was mostly right. It was about as intense as I could handle from a ride like this – any more intense and I wouldn’t have liked it. This was a little beyond Ryan’s limit, however, and he wasn’t happy at all. Nicky, as expected, loved it.

Toy Story Midway ManiaAfter this was Star Tours, and then the Indiana Jones stunt spectacular, Muppet Vision 3D (I’m not a huge Muppet fan but I liked this one), Toy Story Midway Mania, The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow (lame), One Man’s Dream (a historical show about Walt Disney), and Voyage of the Little Mermaid. This was a very hot day, so we spent a lot of time inside. Lunch was Pizza Planet, where Ryan and Nicky had some fun playing overly expensive video games. Dinner was also fun – we went to the Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater. The restaurant is built like a drive-in theater, where all the tables are shaped like cars and they have scenes from very bad 50’s sci-fi movies and old commercials playing on the big screen.

One thing we missed was the Backlot Tour, which we remember enjoying from years ago, but it was closed for renovations. We never managed to get on the Great Movie Ride because the lines were too long.

After dinner, we did one more ride on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and then Nicky went on Tower of Terror by himself. Once that was done, we hung around for Fantasmic, a firework / film / laser / water live-action show that’s hard to describe but we really enjoyed. After the show I realized that I’d left my Toronto Rock hat on the roller coaster, so we went back there to see if it had been turned in. Just like Nicky’s phone from a few days before, someone had found it and turned it in so I was happy to get it back.

Ryan: 12.35 km
Nicky: 18.47 km, 30799 steps

August 23: A rare non-early entry day so we slept in – until 7am. After breakfast we headed to Epcot. Our first ride of the day was The Sum of all Thrills, which was an interesting combination ride and Raytheon advertisement. You use a fancy computer (created by Raytheon) to design your own roller coaster, then get in a one- or two-person simulator (created by Raytheon) and actually ride it. It wasn’t quite as thrilling as the name implied, but it wasn’t bad. Next was Mission: Space, which ended up as one of my top 3 favourite rides of the whole trip. Right next door was Test Track, which was fun as well. Considering you were sitting in a car with no seat belts or restraining bar, it was quite fast.

Some other rides: Spaceship Earth (the ride through the big golf ball), Ellen’s Energy Adventure (which was fun even though I might have dozed for a few minutes), the Circle of Life (a thinly-veiled “we’re destroying the planet” environmental documentary featuring Timon and Pumbaa), and some parts of Innoventions.

We went into the World Showcase shortly before lunch since we had reservations at the German Biergarten. Lunch was a buffet featuring lots of German specialties and I’m sure our hosts would have been offended if I didn’t have a German beer, so I made that sacrifice. After lunch we headed over to the Canadian pavilion where we saw the 360° movie “O Canada”. This one was new – the pavilion had had a similar movie running since Epcot opened, which Gail and I had seen back in ’96. It was very dated even then, so we warned the boys about it. But the movie we saw was “all-new” and featured Martin Short. It was much more up-to-date and we enjoyed it.

After the movie we were walking back towards the front when the sky started to grow very dark very quickly. Gail said “let’s duck into this store” and within a few minutes it was teeming with rain outside while we were nice and dry inside. There was a cafe attached to the store so we had a little snack while waiting for the rain and thunder to stop. This was at least the third or fourth time we’d missed being outside in a rainstorm by minutes and the boys and I were getting quite impressed at Gail’s ability to make this happen.

The iconic Epcot golf ballDinner that night was at the Maya Grill back at the hotel. Not the quickest place around – it took a long time for our meals to arrive but once they did, they were very good. I had more enchiladas since I liked the ones from the other day, and Nicky ordered chimichangas – I think mainly because he liked to say “chimichanga”.

One thing I noticed back in the hotel room was that there was a safe in the wall – with a metal key. I’ve stayed in many hotels over the last 20 years with safes in the rooms, and they almost always have a numeric keypad that allows you to enter a code to lock it and then enter the same code again to unlock it. Disney issues everyone “Magic Bands” which are RFID bracelets that get you into the parks, act as a room key, allow you to book and redeem FastPasses and dinner reservations, and more – and the room safes use a metal key? Another thing we noticed was that there was no channel on the TV that would list the things you’d charged to your room, or show you your balance owing or anything like that. Nothing personalized at all. This also seemed like 20-year-old technology that Disney just didn’t have.

We were in bed pretty early this night. The early mornings, many kilometres of walking, and the crazy heat (32°-35° all day every day plus humidity – we had several humidex values over 40) are starting to take their toll on us. By the end of every day, we’re all exhausted.

Ryan: 12.33 km
Nicky: 16.53 km, 27551 steps

August 24: Today was supposed to be an early-entry day for Animal Kingdom, but the exhaustion took over and we all slept in. We changed our minds on our destination at that point and around 9:30 (!!) we headed out to Typhoon Lagoon for some water park fun. The boys and I did a few water slides together and then Nicky (Mr. thrill seeker) wanted to do “Humunga Kowabunga”, a slide with a 5-storey drop. After that, we tried to do Shark Reef, which was a pool containing all kinds of fish including small sharks. You get a snorkel and mask and swim through slowly and get a great view of all the ocean life. But at the beginning, Nicky put his mask on and immediately felt a burning sensation in his face. He had to take the mask off right away and was almost in tears because of the pain. Then I put mine on and felt the same thing. It wasn’t terribly painful for me but seriously uncomfortable. Ryan was fine, so off he went, but Nicky and I just returned our equipment and skipped it. We figured it probably had to do with the cleaning solution they used on the goggles.

Baby elephant!After lunch at the Leaning Palm, we did the lazy river around the park and then spent 20 minutes or so in the wave pool. But this wasn’t like other wave pools, where waves come in every few seconds. In this one, you get one wave every minute or so but that one wave is six feet high, blasting everyone off their feet. The boys loved that and I had a bunch of fun too. Around 1:30 we pulled the boys out of the wave pool, got dried and changed, and headed to Animal Kingdom.

At Animal Kingdom, we first rode Dinosaur and then Expedition Everest, which was a very fun coaster that went both forwards and backwards. Then we saw Finding Nemo: The Musical, which was very good, and the Festival of the Lion King, which is an absolute must-see if you go to Animal Kingdom. It’s definitely one of the best shows at any of the parks. Just as we were walking into that one, we felt a few raindrops and sure enough, a few minutes after we got inside (before the show had even started), it was pouring outside. Missed us again, Mother Nature. <sticks tongue out>

After the show, we went to a place called Tusker House, which was another of the places we might not have gone were it not for our free dining plan. It was an African buffet which featured various curry dishes; all kinds of chicken, beef, and pork; tabouleh; plantain; hummus, and a ton of other things you don’t get at your average food court. I wasn’t sure the boys would find enough stuff that they’d eat. As it turns out, they’re pretty good when it comes to things like that. I know people whose kids will only eat a handful of things and basically refuse to eat anything else. They’d rather go hungry than eat anything but chicken fingers or Kraft Dinner. My boys certainly have their favourites and sometimes don’t seem that adventurous (Ryan would happily take a bagel with cream cheese as his lunch for five days straight), but they’ll at least try stuff they’re not familiar with, and have surprised us on more than one occasion.

After dinner we went on the Kilimanjaro safari where we saw rhinos, elephants, a cheetah, antelopes, lions, giraffes, crocodiles, and a bunch more. Being Disney and all, you almost had to remind yourself that these are real animals – no animatronics, no CGI, nothing like that.

Once we came out of the safari, the park was closed so we headed to a place in Downtown Disney called Disney Quest. This was free included for us as part of the package we bought (which included this, the water parks, and a few mini-golf courses that we never had a chance to go to). It was basically a big five-storey arcade with lots of video games, a few simulator rides, and even a virtual-reality ride. The boys are avid gamers so they had fun but quite honestly, I could have easily skipped it.

Ryan: 18.93 km
Nicky: 9.89 km, 16486 steps

August 25: Another Magic Kingdom day, though not early entry this time. We did arrive for park opening though, and then headed straight to Splash Mountain which we missed on our previous day. While we were in line it started to rain and we couldn’t duck into a store or restaurant, so we actually got rained on. Of course, we were doing Splash Mountain anyway, so it didn’t matter much. Big Thunder Mountain was next and by the time we finished that one, the rain had stopped. Other rides: Space Mountain (can’t ride too many mountains, ya know), Buzz Lightyear, Carousel of Progress, Under the Sea, Enchanted Tales with Belle (where Nicky got picked to act in the story – he was a knight), Liberty Square Riverboat, and Swiss Family Treehouse.

Bob and DaleWhile waiting for the train to take us from Libertyville to Tomorrowland, we talked with a “cast member” named Bob. While talking, a squirrel walked fearlessly up to him and climbed his leg. Bob took a peanut from his pocket and gave it to the squirrel, who promptly ran back down and ate it right there. Bob said that he’d tamed this squirrel over the past few months, and calls him “Dale”. He told us that a few months prior, Dale had had some kind of physical problem (don’t remember what it was) and the Disney people had actually captured him and sent him to a vet, who’d performed surgery on him. Surgery. On a squirrel. Just because. Only at Disney.

After lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern, we did some more of the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game. We ran into another guy playing this and he gave us some hints. He had a big binder with what looked like hundreds of cards. I guess there are many levels to this game, and the further you go, the more accurate you have to be. To “defeat” enemies, the boys had to pick a spell card or two and hold them up – the card would be detected and usually that was it, but at the higher levels you had to pick the right card or series of cards. I think I’m glad we never got to those levels because that’s just too much thinking.

We then a Disney bus from the Magic Kingdom to Downtown Disney where we had dinner at the Portobello Country Italian Trattoria. On most nights I would have said this place was very good, but given the great food we had at a few other places around Disney, this place was just all right. No major complaints and it wasn’t any more overpriced than anywhere else (not that we cared – Dining Plan), but nothing stood out.

After dinner, we did some shopping. There was a Christmas store which had hundreds of Disney-themes ornaments and other Christmas goodies. I saw an ornament of Mickey Mouse holding a lacrosse stick. Since I’m a big lacrosse fan, I tweeted a picture of it and within minutes, I had requests from two people to buy it for them, which I did. We then grabbed the bus back to the Magic Kingdom, arriving just in time to get a good spot for the electrical parade, followed by Celebrate the Magic (a unique show featuring video projected onto the castle itself) and then Wishes, a fireworks show.

As an aside, the rudeness of some people never fails to amaze me. There are security people all over the place and hundreds of people lining the streets waiting for the show to start, and two minutes before it’s supposed to start, a family with three kids tries to squish their way in next to us. There is not enough space for them (and we didn’t move), and thankfully a security guy managed to convince them to move on, but really people? We’ve been standing in our prime spot for an hour (because it’s a prime spot) and you think we should just move over when you arrive two minutes before the show? Once again, Disney got this right. There were taped lines on the roads and sidewalks and if you wanted to stand / sit for the show, you had to be within the taped area. If you weren’t, move along. This made it completely subjective – you can’t argue “but people can still get by!” or things like that. Either you’re inside the line or you’re not. We were. They weren’t.

Ryan: 18.96 km
Nicky: 25.94 km, 43240 steps

August 26: This was another sleep-in day. Nicky in particular took full advantage and slept until about 9:30. We decided to make this another water park day so we headed to Blizzard Beach once we were all dressed. Blizzard Beach had more water slides (and bigger too) than Typhoon Lagoon but a smaller wave pool – or at least the waves were smaller, more like a typical wave pool. There was one slide called Summit Plummet which was (for me) scary even to look at. The tall slide at Typhoon Lagoon was about 5 stories high, but this one was about twelve. Of course, Nicky had to ride it. It took him the better part of an hour in the line and Ryan and I rode a few other slides while he was waiting but he loved it.

We had lunch at the Lotta Watta Lodge and then back for more slides. We left the park around 3:00, went back to the room to change and then headed to Epcot. We rode Mission: Space once again and then all four of us rode Soarin’. Honestly, I didn’t think Soarin’ was the mind-blowing unbelievable experience that others have described, but it was definitely fun. Dinner was at a restaurant in the Chinese pavilion called Nine Dragons, and it was excellent.

After dinner we rode the boat ride in the Mexican pavilion, then saw Turtle Talk with Crush which was similar to the Monsters Inc. comedy show – they had Crush (from Finding Nemo) on the screen and someone talking in his voice but interacting in real-time with the audience. The show was very good. After that we managed to get on the last Spaceship Earth ride of the day before the park closed.

Ryan: 7.36 km
Nicky: 9.49 km, 15827 steps

Looking up Main Street, USAAugust 27: Our last day at Disney. We arrived at the Magic Kingdom at opening and went straight to the Seven Dwarves mine train since we couldn’t get fast passes for it and the lines during the day were always over an hour long. We managed to get on after a short wait and it was OK but it really wasn’t worth an hour wait. We spent the rest of the morning doing the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game, and the boys had a lot of fun with it. Lunch was the Columbia Harbour House where Gail and I each had an amazing lobster roll. After another hour or so of the Sorcerer game, we headed back to Epcot.

We rode the Maelstrom in Norway, then Soarin’ again, and then headed back to China for the Chinese acrobats which are always entertaining. Dinner was at the Coral Reef, and I think this was our best meal of the whole trip. We said that it was our last day at Disney and asked if they could get us a table near the aquarium and after an extra five minute wait, we got a table right next to it. We had a great view of all the fish, sharks, rays, and even scuba divers in this immense aquarium, and the food was outstanding.

After another ride on Mission: Space, we tried another new thing: an “Agent P” adventure. Agent P is a character in the Disney show Phineas and Ferb (which is just as funny for adults as it is for kids), and this game was similar to the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom thing, but using a special smartphone. You’d follow clues and the GPS in the phone would detect when you’d gotten to the right place, then you’d have to answer some questions about where you are, and there were videos on the phone and such. There were different adventures in different countries in the World Showcase but we only did the one in England.

After that we grabbed a spot next to the fence around the lake in the middle of the World Showcase and waited (about an hour) for the IllumiNations show, which was fireworks + laser + fire + water + video + music. It was a great show and a great way to cap off our amazing vacation.

After the show we headed back to the hotel where we packed up everything for the trip home. We could have checked into our flight as early as 48 hours beforehand (i.e. yesterday) but we forgot so we did it tonight. Unfortunately, that meant we had boarding numbers in the C15 range.

Ryan: 19.11 km
Nicky: 23.09 km, 38491 steps

August 28: Home time! We packed everything up last night so there wasn’t much to do this morning. After breakfasting on the remaining breakfasts / desserts / snacks, we packaged up the rest of the food in our carry-on bags and left a note for the cleaning staff, asking them to find a good home for the remaining cans of pop. We packed up the car and headed for the airport, stopping for gas on the way. Dropping the car off was uneventful and after a short wait we checked in and got our boarding passes. We made our way to the gate, with another wait to get through security. Unfortunately, I did a dumb thing and it cost us.

When Gail was laid up in bed and we were walking around Hogsmeade, we bought a bottle of pumpkin juice to bring back to the hotel for her. But she never drank it. She wanted to bring it home. I know that checked bags aren’t in a pressurized section of the plane, and I thought it would be possible the bottle would explode (or at least leak). So I was smart and put it in the carry-on. This was indeed clever until we got to security. While putting my shoes and belt back on, the guy said he had to open my carry-on because something unusual showed up on the X-ray. I figured it was our GPS receiver, but no. It was the pumpkin juice. I immediately smacked myself in the head because we’ve known for years that you can’t bring more than a very small amount of liquids onto a plane. The security guy said that I could either throw it away or go back out into the concourse to drink it, but then I’d have to get back in line to come through security again. With Gail giving me the stink-eye, I reluctantly dropped the bottle into the garbage.

Since we had only checked in the night before, we were very late in the boarding procedure and I ended up sitting in the second- or third-last row next to a guy with a baby girl on his lap, across the aisle from his wife, who had the baby’s twin sister on her lap. Not exactly ideal, but it worked out fine. The babies were cute and quiet, and the guy and his wife were friendly so it was all good. Upon arriving in Buffalo we called the hotel where the van was parked, and they sent a shuttle for us. After picking up the van, we headed to an outlet mall in Buffalo for some back-to-school clothes shopping, then a 45-minute wait at the border, and we were home around dinner time.

So that was our vacation in a nutshell extreme detail. But wait, there’s more! I have two more articles coming, one is something I like to do called “by the numbers”, summarizing our vacation with a bunch of “statistics”: how many nights in different hotels, how many miles we drove, how many pictures we took, that sort of thing. The second is a comparison of the Disney and Universal experiences. This will be primarily a  comparison of Disney’s FastPass and Universal’s Express, their strategies used to reduce wait times.