10 Must-Dos in London

10 Must-Dos in London
10 Must-Dos in London

Venice Trip Report

Venice Trip Report
Venice Trip Report

Disneyland California Trip

Disneyland California Trip
Disneyland California Trip

Walt Disney World ICP: April Update (35 days to go!)

It's been over three weeks since my last update on the program and quite a few things have happened. I'm back at uni with 2 weeks left and snowed under with all the work that is left to do, but as far as Disney World is concerned it's now just 35 days to go, or 5 weeks! In 5 weeks time I'll be at Gatwick Airport's Premier Inn probably unable to sleep with all the excitement!

Over the past few weeks it's no longer just Yummy Jobs that have been emailing us, Disney has too.

The first email we got was to pay for our medical insurance, this is done through a company called HTH Worldwide, which Disney have partnered with. The price is a shocking $70 per month and you have to pay for a whole month even if you are only there for a portion of it. That set me back $210! And that was for the cheapest package. From what I understand, this also only covers you if you have no medical problems, which is fine for myself but as this insurance is mandatory those that do have problems have to take this one out AND find an additional policy! If you're thinking of travelling you also need to have the insurance throughout your travel period. Luckily this fits within my 3 months. Once you have paid you get access to proof of insurance on the website which must be printed to take with you to the US.

Welcome email:
Disney also sent us a welcome email confirming our program dates, as well as our applicant number which will be needed later on in the process.

Housing Fee:

As well us paying for our housing throughout the program, Disney requires you to pay $104.50 for a housing fee which pays for special events where they have free food, give out free stuff and the graduation ceremonies and parties, etc. I'll be having to eat a lot of free pizza if I'm going to be making my money back. I had a bit of trouble paying this, as my login didn't work but an email to Disney quickly fixed this. I got an email confirmation sent to me, which was printed in order to check-in at housing.

Orientation email:
This was an email sent out by Yummy Jobs on behalf of Disney and essentially it was a long boring document about working in the US with information we had been given before, but it seems to some sort of US government requirement so that we know how much this is going to cost us, what we're doing while we're there and our rights. Important stuff but boring. You have to email back and confirm you've read this.

Prepare for your arrival email:
This is a Disney email which gives you your applicant ID again, and asks you to submit your program assessment fee if you haven't already. In addition, it has links to the "onboard" Disney website to read which has tips on travelling and more information about housing and roommates. One of the links is also to "hiring documentation"which are your work contracts (yes, there's several of them), so it's important that you read these thoroughly and print and sign these. It will all be needed during the check in process. 

Disney has announced that for the first time ever ICPs will be able to request who you want to live with, where and how many rooms. It's not guaranteed but it's a great chance to at least put down some preferences. Exciting stuff!

Attraction Request:
I've also sent an email to Disney International Recruiting requesting to work on a rollercoaster as I'd really, really like to do that and learn all about how the mechanics of them work! No reply from them as of yet. I sent a similar email back in January which got no reply, but it can't hurt to ask. If someone in Disney's international recruiting department sees this, please work your magic!

Next post: 3 weeks until Florida - lots of updates

Web of Links: Week 4

It's time for the latest instalment in the weird, wonderful and interesting things I found online this week. From computers grading essays, to iPhone dominos, to waterless washing machines and even batteries that charge 1000 times faster than before.

1. Amazon continues its foray into content product with 14 new TV show pilots released this week.
2. What Happens When You Wring Out a Washcloth in Space - Something I had never wondered, but I'm glad I watched the video!
3. Battery Breakthrough Offers 30 Times More Power, Charges 1,000 Times Faster - Although the technology is still a few years away from being in our hands, this could truly revolutionise our world. Imagine electric cars which could charge in seconds, mobile phone with batteries that last weeks or any other possibility. This is the most exciting story I read this week. Incredible!
4. Surprise! Kids don't know what the save icon stands for - Cue me feeling old...
5. Choose Your Next Pair of Glasses Using 3D and an iPad - This is just lazy, but there's some impressive technology.
6. Twitter To Show You Ads Based On What You Tweet - It was only a matter of time. How irrelevant will they be though, like Facebook's?
7. These 10,000 Falling iPhones Are A Friendly Reminder That Fake Videos Are Getting Crazy Real - Seeing isn't believing anymore.
8. 'The Guardian': We're Not Planning on a Paywall - After the recent announcement from other news corporations, it seems at least one company gets it.
9. Unusual things you can do on a cruise ship - Including bumper cars and indoor sky diving.
10. The world's best airports - Heathrow came in at number 10.
11. A Computer To Grade Essays, To Save Professors Time - Using Artificial Intelligence, this software marks students essays. This doesn't seem like a good idea at all.
12. How paper can become a touchscreen
13. Is Facebook asking for a minimum of $1million for video ads?
14. WhatsApp bigger than Twitter - Apparently there are 12billion messages sent using the service every day!
15. Become a citizen journalist for The Guardian
16. 57% of Showroomers Test Products, Then Head to Amazon - To be honest, I'm not sure I'm surprised but 57%? I know I've certainly done it before.
17. Mystic Manor ride through at Hong Kong Disneyland - If you've ever  seen the Haunted Mansion ride at DIsney Parks, this new ride takes it to a whole new technological level! Wow!
18. LG developing a waterless washing machine - How?, or WHY?, I simply don't know.

Disneyland Paris Trip April 2013: Day 2 - Walt Disney Studios Park

I'll skip all the waking up and having breakfast portion of this post.
An empty Disneyland Park during Extra Magic Hours
We got to Disneyland at 8:20am today - super early and the park was almost empty. It was incredible. We went straight to Discoveryland and rode Space Mountain twice in a row which was lots of fun. There was no one in the queue when we arrived but they still said we had to go round: I don't understand why? Not very magical is it?

Once we were done with that, we moved onto Orbitron: Machines Volantes which is a bit like dumbo except you go much higher and it feels much faster, especially at the top. I really enjoyed myself on this ride, even if it was very simple. Then we moved onto Buzz Lightyear: Laser Blast which I lost as usual. Then it was over to Fantasyland for a ride on Dumbo, followed by Peter Pan's Flight. It was incredible that we'd managed to do six rides in about forty minutes! And if we had wanted we could have gone on the Carousel or re-ridden the rides. 

With half an hour of Extra Magic Hours left we left the park and walked over to the stu
dios and queued at the entrance for about 10 minutes only to find out that Crush's Coaster was not operated at the moment. The ride which we had deliberately crossed over to do was closed. In an effort to make the most of our time we headed straight for the Tower of Terror arriving there at about 9:35am. Officially the rides are only meant to start running at 10am but the secret is that the big ones like Crush and Tower of Terror actually open slightly early.

At 9:40am we were in the Tower of Terror hotel lobby, at 9:45 we were in the library room and at about 9:50am we were boarding the first elevator of the day, which was pretty cool being the first to ride that day. As usual the suspense is immense and then the drops are terrifying but fun.

We then headed over to Toy Story Playland and waited for the opening of the Parachute drop. It started to rain really, really heavily which of course is where the handy umbrellas I'd been carrying around came into play. I hadn't even noticed but the park hadn't actually opened yet and they played the opening announcement over the speakers. About 10 minutes later the Parachute Drop ride opened after having been tested. We got the second ride of the day on this. It still was faster than I thought it'd be even after having been on it before and having just been on the Tower of Terror. You did get a really good view from the top of the Ratatouille ride construction although I got some photos from ground level as I didn't want to risk my camera up there.

Ratatouille ride construction: April 10 2013
Then we went on Slinky Dog which made my brother and me burst out laughing when the ride audio said: "Look at how fast Slinky is" and then the ride ground to a halt as it was stopping ha ha.

We then walked towards Crush to quickly check if it was open, it wasn't. We rode Cars Rally which was surprisingly fun for what it looked like and there was some really good theming in the queue. Thankfully the queue was only 15 minutes as I wouldn't have wanted to have waited any longer.

We walked past Crush again, hoping it would be open but the Cast Member said it "might" open in the afternoon but they weren't sure. The day sounded like it was going to be a write off at this rate. We did have a tour booked for 3PM but after all the walking yesterday we decided we should take in the parks and hotels and the whole area by ourselves, and more slowly. I will be doing the guided tour at the Walt Disney Studios Park on a future trip though, as it'd be nice to hear how things were designed. I do expect this park to undergo a big re-theming in the near future though and a grand makeover, so there may very well be a new guided tour anyways.

Cinemagique was our next stop: an interesting film which breaks the "fourth wall" - it had a few new scenes and I hand't seen this in a couple of years so it was nice to see it again. There is a very loud explosion though which I feel could be toned down a bit. Then it was over the Animagique - even though I know the storyline off by heart I still love this show. The enthusiasm of the actors, the music, the scenery and the whole concept of the show is just great! Plus I like singing along to the songs.

It was almost time for lunch but we wanted to do Rock n Rollercoaster before we ate, so that was the next stop. Apart from the fact we were stuck just before the launch for a couple of minutes (Which really got the tension going), it was awesome! Love that ride. I suggested we re-ride it again, but Stephano was starving.

We had lunch in McDonalds this day to keep the cost down. My notes say that it was 13.90 euros for 2 meals: A Chicken Nuggets meal and a Big Mac meal, plus an extra hamburger (1.5 euros for a hamburger!!). It was much cheaper than the park's food prices, but by no means as cheap in in the UK. Where we could have got the same food for about 30% less. 

The intention was to go and watch the parade after McDonald's but we were already tired and had done 13 attractions already that day and it was only lunchtime! It was definitely time for a break. We decided to get the bus back to the hotel instead of the RER and I think the driver misunderstood me and thought I wanted to go to Val d'Europe without staying in a hotel there - I was then charged 4 euros (2 euros each for this 5 minute bus journey! Ridiculous! I have later read that this is meant to be free, so next time I'll just board and not ask! There's only 1 bus an hour though which is ridiculous!).

At Val d'Europe we went straight to Auchan and bought some food for the next few days. We then went back to the hotel and relaxed for a good bit. Then it was off to Marne-La-Valle chessy station again and into Disneyland Park.

Here we explored Adventure Isle and saw the bamboo trees that had been mentioned in the previous day's tour. 
Me exploring Adventure Isle
We also rode Pirates of the Caribbean which is always dangerously dark inside in the queue area (I seriously don't know how the french government allows it!), my favourite Big Thunder Mountain, and then Phantom Manor.

Next we walked back across to the Disney Village and explored the New York Hotel which was very nice, and it was incredible how it felt like nighttime inside. This was followed by the Sequoia Lodge which is my new favoured and not just because my friend Eilidh used to work there, but also because the theming was great inside and it has a really nice outdoor balcony with chairs which we sat down 
in for a nice break.
View from sequoia lodge bar balcony

The final hotel stop was the Newport Bay Club hotel which is very nice inside but is absolutely huge, and has a very impressive pool. It was my least favourite of the Disney hotels I'd seen that day though.

Next we walked to the Earl of Sandwich and I had the Jerk Chicken which was great, my borther had asked for a a Ham sandwich, so I asked for it to just be ham and bread with no cheese or mustard. It was noted on the order. Lo-and-behold it came with cheese and mustard which my brother didn't like. He did eat half of it however, as we didn't have time to get it changed as we would have missed Disney Dreams. In hindsight we should have gone and got the sandwich replaced to something he liked as we had ordered, even if we had eaten it in the park after. 

This night for Disney Dreams we got a spot a bit further back on Main Street which was good but not quite as good as the day before's spot which was pretty much perfect. The fact that it was also raining very heavily really (pardon the pun) dampened the atmosphere. Dreams was good but not quite the same, there were a few flamethrower bits missing as well as fireworks, but it was still great - apart from the rain, and the people who rudely stand in front of you at the last minute.

Off we went home at the end of Dreams and we got to our hotel in 30 minutes instead of the hour it took the day before. That's pretty successful I thought.

Read Day 1 of this trip report here and Day 3 here

Disneyland Paris Trip April 2013: Day 1 - Arrival

This is almost like Deja Vu. Last year during April I decided to visit Disneyland Paris, this year I decided to do the same. Last time, it was with my friend Francesca and me, this time it was me and my  brother (Stephano). The weather report: rain every day. Trip duration: 4 days.

Knowing that the Ratatouille ride was under construction and not set to open next year I knew I'd want to visit again next year, with the possibility of visiting again this year I decided that it'd be a great time to get an annual pass. There are three main tiers, with the unlimited annual pass with discounts coming in at the price of 199 euros. I found an offer online where I could buy the annual pass in advance for 159euros. Considering that a 3 day ticket costs that price, the annual pass would pay for itself. Sorted. 

As a lot of money was being spent on two annual passes, I wanted to make the rest of the experience as budget as possible. I go two indirect Eurostar returns for £66 each, and a stay in an apartment nearby for £130 for 3 nights (bargain!). With spending money and food included the total for the trip came to about £350 each. In contrast the hotel and park tickets at the cheapest Disney hotel would have been £800 alone, excluding transport, food and spending money - plus we wouldn't have annual passes.

I should also mention that I speak French fluently and with the exception of the guided tour I had in English for my brother's benefit, I had all conversations including extended conversations with Cast Members in French. This may very well affect how French people treat you, as it's always nice to make an effort.

Day 1:
The Journey:
I'd booked us a nice and early Eurostar at time of 8:04am, this meant getting to the station at 7:15am and getting the underground at 6:15am, meaning a waking up time of 5:30am. Fun. What was even more fun is that my sleeping pattern was so messed up that I literally didn't sleep for a single minute that night (Note for the rest of this post: By the time Day 1 was over I had been up for almost 2 days straight). Anyway, the journey was uneventful until we arrived at St. Pancras, where we picked up our tickets from the machines including tickets from London to Lille Europe, and then Lille Europe to Marne-La-Vallee Chessy (a.k.a. Disneyland Paris!), and back again. 

With 8 tickets in hand, and a puzzled look on my face as I attempted to find the relevant ones, me and my brother walked to the check in. Once we were through in less than 10 seconds, we went to security. At security, we were directed to the left hand lane...what we hadn't been told is that this was the staff lane and they could push in front of us. The result is that we and a few people behind us awkwardly waited, frustrated and angry as Eurostar personnel got to skip ahead. They didn't even bat an eyelid as they cut in line in front of everyone. We all meanwhile, started to get impatient. If you're reading this, letting employees push through like this is unprofessional and rude Eurostar, just so you know. Rude. And we weren't happy. We were eventually let through.

A Eurostar train. Press image. Note this is at
Brussels-Midi and not St. Pancras.

I'd gotten my parents to write a letter, sign it and brought photocopies of my parent's passport as I was taking my brother out of the country who was under 18. I needn't have worried as the French border control at Eurostar always give me the impression that they are barely checking the passports. They chatted away, glancing at passports as a secondary thought. One lady in front of us asked 4 times for a stamp on her passport as she needed one until the immigration officer finally apologised as he said he hadn't heard her (as he was too busy talking). 

We went to Cafe Nero for breakfast, then waited in the departure lounge and proceeded up the train. As usual, I'd managed to somehow book us seats in the furthest carriage possible and got there eventually. If this sounds like I'm complaining a lot...I am. We got on the Eurostar and it was a pleasant journey to Lille, with no stops in the UK or France before Lille which was nice, though we did wait outside the channel tunnel for about 5 minute standing still which sort of defeated the point of all that speed beforehand - I do understand this would have been for safety reasons. At Lille we have just over 20 minutes until we got onto our next train: the TGV. 

On board a TGV in 2nd class. Press image from TGV.
Now, these TGV's are a good example of how rail travel should be done. The seats are infinitely more comfortable on the TGV's than on the Eurostar, the same can be said for the much nicer decor and folding tables. The TGV's also have reading lamps in the seats and overall just feel more spacious. I'm always very impressed by them. Punctuality isn't always a strong point on the TGVs I have found though. But they're fast, clean and comfortable. Eurostar is currently in the process of renovating its fleet with the first train set to go into service in Autumn 2013 - I can't stress how much the interiors on the Eurostar need a redesign. They also have brand new trains coming into service from 2014. 

Despite the negative sentiments towards the Eurostar, I feel I should balance out what they've done well: check in is great, the departure process is great, the cafe bar is ok and overall it's a more relaxing and quicker way of getting to Paris. 

We're at Disneyland:
We arrived at Marne La Vallee - Chessy exactly on time and made our way through the new one-checkpoint security at Disneyland Paris which is great. We then left our suitcase at the left luggage to the right of Disneyland Park, this costs 3 euros for a small bag/suitcase, 7 euros for a medium one and 9 euros for a large. We then used our temporary annual passes to go through the turnstiles which took a few swipes and then finally got through with the help of the Cast Member. Once inside it was like being home again with the music filling the air and a magical atmosphere. As we'd been to the parks a few times before we no longer had to rush to rides and so we enjoyed the atmosphere as we walking down Main Street USA. It was now 12:20pm and I'd booked us onto a guided tour at 13:00 at City Hall. The park was almost empty, it was great! We walked to Casey's Corner for a quick bite as planned. I had a hot dog, Stephano has chicken nuggets and we shared a "large" portion of chips. The total cost 17 euros (ouch Disneyland prices!). We then walked to City Hall to check in for our tour, after seeing what time Captain EO closed, as today was the last day to see it as it was going to be under refurbishment for the rest of the trip. 
This is from a different day but I like it.

At City Hall they were very friendly, by far some of the friendliest Cast Members I had seen. At least at first glance. We paid for our guided tour: the price is 20 euros per person, but I got a discount with my shareholders card thereby making mine 15 euros. We were then told our guide would be called and he'd be with us shortly. We sat on the bench inside. It was an awkward 10 minutes as we looked at the Cast Members behind the counter with nothing to do, as we waited. Eventually at bang on 13:00 a Cast Member wearing a different (albeit much nicer) costume walked out the door and looked around, clearly not expecting us young people to be the people he was taking on a tour. He looked at another Cast Member with the face of "Really? These two?" who gestured towards us. He greeted us nicely and we started to walk outside for the tour.

The Guided Tour:
I'd like to clarify that at no way was the Cast Member rude to us, he explained everything in very good detail. I just felt that he felt that he was wasting his time by teaching people of our age about the parks. At the start he also seemed like he was having to act excited for us although he eventually let this drop and seemed to get more into the flow of things. I did tell him I worked as a Cast Member which he seemed mildly interested in, although he didn't ask me what I did, where I worked or when. After a bit of probing I found he'd only been working there for a year and wasn't actually a huge Disney fan which was disappointing. Our tour guide wasn't English but his English was good, even if I had to help out with a bit of French to English translation occasionally. 

The content of the tour itself was absolutely fantastic great and I learnt a lot of new facts and so I can highly recommend the tour. We went through all the lands, spending a good deal of time on Main Street and then going clockwise round the park. It did occasionally start to rain very heavily which slowed down progress. The your was exactly what I wanted: some background on Walt Disney, and a look at how tiny details in the various shops and streets reflected his life and his ideas. 

One of the curiosities on the guided tour
There was also a lot of info about history in general and how that was reflected in the parts. For example, we were told of how France gave the Statue of Liberty to the USA and how they story is reflected in the Liberty Arcade. I was surprised that forced perspective wasn't mentioned on Main Street itself but that was the only minor thing. We were also told of some cool places to explore after the tour and my brother definitely said he was a lot more interested in all the detail and history which is a change from his usual reluctance to admit he likes the parks! 

The only disappointment was when I was asked by the tour guide if I'd ever seen backstage at Star Tours and he then started to walk towards it, he then looked at his watch and said in the most unconvincing voice "Uh oh...I think we've lost the keys" and said that I should try and ask myself during the day if they'd let me see backstage. I don't know if this would be allowed in reality. We were then taken straight to the end of the tour. The total duration was 1h50m and we were given some exclusive pins at the end and asked if we had any questions. If he hadn't said anything about Star Tours, we would never have known but it was jut a horrible downer of a lie to end the tour on particularly as I had really enjoyed myself throughout all the rest of the tour. I felt, once again, if we were adults on the tour he wouldn't have done that and then left us thinking negatively like that. That extra bit of Disney Magic that they have in the American parks just wasn't there. If the key was truly lost, the Cast Member would have found another one. 

Some of the highlights of the tour including an unexpected encounter with the genie from Aladdin (this isn't part of the tour but the genie snuck up on me and tapped me on the shoulder, then waved when I was listening to the tour which was fun), and hearing some hugely interesting facts. Overall, I'd definitely recommend you do the tour and I want to re-do it again in the future to see if the experience would vary when I'm older, even if all of the content is still the same.

The Annual Passport Office:
After the walking tour, we went over to the Annual Passport office and got our annual passports sorted. This involved going through our address, handing over the temporary annual passes we had and me signing some forms. For my brother, the letter I had my parents write came in handy as they wanted proof that an adult would allow him to do the annual pass. Immigration didn't need it, but Disney did. Strange, huh? They also kept a copy of my mum's passport page for a proof of signature.

We had our photos taken and the process can be done in any language and is open to residents of all countries, I chose to do everything in French and the Cast Member said that was better for him as it made the process faster.

After the annual pass was done we went to see Captain EO which was fun and good to see before it was closed for a few days.

The Hotel:
By now, the 3PM checkin time for our hotel had come around and we were going to over to Val d'Europe to checkin. For those of you who haven't been to Disneyland Paris, Val d'Europe is a town that Disney owns this is located a mere five minutes' drive away, it is completely separate from Disneyland and is a residential area with one of Europe's biggest shopping malls. There is a shuttle bus system but I soon found out that this cost 2 euros per person and there was only one bus every hour! Instead we got the train, tickets are 1.80e when bought individually, or 1.44e if bought in packs of ten. Everything still works with paper in Paris for single journeys. No Oyster-card top-up system there yet.

The colourful apartment doors at
the Sejours et Affaires Aparthotel.
We reached the Sejours et Affairs Aparthotel and checked in, exhausted and lay on the bed. I was very positively surprised as the comments on Tripadvisor weren't particularly good. It was a 2 star apartment for about £40 a night, what did people expect? It had been cleaned, there were sachets of tea, there was a small kitchen with hobs and a microwave and a bathroom. There were a few dirty bits here and there such as the vent in the bathroom but I was more than happy.

One of the big downsides was that the safe didn't work though! We managed to hide our stuff away but this wasn't ideal at all. The lift was also temperamental and took ages to arrive, and when I jumped in it as a joke it shook which was a bit frightening (a la Tower of Terror but not quite as safe). I would also say that the fact we had to pay for a bus cost us about 25euros in train tickets over the course of the four days so next time I'd upgrade to a closer hotel with a free shuttle bus!

I lay on the bed relaxing and I may even have had a nap, I'm not sure. My brother on the other hand enjoyed the free wifi.

We're at Disneyland Part 2:
It was now about 7:30PM and we were hungry so we set off catching the train from the station which was about 400m away and walking to Disneyland. First we went to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom/Terror for a ride on the attraction with heighest height limit of any Disney ride in the world. It was great fun and I'd forgotten how fast the first drop was. It was great and we were on it in less than 5 minutes, there was no queue! I wanted to do it again but Stephano said he wanted to eat, so off we went.

Indiana Jones et le Temple du Peril
I had planned for us to go for dinner at Colonel Haithi's as I knew it served pizza and penne bolognese, we were going to get the later. There was no bolognese left so we went for the Pizza Royale meal which was about 14 euros per person. We couldn't finish the pizza, the tiramisu or the salad so we packaged it up and went to watch Disney Dreams.

Ready for Disney Dreams
I was very excited for Disney Dreams and got us the perfect spot standing just towards the back of the hub giving us the perfect view, the other nights we tried to beat that view and just couldn't! Disney Dreams was incredible and I had an incredible feeling of being proud of what DIsneyland Paris had achieved - a feeling I'd never felt for a company. I was just so overwhelmed even though I'd seen it before but it was simply incredible in person. Even my brother agreed and he's a tough one to please. We watched the post show with the Dreams song, waited for the castle to turn back to normal and then walked down Main Street as the the park closing announcement played.

We then got the train back to Val D'Europe which took over half an hour as the trains were leaving inconsistently and late, the RER at night is a shambles to be honest. I doesn't run to time at all. Got home and slept, a well deserved rest after what was coming close to 48 hours of being awake!

You can also read Day 2 of this trip report and Day 3.

Review: The New London Dungeon

As part of my job as a tour guide I occasionally get invited to grand openings of attractions. If companies want me to recommend their attraction it helps if I've been to it.

This time we were invited to the grand re-opening of the London Dungeon. In case you hadn't heard the Dungeon was relocated from near London Bridge to near the London Eye and it just reopened this March, having been closed for two months.

We were led in in groups of about thirty and moved from scene to scene. There was a general tense atmosphere around but surprisingly there weren't very many jumpy moments at all, if any. The cheap scares that were achieved were done by loud noises activated by sensors and the group scaring each other.

In the dungeon you are moved from room to room, learning a bit (a very little bit) about history in a humorous way. In each scene you meet Londoners who will tell you, and show you, the past.

The Great Fire of London scene has been removed (something I think is key to London's history) but the story still flows well and it makes sense as to why you are meeting new characters. Along the way you'll meet a liftman, Guy Fawkes, Jack the Ripper, a judge, Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett, Henry VIII, experience the plague and much more. As for the claim that the scenes are "ALL new", the stories are pretty much the same - maybe they're classifying changing some of the dialogue as it being a new show. There are also some completely new scenes but I wouldn't call all of them new.

I asked one of the senior staff members at the attraction why the fire scene had been removed. She said that at the old dungeon they asked guests to rate the sections they went through on cards and the fire was consistently the lowest-rated by guests so it had to be cut.

The experience is interactive and audience members are picked at random to be tested on with torture instruments, demonstrate how to be hanged, locked up, and many more reasons. I was called up to the front of the group and then told to go away. I was also used in the final scene in demonstrating how to make stupid faces whilst being hanged.

The special effects within the attraction are very good and they really do like using water to squirt you wherever they can. Sweeney Todd in particular is very realistic to the point I had to lean forward to stop feeling the blades he was yielding. The lighting is well done and the timing is brilliant so that you never see the group in front or the group behind.

There are two rides. The first is a boat ride where you can either get wet...or very wet. If you want to get soaked sit at the back, if you think you're going to stay dry elsewhere you won't.  If you want to count it, the Sweeney Todd experience may also count as a ride, as may the mirror maze. The final ride is meant to be a hanging. You get on a drop ride and you drop a few times with some nooses in front of you. This was what I was dreading the most a I hate drop rides but it was only a very little drop and I actually quite enjoyed it. It's just strange looking down with there being no floor, staring into darkness. It was actually quite a fun hanging ;)

Overall, the attraction does prioritise entertainment over history. It's targeting young kids and for that age range it doesn't disappoint. It's also nowhere near as scary as they make it out to be in their adverts and nowhere near as intimidating as it looks on the outside.

You can get tickets to the London Dungeon at AttractionTix here.

The London Dungeon is one of my "32 Must Dos On Your Trip To London". Check out the others.

Web of Links: Week 3

Web of Links is my weekly round-up of the most entertaining, curious and interesting things I've come across this week.

1. Report: To Settle With EU Regulators, Google Proposes To Link To 3 Competitors Every Time It Links To Itself - A very odd decision meaning that Google will now more prominently link to alternative services.

2. Jomi's Smart Water Bottle Sleeve-Plus-App Wants To Track & Chart Your Liquid Intake To Make You Drink More - Another example of people measuring everything they do.How about you just remember how many glasses you've drunk?

3. Schmidt predicts entire world online by 2020. Is he right? 

4. Stunning Shadow Act on 'Britain's Got Talent' Will Move You to Tears  - Chances are if you watch TV you probably saw this, but incredible none-the-less.

5. Listen to Every Song From 'Grand Theft Auto' on Spotify - This is just cool. End of.

6. Where Do Millionaires Invest Their Cash to Keep It Safe? - A question I'd never considered, what brings up some interesting concepts including "You have to realize that “money” in one sense doesn’t exist. It is an idea."

7. Create your own Street View hyper-lapse videos - No use to this apart from the fact that it's pretty frickin' cool. Or if you want to show a timelapse of your journey. One or the other really.

8. Teens: Facebook's becoming more 'meh research says. This is true.

9. Stunning Time-Lapse Provides the Mental Break You Need - Beautiful relaxing music and scenery.

10. Freemium Business accounting software - Who knew accounting software could be free?

11. Orchestra Turns Justin Bieber Song Into Classical Masterpiece

12. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Turn off the screens at our concerts - I absolutely hate going to watch a show and people are watching it through their phone screens as they record. Luckily, someone's done something about it.

13. 'Anchorman' and 'Thrift Shop' Mashup Is an Afternoon Delight

14. U.K. carrier to push download speeds to 80Mbps in 10 cities - At this rate, I won't need a phone line for a decent internet connection thanks to 4G.

15. New Bath tours launched, led by the homeless  - PR stunt or not, this is good news for the homeless in Bath.

16. Video: How Animals Eat Their Food - Hil-a-ri-ous!

17. Does it still make sense to buy music?

18. To Fund Longform Journalism, 'Toronto Star' Tests Ebook Subscriptions

19. Weird hotel services - Strange services offered by hotels. Not for the faint hearted.

20. E-Books Now 23% of U.S. Publisher Sales - And people once said they'd never take off!

21. Tablet sales will climb to $64B this year, ABI says - This was an industry that didn't really exist until the iPad launched a couple of years ago. Now look at it!


Readr lets you read magazines on the iPad for free (for a limited time)

Ever found yourself wanting to read quick snippets out of magazines? Readr could be your answer.

Readr is a bit like a Spotify for magazines. The app, which is available on the iPad, allows you to browse magazines much in the same way that any newsagents works: you can pick up any magazine you want, look at its cover, and flick through it for a bit without paying anything.

Readr let's you do exactly this, you select a magazine (or magazines) and read any articles you want. You get 20 free minutes a month to do this, if you want to keep reading then you pay.

The app itself is free and allows you 20 minutes of reading time every month, after that you can buy individual issues at a cost of around £1.49-£3.99 an issue or you can subscribe to the anytime plan which gets you all issues of every magazine for £6.99 a month.

This can work out to be better value if you subscribe to multiple magazines every month. The app includes some big name titles such as: men's fitness, national geographic traveller, photographer, Marie Claire and ok! magazine.

There are also some titles which can only be purchased as individual issues and are not included in the anytime plan such as wired magazine, men's health, GQ, esquire and vogue. This is no doubt the choice of the publishers rather and Readr's.

Overall, I will only be using the free service personally but it's a nice system and if anything allows you try magazines before you buy which is always a good thing. It's an interesting business model and it will be interesting to see how it works.

Web of Links: Week 2

Time for my weekly round-up of the random things I've found on the Internet this week. Expect everything from burgers to barbies to beyonce.

1. Arrested Development Season 4 announced - Another Netflix exclusive was announced this week. I think soon there'll be no new TV series on actual TVs if we keep up this pace. 

2. Create your own in-flight meal - Everyone know in-flight meals are generally pretty rubbish, but what if you could create your own? Now you can on one Latvian airline. 

3. Stereotypical US tourists - Photos of US tourists from the 80s and 90s...my only observation on this is that they flaunted their bodies a lot more back then, seems they're now very unconfident in their bodies in the US. (The fact they aren't wearing tiny clothes like back then is definitely not necessarily a bad thing!)

4. Overly Attachment Boyfriend - Well, this is hilarious. Apart from maybe the ending.

5. The Science of Cats - Cats are a lot more complex than I thought.

11. Airline trials pay-as-you-weigh fares - Very good idea. Airplane fuel is expensive. If you weigh more, you pay more. Simple.

12. The Ultimate Burger - Those of you who know me well, know that I love my food.

14. Donate free food to charity - It's a site I've visited many times but it's worth a mention. Answer questions, donate rich to charity for free. All paid for by advertising. Simple. 

18. What iOS 7 for iPhone could look like - A fan made video showing what people really want on their phones in the next iOS update. 

23. PayTango Lets You Pay With the Touch of a Finger - interesting concept. Could it take off?


The US Embassy Visa Appointment

The day started with me getting a tube to Bond Street station. From there it was a 5 minute walk to the embassy. I knew I couldn't take my phone in (as of December 2016 you can now take a phone in which would have made a huge difference in helping the time pass) but I wanted to know if bags would be fine. They are: mine is a messenger bag that looks like this.

In order to store my belongings, I walked to Gould Pharmacy which is just a two minutes away from the embassy and I asked to store my phone, and have US-sized passport photos taken. You go into the shop and there are tables with staff sitting at them at the entrance. They get a grey bag and put your phone and headphones in and seal it (or car keys and other electronic devices). They you sign a declaration confirming what’s inside. You take this to the counter at the back of the shop and pay £3.

They were great at doing the passport photos; it was instant. They took a photo, printed it and cut it into the 2"x2" size for US visas. This costs £5 for 2 photos, or £7.50 for 4. I was paranoid and asked for 4 (I later found out that you only need one photo!).

I walked back to the pharmacy and security outside asked me to show my DS160 confirmation, my passport and my interview letter. I then went through security (this is airport style bag scanners and metal detector arches) and walked into the embassy.

Once inside, you go to reception and give them your appointment letter. They then give you a sticker with a number on which will be the number to remember throughout the day.

I walked up the steps and sat in the room waiting for my number. There were about 60 people in front of me and I was called within about 25 minutes. I then visited the first window and gave the woman my DS-160, MRV receipt, my interview confirmation letter, Disney offer letter, photo (not needed if you managed to upload one properly online!), and the DS2019. That’s pretty much all the documents you have. I took proof of address and proof of returning to the UK, as some people have been questioned about it it, but they never asked for it.

I then went and sat down again after having given in my documents, and was given a blue sheet to fill in so that if my Visa was approved the couriers would know where to return my passport. Then it was about a 30-40 minute wait until I was called to the second window. This wasn't too bad as the sheet I was given said the wait could be up to 4 hours!

I was then called to the second window and had possibly one of the quickest interviews ever, and I've heard this was the same for many of the other ICP applicants. Basically they asked what I was going to do, to confirm I was a student and that was it! The man I got was really friendly too so you won’t necessarily have a horrible immigration officer as some has made out. They also remind you to read the document about rights to work in the US linked on the interview confirmation page that was emailed to you. He then said he would approve my visa and it would be with me next week. He also said the DS2019 would come back with it and that it was the most important document and to definitely keep it safe! Note that they may ask you more questions about your application, but they didn't for me.

I walked back into the main hall, and went to the desk at the back where the courier is. I paid the basic fee which was £14.80, which means it will be delivered the day after the courier receives the passport from the embassy and at some point between 8am and 6pm. You can also opt for delivery before 12pm or 9am for an added cost too.

I walked out of the embassy, went back to the pharmacy and collected my phone and I was done. The whole process only took about 90 minutes, and everyone was really nice. It was nowhere near as stressful as I thought it'd be. To be fair, some of the other ICPs this year were kept for up to 4 hours so it really depends!

Update: My passport was delivered via secure courier exactly 1 week after my appointment but two of those days were bank holidays, so it only really took 3 working days!

Photo: TheAngloAmerican website

If you want to know what you've got to do BEFORE attending the interview, click here.

Disney packs are here!

So the Disney packs arrived last week. Inside them there was a SIM card for the US, my DS2019 (very important), some Disney instructions, my Disney recruitment letter with  my applicant ID (which you need when paying your housing fee before you leave for Orlando), and a landing card which is pre-filled. Unfortunately this year we didn't get a Disney-branded folder, it was a Yummy Jobs folder. There also wasn’t a nice Disney look book either.

Make sure you have a computer connected with a working printer for these next steps as you will have a lot to print out which you do have to do there and then, you won't be able to print it out later.

The first thing to do is pay your SEVIS fee; it’s something all exchange visitors need to complete and costs $35. You can also do this later provided you have paid this AT LEAST 3 days before your embassy appointment. Print out the confirmation page as you need this for your embassy appointment.

You then need to call the operator-assisted embassy appointment booking line to book your appointment. This, at the time of writing, costs £1.23 a minute from BT landlines, more from mobiles and other landline  networks.

On the phone they'll ask you for a number on the top right hand corner of your DS2019, you'll need your passport number, date of birth, program ID (which is on the disney info sheets and in your yummy jobs info sheets) and also need to know your email address and possibly a phone number too. The embassy appointment will cost you $160 which you pay by card over the phone. You can change it at a later date without having to pay again. Disney does not pay this embassy appointment fee, you must pay it yourself.

Once that's booked, you'll get an email with a 2-page PDF: one page is the MRV fee receipt, the other is an appointment receipt. You must print both of these and have them with you on the day of your embassy appointment or you won't be allowed into the embassy (more on the embassy in my next blog post).

Then you have to fill in the DS-160 form which will take you about 75 minutes - have the visa documents that both Disney and Yummy Jobs have provided for you to hand when filling this in. It is several pages long and asks applicants different questions depending on your answers. Some of the info you'll get from yummy jobs will be different to that given by Disney, personally I put the Disney info in the form but I've heard that either is fine. At some point in the form you need to upload a photo of yourself which needs to fit certain criteria. However, if you can't do it, then it'll ask you to bring a physical photo with you to the interview day. My photo didn't work online so this is what I did.

If you have any doubt with any of the questions give Yummy Jobs a call or drop them an email.  At the end you will get a confirmation page which you will need to print out too.

That's it, you're ready for the visa appointment! You can also read about my Visa interview process