Plane ride from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon National Park

Ever wondered what it’s like to fly in a propeller plane over the Nevada and Arizona deserts and over the mountains in Grand Canyon National Park? This is what it’s like.

And here are a few photos as well. Enjoy!

Smelly passengers booted off planes, finally

I’m relieved to see that airlines are finally taking action against smelly passengers — by deplaning them. Jazz Air, a Canada Air subsidiary, did just that on 2/6, after wasting 15-20 minutes searching for the source of a sorely offending odor, then finding it to be a filthy man. I applaud them for having the courage to throw the bum off the plane, and suggest all airlines adopt similar policies.

I wrote about this very thing on 2/15, just over a week ago, after returning from a trip where we had to put up with an explosive trifecta of body odor, gas, and lack of manners. Enough is enough.

I don’t think I need to explain why smells such as body odor or gas shouldn’t be tolerated on airplanes — anyone who’s flown knows how cramped and stuffy things can get without any “additional input” from rude people.

Perhaps some PSAs on manners are in order?

I’m starting to think one of the things that’s missing in the US these days is an emphasis on manners — particularly things to do or not to do in public. In the past, books on manners were widely read, but these days, I think I’m pretty safe in assuming manners are not on people’s radars. That’s a shame.

We’ve got a huge influx of immigrants and visitors from all sorts of countries. We, as a country, should do what we can to let them know what’s expected of them while they stay here. If we don’t, we run the risk of lowering public standards for everyone, and I don’t think that’s what we want.

There are two urgent issues that ought to be addressed right away:

  • Personal hygiene: in this day and age, with such easy access to water and soap, there is NO excuse for not staying clean. A shower every day ought to be the recommended standard for everyone.
  • Passing gas in public: this should be a big NO-NO. You’d assume people would know not to do this in public, especially in tight spaces, like on airplanes, but they either don’t know or they don’t care.

I’ve written about personal hygiene in the past, and also about passing gas on airplanes, but these things obviously bear repeating…

On two recent flights, we had the misfortune of being seated next to people who smelled horribly — they had this acrid stench of stale sweat that filled your lungs and made you want to cough and run away. On both occasions, they were from under-developed countries.

I’m not saying all folks from those countries have hygiene problems. We’ve known and befriended quite a few good, decent, clean and well-mannered people from third-world countries, people who are living and working in the US and have integrated themselves nicely in US society.

Still, it seems quite a few people from under-developed countries have a hygiene problem. For whatever reason — customs, habits, etc. — they either aren’t aware that they smell, or aren’t taking steps to remedy the situation. They should be educated, because they need to know what our standards for hygiene are. Don’t think we’re offending them — we’re doing them a favor by being honest with them. Or would you rather prefer we laughed at them behind their backs and ostracized them?

Passing gas in public is a nasty habit that isn’t restricted to recent immigrants. I’ve seen this across all segments of US society, and it’s disgusting every time. Doing it in closed spaces, like on airplanes or buses or trains, makes matters worse, because the rude and filthy people who do it turn the unwitting passengers next to them into helpless victims. What can you do when there’s no place to go and the air around you is filled with the putrid stench of someone else’s bowels? You hold your breath, your eyes bulge, you hide your nose and you curse under your breath, but still, you say nothing, because you don’t want to offend, right? You’re wrong. You ought to speak up and ask whoever’s doing it to stop, because it’s offensive. Shame the shameless creep, speak up! You’re doing yourself and everyone else a favor.

Tonight, while on a flight, I did just that with a woman whose children kept passing gas behind us. They were even bragging to each other, saying “I farted!” and “I farted again!” I asked her as nicely as I could,to tell her children to stop doing it. Her reply was, “Do you have a control button?” To which I wanted to reply, “You’re the control button, lady. You’re the moral compass of your children. The education and manners you instill in them now will guide throughout their lives, so if you can’t even teach them when to fart and when not to fart, you’re not a good parent.” But she was clearly argumentative, so I simply told her that it smelled very bad, and she had no manners if she didn’t do something, then turned around and ignored her.

In spite of the unsuccessful exchange, her children stopped passing gas for the remainder of the trip, so I got the result I wanted. That’s why I want to encourage you to speak up the next time someone does that to you. Stay calm, but shame them, publicly, because public shame has always been a good reason for people to change their behavior.

Of course, the better, more mannered course of action would be for the government or for a NGO to put together a few PSAs about things one is expected to do and not to do while in public spaces in the United States. It’s high time that happened.

American airport hysteria

I love this article from Patrick Smith at Salon.com. It’s on the subject of American hysteria when it comes to airport security, and it references all of the overblown and recent responses of the TSA and other individuals charged with security at American airports. Since when have we become such a nation of frightened ninnies?

“This country needs to get a grip. We need a slap in the face, a splash of cold water.”

“What caused the delays and what hassled so many travelers was not the defendant’s actions, but our mindless and hysterical response to them.”

“Here in this proclaimed new “age of terrorism,” we act as if the clock began ticking on Sept. 11, 2001. In truth we’ve been dealing with this stuff for decades. Not only in the 1980s, but throughout the ’60s and ’70s as well. Acts of piracy and sabotage are far fewer today.”

“Imagine the Karachi attack happening tomorrow. Imagine TWA 847 happening tomorrow. Imagine six successful terror attacks against commercial aviation in a five-year span. The airline industry would be paralyzed, the populace frozen in abject fear. It would be a catastrophe of epic proportion — of wall-to-wall coverage and, dare I suggest, the summary surrender of important civil liberties.”

“What is it about us, as a nation, that has made us so unable to remember, and unable to cope?”

Patrick isn’t the only one upset about this. I wrote about our overblown airport security rules in the past — see this article, and this one, and this as well.

All I can say is that hope can be glimpsed across the pond, in Europe. Having flown through multiple European airports this past year, I can tell you things appear more rational there. Even when there are extra security checks, the tone is calm, the demeanor is calm, and you’re not eyed with suspicious eyes, like you are here in the US, where everything is seen as a threat.

New Year's Day at Amsterdam Airport

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

We flew with KLM from IAD (Washington-Dulles airport in the US) to OTP (Otopeni-Bucharest airport in Romania) during this past New Year’s Eve and Day. I highly recommend KLM, we’ve had the best flying experience with them of all the airlines we’ve used so far.

Foggy day at Amsterdam Airport

I should warn you that Delta handles the ticketing and check-in for KLM at American airports — this means rude and borderline-incompetent service. At least that was our experience at Dulles Airport in DC. KLM can’t help it I suppose. At least once you step onto their planes, it’s a different world altogether. It’s clean, well-lit, well-ventilated, they’re friendly, accommodating, their in-flight video service is amazing, and their food is great.

How is KLM different from other airlines? Well, they’re not evil, like United Airlines, and they’re not clueless, like Alitalia, and they’re not mean, like Spirit.

We picked New Year’s for our flight out of Washington because we thought most people would stay at home. We were wrong. The flight to Amsterdam was fully booked. Who flies on New Years Eve anyway?! Apparently, young people, Muslims and Indians. I understand the latter two groups, because they don’t celebrate New Year’s on the same day as the Western world, but since when have young folks decided to give up partying on New Year’s Eve?

It was a foggy, somewhat snowy New Year’s morning when we arrived in Amsterdam. You couldn’t see a thing on the runway as the plane landed. Thank goodness the pilots knew what they were doing. By the time we cleared through customs and security, the fog cleared a bit as well, or at least as much as the photos show.

Our plane getting loaded for departure

The flight from Amsterdam to Bucharest was empty, which figures. Most Romanians stay home on New Year’s. They prefer to have their traditional parties, then start the new year with some time off. I think there were at most 12 people on the entire plane. I felt bad for KLM, having to fly that big jet with so few people on board, but I suppose things average out in the long run.

Oh, and yes, KLM did wish us a Happy New Year while we were over the Atlantic Ocean, and gave us a choice of champagne or orange juice to toast in the new year. Quite nice of them!

Why don’t I have any photos from the Bucharest airport? Because photography still isn’t allowed there, which is dumb, but then that’s par for the course in Romania.

Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-16

Reagan National Airport

As you read this, Ligia and I are supposed to be in Florida. Instead, I’m back at work. We were supposed to fly out yesterday. Everything was set. We were really looking forward to it.

We got to the airport, checked in, went to the gate, and noticed that our flight was listed as leaving at 6 PM instead of 4:50 PM. A few minutes later, an elderly lady came by and asked if we’d heard that the flight was canceled. No, we hadn’t. Five minutes later, the notice was posted — the flight was canceled indeed, because of bad weather in FL.

To make matters worse, there were no other outgoing flights. All were full. The earliest available flight was on Saturday. No thanks. We went around to all the other airlines and checked. They had nothing, unless we were willing to pay Monopoly prices and fly tonight or on Friday. That would have been okay if only we could have paid with Monopoly money…

What were we to do? We could have gotten angry, but that would have been pointless. So I took out my 5D and started taking photos of the airport. I’d always wanted to do it and never got around to it. Isn’t DCA beautiful?

Travelers

The main floor is shown above. I love the pillars and arches supporting the roof.

Repetition

Light

Radiate

The ceiling is made up of repeating cupolas, as you can see above, and each cupola has a skylight in its center. It’s such great design!

Skylight

I think I could spend a few days walking around the airport and taking photos. There are so many possibilities with the light, as it comes through the wall of glass or the skylights and reflects off the floor… It’s just beautiful, and if you get the right mix of people walking through (not too many, not too few), it really makes the place look great!

Arrivals

Steps

Departures

I leave you with an outside shot of the control tower, taken from the Reagan National metro station. It felt pretty painful to get right back to it a few hours after we’d just left it, on our way to FL…

White tower

Dawn over the Atlantic Ocean

This will be my 1,000th post, so perhaps it’s fitting that it be this: photos of the dawn, breaking high above the clouds, somewhere near the coast of France. It symbolizes a new beginning, a milestone — although I have to confess it came by surprise. I hadn’t monitored the number of posts for a while. By chance, I glanced at it yesterday and saw the fateful sum: 999. That’s when I knew I had to make this 1,000th post a little more special than the rest.

We were on our way to Paris from Washington, DC, on board an overnight Air France flight. We were going to have a short layover at Charles de Gaulle airport, then fly to Bucharest, where a rental car awaited our arrival. From there, we’d drive north, crossing the Carpathian Mountains to reach my grandfather’s house in Transylvania.

I liked Air France. The chairs were fairly comfortable, there was more space between the rows than on Austrian Airlines, and all of the seat gadgets worked, which was very unlike Alitalia (see paragraph 7 of that post for the details). The food was great, they got our menu selections right, the stewards and stewardesses were friendly and polite, and we had a good experience overall. I would fly with them again.

I hadn’t slept much all night. I can’t sleep very well on airplanes — I should probably say I can’t sleep much at all on airplanes. There’s the noise, then, of course, the “wonderful” seats and the lack of humidity, etc. I usually watch movies to pass the time while I gasp for air and pour water down my parched throat.

Outside, pitch black darkness stared back at me, and the faint reflection of a bleary-eyed traveler bearing my resemblance was visible in the window. Had there been no one around, it would have been eerie. But Ligia was next to me. She was sleeping somewhat peacefully, and that comforted me.

As morning approached and the first rays of light began to break through the darkness, Ligia woke up. I took out my 5D, and stood ready for that fleeting moment when color and light would combine to produce something worth capturing. Here it is.

Dawn breaking

At 33,000 feet, the cloud clover stayed below, and only its remembrance remained, in the shape of wispy lines that traced alongside us.

I kept my camera ready in case other opportunities presented themselves, and I wasn’t disappointed. A supersonic jet passed by us, leaving orange-yellow contrails in its wake.

Jet set

No matter how commoditized flight gets, there are still a great number of people that can never afford to experience it. I suppose that has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, enough pollution is generated by existing airplanes, so perhaps it’s better that their number is kept somewhat limited. On the other hand, many opportunities open up to you when you can travel so fast. Trips that take days suddenly take only hours. Life, for better or worse, gets faster, and you can do more. I suppose that can be both good and bad, depending on your point of view. I’m on the fence about it myself.

The rarefied life

We found ourselves in our rental car, driving toward Transylvania, that afternoon. We drove through the evening and part of the night. Road repairs made our trip unnecessarily long, but that’s a story for another day. As we were driving through the Carpathian Mountains, night set in, and I stopped to take this photo.

A closing account

As we paused to rest, we thought about the last 24 hours. In that relatively short span of time, we’d traveled over 4,000 miles and still had a few more to go.

Life moves fast these days. If we’re not careful, we can end up old and tired, having spent a lifetime running around from place to place. Sometimes it’s worth more than we know it to STOP, even if it’s only for a few minutes, and look around us. That’s when we realize that those few moments of pause are more precious than whole days of nonstop action.

Impressions from Walt Disney World – Part 4

This post is part of a series on Walt Disney World. Click on each link to access Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Disney MGM Studios

There’s a ride called the Backlot Tour at Disney MGM Studios. At first sight, it seems like nothing fancy: just a tour bus that takes you around various places. But if you assume that and never go on it, you miss out on a whole lot of fun.

The Backlot Tour is actually made up of three segments: a pre-ride special effects show (with audience participation), the actual tour in the buses, and a very nice post-tour walk through the on-site AFI (American Film Institute) Museum, which is packed full of actual movie props and costumes.

The special effects show involves mock action sequences from Pearl Harbor, and the audience is shown how stunts like the ones in the movie were created. You also get a sense of the scale of those special effects, and of the incredible effort and planning that went into creating each action scene, even if it lasted only a few seconds.

The backlot tour gives the visitors behind-the-scenes glimpses at the work that goes on at the studio, which is supposedly in use for various movies from time to time. As the tour guide speaks, the bus snakes its way among various cars and objects used in past and recent movies.

Recognize these?

Police

Give it a whirl

Half off Herbie

Flight of the Navigator

Shoot ‘em up

Jacqueline Deep Search

Zissou

There are rare gems, like Walt Disney’s personal plane. He used it to fly over the Florida Everglades when he surveyed the land he would later purchase for Disney World. Toward the end of the tour, you’ll be taken through the costume department. There’s a tunnel built right through the building where the staff works on costumes, and large windows line it. You’ll be able to look right in and see them at work on the various costumes worn by WDW cast members.

Walt Disney’s personal plane

You’ll get an unexpected shock as you experience a fire and water stunt at a specially-designed canyon. Tens of thousands of gallons of water will rush past you. It’s quite a sight to see!

Better run

Showers expected

But what I thought was really interesting was the AFI Museum, available at the end of the tour. There was no time limit, and we could look at the various movie props and costumes as long as we wanted. It was a treat!

White Witch’s battle gear

Captain Barbossa’s costume

That pointed hat from the Wizard of Oz

White Witch’s battle chariot

Darth Vader’s costume

Cruela DeVil’s costume

Douglas Light Company slide projector

Pathescope 28mm projector

Wittnauer Cine-Twin camera/projector with case

Sir Sean Connery

Impressions from Walt Disney World – Part 3

This post is a continuation of my series on Walt Disney World.

Lights, Motors, Action! is one of the shows at Disney MGM Studios. It runs only a few times a day, and it involves tightly coreographed action and stunt sequences with cars and motorcycles. The setup is that they’re filming scenes for an upcoming action movie. The truth is, they’re just trying to involve the audience a little more. I have mixed feelings about making everything seem like the movies, but I can certainly agree with this: the show and the stunts are great!

The set is built to resemble a small, Southern French town.

Marketplace

There’s an introduction, where the audience is told what to expect, then the stunts begin, with little breaks to allow the crew to set up the various scenes.

Hero and villain

Divide and conquer

Mid-air

Wheelie

Catch my drift

Jet-set

On fire

Finale

I understand the stunt drivers go through a set of tires in three days, and since the show began, they’ve worn down the pavement on the set by several inches, and it will need to be repaved. There’s also a surprise: you’ll get to see Herbie during the show!

Herbie

Impressions from Walt Disney World – Part 2

Our recent trip to WDW was also an attempt to document the place and our experiences through serious photography, and it was a worthwhile learning experience. Some questions that I asked myself as I set out to do this were:

  • Am I prepared, equipment-wise?
  • How do I manage to capture worthwhile photos given that I only have two days and there’s so much to photograph?

I thought I was prepared in terms of equipment. I had an anti-glare hood, an external flash, a tripod, an extra camera battery and the charger, extra memory cards and a lens-cleaning kit, not to mention a great camera case. The second question was a bit harder to answer, but things worked out okay because I relied on the following guidelines. I listed them below in no particular order, as they occurred to me:

  • Never try to capture too much in a single photo
  • Focus on what’s important or representative first
  • Proper composition always pays off
  • Walk, don’t zoom, when you can help it
  • Use mid-range zoom and large aperture for portraits to blur the background
  • Innovative angles sometimes add extra flair
  • A clean lens means clear photos (for a DSLR, you can add a clean sensor to the list)
  • More photos are a good thing
  • Extra batteries are a must-have
  • External flash beats internal flash any time
  • Holding the camera steady equals clear photos
  • A tripod is annoying but much needed in low light situations
  • Don’t use high ISO unless your camera can handle it well
  • Know how and why to adjust shutter speed
  • Know how and why to adjust aperture
  • Know how and why to adjust strobe strength
  • Know your camera’s limitations and know how to work around them
  • Avoid boring photos
  • Frame subjects off-center unless the situation specifically calls for a symmetric composition
  • Know where your camera’s focusing, or adjust the focus manually
  • Too much light is a bad thing
  • Too little light is a bad thing
  • Use burst mode when you’ve got only precious moments to get a good photo
  • Use the viewfinder instead of the LCD screen. Resting the camera against the forehead provides an extra point of support and reduces camera shake. It also saves battery life.
  • Use the flash in daytime to fill in unwanted shadows
  • Get a flash with a pivoting head, so you can vary the strobe angle
  • Read the camera’s manual thoroughly. Read it again. And again. And again.

So what did I learn on this trip? Well, I learned that you can never take too many photos, especially with a digital camera, where you can easily delete what you don’t want. It pays to be well stocked with memory cards. And it really pays to have a camera that can take many shots on a single charge. My camera, currently a Panasonic Lumix FZ20K, goes (or it did anyway — more on that later) through a battery charge at 250 shots, give or take a few. Even though I had a spare battery with me, I still found myself running out of juice. It also pays to have a camera that can take photos at 400, 800 and 1,600 ISO without significant noise. There were so many beautiful shots I missed because my camera could only take shots up to 200 ISO without noise, and it could only go up to 400 ISO, period. When the lights turned on at the parks, everything was more beautiful, but my camera couldn’t capture it because I would have needed to set up my tripod for every shot. That’s a bit hard to do with throngs of people around you.I also learned that my external flash and glare hood were worth purchasing. My external flash helped me immensely with people shots at night, and even with large-scale illumination of buildings and walls. The glare hood was definitely useful during the day, especially when the sun came out from behind the clouds. I counted my blessings when I discovered I could tie my camera bag around my waist instead of carrying it around my shoulders. It was immensely helpful to have easy access to my accessories as I held the camera in my hands.

It cost me nothing to throw my lens-cleaning kit in my bag alongside my camera, and it paid off tremendously during my visit. My camera’s lens got pretty dirty during heavy use. I either touched the lens inadvertently as I fiddled with the lens cap, or the camera got splashed by water drops from fountains and various rides as I took photos. I had someone sneeze right as they passed me and my camera… Regardless of what happened, having the lens cleaning solution right there was a huge help. I just sat down on a bench, squirted a drop or two of the solution onto the lens, and wiped it with the special cloth. In about a minute, I was back in business with squeaky-clean lens, ready to take more great photos. When you take event photos, and you’re only there for 1-2 hours or so, you can always go back home or to the hotel to do some maintenance work on the camera (clean the lens, wipe the body a bit, charge the batteries, etc.) When you’re out in the field the whole day, things are a little bit different (and harder). That’s why it pays to be well-prepared.

A little bit about my camera. I used a Panasonic Lumix FZ20K on this trip. I purchased it back in October, as I decided to move up to a bigger camera from my current compact digital, a Kodak EasyShare Dual Lens v610. I’ve always been a fan of small cameras that I can tuck away in my pocket and carry anywhere, but as I got more serious about photography, I found myself always bumping against the various limitations of my cameras and getting frustrated. Still, I couldn’t justify getting a bigger camera, because of two reasons: price, and more importantly, portability. I didn’t want to lug around a camera case all the time.

I got the FZ20 as a stepping stone. I wanted to see if I’d be happier with a bigger camera that wasn’t as limited as my compact, and if I could handle carrying around a case on my trips. Things turned out well. I liked it, and I was happy with the quality of the photos it took as well. I didn’t mind carrying around the camera case, and enjoyed being able to pick from a variety of accessories as needed. I looked forward to using the FZ20 for another 6 months or so, then transitioning to a DSLR. Unfortunately, the FZ20 started malfunctioning during this trip. The zoom stopped working properly, and didn’t respond when I needed to bring it back to wide from tele shots. I’d have to turn the camera off, then back on. It wasn’t fun, and after only a couple of months of use, I was disappointed to see it malfunction. Thankfully, I’d purchased it from Costco, which has an amazing return policy. Other than computers and laptops, you can return merchandise at any time. That’s fantastic! I ended up returning it yesterday, and now I’m back to my Kodak v610, which still works great, but has certain frustrating limitations and no image stabilization. 😦

I’m now saving up for a DSLR. I don’t want to buy an entry-level DSLR, because I know I’m going to be frustrated with its limitations sooner or later. I’d rather get a full-featured model that will cost more but provide me with the features and quality I need. While I was at WDW, I noticed that most of the photographers at Disney (the ones that offered to take portraits) were equipped with Nikon D70s, but those are already more than 2 years old. I’m looking at the Canon EOS 5D and Nikon D200.

I’ll post some of the photos from Walt Disney World this week or next week. There are a lot of them and I need to do some post-processing work to get them ready.

Impressions from Walt Disney World – Part 1

Ligia and I, together with my parents, made a two-day trip to Disney World in Orlando, FL this past weekend. The trip was wonderful, and we really enjoyed ourselves. Along the way, I learned a few valuable things, which I thought would be good to share.

An airline that lets you board the plane even though there are only a few minutes left till the scheduled departure time is a company that deserves my money. I’m talking about US Airways. Sure, their seats may not be leather, and their planes may not be shiny new, but when it comes down to it, they let you board the plane, not turn you away like Spirit Airlines, a full half hour before the scheduled departure time. I’ve been using US Airways, on and off, since my college days, and that’s over a decade. I don’t remember any bad experiences, only nice flights, sometimes bumpy, particularly on their express connecting flights to Burlington, VT, but nice, and often not crowded, which is a great way to fly.

Four parks in two days is a LOT to see, but it’s enough to let you know whether you want to come back for more. I’d seen WDW before, but Ligia and my parents hadn’t. We purchased two-day Disney Hopper tickets, which let you go to any of the four theme parks as often as you wish while you have the tickets. We certainly hopped, from Disney/MGM Studios to Magic Kingdom, then Epcot, then Disney/MGM (again), then Animal Kingdom and Epcot (again). It was tiring for everyone, and at the end of the day, we were exhausted, but it was worth it.

If you stay away from the most popular rides, you avoid stress, discover beautiful places and actually get to enjoy yourself. By this I mean the various popular roller-coasters or other such attractions where kids and teens alike crowd. Tower of Terror at MGM, Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom and Everest at Animal Kingdom are some of the places we avoided. As a result, we didn’t see the crowds, enjoyed some peace and quiet, and got to see some unexplored corners of the theme parks, which were much more enjoyable than crying brats and long lines.

I visited Disney World twice in the past, some 4-5 years ago, and on both visits, I made the mistake of planning my time around the popular rides. I was stressed because of the crowds, didn’t really get to enjoy the rides that much, and actually felt let down. Let’s face it, Disney roller coasters aren’t Six Flags or Busch Gardens roller coasters, nor should they be. If you go there expecting some terrifying ride, you’re going to be disappointed. Even the Six Flags and Busch Gardens coasters get pretty boring after you ride them seven or eight times. It really all depends on what your mindset is. You’ve got to ask yourself: am I there to find radical excitement, with its inevitable high and let down, or to see some beautiful things and walk around in a surreal, more-beautiful-than-life environment? As Walt Disney once said, I needed to “use my imagination”.

Now that I’m a little more grown-up, I see Disney World as a platform, a wonderful foundation upon which I can build dreams. I can go there and escape reality. I can feel like a kid even though I’m definitely not one any more. I can imagine those many picturesque spots populated by lovable characters from the Disney cartoons and get immersed in the tales I loved so much as a kid (and still do). That’s the beauty of it all. As Walt Disney put it, he built a place where kids and adults alike could go and enjoy themselves.

I think there are some shows/rides that people shouldn’t miss. There’s a wonderful exhibit on Walt Disney’s life at the Disney/MGM Theme Park, and it includes a short movie as well. I highly recommend seeing this, as it provides incredible insight into the life of the man that made Disney. The Art Deco architecture at this park is beautiful. Take the Backlot Tour and see Walt’s personal plane, as well as memorabilia from various movies. Even though I avoided the big rides, I did go to the Lights, Motors, Action! show, and I recommend you see it as well. It’s a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at automobile and motorcycle stunt work in today’s movies, and it sure is exciting to see the stunts in person, not on the movie screen.

At Magic Kingdom, go on the ride called “It’s a small world”. The song will stick in your head, and you may or may not like that, but the nice, clear decor and attention to detail in the puppet costumes are a sight to behold. Plus, it’s cool inside and not crowded, so it’s just the ticket for a hot, sunny day. Also get on the Mad Hatter Tea Party teacup ride. It’s fun and there aren’t usually long lines. Don’t forget to walk around the castle. Even though you can’t go inside (which I would have liked to do), you can still admire the architecture and its surroundings. It’s rumored Walt Disney had an apartment built inside the castle for his family. Maybe someday that’ll be open to the public, who knows. You shouldn’t miss the Swiss Family Robinson tree, and you should also take the boat ride on the lake (no, I’m not talking about the ferry ride from the transportation center to the park, which is nice in itself.) And definitely take the train ride around the park, you’ll regret it if you don’t. The Carousel of Progress show is also a must-see.

At Animal Kingdom, don’t miss the “It’s tough to be a bug!” show, which is always great fun. This was the third time I saw it, and it was still very enjoyable. Take the safari tour there as well, and don’t miss walking around and spotting the animals and birds. Animal Kingdom is a great place to take great photos of wonderful, wild animals up close, so bring a good camera with you. At many zoos, it’s hard to take photos because the enclosures are tiny. The photos end up looking bad, because anyone can tell those animals aren’t in the wild. But at Animal Kingdom, each animal’s enclosure is made to look so natural that you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference in a photo.

When I first visited Epcot, I thought it was the lamest of all four parks because it had no dangerous rides. I don’t know what I was thinking… Now I know it’s the coolest of them all. There’s so much to see! There are exhibits from many countries of the world, and everywhere I looked, I found beauty. There was beautiful architecture, beautiful landscaping, and beautiful decoration. I was surprised to find the buildings were real stone when I knocked on them. Many of the buildings at attraction parks are pretty much just cardboard and stucco. Not so at Epcot!

Three of the parks have their own fireworks show, but the Magic Kingdom and Epcot shows are the most accessible. The wonderful thing about them is that serious thought and planning went into each show, and they are all infused with their own character. I can think of no other word to describe them but SPECTACULAR. What amazes me is that they happen daily! Given the cost of fireworks, that’s a lot of money! Think about it: Disney World uses the equivalent of a typical 4th of July fireworks show every night at two of its parks (Magic Kingdom and Epcot). I would have liked to go to the Fantasmic! show at Disney/MGM but didn’t get the chance.

When I think about the Disney World experience, two words come to mind: abundance and quality. There’s an abundance of things to see at all of the parks, and it’s all quality-made. Walt Disney wanted to make sure people got their money’s worth, and I think they do. One of the tram operators wished us well as we got off to enter Magic Kingdom, and something he said stuck in my mind: “All 58,000 Disney employees wish you a wonderful time here at Disney World.” I don’t remember the exact phrase, but the number definitely caught my attention. Whether that’s just Disney World employees or employees of the Disney Corporation, I don’t know, but regardless, there were a LOT of employees at Disney World, and a lot of machinery, and a lot of lights, and a lot of everything else that requires maintenance and people to operate. Add to that the infrastructure, which was built from scratch: roads, lines, pipes, landscaping, buildings, etc., and the expenses really add up. I shudder to think what the daily operating expenses of Disney World are. In light of this, the $75 ticket price to see one of the parks is not a bad deal, and the Park Hopper ticket is a great value indeed.

Ligia and I look forward to our next WDW visit.