Saturday, December 30, 2017

Epic 2017 Walt Disney World Christmas Visit - Part One

Be prepared to let your browser catch-up for all the photos in this post. We decided 2017 was the opportune time to take a quick Walt Disney World Christmas trip. Thanksgiving was early, and Holly had no marathons on the calendar. The Epcot World Showcase Storytellers, Candlelight Processional, and Magic Kingdom Christmas Parade were high priorities on our to-do list. As we kept filling out our itinerary other events popped up like Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam! and a Disney Vacation Club (DVC - Disney timeshare) member-only event in Epcot. It became apparent this would not be a relaxed visit.


Disney Springs Tree

Our flight from Chicago arrived on time and we were in the rental car within 15 minutes of landing. Our first stop was Disney Springs to get a new Tables in Wonderland dining discount card. We put it in Holly's name this year giving Dave a chance to run into the World of Disney Store to pick up some Alex & Ani bracelets Holly wanted. What a zoo! So many people in one place! Fortunately all missions were accomplished!

We were spending one night at The Animal Kingdom Lodge resort to maximize our DVC point usage and enjoy dinner at Jiko. We had fun chatting with our hostess from Namibia, who was just starting her International Program with Disney. We both dined on our favorites: wild boar appetizer and filet mignon. For once we were smart and took the rest of our wine to the room vs. closing the Victoria Falls Lounge.


We woke up early so we could change our hotel: Boardwalk Inn for the rest of the trip. We chose to skip the Epcot rope-drop in favor of Christmas touring the Epcot resorts. We enjoyed checking out Boardwalk's gingerbread house, the Swan's chocolate display, Yacht Club's nautical themed tree, and Beach Club's chocolate carousel.

We crossed the International Gateway a couple minutes after 9:00; after the park was open. We usually do not miss a "rope-drop" but we only had one ride on our schedule today. Instead of rushing towards Future World or Norway we headed across the bridge to France for breakfast. We picked up a ham and cheese baguette and walked with it over towards our Fastpass for the day: Journey into Imagination. Not the best use of a FP, but it worked into our day well. We were planning to spend our entire day at Epcot to take in as much of the Festival of the Holidays as possible and finish up the rest on Monday. We used the schedule posted on to make our plan of attack.

The Storyteller performances were scheduled at odd times and did not work in a logical order with the country layout. We were lucky enough to bang out Norway, Mexico's Coco (Pixar film) show, and a modified Mexico Christmas show (rain prevented an outside performance - so we will try to catch again on Monday) within the first 45 minutes.

The Norway and Coco show were fantastic. Mexico's redo on Monday was very good as well (will show later). We took off to the American Pavilion to see the Voices of Liberty show. While passing Germany's train village we noticed there was no Christmas setup (as they have done in the past). This made Dave angry. After a quick show from Voices of Liberty we caught most of the German performance (the regular band and not a special storyteller) before heading into Biergarten for our lunch reservation.

We are not fans of German food. We booked the Biergarten buffet lunch in order to get guaranteed seating to the Candlelight Processional. This show is a story telling of the birth of Christ with a choir, orchestra, and celebrity narrator. Our host tonight would be Disney Legend Kurt Russell. We enjoy the atmosphere in Biergarten but do not like the food. Nothing can counteract the salt intake.

Keeping with our schedule we headed over to China for the dragon dancers. They were commemorating New Year's instead of Christmas. After watching this show we watched the Japan storyteller present New Year's traditions from her country before heading over to France for Pere Noel's story.

During this period we grabbed some snack from one of the festival's special food booths. Holiday themed food and drinks are served from food booths scattered around the park.

The problem with Candlelight Processional is the queue. We had guaranteed seats but had to get in line an hour before the show to grab a decent seat. We were proabably ten minutes later than we should have been and ended up in the second section of the American Gardens Pavillion. At least we weren't behind a tree. The show is a telling of the Christmas Story. The 50 minute performance included a processional (per the name), a living Christmas Tree, and classical Christmas hymns to accompany the celebrity narration.

After the show it was time for more traditions. Italy and U.K. had holiday storytellers and Morocco had their usual band with a few traditional Festival songs added. Between Morocco and France was Mostly Kosher: a Yiddish-inspired rock band.

We had a Fastpass for fireworks and viewed the event from the World Showcase Plaza. The Christmas show had an additional five minute section that featured a "Let there be Peace on Earth" number.

We forgot to mention we were playing the hidden item game. During festivals Epcot "hides" items. Guest pay a few bucks for a game card and stickers. Once you match all the item (on stickers) with the related areas of the park you get a gift. Our gift was a set of buttons.

The Festival of Holidays game featured Chip and Dale inwreaths

We left Epcot exhausted after a full day. We headed to the Bellevue Lounge for to-go drinks since the place was packed! To supplement our snacking we got some pizza from the Boardwalk Pizza window. Tomorrow offered more fun and a new list of to-dos, including the Magic Kingdom Holiday Party.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Tizzel's Christmas Countdown 2017 - Christmas Day

Once again we celebrate Christmas Day with Military Homecomings. Please enjoy this final video.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Alaska: Ketchikan - Misty Fjords and Seaplane Tour

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We got lucky again on this trip. Ketchikan is usually gloomy and rainy. Today we had a mix of overcast skies with a few sunny moments. Score! Today 4 cruise ships were docked in the tiny town. Dave's mood was much better this morning as he disembarked with a Diet Coke in-hand and received no hassle from ship security. Our morning was going to be spent fulfilling a bucket list item for Holly: landing on the water in a seaplane. We had a few minutes before our excursion pickup and headed over to the Tongass National Forest Visitor Center for our Passport stamp.

Ketchikan had all the charm of a turn-of-the-century frontier outpost mixed with tackiness that comes with being a tourist destination. The city did have a few very nice art stores.

We boarded our bus for the short trip up the main road (Ketchikan is isolated like Juneau is) to Taquan Air. The company has been shuttling goods and people by air for over 20 years. We were assembled with other tourists into a tent for our safety briefing before being divided into groups and assigned planes. Our pilot, Jess, was in his late-20's and moved to Alaska from Florida. Dave won the dispersing the weight lottery and scored the copilot seat.

Our 90 minute tour would take us over the Misty Fjords National Monument. As we've learned on this trip fjords are inlets sourrounded by rounded mountains created by glacial erosion. As we were flying Jess would narrate every few minutes then play some appropriate song from his iPod. The mountains were beautiful from our high vantage point and Jess gave us several up-close moments with the cliffsides. Our landing was in a long narrow stretch of the inlet. On the nearby shore was a brown bear grazing on some grass. Jess told us he's usually hanging around this time of morning. We got to climb out onto the pontoon for some better photos.

Thankfully take-off from the inlet and landing back in town were uneventful. We still had a few hours left on our shore leave so we decided to quickly take the Ketchikan Walking Tour allowing us to see Creek Street (old red light district), The Totem Pole Heritage Center, a salmon ladder, and totem poles placed around town.

We had a decent lunch at Alaska Fish House - more fried halibut. After lunch we frantically ran around town trying to find the perfect ulu knife and stone carving of an otter. We did well on the knife: we found one shaped like a bear made out of bleached caribou antler. We found a nice otter carving, but the perfect one was back in Skagway. If you find yourself in Ketchikan spend a few minutes browsing the family-owned Alaskan Stone Arts shop/gallery. After an exhausting tour of the shops we met up with the rest of the crew at a bar called Sourdough. It's a first-class dive that happened to be steps away from our ship's gangplank. It's worth a visit for all the photos of boats that have run aground (common in this area with the fog and changing tides). Thanks to Sourdough we boarded 15 minutes before departure.

The next time we'd set foot on land would be in Vancouver. We enjoyed our time in Alaska and we experienced many new things along the way. As luck would have it some killer whales decided to show up on our side of the ship a few miles away from port. Perfect!

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