January 05, 2014

Christmas In Florida

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This Christmas we went to Disney Land, Florida.

We (aka Louis) drove down south, bidding goodbye to Chicago, passing Indiana, into the depth of Tennessee. We made a stop at Nashville, caught a glimpse of the Nashville downtown, then went further south into the mountains, fog and darkness of Chattanooga. We slept at the Holiday inn hotel at the foot of Chattanooga.  We also shed our winter layer of jackets, socks and boots.

In the morning, We were on the way again, to Kentucky then Georgia, then woo-hoo, Florida! All through the trip, there was expanses of fields, fog and bare, stern-looking trees. The sky was gray. It rained and poured, then abruptly it stopped, only started again just as abruptly.

Until Florida, the state of Sunshine. Sunshine and blue sky so it was. And warm breeze. And all sorts of exotic fancy lush trees.  And palm trees. Lots and lots of palm trees. I loved the palm trees. The trees that have big spiky leaves flowing down from the top, like a boy with maw-hawk hair style.

We reached Orlando at night, and Orlando was dressed in its giddy, shinny Disney style. Street lights invited you to a "whole new world", restaurants, hotels, stores and mini golf courses surrounded by palm-tree ponds, fake mountains with jolly little dwarfs. I thought our hotel looked a place for corrupted rich people too, water park styled swimming pools sit right next to a palm garden, long beach chairs on the side with TV hanging above, a pond with fountain.

Everything is so gorgeous.

The Magic Kingdom

On the first day in Orlando, we went to the Magic Kingdom (who would not?), the place where there is a lot of glittering princesses, magic creatures and creations, and where there is a lot and a lot and a lot of people.

We parked on the villain's parking lot. We were one of little dots in the mass crowd to receive a bit of magic dust. The Disney land is an efficient crowd-control machine, the workers directed the forever flowing and growing crowds with a little wiggle of their fingers and a wave of arms. Man, the magic was everywhere.

To get to that most magical place, we took a tram (a open-sided snaky train-like vehicle), then took a ferry boat to reach the island.

The Magic Kingdom has a main street lined up with fancy cheerful and expensive shops and restaurants, which leads to Cinderella's castle (a majestic castle with towers, turrets, spires painted in gold). The castle overlooks a sprawling land sectioned into Adventure land, Tomorrow Land, Fantasy Land and Liberty square.

We went straight to Tomorrow Land (where Don Drapper in Mad Men, seduced by the overflowing magic and joy in Disneyland, impulsively made a decision to marry his secretary Maggie). We waited in line for Monsters' laugh floor (we had some lame laughs), then became volunteer recruits to guard a few evil creatures in Stitch's Great Escape. Yung was completely terrified in the darkness, I was a little too, worried that Yung was not secured in his seat belt and we would burst into space. Turned out it was just all special effects of smells and air and water effects and we were simply sitting through the terror for 15 minutes.

We made it. We went out into the sun. Happy.

The rest of day, we toured It is a small world (Dolls dancing, animals doing chorus ...), we had the Winnie the Pooh ride. We ate our ice cream, chicken salad, hot dogs.  We waited and waited in line. Then we were transported into a different world (dark and wondrous), then we emerged beyond impressed.

The time was so short and we were so amazed that we went back to the Magic Kingdom on the fifth day of our vacation, trying to cover as much ground as we could. We stayed till 11pm at night, we watched Fire Works spectacular, Cinderella castle lightning. We did Peter Pan's ride (flying over London, across a big round impeccable moon), checked out Little Mermaid's village, and watched a lot of three-D short movies,

Universal Studio

The second day of our vacation, we headed to the Universal Studio. Again, a lot of shops, restaurants, ice cream, pop corn, and jumbo turkey stands.  And at night, little stops selling lightning sticks, mickey head bands. And all the movie characters, Marry Poppins, Alice in the wonderland, Peter Pan, Cinderella, characters in Brave, mickeys, Minnies, and Santa in his red sleigh and fake ho-ho-ho ... So we stopped here and there, staring at the elves, princes and princesses.

Orlando is full of theme parks with lots and lots of rides, but Universal Studio also cleverly offers a few shows of movie magic in the making. We went into the Indiana Jones show, and an Action, Light and Extreme Stunt show. Both made my heart skipped beating for a millisecond, when the Jones character jumped down the roof, and the extreme car chase zipped around a narrow fake French town, and we collectively woo-ed and ahh-ed when they set the water on fire, gun shots fired like fire crackers.

What fun it is to work on a movie set!

We played forever at the playground of Honey, we shrunk the kids set. Sliding, climbing, resting against a giant paper clip, riding ants, sitting under a mushroom umbrella, running around and around among sky-high corn stalks.

The night eventually fell, after we stalked a green-toy soldier, then had a Toy Story ride. There were still so many people, the air was still warm.We walked around the town full of twinkling trees, Christmas lights, sweet scents and music (the kids say, mommy, look, those are fairies. Indeed!).

We watched the Sleeping Beauty Musical, after which, we went to see the Lights Show Fantasmic! That was the most unbelievable and extravagant and magic show.  It was also cold. We were sitting in a few rows behind the front row. In front of us, the river of America of Disney land circling around a small mountain with a tavern and a giant tree.

In darkness, Mickey rose on the top of the mountain, using his wand, he directed a fantastic water and music show. The music was in turn joyful and sinister, and water was transformed into a powerful screen onto which movie characters, good and evil, were projected. Water was propelled onto the audience stand. It was so cold we had to move a few rows back. Then fire breathing dragons, giant snakes appeared on stage, Maleficent bellowed in the air, and the river was on fire. Yung was so frightened he wanted to go. Eventually, good triumphed, and river boat carrying princesses and princes serenaded the audience.

Everything was so Disney! So dramatic!

Epcot and The animal kingdom. Dolphins and the Sea World

After the Magical Kingdom and the Universal Studio, our love affair with the Disney land faded a little. Still a lot of fun (minus the growing frustration of waiting in line). We toured Epcot and The Animal Kingdom and the Sea World.


After Orlando, we went to Tampa, where Louis's brother and his family live. Emma and Annya got very cozy with the family's dog Sweet Pea.

We made an excursion Kayaking in the Hillsborough river. Emma and I shared one Kayak, we shared the work too. Left, right, left, right we rowed, then we found ourselves stuck in some tangling trees or in the middle of a tree trunk. We got really close to an alligator. However, before we started screaming, the alligator escaped.

Coming back to Chicago

After one and a half week in Florida, we headed back to Chicago. Along the way, palm trees disappeared out of sight, trees with thin branches wearing snow caps lined the highway. The sky was a little grayer. We spent a night at the border of Indiana, put back our boots and coats and riding into the traffic of Chicago.

Home, sweet Home!

Sunday, January 05, 2014
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