Monthly Archives: August 2016

DisneyLand Paris (NOT EuroDisney)

I am happy to announce that with my visit to DisneyLand Paris, I had the proud honor of having been to all Disney Park properties for a total of 13 days before the park in Shanghai opened. I also had the proud honor of having been to all of the properties within a year and a half (give or take) of each other. Although I have of course been to the U.S. properties many times before this year and a half feat. I wasn’t planning on visiting all of them within a couple of days of each other like some people have epically done. That just seems like a waste of money. I would have been to DisneyLand Paris in one of my 3 other visits to the city but it just never worked out. Thus our purposeful visit to Paris on this European trip. I’ve been given the unique opportunity in my life to visit Europe quite a number of times and I told my S.O. that I wasn’t going back without going to Disney. Fortunately he understands my Disney obsession and was willing to go along with it.

In case you were wondering, the property is now called DisneyLand Paris and not EuroDisney as it was previously known. To quote, Michael Eisner, “As Americans, the word ‘Euro’ is believed to mean glamorous or exciting. For Europeans, it turned out to be a term they associated with business, currency, and commerce. Renaming the park ‘DisneyLand Paris’ was a way of identifying it with one of the most romantic and exciting cities in the world.”

Disney Village

We visited Disney Village our first night in the area as we knew we probably wouldn’t get another chance. We chose to eat at a DTD staple , The Rainforest Cafe, so that we could have some “theater” with our dinner. We were both glad that we chose to eat early as the line as we were exiting was beyond long.

This is a standard DTD with your typical Disney shops, eateries, and a movie theater.

We stayed at the Radisson Blu which had a shuttle every half hour back and forth. It was also home to Disney Golf. We looked at staying at a Disney hotel but even the cheaper ones required a shuttle so we went with a nicer hotel for the same price.

Walt Disney  Studios

We made sure we were on the first tram to Disney! And of course we made sure to leave our selfie stick (yeah right, definitely not our thing) at home as they are banned in Disney parks (although we still saw a few). We only had one day to see both parks so this was going to be a fun and eventful day!

The gates opened earlier than the 10:00am opening time but not all rides were opened yet. We headed toward Tower of Terror where they told us to get a fast pass and go to Crush’s Coaster as the line gets long.

Crush’s Coaster had an app that you could play on your phone while standing in line. It was an interesting interaction. The ride was a blast! You are in a turtle shell mobile back to back with another couple. The shell spins around throughout the ride so it’s a mix of moving forwards and backwards. I chatted with a cast member who knew about Hidden Mickeys (Yay DL Paris cast members!) and found out there was one in the jellyfish right before the shark. And I saw it! No cameras of course since it was a roller coaster.

We wandered over to the Toy Story Playland and went on the Slinky Dog ZigZag Spin. It was a kid’s coaster but it was a dog so we had to do it. There was an RC Racer ride and parachutes, similar to Hong Kong.

We skipped Ratatouille but heard it’s pretty cool. I’m not one for 4D rides as they can make me pretty nauseous.

Next up – the Studio Tram Tour: Behind the Magic. If you’ve done something similar before, it’s not necessarily worth it. It has the standard fire, bridge, and water situations. There is a hidden mickey in the rocks during the fire/water/truck sequence though.

We managed to get right over to the Tower of Terror moment before our fast passes expired. A quick note about fast passes – they were only for a half an hour window where as typically its for an hour. I wonder if this is a change being made at all the parks. To me an hour is better as it gives you more leeway with lines and distances.

I normally don’t do ToT but my S.O. was keen to go. It was a lot more fun than I remember, however, we also both agreed that the Parisian version was not as scary as the two in the States. The drops didn’t seem quite as big. You still get the great view of the whole park from the top though. I do recommend you don’t use your camera on the ride as it will cause the cast member to yell at you during the ride and then again when it’s over. It was quite nice to see rules enforced as a camera in motion could leave quite a bump on the head on that ride.

Other notes:

  • The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster was closed.
  • We skipped the stunt show.
  • The entrance funnels you through a sound stage full of restaurants and AC. It can create a bit of a bottle neck entering and leaving the park.
  • There are hidden mickeys in the fountain just past the entrance.
  • There was lots of smoking around the park despite designated smoking areas. Yay France…
  • We did the Armageddon Special Effects Show which was in French and English. It’s not a ride and you’re standing the whole time. Little kids might find it cool otherwise I would skip it. There is a cool hidden mickey hidden in the control panel on the way out though.

Look closely

DisneyLand Paris

It should be noted that here was a lot of construction occurring throughout the Disney properties, particularly at DisneyLand. The front entry way was all covered up but at least they had some cool signs to “explain” the construction. Unfortunately a lot of the items we were looking forward to seeing were closed.

After the obligatory photo with the castle, we headed for lunch. We did spot a cool 101 Dalmatians reference on Main Street at the Fire Department.

A high chair at the restaurant had a hidden mickey on the back of it.

To settle our stomachs before partaking on a big ride, we stopped at Phantom Manor. It wasn’t as “scary” as in LA but it was much better than Hong Kong which didn’t have the ghost mobiles. The view from the entrance to the manor showed the construction around the lagoon and the closed Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.Next we strolled through the castle and found a hidden mickey in a planet hanging from the glass shop. Unfortunately my photo didn’t turn out too well.

It’s a Small World had some wonderful cultural comparison and displays including a slinky dog. There was even a female hockey player and  a female baseball player – Go Disney! There were not as many Disney characters as some other locations but there was a covered loading area! 

The fairy tale boat ride was a nice relaxing way to gaze at some of the miniature sets and even had some hidden mickeys!

I somehow managed to easily defeat my S.O. at the Buzz Lightyear Blast. We are talking 100s of thousands of points here! It was quite gratifying. The ride had the typical planet hidden mickey and also formed one with the tops of batteries.

Space Mountain: Mission 2 was the best space mountain experience I have ever had! It was in no way jerky and had 2 360 degree rolls! It was very dark and had a completely different ride experience than usual. It felt a little disorienting getting off the ride at the end.

Daisies formed a Mickey on a stage behind the castle. Most of the rides had a French name. Some were easy to figure out like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This experience led you through a small story line and was like a standard Snow White ride.

We stayed up towards the castle for a better view of “Disney Magic on Parade.” Floats were “double flats” with one story featured on one side and a difference one on the other. In the castle is a beautiful showcase of the story of Princess Aurora. The stained glass was divine! Below the cast is the Dragon’s cave but unforutnately it was closed…

Alice’s Curious Labyrinth was fun for all ages with beautiful design elements from the story. There was also an opportunity to go in the Queen of Hearts castle which had a view of FantasyLand from the top.

We embarked on a train, although not the Disney Railroad but rather Casey Jr’s train which wound through some of the elements of the fairy tale boat ride.Indiana Jones was a different ride entirely from the one in LA, as it was a roller coaster with a 360 degree loop. It was quite thrilling!

Nautilus made me think it would be a submarine ride but in fact it was just a walk through attraction.

We finished the night off at Pirates of the Caribbean. It was not as movie themed as the others and in fact did not have anything from the movie in it.

We decided to complete our visit to Paris at the Blue Lagoon Restaurant. It is a nice romantic area that overlooks part of the Pirates ride. Unlike in LA though, it is not in the boarding area so is less chaotic. The menu had a hidden mickey to show the language.

I must admit that our service wasn’t great and it seemed like they were overbooked and understaffed. It also didn’t help that our hostess forgot about us and seated us 30 minutes after our reservation. We then didn’t get our first course until an hour and a half after our reservation time… But we didn’t let that sour our time at Disney.

We made the most of our time at the “Happiest Place on Earth” and went home Happy!

Some more miscellaneous pics:

Look closely

Construction pics:

Paris (Pair-ee)

After arriving in Paris, we got settled in at our hotel before wandering around the gardens outside of the Louvre. We had purchased timed tickets for entrance so were passing the time until we could enter. I would highly recommend purchasing tickets by the way as the line at the Louvre can get very long! They also have late opening nights (such as the evening we visited) which is helpful for seeing the museum in the later evenings. We were fortunate to have gone our first day, as they actually closed the Louvre the following day to move objects in the basement and ground floor due to flooding on the Seine. The typical sightseeing boats weren’t on the river as the water levels were quite high and there was lots of rushing water.

At the Louvre, we started out seeing the three ladies – Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace- then just wandered. This was my third time at this enormous museum so I was open to seeing where my S.O. would lead us. Our first wandering spot was Napoleon’s apartments which I hadn’t seen before. They were magnificent! We of course saw the Egyptian section as well. Ever since I went to Egypt though, I’ve decided that nothing compares to actually being there.

One thing I’ve found fascinating in my different visits to the Louvre has been how the rules and the display regarding Mona have changed. My first time, she was just hung on the wall with a small barrier around her. Being taller, I could see her quite easily and I took photos for my friends. The next time, the Da Vinci Code book had come out and her popularity picked up quite a bit. They had a display that I believe was different from the existing one, however, photos were not allowed as everyone was shuffled through. Now they have a more open display and photos are allowed.

After wandering around the Louvre for 3 hours we were ready to eat (and drink!). I suggested the Hard Rock (I know, I know…) mainly because it has a fun atmosphere and wasn’t too far away. It turns out my S.O. had never been to one before! As always, there was a wait, so we grabbed some drinks from the bar as the live band set played and headed outside to the covered patio area. It was raining so apparently people didn’t want to be outside. We had a divine time just chatting and watching people while waiting for our table.

The next morning, we again took a free walking tour (here’s the link again). Here’s what we learned:

When Napoleon was redoing the city, or rather recreating the city, he was planning on getting rid of the Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s Gothic style didn’t fit into his vision for the modern, stylish city of Paris. Word of these plans reached the artistic community. A writer, Victor Hugo (do you see where this story is going yet?), wrote a story about the Cathedral so that it could be memorialized and loved by not only Parisians but all who read his story, thus meaning that Napoleon would no longer be able to knock down the beloved Cathedral. The story? The Hunchback of Notre Dame of course! Since made famous by Disney.

Our visit to the city of Paris was brief and we just saw the highlights right in the heart of the city. Of course there are many more place to see and visit! We were headed to a very important one next… 🙂

Hidden Mickey in Paris


Whiskey – Tell me more!

Do you know the difference between whiskey and spirit? Scotch and Bourbon? Well let me enlighten you!

(Disclaimer – This is coming from my memory and while I believe it to be accurate it could be slightly inaccurate. Do remember that I was under the influence of whiskey when I obtained this information.)

Whiskey is spirit after it is three years old. Before this time it is known simply as spirit. 

Scotch is whiskey made in Scotland, typically from malted barley. Bourbon is made from corn and typically comes from the United States. There is a law in the U.S. that whiskey barrels can only be used once. This benefits the Scotch makers a lot! And results in some whiskies being aged in bourbon barrels. Port and Sherry barrels are also common. These tend to affect the color of the whiskey, giving it a redder color and fruitier flavor. 

Malted barley tends to be made offsite now and then is brought in when ready. The barley is ground up first but ideally there are a mix of big and small bits. Hot water is added to the ground up malted barley, typically in three stages. This pulls out all of the sugars. The first two go towards making the whiskey. The third tends to not be strong enough and is used as the started for the next round of malted barley. The leftover barley mash is sold off to farmers as animal feed as it is high in nutrients. 

The sugar water is known as wort. Yeast is added and the liquid is left to ferment. This is quite an interesting stage as there is a lot of froth on top of the wort. A fan moves around the top of the holding tanks to try to keep the mash down. We put our nose in one, it cleared out our sinuses like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It was sour and fermented and you could just feel it in your sinuses. 

Next the liquid, now known as wash, is distilled twice in two different stills. These copper stills are replaced every few years but the replacements are created in the exact likeness of their predecessor, including dents, etc. The shape and design of the stills affects the taste and the process so every effort to recreate the exactly is made. After distillation, the spirit is tested in the spirit safe. This used to be locked by the tax person but is basically used to test the level of alcohol. 

Now that the spirit is cooled, it is placed in a barrel and set aside for many years. Distilleries will keep some product at their location but will also rent space from various farmers or warehouses in order to spread out their product. Remember that alcohol is highly flammable. 

While in the barrel, about two percent will evaporate each year, meaning that a significant portion is lost over the course of twelve years of aging. This is called “the angel’s share.”

HMY Britannica

HMY Britannica was the royal yacht before being retired in 1997. It was scheduled to be built just as World War II took off so the plans were delayed. Queen Elizabeth’s father began working on it after WW2 but then unfortunately died… so the Queen took control of the plans. It was used for many state visits and sailed an equivalent number of miles to sail around the world every year it was in service. Young royals used it for their honeymoons as well, including Charles and Diana. It provided privacy, even with a staff of 300!

The Queen and King each had separate bedrooms but they adjoined. Charles had a double bed put in for his honeymoon and it was the only one on the boat. The walkway below the Queen and King’s windows was lower so that people were less likely to accidentally look in while passing by.

All chores, including washing the large private deck had to be completed by 8am and the crew was not allowed to wear their hats in this areas so that the crew would not have to formally salute whenever they saw a royal. The crew was to remain perfect still and quiet until the royal passed. Working in silence led ot the use of a lot of hand signals.

On the tour, stuffed corgis were stahed in rooms, including one bandaged up in the medical area.

The boat is now used for various functions on occasion by the royals, including for Zara Phillips’ pre-wedding event.

I apologize as I didn’t take any photos. You can view the official website here though.


On my first visit to Edinburgh, I said I would move there in a heart beat. I am happy to report that this sentiment still holds true.

We stayed in the Grassmarket area in a hidden courtyard that we found on AirBnb. We enjoyed a relaxing evening, storlling down the Royal Mile and just taking in Edinburgh. At the end of the Royal Mile is of course another palace – Holyrood Palace. I visited it before and as my S.O. is not royal obsessed we did not visit it again.

In the morning we took part in a free walking tour. I’ve used this company before on my travels as it’s a great way to pay what you want to while still being able to learn more about the city you’re in. Here’s their website if you’re interested. They of course offer other tours that they will sell for you at a discount for taking the free walking tour.

Some tidbits of information for you from our tour:

  • Scotland’s official animal is a unicorn. You’ll frequently see a unicorn pitted against a lion, England’s official animal.
  • The phrase shit-faced drunk comes from the fact that Scotland used to have a big sanitation problem. To curb this a little and reduce the smell in the city, it was decided that chamber pots could only be emptied at 10am and 10pm. Well, drunk husbands coming home late would have the chamber pots emptied on them down below in the streets, not hearing the warning called out, thus leading their wives to declaring them shit-faced drunk.
  • Bobby the dog. A night watchman requested a dog from his employer for his watch and the dog he chose was a small little terrier whom he called Bobby. Bobby was fiercely loyal. A couple of years later, the nigh watchmen died and Bobby sat by his grave everyday until he died, almost a decade late. As dog’s were not allowed in the cemetery and stray dogs were rounded up and killed… Bobby was given a key to the city so that he was permitted to remain by the grave of his owner. He was buried nearby the cemetery (as dog’s were not permitted to be buried in the cemetery) and the area now has various memorials to the loyal dog.
  • A school in the old quarter apparently was the inspiration for J.K. Rowling when she wrote the Harry Potter books and was “designing” Hogwarts. Names from a nearby cemetery provided inspiration as well. She frequently wrote in the Elephant Room care and the school is visible from there. We went for breakfast to the Elephant Room, a place I had visited on my list visit to the city. I must admit though that I have never read the books nor seen the movies (except for when they showed the first one in a class in high school but I did other things as it played).

One of the delightful things about Edinburgh is that there is easy hiking from the city center over the rolling cliffs and hills and to Arthur’s seat.

We stopped by a history museum in Edinburgh (it was free) and discovered a section on famous athletes. This gentleman was featured.

A couple of decades ago, some drunk college students decided to steal the Stone of Destiny from the English and return it to Scotland. While they were successful they also split it. You can read more about it here.

A brief drive though St. Andrew’s

Regrettable, we didn’t spend as much time in St. Andrew’s as we had initially intended. We drove through the quaint town, past the castle, and the famous golf course to another of it’s famous golf courses for a late lunch.

St. Andrew’s consists of 7 golf courses, 6 of which are intertwined and in the heart of the town. The old course (original course) lies in the middle. We had lunch at the Castle Course which is on the outskirts of town with a lovely view looking back at the historic city.

Balmoral Castle & Boat of Garten

Balmoral Castle is the Queen’s private retreat in the Scottish highlands. Originally purchased by Queen Victoria who spent a great deal of her time there. The tour is 95% outdoors, showing you some exhibits in the stables then leading you on an audio self-guided tour.

The gardens are exquisite and the estate house is far off the main road, offering true privacy. The one room available to view is the ballroom.

On the way back to the car park, we walked down a trail by the river rather than following the prescribed path. I can see why the Queen utilizes it as a retreat, it felt as though we were miles from everyone and it truly provided an escape from every day life.

We were staying in Boat of Garten that evening. The drive to the town provided a beautiful quilt-like landscape with patches of various foliage lining the rolling hills.

Our hotel was divine (although mildly confusing when it came time to finding our room in the labyrinth leading to the rooms. We made a dinner reservation upon check in (if you’ll remember from an earlier post, reservations are required at most Scottish inns). While dinner was quite good, the best part was my drink. My drink of choice recently has been an old fashioned. This bartender made the best old fashioned I had ever had! I think it was the raw chunks of sugar versus just a crushed sugar cube. 

Off to find Nessie!

I am sad to report that we unfortunately, did not find Nessie… However we had a great time seeking her out!

After I accidentally led us to the wrong place, we were able to quickly zoom to the correct place and make it aboard on time. It was chilly but not rainy so we were excited to be out on the water. The boat took us through part of the Caldonian canal, which was built to creat a water passage way through Scotland. As soon as it was finished though it was rendered obsolete as ships were bigger and would not be able to pass.

On the cruise we passed Aldarie Castle where Mel Gibson stayed while filming Braveheart. There was also  a small dock built specifically for Queen Victoria’s visit to the Highlands. The tour then turned towards Urquhart castle to drop more than half of the group off. We continued on back.

Lochness is the deepest lake in Scotland, nearing 700+ feet at its deepest point. It slopes deeply into the middle, with steep banks.

Inverness and Day Trips

My S.O. got his first taste of Spanish food in Inverness. (I know, I know, who eats Spanish food in Scotland, but we were getting sick of fish and chips!) I have a special place in my heart for the Spanish comida after having both studied and lived in Spain and am surprised it took me this long to give him a truly authentic Spanish experience. Chocolate con churros were on the menu of course!

After dinner we went for a walk to St. Andrew’s cathedral across the river and to some of the shops. It’s a very pretty downtown area, especially given the river. The houses and inns all have such a unique character to them.

We utilized Inverness as a home base to head north. Of course another distillery was on the agenda, this time Glenmorangie. Their symbol, or rather mascot is a giraffe because they have the tallest stills in Scotland and they are taller than a full-grown male giraffe. We got a chance to sniff some of the “spirit” on its way to becoming a spirit. Holy cow! (Or maybe I should say giraffe) The vapors cleared out our noses!

We drove farther up to Dunrobin Castle. This was quite the castle as it was designed for living vs. for a battle. The current owner turned it into a boarding house after inheriting it from her unvle. When that didn’t work out it was opened for tours. There was lots of land and magnificent gardens.

On the way south, we drove past Skibo castle which is where Madonna got married to Guy Ritche. I really should say drove past the property as we could not see the castle. Unlike Dunrobin, which was opened to the public, Skibo was turned into an exclusive property for wealthy people and provides a lot of privacy.

Finally, we ended our day with a trip to one more distillery – this time Dalmore. They had a unique blend called a cigar malt that is supposed to go well while smoking a cigar. While we didn’t have a cigar to go along with it, we were quite impressed with the flavor. We even purchased some upon our return to the States (through an online dealer).

Another unique whiskey that Dalmore offers is the Shackleton Whiskey. There whiskey was used to make a recreation of one that was found in Antarctica as part of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s base camp. It had been perfectly preserved in the ice. As part of international laws, nothing can be taken from the frozen continent so this was “borrowed” for sampling and then returned. I was tempted to buy some but the £120 price tag was a bit much, especially as this was before Brexit.